Sounds like: ma-towq.
One of our favourite things about a Prince Edward Island summer, besides the beaches, is ice cream. PEI is known for great food… and ice cream is no exception. If you ever have the chance to visit our red sanded Isle you must check out Holman’s Ice Cream Parlour in Summerside! So YUMMY, so SWEET!
Even today we like to use the word “sweet” in a metaphor. It was a sweet movie… or my Gramma is so sweet. Odds were you didn’t taste the movie, or your Gramma, but we automatically understand what you’re saying. You got a kind of delicious pleasure out of the film and Gramma makes you feel delight and satisfaction when Gramma is present.
The Bible also frequently used sweet as a metaphor:
- Light was sweet: The light is sweet [u-matowq], and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. (Ecclesiastes 11:7)
- Pleasant words were sweet: Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet [matowq] to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)
- Advice from a friend was sweet: Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and a person’s advice is sweet [u-meteq] to his friend (Proverbs 27:9)
- The offerings of a lover were sweet to the beloved: [The Bride:] “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. In his shade I took great delight and sat down, and his fruit was sweet [matowq] to my taste (Song of Songs 2:3)
One of the earliest uses of “sweet” in the Bible came from the story of strong-man, Samson. He had a riddle which incorporated sweetness. In the story, Samson decided he wanted to take a Philistine woman as his wife. His Jewish parents were not happy with his decision, but agreed to travel with him to the Philistine camp. On their way Samson encountered a lion:
…and behold, a young lion came roaring toward him. And the Spirit of YHWH rushed upon him, so that he tore it apart as one tears apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand; but he did not tell his father or mother what he had done.
So he went down and talked to the woman; and she looked pleasing to Samson. When he returned later to take her, he turned aside to look at the carcass of the lion; and behold, a swarm of bees and honey were in the body of the lion. So he took out the honey on his hands and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them and they ate it; but he did not tell them that he had took the honey out of the body of the lion.
Of course, this was a repulsive action, and it was against kosher law. To touch the dead made you unclean; to eat out of a dead carcass meant that you ingested uncleanliness by way of death. Samson ate it and he also offered it to his parents, who had no idea where the honey had come from.
Eventually they got to the Philistines town of Timnah and thirty of the women’s kinsmen joined Samson in a feast. During the gathering Samson proposed a wager:
Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propose a riddle for you; if you actually tell me the answer within the seven days of the feast, and solve it, then I will give you thirty linen wraps and thirty outfits of clothes. But if you are unable to tell me, then you shall give me thirty linen wraps and thirty outfits of clothes.”
And they said to him, “Propose your riddle, so that we may hear it.”
So he said to them,
“Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet [matowq].”
The thirty men had no idea what the answer could be, so they threatened their kinswoman to discover the answer. After much prodding Samson told her the answer and she told her kinsmen.
The answer was returned in the form of two questions:
“What is sweeter than honey [matowq mi-d’vash]? And what is stronger than a lion?”
The bee ate sweet nectar and produced sweet honey… and, as related earlier in Samson’s story, bees created a hive out of the carcass of a strong lion. Although we don’t read about it in the story, there’s a good chance that Samson’s parents suddenly understood where the honey they received actually came from. There was nothing sweet about their son’s offering of food. They had eaten death. This sweetness brought no joy or pleasure. It was sweetness brought on only by trickery.
Anything that is deceivingly sweet isn’t really sweet at all. It becomes bitter.
Proverbs 9 presented us with an image of a foolish woman who found a man who had “no understanding”. She said this to him:
“Stolen water is sweet [yi-m’taqu]; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he [the one without understanding] does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
This was the sweetness of deception and it was as far from pleasant, satisfying, and good as you could get.
Job’s friend Zophar pointed out this sweet-deception that he observed in the ones who were wicked:
[Zophar:] “Though evil tastes sweet [ta-m’tiq] in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue, though he desires it and will not let it go, but holds it in his mouth, yet his food in his stomach is changed to the venom of cobras within him.
He swallows riches, but will vomit them up; God will expel them from his belly.”
David noted how quickly false sweetness could turn to bitterness. He lamented how someone he once called friend had betrayed him:
[David:] For it is not an enemy who taunts me, then I could endure it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion and my confidant; we who had sweet [n-m’tiq] fellowship in the house of God amongst the commotion.
At one point David had sweet fellowship with his friend, but through deception and betrayal the sweet friendship became a bitter rival.
The prophet Isaiah sent out a warning about bitter deception:
Isaiah 5:20, 24b
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter [mar l-matowq u-matowq l-mar]…
…for they have rejected the Law of YHWH of armies, and discarded the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Discarding the word of the Holy One, like yesterday’s compost, was a bad idea. The word was meant to be eaten up!
