Noah's Vineyard: The Doctrine of Drinking; Gen. 9:18-29
We all know that there are a lot of Christians who have problems with other Christians who partake of alcoholic beverages. Other Christians have problems with those who don't. So we need to perceive what the Scripture says about the subject of drinking and alcoholic beverage. The Bible talks about the legitimate use of wine. There are two terms that are used in the Scripture. One is yayin for wine, and the other is the Hebrew word shakar which is the word for barley beer and is the one usually translated "strong drink offering," and that is a misnomer for us because in our culture we think of strong drink as a distilled beverage. In biblical times they didn't know how to distill beverages.
The legitimate uses of wine
We have to understand that wine is a part of creation. It is viewed as something that God has provided to man. It is used in the Scripture to picture joy, that God gave wine for the joy of man's heart. But we are to handle wine like anything else in God's creation, according to the instructions that God gives. There are dangers to anything in life. Anything can be distorted and warped out of perspective. Anything that is a detail of life can become a focus of our search for happiness, that somehow we think that if we have success, if we have money and the things that money can buy, if we have alcohol, if we have drugs, that will solve our problems and bring happiness, stability, and dull the pain of suffering in life. Anything can be misused and abused. We have to recognize also that in the Old Testament wine and alcoholic beverages were a central part of worship and celebration during certain feasts of Israel. Something that always blows the legalist mind is that in the Old Testament there were wine offerings and there were beer offerings to God.
We have an example from Abraham and Melchizedek. After Abraham defeats the enemies of Sodom he goes back to Salem and brings the spoil to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek brings out oil and wine. We are told that he was a priest of God most high. This was just a meal of fellowship. The word for wine is the Hebrew word yayin, and this refers to an intoxicating beverage was usually made from grapes. Wine was also a part of the perpetual daily sacrifice in the Mosaic law. Every day there was a sacrifice in the morning and again in the evening. These were sin offerings and are described in Exodus 29:39-41. "The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even: and with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering. And the other lamb thou shalt offer at even, and shalt do thereto according to the meat offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the LORD." This was poured out on the fire as a burnt offering to the Lord. We know that wine was also part of the grain offering in Leviticus 23:13, "And the grain offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the LORD for a sweet savour: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of an hin." Once again we see wine as part of the offering to the Lord. It was also included in other offerings. In Numbers 15:7, 10, "And for a drink offering thou shalt offer the third part of an hin of wine, for a sweet savour unto the LORD… And thou shalt bring for a drink offering half an hin of wine, for an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD." Numbers 18:12, 27, "All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee …. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress."
This led to a conclusion in Israel. Wine was specifically stated to be a sign of divine blessing to Israel, Deuteronomy 7:13, "And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee." There were all kinds and types of physical, visible blessings for Israel in the Lord Testament and one of those was wine production. Deuteronomy 11:14, "That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil." Deuteronomy 14:3, "And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always." Wine was also part of the annual feast called the feast of booths, also known as the feast of tabernacles, as described in Deuteronomy 16:13, "Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine. And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates." Notice the emphasis on family, that the family would celebrate together. The feast of tabernacles pictures the Millennial kingdom, and many times the use of wine is a picture of the joy that will be ours during that Millennial kingdom. This is seen in passages such as Psalm 104:14, 15, "He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart." So wine here is seen as part of God's logistical grace for mankind. All of this is to show that the Bible emphasizes a legitimate use for alcoholic beverages. In fact, the loss of the grape crop, the loss of wine, was considered a sign of divine judgment on the nation. Deuteronomy 28:39, "Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them." Deuteronomy 28 is at the end of the book where there are two chapters outlining the blessings and cursings for Israel for obedience and disobedience to the law. In this section of chapter 28 Moses is giving the list of cursings, the judgments that God will bring on the nation if they are disobedient. Isaiah refers to this in 5:2, "And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes." Remember the prophets were men who functioned as much as a prosecuting attorney representing the Lord. They explained to the people that the reason they were going through a certain amount of discipline, of catastrophe, of military defeat, economic downturn, is because they are violating the Mosaic law. God uses the production of grapes and wine as an image or illustration of what He is doing with Israel. One would not expect that if the use of alcoholic beverages is inherently wrong or evil that God would be using that as an image for the spiritual production of Israel.
Wine not only is used to represent spiritual production in the and, or used as discipline on the land, but it is also used in Scripture of a fellowship that we will have with God in the Messianic kingdom. When the kingdom comes there will be the use of wine—Isaiah 25:6, "And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain [Temple mount]; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine." [NASB] The Hebrew word for aged wine here is shemer, an interesting word because it refers to the dregs or that which comes up out of the bottom of the wine. So that would be the oldest wine in the cask. By figure of speech it came not to speak of the dregs of the wine, which for us is something negative, but it came to refer to that which is the oldest and the finest. So wine is clearly a part of the Messianic kingdom.
