Shocking – the Bible condemns alcohol abuse?

The other week we discussed some pretty clear positive assessments about alcohol in the Old Testament. We concluded with a quote from Preston Sprinkle: “Alcohol is often portrayed not as a neutral substance that’s “allowed” but a blessing that’s often “promoted.” …Like marital sex, alcohol is not just allowed – as if it was a naughty thing that’s okay from time to time – but is actually promoted as a symbol of God’s blood-bought material and spiritual blessings.”

Now, the first thing Noah does when he gets off the ark in Genesis 9 is to build an alter, give thanks, sacrifice some animals, and receive a covenant from God not to pour water on all of us until we breathe it in again (that covenant is with the animals too, curious). He also says “every beast of the earth and … every bird of the air” will fear us, and that “every thing that lives shall be food for you” – you didn’t know it actually said that, right? I didn’t.

Anyway, the second thing it records Noah doing is planting a vineyard (something of an analogy to the Mayflower’s travellers when they made land – they built a brewery – I prefer Noah’s proclivity). Then he gets drunk. But it doesn’t say he shouldn’t have been harvesting grapes that turn into wine, or making wine, or drinking it – there’s no commentary there, no judgement on Noah, just on Ham for perving or making fun of Noah. So respecting and caring for Noah and covering the sin (not covering up, although that’s what he should have done for his father, but rather than gossiping about it), is more important than the sinfulness of Noah getting drunk, at least that’s the point that’s made in the passage.

 

That all said, there are many prohibitions and warnings about alcohol.
If you look through your concordance, you’ll find a lot of verses that say no to alcohol (eg Judges 13:14) – many direct prohibitions are related to drunkeness (eg 1 Sam 1:14), specific instructions from God (eg Judges 13:14), or related to vows, like the Nazerite vow.

Now, alcohol is a blessing from the Lord, yet, we read about Noah, and we read about several prohibitions. Turns out, we probably shouldn’t get drunk, right? Or should we?

I’m going to quote and link you to a good article about the chief prohibitions of alcohol in the Old Testament, from John Anthony Dunne at thetwocities.com – there’s a very good summary on alcohol and the Old Testament there, if you’re interested.

“There are also a few instances where abstinence from alcohol is described. Yet, contextually it is quite clear that these prohibitions are not normative, but are for a particular task. This applies to priests while participating in the cultic worship of Israel (Lev 10.8-9; Ezek 44.21). Likewise, the Nazarites while taking the vow of separation were to abstain from wine (Num 6.1-4; Am 2.12), yet they could enjoy wine upon completing the vow (Num 6.20). While Samson’s mother was pregnant she was charged not to drink wine (Jdg 13.4, 7, 14). Treading the wine-press and bringing wine into Jerusalem was prohibited on the Sabbath (Neh 13.15-18). Interestingly, the Rechabites were tested with drinking wine, but they abstained because their father commanded them not to, along with other things, like owning a house (Jer 35.1-19). Daniel chose to abstain from wine and meat while in exile in order to make a theological point to the Babylonians (Dan 1.5, 8, 15-16). Lastly, while Daniel was mourning he fasted from wine and other delicacies for three weeks (Dan 10.3).”

 So, when you’re leading worship or preaching, maybe lay off the booze? Nadab and Abihu went into the tabernacle drunk, and God roasted them for it. If you vow, or make a solemn decision to refrain for a time, refrain! Daniel, Sampson, and the Nazerites are good examples. If God calls you not to, great!

 

Now, aside from prohibitions, we have many warnings about alcohol. Most of them either imply or directly state habitual drunkenness. I could list a bunch of scriptures, but here’s a couple:

Isaiah 5:11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink,
Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!

Prov 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.

Prov 21:17 He who loves pleasure will become a poor man;
He who loves wine and oil will not become rich.

Prov 23:20 Listen, my son, and be wise,
And direct your heart in the way.
Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

Don’t be a drunk. Don’t hang out with drunks. Don’t love pleasures (including alcohol) because that is not a road to prosperity.

We also see many examples beyond advice.

Noah got drunk, and the results were…embarrassing. Not just that, but the subsequent squabble between the brothers resulted in a family division that lead to the Philistines (coming from Ham) and Israel (coming from the other brothers). There were some issues between the two down the track, that might have been avoided had Noah not got so plastered, or Ham not been a jerk about it (Gen 9).

Lot’s daughters got him drunk so they could sleep with him (boy, fathers, is that a reason not to get drunk, or what?) – and the resultant offspring – Moab and Ammon – were also to give Israel a bit of trouble (Gen 19). However, Jesus came from Ruth, a Moabite, so God clearly uses our evil for good ends, just as He was glorified in David killing Goliath and showing His might in enabling Israel triumphs over the Philistines.

Amnon, son of David, was murdered by Absalom, who had the opportunity while his brother was drunk (2 Sam 13).

 

So, and I can’t say this strongly enough, because it’s the balance of the Old Testament’s statements, warnings, and examples concerning alcohol:

Don’t abuse alcohol, don’t get drunk, don’t be habitually drunk.

 

Can’t point this out enough. In the context of many warnings about alcohol, yet many praises of it as God’s blessing, and even command from him to spend tithes on it and feast (Deut 14), I see most of the prohibitions from drinking as circumstantial (such as adherence to a specific vow, presiding over a court, conducting ritual in the holy of holies), or warnings centered on what happens when you abuse alcohol, rather than complete 1920s prohibition. To suggest that you have to ignore a lot of what the Bible says about alcohol, or suggest that wine/beer/’strong drink’ referred to in the Old Testament didn’t actually really contain much alcohol, even though it obviously got people drunk enough to do stupid things, like sleep with their daughters and not even remember in the morning.

 

I’m probably going to keep this series to Mondays, because I tend to have more time on the weekend to catch up if I don’t get to it during the week. These posts take much more effort and research (because I want to be honest and thorough) than what I might normally write. If I’m honest, I’m a little disappointed because I wanted to dig more into what the Old Testament had to say, but looking at what I wanted to cover in this post, it was going to be several thousand words if I dug into lots of texts in depth, so I had to summarise. If you want to discuss something, hit me up!

One of my bigger peeves with discussing alcohol though, is when we (because I have  a tendency towards this too) take one or two scriptures that ‘prove’ our point, and ignore the rest of the 66 books. This is case in point with alcohol – I have scriptures that say DRINK, drink liberally and enjoy, and then I’ve got some that say NO, stay away! If we’re to be honest with our Bible, and take God at His Word, we need to take them all together, not the one or two verses that ‘agree’ with eachother and us.

On that note. I’m tackling one of the more interesting passages on this topic next week: Proverbs 31!

 

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