/ Samson / Stephen Steele

The Bible Verse in Every Supermarket

Did you know there's a Bible verse in every UK supermarket?

Its presence gained some attention lately as both it and the dead lion accompanying it were removed from the packing of all but one version of Lyle's Golden Syrup.

The fact that the logo ever featured a dead lion was a surprise to many. Occasionally someone would share that fact on social media, and people would respond in horror: “My whole life has been a lie”. So why a dead lion, surrounded by bees? The answer is found in the Biblical book of Judges - where the verse in question comes from.

Samson, a very flawed leader of God’s people, kills a young lion with his bare hands on his way to find a wife. When he returns to marry her, he goes to see the carcass of the lion, and finds a swarm of bees and honey inside it. He scrapes some out, eats it, and then goes on to set the following riddle before some of his wedding guests:

      “Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

Hence the Golden Syrup logo and tagline: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”, which had remained the same since 1883. It reflected the strong Christian faith of the company’s founder, Abram Lyle – a Greenock man and an elder in St Michael’s United Presbyterian Church.

Captain Scott took a tin with him on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1910. It was rediscovered by explorers in 1956, with the tin and syrup still in good condition. In 2007, Tate & Lyle were awarded a Guinness World Record for the longest unchanged brand packaging. Now, the famous logo has been changed on everything except the iconic green tins.

Some Christians have been up in arms about the change; I personally find it hard to get too bothered – as long as the tins continue to retain it! The publicity does, however, provide an opportunity to look more closely at this Bible verse which is displayed in every supermarket.

Samson’s riddle has long been interpreted as speaking of more than simply honey inside a lion. Or rather – the honey inside the dead lion becomes a picture of God’s ability to bring good out of evil. Such imagery is particularly vivid since the devil is described by the Apostle Peter as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8).

According to the English Presbyterian minister Arthur Jackson (1593?-1666), what Samson saw reminded him of ‘how God is usually accustomed to bring for his children good out of evil after the same manner’. One New Testament example of this is how the Apostle Paul’s imprisonment led to the good news of Jesus becoming much more widely known. It also led to his fellow Christians becoming much more bold to speak the word without fear. And so he could say: ‘What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel’ (Philippians 2:12).

Indeed, the picture of sweetness being brought out of death helps answer one of the questions Christians are most frequently asked: ‘If God is good, why is there evil in the world?’ As Edward Reynolds, seventeenth century Bishop of Norwich, reminds us:

‘Certainly, God is so good, as that he would not permit evil to be, if he were not so powerful as to turn it to good. Is there not honey in the bee, when the sting is removed? sweetness in the rose, when the prickles are cut off? ... can man turn serpents into antidotes, and shall not God be able to turn the fiery darts of that old serpent into instruments for letting out our corruptions?'

Above all, God’s ability to bring sweetness out of death is seen at the cross. The Italian Bible commentator, Giovanni Diodati said that Samson’s riddle points to: ‘the sweet and saving food brought forth by Christ’s death, by which he destroyed death and the devil’.

For the Christian, new life comes from the place of death. For the first disciples, Jesus' death by crucifixion seemed like a disaster. It looked like too big an obstacle to overcome. And yet from that place of shame and torment comes eternal life for all who will trust in him.

So will I stop buying squeezable bottles of Golden Syrup and stick to the tins in protest at the change? Not at all. The Bible describes Jesus himself as ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah’. And so in a way, even the brand change could be seen as a pointer to his resurrection: a dead lion becomes a living one.

The Bible, untouched by many today, describes its own contents as ‘sweet’. In invites us to ‘taste and see that the LORD is good’. Perhaps the publicity around the logo change will encourage some to do just that – and discover something that for Abram Lyle was sweeter than Golden Syrup.

A version of this article was published in the Stranraer & Wigtownshire Free Press, 25th April 2024.

Stephen Steele

Stephen Steele

Stephen is minister of Stranraer RP Church in Scotland. He is married to Carla and they have four children. He has an MA from Queen's University Belfast where his focus was on C19th Presbyterianism.

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