What does “a land flowing with milk and honey” mean?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Anyone who has grown up in church has undoubtedly heard the Promised Land being referred to as “a land flowing with milk and honey.” It is a most curious expression, is it not? Have you ever wondered what it means? As always, whenever we have a Bible question, we need to search the Bible to gain insight. “For what saith the Scriptures?”

The phrase “a land flowing [or ‘that floweth’] with milk and honey” appears 20 times in our King James Bible—Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17, Exodus 13:5, Exodus 33:3, Leviticus 20:24, Numbers 13:27, Numbers 14:8, Numbers 16:13, Numbers 16:14, Deuteronomy 6:3, Deuteronomy 11:9, Deuteronomy 26:9, Deuteronomy 26:15, Deuteronomy 27:3, Deuteronomy 31:20, Joshua 5:6, Jeremiah 11:5, Jeremiah 32:22, Ezekiel 20:6, and Ezekiel 20:15. While you are encouraged to look at all of these references on your own, we will look at a few of them here.

As just mentioned, the expression first appears in the Bible is Exodus 3:8, when the LORD appeared to Moses in the burning bush. The LORD said to Moses: “And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” God said He would deliver the nation Israel from Egyptian slavery and bring them into the Promised Land, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Later, as He promised, He rescued them from Egypt, and He brought them to the edge of the Promised Land.

By the time of Numbers chapter 13, Israel had been free from Egypt for just over a year. The Jews had sent 12 spies to explore the land of Palestine. Moses instructed these spies: “And [see] what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes” (verse 20).

In verse 23, the spies arrived at the brook of Eshcol, and cut down a grape cluster (Eshcolis Hebrew for “grape cluster;” verse 24). This one cluster of grapes was so enormous that two men had to carry it on a pole! The spies also collected figs and pomegranates. After 40 days of scouting, the spies returned to Moses and Israel’s camp and showed them Canaan’s fruit: “And they told him [Moses], and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it(verse 27). Numbers 14:7-8 continues: “[7] And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. [8] If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.” Deuteronomy 11:10-12 and Deuteronomy 31:20 also confirm that “flowing with milk and honey” indicated Canaan was a land of high agricultural productivity (pollination, green grass, flowering trees, water resources, abundant food, et cetera). Just think… rebellious Israel refused to go in!

God had been faithful in delivering Israel from centuries of Egyptian slavery. Now, He would be faithful to bring her into an exceeding good land.” But, Israel doubted God, and wanted to send 12 spies to explore that land. After 40 days of exploring Canaan, the spies returned to Israel’s camp. Canaan, the Promised Land, was abounding with food and water, high agricultural productivity (“a land flowing with milk and honey”). The presence of milk-producing animals implied grasses and other vegetation. Honey indicated pollinating creatures such as bees. The spies showed Israel the large grape cluster, the pomegranates, and the figs they had collected in Canaan (Numbers 13:21-27). The 12 spies confirmed that God had indeed given them a very great land, but 10 spies feared military defeat by the Gentiles dwelling therein, so Israel refused to enter (Numbers 13:28–14:11). Thus, God, in His righteous anger, punished them via the 40-year wilderness wandering (Deuteronomy 1:21-ff.).

Today, the Promised Land does not exhibit the beauty it had in Moses’ day. It is desolate and barren. But, that will change at Christ’s Second Coming and the following earthly kingdom. The Promised Land will be restored, and the curse of sin will be broken (Isaiah 51:3; Joel 3:17-21, Micah 4:1-3; et al.).

In fact, according to Amos 9:11-15, the LORD promised: “[11] In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: [12] That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this. [13] Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. [14] And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. [15] And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.”

One day, Israel will eternally dwell in her land, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The best is yet to come for the little nation of Israel!

Also see:
» Is God finished with the nation Israel?
» Who is “the Bride of Christ?”
» When will the Old Testament saints be resurrected?