WINE AND STRONG DRINK
There are a number of original-language terms that usually designate some kind of wine (Heb., ti·rohshʹ [Gen. 27:28, 37; Hos. 2:8, 9, 22]; Heb., hheʹmer [Deut. 32:14; Isa. 27:2] and the corresponding Aramaic term hhamarʹ [Dan. 5:1, 2, 4, 23]; Gr., gleuʹkos [Acts 2:13, 15]). But the Hebrew word yaʹyin is found most frequently in the Scriptures. It first appears in Genesis 9:20-24, where the reference is to Noah’s planting a vineyard after the flood and then becoming intoxicated on the wine therefrom. The Greek word oiʹnos (basically corresponding to the Hebrew term yaʹyin) first occurs in Jesus’ comments on the inadvisability of using old wineskins for new, partially fermented wine, as the pressure developed through fermentation would burst the old wineskins.—Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37, 38.
Various strong alcoholic liquors apparently derived from pomegranates, dates, figs, and the like, were usually designated by the Hebrew term she·kharʹ. (Num. 28:7; Deut. 14:26; Ps. 69:12) The Hebrew word ʽa·sisʹ, at The Song of Solomon 8:2, refers to the “fresh juice of pomegranates,” but in other passages the context points to wine. (Isa. 49:26; Joel 1:5) Beer may have been designated by the Hebrew word soʹveʼ.—Isa. 1:22; Nah. 1:10.
In Palestine the grapes were gathered during August and September, depending on the type of grapes and the climate of the region. The vintage season was practically over by the time the “festival of booths” was celebrated in the early part of autumn. (Deut. 16:13) After being picked, the grapes were placed in limestone vats or troughs where men usually crushed them barefooted, singing songs as they trod the winepress. (Isa. 16:10; Jer. 25:30; 48:33) With such comparatively gentle crushing methods the stems and seeds were not broken down, little of the tannic acid in the skins was expressed, and this, in turn, made for a high-quality wine, one that was smooth and soft on the palate. (Song of Sol. 7:9) Sometimes heavy stones were used instead of feet.—Isa. 63:3; see PRESS.
The first “must” or fresh juice that flows from the broken skins of the grapes, if kept separate from the greater volume of juice extracted under pressure, makes the richest and best wines. Fermentation begins within six hours after the crushing, while the juice is still in the vats, and slowly progresses for a period of several months. The alcohol content of the natural wines varies from 8 to 14 percent by volume, but this can be increased with the addition of sugar to the must or by adding alcoholic spirits later on. If grapes are low in sugar content, and fermentation continues too long, or if the wine is not properly protected from oxidizing, it turns to acetic acid or vinegar.—Ruth 2:14.
During the aging period the wine was kept in jars or skin bottles. (Jer. 13:12) These containers were probably vented in such a way as to allow the carbon dioxide gas (a by-product in the conversion of the sugars to alcohol through fermentation) to escape without admitting oxygen from the air to contact and contaminate the wine. (Job 32:19) As the wines were left undisturbed, they gradually clarified, the dregs falling to the bottom, with an improvement in the bouquet and flavor. (Luke 5:39) Thereafter wines were usually transferred to other vessels.—Isa. 25:6; Jer. 48:11; see DREGS.
From time immemorial wine has been used as a beverage at mealtimes. (Gen. 27:25; Eccl. 9:7) Wine, bread and other foods are often associated together. (1 Sam. 16:20; Song of Sol. 5:1; Isa. 22:13; 55:1) Melchizedek set “bread and wine” before Abraham. (Gen. 14:18-20) Jesus drank wine with his meals when it was available. (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34) Wine was very much a part of banquets (Esther 1:7; 5:6; 7:2, 7, 8), wedding feasts (John 2:2, 3, 9, 10; 4:46), and other festive occasions. (1 Chron. 12:39, 40; Job 1:13, 18) The royal commissaries were stocked with wines (1 Chron. 27:27; 2 Chron. 11:11); it was the customary beverage of kings and governors. (Neh 2:1; 5:15, 18; Dan. 1:5, 8, 16) Travelers often included it in their provisions for the journey.—Josh. 9:4, 13; Judg. 19:19.
Its wide usage made wine a commodity of trade (Neh. 13:15), the “wine of Helbon” (preferred by the kings of Persia) and the “wine of Lebanon” being particularly famous. (Ezek. 27:18; Hos. 14:7) Wine was a medium of payment for workers employed in providing wood used in building the temple. (2 Chron. 2:8-10, 15) It was considered an excellent gift for one’s superiors (1 Sam. 25:18; 2 Sam. 16:1, 2), and was included in the tithing contribution given for the support of the priests and Levites. (Deut. 18:3, 4; 2 Chron. 31:4, 5; Neh. 10:37, 39; 13:5, 12) And wine was among the choice things offered up to Jehovah in sacrificial worship of him.—Ex. 29:38, 40; Lev. 23:13; Num. 15:5, 7, 10; 28:14; 1 Sam. 1:24; 10:3; Hos. 9:4.
