If there’s one thing that gets good press in the Bible, it’s honey. Mentioned at least 60 times from Genesis to Revelation, it’s roundly praised in most passages. For instance, the Promised Land is “a good and spacious land . . . flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8). Manna, the food God used to sustain His people in the wilderness, was “white, and its taste was like wafers with honey” (Ex. 16:31). John the Baptist lived on nothing but this sweet substance and locusts (Matt. 3:4). Even Solomon, that sagacious king, compares pleasant words to honeycomb, calling them “sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).
But when it comes to bees, accolades are harder to find. I have a love/hate relationship with these tiny critters. My husband Wayne is a certified apiarist—a journeyman beekeeper, if you will—and we’ve had as many as 10 hives in our backyard at one time. And while I’m neither allergic to nor afraid of honeybees, I admit that sharing a backyard with as many as 500,000 of them can be a bit . . . disconcerting. Still, when the time comes to bottle up their hard work, I dutifully don a baggy white suit (complete with veil), light up the smoker to pacify them, and assist with the harvest.
Jesus told His disciples to “look at the birds of the air” and “observe how the lilies of the field grow” (Matt. 6:26-28). But as a steward of bees, I’ve discovered there is spiritual knowledge to be gleaned from them, too.
The first time I pressed my ear to the top of a hive box, all I heard was frantic vibration, but the din actually serves a purpose. To preserve the wax, honey, and eggs inside it, a beehive must remain at a constant 94 degrees Fahrenheit. So the bees either raise the temperature by vibrating their flight muscles or lower it by fanning their wings. What I called a feral drone was the sound of God’s creations working according to His purposes.
The honeycomb, too, is a wonder. On the frames, it looks like nothing more than a bulbous mass of wax. But remove that top layer, and you’ll find a series of hexagons, an intricate sequence of amber and buttergold tessellations, impeccable as anything ever created by man. And it’s not just beautiful; it’s also practical.
The Greek mathematician Pappus of Alexandria used honeycomb as an example in book five of his Collection. He praised the bees’ near-flawless structures, saying they were built using “a certain geometrical forethought.” In 1999, another scholar, Thomas C. Hales, proved that the hexagon is the most efficient way to divide a surface into regions of equal area with the least total perimeter. In other words, the six-sided shape is the best one for a bee’s purpose because it allows for the most possible storage using the smallest amount of wax. I’m no math whiz, but I believe that kind of perfection doesn’t happen by chance.
And don’t even get me started on the glorious flavors. There is nothing better than slicing a warm section of comb from the frame and eating it straightaway, wax and all. The taste—radically different from the stuff you find on grocery store shelves—is so intense that it fills every inch of your head with scent and mouthwatering sweetness. Bees no bigger than your fingernail can fly as far as seven miles to get the best nectar, so honey can taste like anything from acacia blossoms to sage.
But as delicious as honey is, it’s not the greatest gift found inside a hive. Being privy to God’s workmanship is. King David says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” and that it is “more desirable than gold” and sweeter than “the drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:7, 10). Watching bees work is like observing a miracle, one that’s occurred without any help from us every day since the first flower unwrapped itself in Eden. They are creatures designed for a specific purpose, tangible evidence of God’s perfect order of all things. These tiny creatures—as essential to our ecosystem as rain and sun—work exactly as He intended. Observing them reminds me that the world’s existence depends not on my feeble efforts, but on the orchestrations of His divine will.
Oftentimes, I lose sight of this when the world doesn’t make sense and wounds me with its carelessness. That’s why working with bees brings healing to my soul. They sense anxiety and react to it, so when I’m in their sphere, I can’t multitask or dwell on other problems. Free from distractions, I lift and examine frames of honey in a soothing cadence, and with each measured movement, my heart is calmed like the sea Jesus once rebuked (Matt. 8:26). In the heat and the haze of smoke, I am fully in the moment—with both the created and the Creator.
In this tranquil space, the bees’ hum becomes an invitation to prayer, and I experience something I can only call the “peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Phil. 4:7). I watch those little bodies flit in perfect synchronicity with one another and understand somewhere deep in my soul, in a place beyond words or logic, that I need not worry about the future or strive to fulfill my own needs or desires. Like the bees, I am a created thing. But I am something more valuable, too: a beloved child whose life is also part of a grand design. My task is simply to know and glorify my God by living the life He ordained. And that is sweeter than anything—even honey.