Wrong Uses of Wine
All Christians agree that drunkenness is a sin. The Bible is replete with commands and warnings against the abuse of alcohol.
Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty (Proverbs 23:20-21).
Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
That they may follow intoxicating drink;
Who continue until night, till wine inflames them!
Woe to men mighty at drinking wine,
Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink
Many other passages condemn drunkenness. Prohibitionists, abstentionists, and moderationists all agree that drunkenness is a sin.
The Godly Use of Wine
Yet, the condemnation of the abuse of wine does not entail a condemnation of all uses of wine. Rather, God says many positive things about wine. Most who oppose the Christian use of wine do not reckon with how the Bible endorses the proper use of alcohol.
Wine is a Gift of God
The Psalmist sings that God wants us to enjoy wine.
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
And vegetation for the service of man,
That he may bring forth food from the earth,
And wine that makes glad the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
This is one of the most positive statements about wine that God has made. Just as God provides the conditions that allow man to cultivate food and oil, so God provides the conditions that allow man to produce wine. Wine is a gift from God to man.
Notice, too, that wine is given to make our hearts glad. It is virtuous, godly, and righteous to enjoy the warmth that a glass of wine gives. Feeling some of the effects of alcohol is not the same as drunkenness.
Those who argue against the righteous use of wine are rejecting one of God’s good gifts. This passage alone ought to be enough to cause abstentionists to pause. If we take God’s word literally, then we will not shrink from believing this passage. Alcohol is a gift from God.
Wine is a Gift to God
God commands wine to be given as an offering to himself.
Now this is what you shall offer on the altar … with the one lamb shall be one-tenth of an ephah of flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of pressed oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine [approximately one quart] as a drink offering (Exodus 29:38-40).
Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to Yahweh, for a sweet aroma; and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin [one quart] (Leviticus 23:13).
And one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering you shall prepare with the burnt offering or the sacrifice, for each lamb … and as a drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a sweet aroma to Yahweh … and you shall bring as the drink offering half a hin of wine [two quarts] as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to Yahweh (Numbers 15:5, 7, 10).
God demands that nothing unclean or unholy can ever to be offered to him. Yet, God also commands Israel to regularly include wine in their offerings. Therefore, it is impossible that wine is inherently unclean or unholy. God was pleased when Israel gave wine to him as a gift.
Look at what God also commanded as an offering:
And its drink offering shall be one-fourth of a hin for each lamb; in a holy place you shall pour out the strong drink to Yahweh as an offering (Numbers 28:7).
God commands not only wine, but also strong drink as an offering. Again, it is inconceivable that God would allow something sinful to be poured out on his holy altar. God was pleased to receive alcohol from Israel as an offering.
Wine is a Blessing
Isaac blessed Jacob, praying for plenty of wine:
Therefore may God give you
Of the dew of heaven,
Of the fatness of the earth,
And plenty of grain and wine.
Throughout Israel’s history, God promised an abundance of wine for faithful obedience:
Honor Yahweh with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that Yahweh your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you (Deuteronomy 7:12-13).
As a reward for faithful obedience, God also commanded Israel to purchase not only wine, but also strong drink, which was even more alcoholic than wine.
And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or strong drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household (Deuteronomy 14:26).
The abundance of wine and strong drink is a sign of godliness and blessing. Indeed, God promised an abundance of wine for those returning from exile:
“Behold, the days are coming,” says Yahweh,
“When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
The mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
And all the hills shall flow with it.
I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them (Amos 9:13-14).
Wine is a also part of the great eschatological feast:
And in this mountain Yahweh of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees (Isaiah 25:6).
An abundance of wine is one of the signs of blessing that God graciously promised throughout Scripture. God would never tell his people that wine is a blessing, if it were actually a curse or sinful or foolish.
The Absence of Wine
The absence of wine is always regarded negatively, as a sign of the absence of God. For example, God threatens to curse Israel by preventing them from drinking their wine:
But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you … You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them (Deuteronomy 28:15, 39).
As a further curse, God threatened that foreigners would drink Israel’s wine:
Yahweh has sworn by His right hand And by the arm of His strength: “Surely I will no longer give your grain As food for your enemies; And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, For which you have labored (Isaiah 62:8).
Just as God promises an abundance of wine as a blessing for faithfulness, so God also promises the removal of wine as a curse for unfaithfulness.
In Scripture, prohibition is a curse, the result of disobedience. Those who object to the use of wine on the grounds that it is inherently evil, and that its use is sinful, should pause to consider the fact that they are declaring to be a curse that which God has declared to be a blessing, and a blessing that which God has declared to be a curse. This is a grievous error.
Wine is a Symbol of the Gospel
Isaiah uses wine as a symbol of the gospel:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1).
It would incongruous for God to use wine as a symbol of the gospel and yet prohibit his people from enjoying it. The consistent testimony of the Old Testament is that wine is a gift and a blessing and is to be enjoyed by God’s people.