Be on Guard Against “Excesses with Wine”
WINE—what a wonderful gift from our Creator, Jehovah God! It was He who made the delicious grapes and other fruits, made them fairly bursting with sweetness when ripe, and blended in esters and acids for aroma, flavor and bouquet. Jehovah God also established the laws of chemistry whereby these fruit sugars can be broken down by fermentation into alcohol. More than that, Jehovah made the microorganisms called yeasts, so necessary as catalysts in the fermentation process, and even coated the skins of ripe grapes with a delicate dusting of these yeast cells. Truly the whole cycle, from the fruit to an aged wine, reflects the wisdom and goodness of our grand Creator!
However, if we in turn show similar wisdom we will listen to Jehovah’s instructions on how this choice beverage should be used, not abused. This means we will be on guard against excessive and abusive use of wine. (1 Pet. 4:3) Our appreciation for this unique product of the vine will also be enhanced by a little background information on the history and uses of wine.
BIBLICAL HISTORY OF THIS USEFUL BEVERAGE
The recorded history of wine making is more than forty-three hundred years old, the oldest account telling how Noah planted a vineyard after the Flood and made wine from its grapes. (Gen. 9:20, 21) From earliest times this beverage has been used at mealtime, (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 special celebration—banquets (Esther 1:7; 5:6; 7:2, 7, 8; Dan. 5:1, 2, 4), wedding feasts (John 2:3, 9, 10; 4:46), and other festivals. (1 Chron. 12:39, 40; Job 1:13, 18) The royal commissaries were stocked with wines (1 Chron. 27:27; 2 Chron. 11:11); King Solomon had his “house of wine” (Song of Sol. 2:4); 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.
Here is a beverage that can be kept for years, even improving in smoothness, mellowness and quality with age. In fact, it is the only beverage that improves after being bottled. For this reason, and because of its widespread usage, wine became 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.
Solomon used wine as a medium of payment for materials 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 it 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) Fittingly, 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) However, this was not in imitation of pagan worship of Dionysus (Bacchus) and the pouring out of drink offerings to other gods.—Deut. 32:37, 38; Isa. 57:6; 65:11; Jer. 7:18; 19:13.
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 the twelve 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 poured out on behalf of mankind. On that occasion Jesus spoke of it 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 reported by the physician Luke, wine had certain medicinal value as an antiseptic and mild disinfectant. (Luke 10:34) So here is a beverage that has medicinal value as well as pleasing taste. The Bible recommends it as a curative remedy in cases of certain intestinal disturbances caused by drinking bad water. It was observed that people who drank wine were not subject to diseases associated with contaminated water. Hence, 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) That 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.”
Concerning its effectiveness in combating various intestinal ailments this same authority says:
“Wine is widely used in the treatment of diseases of the digestive system. It is found to be particularly beneficial in anorexia, hypochlorhydria without gastritis and hyposthenic dyspepsia. Minor hepatic insufficiency responds not unfavorably to unadulterated dry white table wine. The tannin content and the mild antiseptic properties of wine make it valuable in the treatment of intestinal colic, mucous colitis, spastic constipation, diarrhea and many infectious diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.”—Wine as Food and Medicine, pp. 5, 58.
From the above it is apparent that wine is indeed one of the wonderful gifts included among Jehovah’s other earthly blessings to mankind. Wine “makes God and men rejoice”; it “makes the heart of mortal man rejoice”; it puts the heart in “a merry mood.” (Judg. 9:13; 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) Such blessings, however, depend on faithfulness to Jehovah and strict obedience to his righteous requirements. Disobedience means the converse: calamity and desolation with little or no wine.—Deut. 28:39; Isa. 24:7-11; Amos 5:11; Mic. 6:15; Zeph. 1:13; Hag. 1:11.
GUARD AGAINST DRUNKENNESS
Moderation in all things is a Bible principle. Even honey is no exception—in moderation it is good; overeating of it is injurious. (Prov. 25:27) So also with Jehovah’s gifts of wine and strong drink. They too 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 examples.—Prov. 23:29-31.
Wine and its proper use are not censured, but drunkenness and lack of self-control are Scripturally prohibited and condemned. “Woe to those who are getting up early in the morning that they may seek just intoxicating liquor, who are lingering till late in the evening darkness so that wine itself inflames them!” (Isa. 5:11) “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness? Who has contentions? Who has concern? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has dullness of eyes? Those staying a long time with the wine, those coming in to search out mixed wine.” (Prov. 23:29, 30) “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine,” for an excess of alcohol causes “poverty,” “drowsiness,” ‘takes away good motive,’ causes “rage,” “loafing about,” or makes one “boisterous.”—Prov. 23:20, 21; Hos. 4:11; 7:5, 14; Zech. 9:15.
