In Psalm 81 we are confronted with a strange phrase:
“But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
Honey from the rock? Honey doesn’t come from rocks, I think we’d all be happy to confirm. There’s a moment of surprise here, of confusion, that we shouldn’t gloss over quickly.
It seems to be a reference to the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32) where we have honey ‘out of’ the rock. Which appears to be an oblique reference to manna, the desert flakes that were like honey and found laid upon rocks and sand.
It doesn’t take that much work to find out that honey can be found in rocks, and that the wild honey that John the Baptist (Mark 1) fed himself on would the kind made by bees that swarm around cracks in rocks in the wilderness rather than made in the hives as we would be more familiar with.
But our initial surprise at the phrase is the right reaction, because finding wild honey in a rock is an act of delight—not simply a food of survival but a food of delight. To say that God gifts us honey from the rock is say that he gifts sweetness in surprising places and not simply in a land of abundance.
We might also draw a connection to Christ, as the sweet one whose very sweetness come to us from the cross—which we should probably do via Samson’s find of honey in a Lion’s carcass (Judges 14) and the language of the Song of Songs.
All of this got me thinking about salted caramel.
Because, well, it tastes good. But there’s this thing which has been well known in higher end dessert kitchens for some time—a little salt draws out the sweetness, a lot of salt suppresses it.
It is the same in our lives, is it not? A little suffering, the saltwater of your tears painted on your cheeks, increases the sweetness of what God offers us. I think this a general truth, you cannot know the sweetness of knowing Jesus in any real way if your life has been characterised by ease.
You can make your own judgements about yourself, there is no judgement here from me. I know well enough that how someone’s life appears on the outside and how it actually is to live can be so far apart as to have nothing to do with each other.
We could also follow the food analogy and suggest that a lot of suffering, a flood of tears, will drown out the sweetness of Christ. That feels true, doesn’t it, from experience? When things are at their absolute hardest is the time when the gifts of God no longer taste good to the soul.
Putting aside the impossible question of when your struggle tips from a little to a lot—we will all suggest ours is a lot to qualify our wallowing—this, dear friends, is a pernicious lie. Spend some time with those who have known the hard mercies of God, who have had their heads pushed into the dust by the snake, who know the tang of the ash of death in the backs of their mouths and ask them if the agonies of living in this land of the dead have squashed the gifts of God.
The answer you get may depend on the day, but if their heads are above water enough on that day I suspect they will laugh. I would laugh. The sweetness of Jesus is the only reason to keep on going. The salt does not drown it out, it makes it the only thing left you can taste. Where else can you turn in the midst of appalling suffering, of the small or gratuitous kind, but to the face of Jesus? To the lover who kisses us with the kisses of his mouth, whose love is better than wine (Song 1).
Tears bring out the sweetness of Christ. We could therefore think that we shouldn’t lament our atrocious circumstances when they occur, because this is the good gift of God to allow us to taste Christ. Some Christians talk like that.
Don’t be ridiculous.
When life is grossly awful, scream to the heavens about it. Read the Psalms and pray them. Read Habakkuk. It is good to think that our tears help us taste Christ, and to acknowledge that right now those with heavier burdens than yours may taste Christ more sweetly than you can. It is hellish to lionise suffering. All our tears are passing away (Revelation 21), and Christ makes bitter water sweet (2 Kings 4).
All our tears are passing away. There will be no saltwater and honey combinations in the new earth after the resurrection, nor in the intermediate state in the heavens with Jesus while we await it after our deaths. Tish Harrison Warren, in her beautiful book Prayer in the Night, makes the suggestion that perhaps because Yahweh will ‘wipe away’ our tears this is not simply poetic language for there being no more tears, but maybe there will be a final cathartic cry before we skip merrily through the gate of the new Jerusalem. Maybe we will shed our burdens with great sobs when we finally feel the weight of all we carry and it sloughs away like old skin as we weep and the fingers that scooped valleys and moulded mountains gently wipe every single one from your cheeks.
I like that idea.
And then after, with bodies made alive in the land of the living, no longer to slowly die. And then after, with the dragon slain and Death’s keys in the hands of the Prince of Peace, our Sunshine king, we can finally taste, as if for the first time. We will find that Jesus is much sweeter than we could have known.
And honey will bubble up from the rocks.
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