With all the passages of scripture that mention honey – 58 in the ESV – the land flowing with milk and honey, the word of God sweeter than honey, John the baptizer’s diet of locusts and wild honey, etc., – it is remarkable that there are very few references to the bees that made all that honey. There is the incident where Samson had killed a lion and later found a swarm of bees in the carcass of the animal, took some of the honey and ate it and gave some to his parents. Gross, you say? Yes, that is in the Bible. Look it up for yourself (Judges 14:8-9).
By the way, did you know that the Hebrew word for bee is deborah? Yes, like Deborah the judge of Israel in Judges 4-5.
You may be wondering what brought this on. Well, it was another lawn mower moment a few weeks ago! I was mowing around our old vacant house where a swarm of bees had taken up residence several years ago. Their entry is through a gap in the clapboard siding on the back side of the house. I don’t know what set them off, but on about the second pass they became quite upset with me and let me know in no uncertain terms they didn’t like my intrusion and interruption of their peaceful cottage industry! They only had to assert their right to the territory once! After only a couple of stings I didn’t have to be asked again to leave their neighborhood! Then, as if to warn me to never come back, they must have posted a sentry at the front of the house because after I had put my mower away and was walking across the front lawn one attacked me again and really gave me all she had! (Its only the female workers that sting). The only consolation I had was that I knew the little bugger was going to die after she left her stinger in my arm!
Bees are fascinating even if we can’t seem to get along! I am going to play Solomon here and make some observations based on the humble little honeybee. Well, if he could point to ants to teach a lesson, why can’t I use bees? “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” Proverbs 6:6. Dare I say, “Go to the honeybee…?
Honey bees (or honeybees) are a subset of bees in the genus Apis, primarily distinguished by the production and storage of honey and the construction of perennial, colonial nests out of wax. (Wikipedia).
Honeybees are social creatures. Not all bees are – some kinds lead a more or less solitary existence. Honeybees live in colonies. Like honeybees, man was made by God to be a social being. We are intended by our creator to live in community. It begins with a man and woman joined in an intimate, committed, mutually supportive and mutually rewarding relationship. Into this relationship children are born, forming families which, as the generations continue, develop into the extended family. From this then arose in times past the clan, the tribe the city and eventually the nation.
Ideally, these units are all to work together to fulfill the Creator’s purpose. Unlike the honeybees who know by instinct what their purpose is in the world and work together in cooperative endeavor, man seldom perceives the reason for his being. Bees live to reproduce. In the process of increasing the bee population they perform a number of “good works” for the benefit of man and other living things. As already mentioned in the quote above, a hive of bees will produce a prodigious amount of honey in the months they are active – so much so that humans can “rob” them of some of their bounty and not threaten the survival of the colony.
While gathering the nectar to make honey, they also gather pollen which they take back to the hive for food. In the process of gathering the nectar and pollen they also pollinate the flowers from which they obtain their harvest. Fruit trees like apples depend on honeybees for pollination and we depend on them for the apples. Honeybees are so necessary for so many crops that farmers rent bees to assure a bountiful harvest. All this gathering and pollinating and all they do in the hive represents a tremendous amount of work. “In 1911 a bee culturists estimated that a quart of honey represented bees flying over an estimated 48,000 miles to gather the pollen needed for the nectar to produce the honey.” (Wikipedia).
Bees do all this “good work” in the course of just being bees. Christians are created specifically for good works (Ephesians 2:10). If we were created for good works, shouldn’t that be the way with us? The works we are to do should come as naturally to us as gathering nectar does for the bee!
Bees also communicate with each other. They “talk” to one another! They have a way – a language – by which, when a worker discovers a new source of nectar, they tell their fellow workers. Through a complicated dance they let others in on their discovery, telling them in what direction and at what distance they can find these new flowers. Then, using their built in compass, other bees converge on the blossoms to gather the goodness.
Sadly, we as human beings are not nearly so good at communication. Besides being selfish, we are prideful, reluctant to share what we know about the Bible with others, apparently not concerned about the well-being and extension of the community. This is seen especially in families. Husbands and wives do not really communicate with one another. We take for granted that the other knows what we want or what we mean in the misdirected efforts at communication we do make. As Christians we meet together and go through a set ritual but do not “consider one another to stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). How can we do that without addressing the needs of each other? Singing is a form of communication – “speaking to [addressing] one another…” (Eph. 5:19). This communication is intended to benefit (edify, build up) the whole group (1 Cor. 14:26).
Finally, bees are diverse. Their society depends on this diversity for its existence and its continuation. If diversity does not exist within a colony of bees that colony is doomed. Within a hive, each bee has his or her own role to play.
There are two sexes of honey bee: females (workers and queens); and males (or drones). A caste is a different form, morphologically or reproductively, within the same sex of a species. In sum, there are three types of honey bees: drones, workers and queens; two sexes: male and female; and two female castes: queens and workers. (Wikipedia).
Christians are diverse also. Look around! No two of us are alike! We don’t look alike and we don’t think alike. That is the way we are made and that is not a bad thing. We can no more think exactly alike than we can look exactly alike. We are all at different levels of development in spiritual growth. We all have different “gifts” or divinely given abilities. The Holy Spirit still apportions these to each as he will. (1 Cor. 12:8-11). Those gifts are not necessarily miraculous abilities, but all are divinely given to enable us to do his work in this world (Rom. 12:4-8). The only way the community of Christians can work is for there to be diversity. There will always be the babes that need the nourishment administered by capable teachers. Some people are exhorters – some are in need of encouragement. Some are good at leading – others are natural born followers. Others are able to give more than others while some have little to give.
As long as we keep in mind that the primary goal of the Christian community is the glory of God through the magnification of Christ and as long as we together rally our different abilities and different levels of understanding toward that goal, we will achieve all that God designed for us to accomplish. It is all right for us to differ over opinions and human conclusions drawn from reasoning. The thing that unites us is our common faith in Christ and our love for each other.
The thing we must not do is insist that all others believe and practice everything just as I do. To insist on that is to require conformity. There is a vast difference between true unity that leaves us free to move in our own sphere of ability and service and insisting that everyone must march in lock step like a bunch of prisoners shackled in a work gang.
The diversity in a colony of honeybees enables it to produce the sweet goodness of honey. The exercise of the diverse abilities – and sensibilities – of Christians cooperating with one another produces sweet harmony like the blending of the different voices of a choir produces beautiful harmony.