Bees in Christendom: The spiritual health of honey bees

This article by Dr. Tracy Farone, professor of Biology, was published in the December issue of Bee Culture, the magazine of American beekeeping. Farone oversees the GCC Bee Project and the apiary on campus where she and her students work to improve public knowledge and awareness regarding honey bees and local pollinators, their health, and current issues they're facing.

Poor mental and psychological health is an ever-increasing public health crisis in our country and world. As a college professor, I am on the front lines seeing this epidemic as it manifests in our young people. The statistics are appalling. Poor psychological and mental health even affects our animals.

However, in talking with other beekeepers, one common theme I hear from them is the peace they receive when tending their bees. Recently, I had the opportunity to explore perhaps one reason why. After discovering that honey and bees have over 60 references in the Bible, (making them on par with camels) I decided to take a closer look. This fall, I signed up to create and deliver a five-week chapel series at Grove City College on “Honey and Bees in the Bible”. In addition to the opportunity to teach the community some fun facts about honey bees, we also get a chance to see what the Almighty thinks of bees. Well, spoiler alert … He’s a fan.

The series’ presentations each include the following: Introduction to topic and outline; fun bee facts/ demo; scriptural references and reflections; relevance and application to our faith and walk; and a ques- tion/comment period. Five major themes are covered, one per week. The themes are: 1) Community: The Fruits of Hive Work, 2) God’s Pro- vision: The Land of Milk, Honey & Health, 3) The Fall: Disease in the Garden, 4) God’s Prized Possession: The Sweetness of God’s Love for Us, and 5) Stewardship: Our Relationships with God’s Creation. I am sure just about any beekeeper could easily see how honey bees could be used to demonstrate these themes.

Turns out there are two basic types of references to bees in the Bible. The first category is not a reference to honey bees or honey at all but to hornets or wasps. These Biblical verses represent God’s judgment, protection, promise and power. Generally, God getting after someone. Here’s some references to check out: Exodus 23:28, Deuteronomy 1:44, Deuteronomy 7:20, Joshua 24:12, Psalms 118:12, Isaiah 7:18.

However, most verse references in the Bible to bees are about honey and/or honey bees. Honey and honey bees are used as images to convey God’s blessings, God’s love, strength, wisdom, things of great worth and even references to Christ. Some Biblical names, like Deborah, the name of the famous and only female leader of Israel in the time of the Judges, means bee in Hebrew.

After attending the Bee Culture conference recently, I learned that I worked for a company, A.I. Root, that produced beeswax candles especially for churches. The Catholic church and other churches require candles to be made primarily of honey bees’ wax due to the purity, value and holiness that only beeswax represents. Pretty cool, huh?

Since honey bee colonies demonstrate individual roles and purposes within a united community with more difficult tasks taken on through time, they are also a beautiful illustration of the Body of Christ and the sanctification process. Here are a few verse references: 1 Corinthians 12:25-27, Matthew 18:20, 20:26-28, 22:39-40, Galatians 6:2, Romans 12:5, John 15:12-13.

Honey bees demonstrate our relationship to the land and God’s provision through crop pollination and hive products. Here are some references: Exodus 3:8 3:17, Deuteronomy 8:8, 11:9, 26:15, 27:3, Leviticus 20:24, Ezekiel 20:6, Jeremiah 11:5. Other references illustrate honey as a good gift or food. Some examples: Proverbs 16:24, 24:13, Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6, Exodus 16:31. Honey is also considered to be of great value in the Bible, Ezekiel 27:17, 2 Chronicles 31:5, Genesis 43:11, as well as, a source of strength and wisdom: 1 Samuel 14:27-29.

Certainly, everything is not always perfect in the garden. As beekeepers we face depressing losses due to a myriad of honey bee diseases and environmental decay, but the Bible addresses that too. From the fall in Genesis chapter 3 to the anticipated redemption of creation in Romans 8:18-22, beekeepers can take heart. Even with loss, there is still redemption and with redemption comes joy. Consider the dances of the honey bee when they have discovered a good thing. That honey, so carefully made, never really goes bad. Life can even emerge from death.

One of these redemption stories and probably the most famous bee story in the Bible is found in Judges 14, the story of Samson and the bee “swarm” in the lion carcass. Since becoming a beekeeper, I have a different take on the story than before I was a beekeeper. The bees in the lion are referred to as a “swarm,” however, the text goes on to explain that the bees had built comb within the carcass. So, beekeepers would know this was not just a swarm, but an established colony that may have come from somewhere else but found a more permanent refuge in a dead lion. A hundred years ago, a more agricultural audience would have understood honey bee processes more fully and its massive theological implications to Israel and Christ. I am afraid more modern audiences have lost much of this agricultural piece, and therefore also would not fully understand the theological impacts in the passage. Beekeepers to the rescue! Here are some references to the sweetness of honey as compared to God’s redemptive love: Psalm 81:16, Psalm 19:10, 119:103, Song of Solomon 4:11, 5:1.

Finally, good stewardship is probably an easy and obvious principle for honey bees to illustrate. They are such a key piece to our ecological and agriculture systems. Proper stewardship for honey bees and the environment is top of mind for any beekeeper, but it may be easier said than done. It is a task we are challenged to take on (Genesis 1:26-30), and perhaps sometimes less is more (Proverbs 25:16, 25:27).

During this Christmas season, I hope this article inspires readers to take a look at the spiritual side of honey bees and how they may demonstrate the bringing of peace, love, and joy into their lives and the lives of others. I’ve provided the outline and references to explore and maybe share with others who may need a pick-me-up.

Bees in Christendom: The spiritual health of honey bees

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