Whereas moderate quantities of wine are beneficial as a food and medicine, excessive amounts cause a state of drunkenness in which one is overpowered and loses control of mind and body. (Ps. 60:3; 78:65; Jer. 23:9; Joel 1:5) Excesses, the wise man wrote, are ‘just like a serpent’s bite, just like a viper’s poison,’ causing cirrhosis of the liver and mental delirium tremens, even to the point of killing a drunkard. (Prov. 23:32) The one with an insatiable love of wine is also bound to come to poverty, unable to work, unreliable.—Prov. 21:17.
The Bible also furnishes us with warning examples of misuse of wine and strong drink. Noah, it appears, inadvertently became intoxicated, which in turn led to serious improprieties. (Gen. 9:20-27) Made drunk on wine, Lot did not know at the time that he fathered the sons of his two daughters. (Gen. 19:32-38) Of the “drunkards of Ephraim” it is said, “they have gone astray in their seeing, they have reeled as to decision.” (Isa. 28:1, 7) Nabal was an example of a “good-for-nothing” drunkard with little or no self-control.—1 Sam. 25:25, 36.
CHRISTIANS TO BE ESPECIALLY ON GUARD
The drunkard is prone to be boisterous, unrestrained, noisy and ridiculous in his actions. (Ps. 107:27; Prov. 20:1; Isa. 19:14) Consequently, the practice of drunkenness cannot be tolerated in the Christian congregation. Individuals, therefore, coming into the Christian congregation lay aside the “works of the flesh,” including “drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these,” knowing full well that ‘drunkards will not inherit God’s kingdom.’ (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:10) “For the time that has passed by,” the apostle Peter writes Christians, “is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches.” (1 Pet. 4:3) “Do not be getting drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery,” is the command. (Eph. 5:18) Moderation and soundness of mind are required of all in the congregation—of overseers, ministerial servants, aged men and women as well as the younger ones.—1 Tim. 3:1-3, 8; Titus 1:6, 7; 2:2-4, 6.
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 them more conscious of their pain, but rather, that they might forget their troubles. (Prov. 31:6, 7) The ancient custom of giving criminals drugged wine to blunt the pain of execution may explain why Roman soldiers offered Jesus drugged wine when impaling him.—Mark 15:23.
Because alcoholic beverages are depressants Jehovah forbade the priests and Levites, when on duty at the tabernacle or temple, to indulge even in small amounts, under penalty of death. (Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21) Off duty they were free to drink in moderation. (1 Chron. 9:29) It was also a divine regulation that Nazirites under vow were not to drink alcohol. (Num. 6:2-4, 13-20; Amos 2:12) Because Samson was to be a Nazirite from birth, his mother was not even 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) Similarly, as already mentioned, ministerial servants in the Christian congregation “should likewise be serious, . . . not giving themselves to a lot of wine.”—1 Tim. 3:8, 9.
IS TOTAL ABSTINENCE NECESSARY?
Yes, sometimes. Alcoholism is said to be a disease in which the victim has a constant compulsion to drink alcoholic beverages and which is stronger than his willpower to desist. Persons thus afflicted should abstain altogether lest the urge to excesses overpower them. There are other cases in which drinking alcohol, even in small quantities, is ill-advised and detrimental to one’s health. Then there are occasions when one should refrain from drinking intoxicating liquors in order to avoid stumbling others, out of love and consideration for the consciences of others, even as the apostle Paul declared. (Rom. 14:21) Remember, “expressions of endearment are better than wine.” (Song of Sol. 1:2, 4; 4:10) After all, alcoholic beverages are not a necessity. For forty years the Israelites drank no wine or strong drink. (Deut. 29:5, 6) After refraining from drinking wine for nearly 300 years the Rechabites were commended for their faithfulness. (Jer. 35:2-19) Abstinence while living the life of a Nazirite did not impair the health and strength of either strong man Samson or rugged John the Baptist.—Num. 6:1-4; Judg. 16:17; Matt. 11:18; Luke 1:15; 7:33.
So if you are better off abstaining, well and good. But if you are free to enjoy this good gift from Jehovah, do so at appropriate times and places and in compliance with God’s laws of moderation.