Wine was not at first a part of the Passover meal, but was added later, perhaps after the return from Babylonian exile. It was therefore on the table when Jesus celebrated the Passover the last time with his apostles and was conveniently used by him in instituting the Memorial of his death. The red “blood of grapes” was a fitting representation of Jesus’ own sacrificial blood. On that occasion Jesus spoke of such wine as “this product of the vine,” and since it was perhaps seven months after the grape harvest there can be no question but that it was fermented juice of the vine.—Gen. 49:11; Matt. 26:18, 27-29.
As indicated by Jesus and reported by the physician Luke, wine had certain medicinal value as an antiseptic and mild disinfectant. (Luke 10:34) The Bible also recommends it as a curative remedy in cases of certain intestinal disturbances. Paul counseled Timothy: “Do not drink water any longer, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent cases of sickness.” (1 Tim. 5:23) This was sound medical advice. Dr. Salvatore P. Lucia, professor of medicine, University of California School of Medicine, writes: “Wine is the most ancient dietary beverage and the most important medicinal agent in continuous use throughout the history of mankind. . . . Actually, few other substances available to man have been as widely recommended for their curative powers as have wines.”—Wine as Food and Medicine, pp. 5, 58; see DISEASES AND TREATMENT, page 453.
Contrary to the erroneous opinions of some, alcoholic liquors are not mental stimulants, but are in reality sedatives and depressants of the central nervous system. “Give intoxicating liquor, you people, to the one about to perish and wine to those who are bitter of soul,” not as a mental stimulant to make such ones more conscious of their misery, but, rather, as the proverb says, that they may ‘forget their troubles.’ (Prov. 31:6, 7) There was an ancient custom among the Romans of giving criminals drugged wine to blunt the pain of execution. Perhaps this is why Roman soldiers offered Jesus drugged wine when impaling him.—Mark 15:23.
It is apparent that wine is one of the gifts included among Jehovah’s blessings to mankind. Wine “makes the heart of mortal man rejoice”; it puts the heart in “a merry mood.” (Ps. 104:15; Esther 1:10; 2 Sam. 13:28; Eccl. 2:3; 10:19; Zech. 10:7) Hence, Daniel, when in mourning drank no wine. (Dan. 10:2, 3) An abundant supply of wine, symbolized by the “vine” in the oft-repeated expression ‘sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree,’ denotes prosperity and security under Jehovah’s righteous administration. (1 Ki. 4:25; 2 Ki. 18:31; Isa. 36:16; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 3:10) Wine is also included in the restoration blessings promised by Jehovah.—Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13, 14; Zech. 9:17.
Moderation in all things is a Bible principle. Even honey is no exception—in moderation it is good; overeating of the same is injurious. (Prov. 25:27) So also with Jehovah’s gifts of wine and strong drink; they must be used as he directs. Overindulgence and disregard for Bible principles in the use of these provisions brings Jehovah’s disapproval and leads to debauchery and death. The Bible is very emphatic on this matter, both in its precepts and its examples.—Prov. 23:29-31; see DRUNKENNESS.
There may be cases where drinking alcohol, even in small quantities, would be ill-advised and detrimental to one’s health. On other occasions one may refrain from drinking intoxicating liquor to avoid stumbling others and out of love and consideration for others.—Rom. 14:21.
Jehovah forbade the priests and Levites, when on duty at the tabernacle or temple, to drink alcohol in any form, under the penalty of death. (Lev. 10:8, 9; Ezek. 44:21) Off duty they were free to drink in moderation. (1 Chron. 9:29) So too it was a divine regulation that a Nazirite was not to drink any alcoholic beverage while under this special vow. (Num. 6:2-4, 13-20; Amos 2:12) Because Samson was to be a Nazirite from birth, his mother was not allowed to touch wine or liquor during her pregnancy. (Judg. 13:4, 5, 7, 14) When officiating, “it is not for kings to drink wine or for high officials to say: ‘Where is intoxicating liquor?’,” lest they “forget what is decreed and pervert the cause of any of the sons of affliction.” (Prov. 31:4, 5) Overseers in the Christian congregation should not be “drunken brawlers,” and ministerial servants “should likewise be serious, . . . not giving themselves to a lot of wine.”—1 Tim. 3:3, 8:
Ancient Babylon, when acting as Jehovah’s executioner, made all the nations ‘drunk on wine,’ symbolic of Jehovah’s wrath against the nations. (Jer. 51:7) Also in other texts, opponents of Jehovah are depicted as being forced to drink of God’s righteous indignation, likened to “wine [that] is foaming,” “the wine of rage,” “the wine of the anger of God.” (Ps. 75:8; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10; 16:19) A bitter potion that has no relationship to divine anger is the “passion-arousing wine” that “Babylon the great” makes all the nations drink.—Rev. 14:8; 17:2; 18:3, 13.