Then we have a legitimate use in medicine as wine was used in the Old Testament. Proverbs 31:6, "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts." The idea here is not of someone who is on his death bed but someone who is down, someone who is feeling defeated in life, someone whose life is a hardship. Give them wine, not to get drunk but just to lift their spirits a little bit. Medicinally it is used also in the New Testament in 1 Timothy 5:23. Wine was rarely ever taken in full strength in Greek culture. The Greeks thought that it was the sign of a barbarian to drink wine in full strength. They would usually mix it in about a one to two ratio of wine to water, so that it wasn't as strong as the wine that we produce today. Nevertheless it was still an alcoholic beverage.
When the Lord came during the first advent He frequently went to parties. He was ridiculed and criticized for going to those dinners and parties by the Pharisees. Matthew 11:19, "The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children." The accusation by the Pharisees and the legalistic crowd was that Jesus came eating and drinking. Then they called Him a glutton and a drunkard. Obviously He was going to these parties and was eating, so they took that and exaggerated it and said He was a glutton. In order for them to call Him a drunkard He would have to be having a glass of wine as well at the party. So the Lord was obviously not abstaining. This is also in contrast to John the Baptist who did not eat and drink. He had a restricted diet and he abstained from alcohol. There is nothing wrong with making a decision in life to abstain from alcoholic beverage.
All of this is to show simply the point that the Bible recognizes in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that there is a legitimate use of alcoholic beverage. But the Bible also warns against the use of alcoholic beverage, that there is an illegitimate use, and that if this can be a problem for the individual then abstinence is a good choice. In both the Old and New Testaments intemperance or drunkenness or the misuse of alcoholic beverage is condemned. Remember the issue is balance and moderation in all things. The Scripture condemns excess in almost every area of life, and the same is true of the use of alcoholic beverages. In the Old Testament Levitical priests were not to partake of alcoholic beverages, Leviticus 10:9; Ezekiel 44:21. The Nazarites, a special group of individuals who took a particular vow of separation unto God, Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4, 7, 14, also were not to even drink grape juice. Then there was another group called the Rechabites, and they were descendants of their forefather Jonadab, mentioned in 2 Kings 10:15-27. He was a sort of a precursor to the Pharisees, you might say, and he had a strict guideline for life, part of which was abstinence from alcohol. All of his descendants abstained completely from the use of alcohol. They are mentioned in Jeremiah 35 and in those verses Jeremiah is not advocating or validating their tradition. What he is doing in that chapter is saying they were faithful to their fathers, even though they were not even Jews, and he was saying that in contrast the Jews were not faithful to their fathers. So in principle he is not validating their abstinence from alcohol but is using their ancestor as an example in contrast to the Israelites unfaithfulness to their heavenly father.
Another example of abstinence in the Old Testament is Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1:8-16. They would not drink the wine of the Chaldeans. That was a decision they made but it was not something that was imposed by the Mosaic law.
The Bible clearly prohibits the abuse and misuse and overuse of alcohol and drunkenness. Proverbs 20:1, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." In Proverbs there is the contrast between the wise believer who is operating on divine viewpoint and the fool who is operating on human viewpoint. Wine is a mocker, it causes someone who has a seared conscience to violate their norms and standards. It distorts the thinking process, the conscience and good judgment. When a person drinks he can easily lose his inhibitions and easily rationalize sin. Furthermore, Proverbs talks about the fact that leaders should refrain from wine, especially id there is any possibility that they might be called upon to make hard decisions, Proverbs 31:4, 5. In the New Testament when we come to the qualifications for leaders—pastors and deacons—they are not prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverage. 1 Timothy 3 tells us they are simply not to be addicted to wine.
Concluding principle on the use of alcoholic beverages
1) The Bible gives no encouragement and no excuse for excessive drinking. What happens in any kind of legalistic situation is that when a person who has had that kind of background is confronted with grace and those legalistic constraints are removed there is a tendency to excess.
2) While drinking in moderation is permitted there are many believers who cannot do so. Many simply can't handle it.
3) For the believer who cannot or will not drink in moderation he needs to avoid the use of alcohol completely, except perhaps in medicine.
4) When in doubt abstain.
5) Applying the law of love, which we get from doubtful things in 1 Corinthians 8-10, in certain circumstances we need to just avoid wine.