A VEGAN Interpretation of "A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey". By Dr. Chapman Chen, HKBNews
Updated: Feb 5
Summary: The view that "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8 NKJV) refers to a place brimming with animal milk and bee honey for human consumption is simply humanocentric. The phrase could well mean a land abounding in vegetation where all species multiply greatly and babies are well fed with milk by their mothers from sundry species. This is corroborated by the fact that in Numbers 13, the band of men sent by Moses to explore Canaan came back with some grapes, figs and pomegranates, instead of milk and honey, to prove the place to be a land flowing with milk and honey.
1. An Anthropocentric Interpretation
Non-vegan Pauline Christians often object to the vegan diet as prescribed by God in Genesis 1:29, on the ground that the land promised to Israel by God "flows with milk and honey". Now, Jehovah first guarantees the Israelites this land in Exodus 3:8 NKJV:- "So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians... to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and..." The line is brought up quite a few times in the Old Testament. It is generally deemed to signify a land that abounds in animal milk and bee honey for human beings to consume. But this interpretation is actually a demonstration of humanocentrism for only out of human supremacy would milk and honey be thought of as food just for humans, instead of any other species. Indeed, honey is bees' earned food; humans have no right to steal it. (The popular conception that humans are superior to other animals, that humans are entitled to abuse, slaughter, devour and exploit other animals is humanocentrism according to Revd Prof. Andrew Linzey .)
2. A Place where ALL Species Thrive alongside their Young w/ Abundant Vegetation
According to The Christian Animal Rights Association's (n.d.) interpretation, a land flowing with milk means that babies are being well fed with milk by their mothers from a whole variety of species; a land flowing with honey implies that the bees are pollinating the flowers. Therefore, a land flowing with milk and honey denotes "a place where all species thrive alongside their young with abundant vegetation."
3. Two Pieces of Corroborative Evidence
This vegan interpretation sounds more reasonable than the humanocentric one, especially we take into consideration Deuteronomy 6:3 and 11:9, and Numbers 13.
3.1. "Multiply Greatly" with "Offspring"
God tells Israel that they will be able to "multiply greatly" in the land flowing with milk and honey as promised to their fathers and "offspring":-
"Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey" (Deuteronomy 6:3, ESV).
"and that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give to them and to their offspring, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Deuteronomy 11:9 ESV).
"Multiply greatly" and "offspring" could well correspond to and/or echo "milk and honey".
3.2. Fruits instead of Milk and Honey Brought back from Canaan
The "milk and honey" in "a land flowing with milk and honey" is probably metaphoric language, according to Creation Care Church (2021). In fact, in Numbers 13, Moses, in accordance with God's order, sent a group of men like Joshua to explore the land of Canaan. When they came back, they reported to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit" (Numbers 13:21-27 NIV). Note that they brought back fruits, including grapes, pomegranates and figs, rather than actual milk and honey.
CreationCare Church (2021). "What does it mean for a land to be flowing with milk and honey?" Creation Care Church, 6 Nov. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTSIFdE2UlQ&t=382s
Linzey, Andrew (2009). Creatures of the Same God. New York: Lantern Books.
The Christian Animal Rights Association (n.d.). "Why Do You Promote Veganism When God Promised A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey?" Christiananimalrights.com https://christiananimalrights.com/FAQ#:~:text=A%20land%20flowing%20with%20honey,where%20no%20one%20goes%20hungry.