Question: "Why was Israel called the land of milk and honey?"
Answer: Repeatedly in the Old Testament, God describes the Promised Land as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 31:20; Ezekiel 20:15). This poetic description of Israel’s land emphasizes the fertility of the soil and bounty that awaited God’s chosen people. The reference to “milk” suggests that many livestock could find pasture there; the mention of “honey” suggests the vast farmland available—the bees had plenty of plants to draw nectar from.
In Exodus 3:8, God says to Moses, “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” A couple things to note about this verse:
First, before the plagues, the land of Egypt supported Israel and the Egyptians quite well, yet God called the new land “good and spacious.” The Hebrew word translated “good” means “pleasant, beautiful, and fruitful, with economic benefits.”
Second, simultaneously with promoting the goodness of the land, God mentions the enemies in the land that must be overcome. The nations displaced by Israel from the land “flowing with milk and honey” were significant in number, and they valued that land enough to fight and die for it.
Later, we have the record of the ten faithless spies who were sent into the Promised Land by Moses. The ten spies disagreed that Israel was able to conquer the inhabitants of the land, but they did agree on this: it was a land of flowing with milk and honey. “They gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit’” (Numbers 13:27). The “fruit” the spies showed Moses was a single cluster of grapes that had to be carried on a pole between two men (verse 23). They also brought some pomegranates and the figs from Canaan.
It is true that there are areas of very arid land in Israel, but this does not negate the fact that, overall, it is a land flowing with milk and honey. There are many areas of Israel that are extremely fertile and produce many types of fruits and vegetables. The area north of present-day Israel is biblical Mesopotamia, also known as the “Fertile Crescent,” which is just that—fertile (and crescent-shaped). It is also true that the Bible records severe drought and famine in the land of Israel, but those times were connected to God’s judgment on the sinful people (Deuteronomy 11:16–17; 1 Kings 18:1–2, 18).
God’s description of the Promised Land as “a land flowing with milk and honey” is a beautifully graphic way of highlighting the agricultural richness of the land. God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt to a prosperous land of freedom and blessing and the knowledge of the Lord.