God gave us the book of Proverbs to teach us wisdom. Partly, He does that by teaching us the content of Proverbs. But he is also teaching us wisdom by the way He communicates wisdom. Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of kings to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search out a matter.” God hid the secrets of the universe from us. Adam and Abraham knew nothing about atoms and nuclei, much less quarks and quasars. Until a few centuries ago, no one knew how to use electricity safely. God honors us as kings by making it tough for us to discover the truth, by forcing us to “search out a matter.”
He does the same with the Bible. The Bible is a big, complicated book. It’s not always easy to figure out what the Bible is teaching us. We might complain about it, but we should be honored. God doesn’t treat us as children, who need to be fed from a bottle. He treats us as kings, who gain glory by investigating and studying and working hard to understand God’s Word.
Proverbs in particular is a royal book, and it teaches us to be kings by making things difficult for us. Proverbs poses riddles, and asks us to unravel them. Often the sayings in Proverbs seem simple and straightforward, and sometimes they are. Much of the time, though, things are deeper than we realize. Take Proverbs 24:13-14: “My son, eat honey, for it is good, yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste; know that wisdom is thus for your soul; if you find it, then there will be a future. And your hope will not be cut off.”
Is Solomon giving dietary advice? Yes, but the point is less about diet than about pleasure. Honey is good because it is sweet to the taste. At the very least, we can say that Solomon wants his son to enjoy the good, very good, things that God has produced.
Honey is associated with the land throughout the Old Testament. Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey, and when Samson kills the lion and then eats honey from it, it’s a symbol of Samson’s victory over the Philistines and the restoration of a honey-filled land. Enjoying the sweetness of honey means, more broadly, enjoying the goodness of the land, of the abundant inheritance God provides. Since Solomon is writing to a prince, he is also talking about royal responsibilities. A king is both a deliverer and avenger, and the chief of the festivals. Like Samson, he breaks the teeth of the oppressor, and eats honey from the lion.
But the thrust of the proverb is to speak of wisdom. The Bible frequently associates the sweetness of honey with the word and wisdom that comes from God (Psalm 19:10; 119:103; Proverbs 16:24; Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:9-10). The harlot in Proverbs 5:3 speaks honeyed words, though her words lead to bitter death, but the bride’s lips truly are sweet as honey – not only because of the pleasure of her kisses but because of the sweetness of the words that come from her mouth (Song of Solomon 4:11). We should desire wisdom and the word of God the way children desire candy; we should desire wisdom the way a young man desires the lips of a beautiful girl.
Now we can add this, from Proverbs 25:27: “It is not good to eat much honey, and searching their glory [is] glory.”
So, should we eat honey, or not? Is it good, or is it dangerous? And if we can make sense of the comparison of honey and wisdom, what is the connection between eating honey and searching for glory? Part of the problem with this second proverb is with the translation of the second line, which I have translated literally.
The verse plays on the various meanings of the Hebrew root kbd, which can mean either “glory” or “heavy.” Solomon is saying that to search “weighty” things lends one “weight.” He means that searching into difficult or burdensome things is a glory. (Think of the honor we give to scientists who make new discoveries, after decades of long hours in the laboratory.) The verse matches the opening proverb of chapter 25: “the glory (kabod) of kings is to search out (haqar) a matter” (v. 2). Searching is glorious royal activity, but there is a particular glory in searching out things that are burdensome.
The verse is not a warning against pursuit of glory, which is the way most translations make it sound. Instead, 25:27 contrasts the dangers of over-consumption of sweet things and the delicious challenge of exploring things that require diligent and persistent effort. It is a glory to explore matters that seem to be too hard for us to figure out. Study and the search for understanding is a burden, Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes, but it is a glorious burden.
Honey is good, and so are the sweets of pop culture’s movies and music. They are accessible, easy to grasp, delightful to the taste. But we can become satiated on them, and there is glory in the burden of trying to crack the code of some difficult poem or piece of music. Solomon doesn’t tell us to avoid honey. We should enjoy the sweet and enjoyable things of the world. But he does tell us that the glories, and even the ultimate pleasures, of burdensome searches are superior. There’s more glory and pleasure in a hard-fought game that we win with a desperate three-pointer at the buzzer than a game that ends 90-12.