Are you blessed? Do you have any fine wine? “Let’s bless them all until we get fershnickered!”

Forgive a little Mel Brooks-style hyperbole. Looking at alcohol in the Old Testament is kinda fun when you get into it. Mostly because apart from prohibitions, warnings and Noah getting wasted (did that happen in the movie?), we (I?) don’t often hear much about what the Old Testament has to say about booze. And He has a lot to say. 

Seems it’s a bit of a bigger picture than something to avoid.

Wine, if we do the big overview of the Old Testament, is a blessing, more positive than negative, and often mentioned casually, neutrally, unlike child sacrifice or putting women and orphans on the street, for example. We can look at a host of scriptures,

  • Jer 31:12 – God will deliver Israel our of bondage “They’ll be radiant over the Lord’s goodness, over the grain, the new wine, the fresh oil…”
  • Ps 104:14-15 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man.”
  • Judges 9:13 “But the vine said to them, “Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?” “
  • Genesis 14:18 Melchizedek, a type of Christ (Heb 5) gave wine to Abraham. “King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine, since he was serving as the priest of God Most High.”
  • Gen 49:11 Talking about how blessed Judah will be, “he will wash his garments in wine” – I guess Judah was going to have some to spare?
  • Esther 5:6. &:1-2, Nehemiah 2:1 drank wine with/for their monarchs, without mention of it being a trail or trouble, and Job and his family, the man God saw as righteous, drank wine (Job 1:13).
  • The Jews were to provide for their slaves: “Provide for them liberally from your flock, threshing floor, and wine vat. As the Lord your God has blessed you, so give to them.”
  • Wine was a part of a lot of offerings (and surely not just for that purpose) – many many references eg Ex 29:40 – the priests would consume these (some of them, anyway, some were poured out, eg Num 28:7). In fact, the best wine was to go to the priests – Num 18:12, 30.
  • Gen 27:28 “May God give you the dew of the sky and the richness of the earth, and plenty of grain and new wine.”
  • Ex 22:29 “You are not to hold back the fullness of your harvest and the outflow of your winepresses.” – Big harvests and full winepresses were blessings for Israel. eg Deut 7:13. 11:14; Joel 2:19, 24, 3:18; Amos 9:13-14; Is 55:1; Jer 31:12; Zech 9:17
  • Is 62:9 “but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.” – They’ll drink wine in the temple courts!
  • Ex 22:29 “You are not to hold back the fullness of your harvest and the outflow of your winepresses.” – Big harvests and full winepresses were blessings for Israel. eg Deut 7:13. 11:14; Joel 2:19, 24, 3:18; Amos 9:13-14; Is 55:1; Jer 31:12; Zech 9:17

To be deprived of wine was a curse, a sign of God’s judgement:

  • Deut 28 v39 “You’ll plant a vineyard, but you won’t drink wine or harvest any grapes,” v51 “They will leave you without your grain, wine, oil, the increase of your cattle…” See also Hosea 2:9, 9:2; Joel 1:10; Amos 5:11; Micah 6:15; Zephaniah 1:13; Haggai 1:11, 2:16
  • Deut 29:6 “You didn’t have bread to eat or wine or anything intoxicating to drink, so that you would learn that I am the Lord your God.” – Ouch! And also implying that there was alcohol other than wine around and permitted.
  • Jer 48:33 – “Gladness and joy have been taken away from the fruitful land of Moab; I have made the wine cease from the winepresses; no one treads them with shouts of joy” – it was a curse against other nations too.Lam 2:12 Even children: “They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” ” – now my purpose isn’t to make a case for childhood drinking…but clearly they did in Israel.
Wine, in fact, was required for celebrating the passover. Four ritual glasses of wine, plus any other non-ritual glasses, as part of the meal. God seems to prescribe alcohol for celebrations. I’ll give you two examples:

The first is tithing in Deut 14:22-29:

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.

At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.”

So, it seems that God just gave the Israelites instructions to use tithe money to get whatever their heart desires, food, booze, and celebrate with family and friends, making sure to take care of the poor also. Could we mirror this today, using the resources God has blessed us with to hold a feasts, dinners, parties regularly, sharing with our friends and those around us, to celebrate how He has blessed us?

The second is the celebration of the reading of the Law (the scriptures) in Nehemiah 8:9-12

“Because all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Law, Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the descendants of Levi who taught the people told everyone, “This day i sholy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.”
He also told them, “Go eat the best food, drink the best wine, and give something to those who have nothing, since this day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sorrowful, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The descendants of Levi also calmed all the people by saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be sorrowful!”
So all the people went to eat, to drink, to send something to those who had nothing, and to celebrate with great joy, because they understood the words that were being declared to them.”

So the scriptures are read out, the people are convicted, and the priests tell them to celebrate, and party, drink good food and wine, and share it with the poor.
And that seems to be the preoccupation in much of scripture – God is far more concerned with our rejoicing in Him, being thankful and enjoying what He has blessed us with, and sharing His blessings to us with those who are less fortunate, than what we choose to eat or drink.
Now, before it gets said that I wrote that everyone should drink, and often – I’m not. Because the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Old Testament hasn’t got any text that completely prohibits alcohol consumption – quite the contrary. However, there are some prohibitions, for certain people at certain times, and some warnings and cautions about alcohol in general. And then the discussion about the effects of alcohol on the body being good/bad/okay or not? But since this piece is already longer than some of my university papers, that will have to wait for next week.





This post is part 2 in my series on Alcohol



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