Eating the Word of God
Other flavours of food do actually come up in Biblical texts… bland, salty, sour and bitter… but the most prevalent was sweet. Sweet was frequently associated with honey, and sweet honey was an excellent metaphor for the Word of God:
The law of YHWH is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of YHWH is trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of YHWH are right, bringing joy to the heart; the commandments of YHWH are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of YHWH is pure, enduring forever; the judgments of YHWH are true, being altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; and sweeter (u-metuq-im) than honey, and the drippings of the honeycomb.
The author here was associating the law, testimony, precepts, commandment, awe and judgement of YHWH to the sweetness of honey. It indicated that you should want to consume these precious, delicious, things. Eat it up!
Ezekiel’s vision took these poetic subtleties and presented a more obvious picture. In his vision he was instructed to literally eat the word of God:
Ezekiel 2:8-10, 3:3
Man of God: “But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious people; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe…
…“Son of man,” He said to me, “eat what you find here. Eat this scroll, then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He fed me the scroll. “Son of man,” He said to me, “eat and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.” So I ate, and it was as sweet (l’matowq) as honey in my mouth.
Ezekiel’s vision was echoed in John’s revelation:
So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but ‘in your mouth it will be as sweet [Greek: glyky] as honey.’” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet [Greek: glyky] as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
What was being said here?… The words and precepts of YHWH are metaphorically sweet and we should be devouring them! But life could be bitter and sour and salty… and it became even more so once you’ve tasted sweetness. But if we return to the Word of YHWH, we can find sweetness to flavour and tenderize the toughness of life.
Similarly to eating the sweetness of God’s Word, was devouring the sweetness of wisdom:
Eat honey, my son, for it is good, and the honeycomb is sweet to your taste.
Know that wisdom is sweet (matowq) for your soul. If you find it, there is a future for you, and your hope will never be cut off.
We should be seeking the wisdom of YHWH and devouring it… because it is sweet and pleasurable!
This idea of eating and tasting the word of God brings another element of the responsibilities of our mouths. We should ingest the word of God so that what comes out of our mouths will reflect the wisdom we receive by eating the word.
James made this clear and used the Greek word glukos (where our word glucose comes from) to differentiate between water sweet water and bitter water:
With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be! Can both sweet [glukos] water and bitter water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree grow olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce sweet [glukos] water.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good conduct, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour in your hearts bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, do not boast in it or deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap the fruit of righteousness.
James learned this from Yeshua (Jesus):
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
We commend fruit for its sweetness. In the same way, we devour the sweet word of YHWH and gain wisdom, and from that wisdom comes good fruit, the fruit of righteousness. If we are ingesting sweetness we should not be spewing out bitterness!
This metaphor takes a whole new turn when the Gospel of John introduced the concept of Yeshua being “the Word”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
So if we are to devour or consume the Word of God, then are we not consuming Jesus? Jesus makes it clear that that is what we are to do:
“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And this bread, which I will give for the life of the world, is My flesh.”
And how did this manna, that Jesus speaks of, taste to the ancient Hebrew people?
Now the house of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.
After Jesus stated that His flesh was “bread”, and He was the bread of life (the new sweet manna from heaven), many were confused:
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”
Jesus took this teaching and repeated it in the Last Supper with his disciples.
And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body, given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”
This was a metaphor and and yes, it was a strange one. It confused people then… and it has confused people today. Second century Romans accused this new group called Christians of being cannibals because they ate the flesh and drank the blood of their Messiah. But it’s not a cannibalistic concept, it’s a metaphor. Jesus said he was like manna, he came from heaven to give us sustenance… but not just to live on earth. He died so we can live eternally. Jesus’ body and blood was poured out as a sacrifice. His claim is that he had to die so that we could truly live. Being the bread of life was a way of making us understand that if we internally (spiritually) ingested the words and life of Yeshua, our lives would no longer need sustenance from this world. Our lives would be eternally, continually, sustained by God.
Jesus is the bread of life, and like the manna from heaven it is sweet to taste. Jesus is the Word, the same Word that Ezekiel was instructed to consume, and the same Word that John envisioned in his Revelation from God.
Psalm 34:8a tells us to “taste and see that YHWH is good.“ The Word of God is sweet. It is good. Read it! Dive in and taste the goodness! It is not surprising that a common response to the modern Hebrew question, “How are you doing”, is “Hakol d’vash” (הַכֹּל דְּבַשׁ). Literally that is saying “Everything is honey”. It’s all sweet! It’s all good! That is the kind of goodness Yeshua brings. Experience Jesus, read the word of God, and taste for yourself.
Next week: sand