UNDERSTANDING the TASTE of GOD’s WORD: Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, "Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth." So I went to the angel and said to him, "Give me the little book." And he said to me, "Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth." Then I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. (Rev. 10:8-10)
In the above passage, we see that Apostle John was asked to become actively involved in the unveiling of coming events. In fact, he was commanded to literally eat the little book, or, to ingest the contents of the book in his inner being. This act is an allegory of reading, reflecting, memorizing and assimilating the judgments of God that are recorded in the book (see John 6:49–58). This is how every child of God should purposefully, intentionally and joyfully study God’s Word as did the prophet Jeremiah: "Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jer. 15:16)
As the angel predicted, the book was sweet as honey in John’s mouth. At least in two places in the Bible, God’s Word is described to be as sweet as honey in the rock. First, when God is describing (through Moses) how He took care of the Israelites in the wilderness: "So the Lord alone led him...He made him draw honey from the rock" (Deut. 32:12-13). Second, when God is bemoaning (through Asaph) about the lack of reliance of the Israelites upon God: "and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you" (Psalms 81:16). We need to realize that God’s Word is both satisfactory to our soul (as food) and sweet in taste when we eat it: "How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Psalms 119:103).
However, as the angel also predicted, the book also made John’s stomach bitter. What does it mean? In a parallel scenario, the prophet Ezekiel was commanded to eat the scroll of the book that contained God’s judgments to the rebellious Israelites. "But you, son of man, hear what I say to you…open your mouth and eat what I give you." Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. Then He spread it before me; and there was writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe (Ezek. 2:8-10). In the beginning, the judgments of God were sweet as they brought evil to its proper end, and the kingdom promises were about to be fulfilled. However, later on, it became bitter as the wrath of God would have a devastating effect on the recipients who had transgressed God’s commandments and were not willing to repent of their sins.
In this instance, Apostle John found God’s Word joyous to receive but painful to deliver. It was as sweet as a word of promise, a word of grace, and a revelation of the love of God. However, it was bitter as it revealed the divine judgment on unbelievers, which would be poured out upon the earth as God would deal in wrath with our wicked world. The truth of God’s reign and triumph was sweet to John, but the judgments by which that consummation will be brought about would be bitter indeed.
H. A. Ironside makes the following application for our lives: “It is only as we feed upon and digest the Word of God, that we ourselves are nourished and built up in the truth of our most holy faith, and in a right condition of soul to use that Word for the help and instruction of others.” To share God’s message, we must take His Word, receive it inwardly like food, and let it become part of us (see 1 Thess. 2:13). God’s Word is sweet when we read it, but becomes bitter when it goes deeper and we digest it.