One of the most dramatic, amazing phenomenon to take place in bee keeping (besides the gathering of the yummy, nutritious honey) is bee swarm. Like us, bees need space in which to live their lives—to raise brood and store honey and pollen. In the spring and early summer, a colony (hive) can expand quite dramatically and space becomes limited. But honeybees, guided by their Creator, have a solution—they swarm. Swarming is the process by which the queen and about half the hive leave to establish a new colony elsewhere. This typically takes place in June and usually between noon and three in the afternoon. Over the years we have watches numerous swarms from our hives and it is always fascinating to observe the process. Not only does swarming prevent a hive from becoming overcrowded with insufficient brood and storage space, but it is the means for the bees to reproduce and thrive. It is their means of colony reproduction as one hive becomes two. This is referred to as the prime swarm and occasionally additional or after swarms occur as well, establishing even more colonies.
If a hive is becoming overcrowded, worker bees will prepare large-celled “queen cups” in which the queen can lay eggs for future queens. When the colony of bees “decides” that a swarm is imminent, the queen will lay eggs in the “queen cups,” but then there is a short time before swarming while the worker bees reduce the amount of food given to the queen, to get her lightened up for flight.
The day they decide to swarm, they begin gathering on the outside of the hive in large numbers. A strong hive may contain 60,000 or more bees, so there may be 30,000 or more bees gathering on the hive. Then they begin swirling up in the air, making a buzzing sound that can be heard from a distance. Scout bees start looking for a nearby branch as an interim resting place. When one is chosen, they gather on the branch in a tall, cylindrical-shaped mass of bees with the queen at the center. We have had bee swarms two feet tall, hanging from a branch.
Then the scout bees start looking for a permanent site, which could be some distance from their original home. As the scouts return, they somehow “discuss and debate and vote” on where to locate. When this democratic process is complete the swarm heads for its new home and establishes a new colony of honey bees.
Meanwhile, back at the original hive, a new queen soon emerges and she makes sure she is the only one! The remaining worker bees accept the new queen, who is fertilized by the drones (males) who exist in the hive for that very purpose.
A bee keeper, by frequently examining his hives, can detect when a hive is soon to swarm by seeing the peanut-shaped queen cups that the workers have prepared to develop a new queen. By adding additional hive boxes and destroying the queen cups, the hive can probably be kept from swarming, but if the hive is allowed to swarm, the keeper, by being alert to watch it take place, can usually capture the swarm by shaking the swarm into a new hive box, making sure the queen goes in. All the rest of the bees in the swarm will enter the box as well, and they have a new hive. It is pretty amazing how docile swarming bees are. They are not usually in a defensive or attack mode and are quite cooperative.
So, how does that relate to our Christian lives? Well, if you think of the church (an assembly of believers) as the “hive” or “colony” of bees, first of all you can see the parallel of how each member of the assembly has a unique role to play (using their spiritual gifts) for the unity, effectiveness and health of the church (see I Cor. 12:4-31 and Eph. 4:11-16). But also, as with the honeybees, we need to reproduce to guarantee the future of the church. We have the tendency to want to remain where it is comfortable and not reach out. That has always been a problem with mankind since sin in the Garden of Eden. Remember God’s command was to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God repeated His command to Noah and his family after the flood (Gen. 9:1). But, a couple chapters later in Genesis, we read of the building of the tower of Babel and men saying: “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). As a result, God confused their language and scattered them over the face of the earth (vv. 7-9).
Then in the New Testament, Jesus told His disciples that when He left, God would send them the Holy Spirit to empower them: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to indwell the disciples (meeting in Jerusalem) and 3,000 Jews were saved as a result of Peter’s sermon. Souls continued to be saved and they were meeting for worship, breaking bread, prayer and teaching. Wow, it was exciting, and they were having a great time—the problem was, they didn’t want to leave. They had already forgotten that Jesus said they were to be witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but all Judea and neighboring Samaria and to the far corners of the globe. And, then we have Jesus’ command we call “The Great Commission” when He told them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Mt. 26:19).
Again, we have the tendency to remain where it is comfortable just to keep “growing our hive” and not establishing new ones. As a result, we have what we call “mega-churches” of thousands of members. While there may be some advantages to large assemblies, I believe that it is God’s plan for us to “swarm” like bees and establish new churches in communities where there isn’t a Bible-believing-behaving church. Rather than continuing to grow a huge church, how about sending a portion of the members (leaders among them) with a pastor to establish another assembly in a nearby area that needs a church so folks can attend in their own community. Now you have two healthy, growing assemblies instead of one. And maybe there needs to be some additional after swarms as well, as the original assembly (hive) continues to multiply. Hey, it’s obviously God’s plan for the honey bees. And it works well—another lesson we can learn from the bees!