Biblical references in the main quite evidently relate to wild honeybees. The description of Canaan as “a land flowing with milk and honey” indicates that bees were very numerous in that land from early times. (Ex 3:8) The warm climate and the abundance of flowers continue to make it a land suitable for a large bee population, and beekeeping is very popular there in modern times. Of the more than 20,000 varieties of bees known, the kind most common in Israel today is a dark bee called Apis mellifica syriaca.
The honey eaten by Jonathan during one military campaign was found in the woods, the bees’ nest likely being in a hollow tree. (1Sa 14:25-27) Wild honeybees of the Jordan Valley provided John the Baptizer with a large proportion of his food. (Mt 3:4) Bees nest not only in trees but also in other hollow cavities, such as clefts of rocks and walls.—De 32:13; Ps 81:16.
The account at Judges 14:5-9 has caused some question. Samson, having slain a lion, returned to find “a swarm of bees in the lion’s corpse, and honey.” The strong aversion of most bees to dead bodies and carrion is well known. It should be noted, however, that the account states that Samson returned “after a while” or, literally in the Hebrew, “after days,” a phrase that can refer to a period of even a year. (Compare 1Sa 1:3 [The expression “from year to year” in the Hebrew is literally “from days to days.”]; compare Ne 13:6.) The time elapsed would allow for the scavenger birds or animals and also insects to have consumed much of the flesh and for the burning rays of the sun to desiccate the remainder. That a fair amount of time had passed is also evident from the fact that the swarm of bees not only had formed their nest within the lion’s corpse but also had produced a quantity of honey.
The ferocity of attack by a disturbed hive of bees is used to describe the way in which the Amorites chased the Israelite forces out of their mountainous domain. (De 1:44) Comparing enemy nations to a swarm of attacking bees, the psalmist says they were held off only by faith in Jehovah’s name.—Ps 118:10-12.
The prophet Isaiah graphically foretold the invasion of the Promised Land by the armies of Egypt and Assyria, likening their troops to swarms of flies and bees for which Jehovah God figuratively whistles so that they come in and settle on the torrent valleys and the clefts of the crags. (Isa 7:18, 19) The ‘whistling’ does not denote an actual practice among those keeping bees but simply indicates that Jehovah attracts the attention of the aggressive nations to the land of his covenant people.