Clarifying Contentious Misconceptions
Deuteronomy 18 (HCSB) “The Levitical priests, the whole tribe of Levi, will have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They will eat the Lord’s fire offerings; that is their inheritance… This is the priests’ share from the people who offer a sacrifice, whether it is an ox, a sheep, or a goat; the priests are to be given the shoulder, jaws, and stomach. You are to give him the firstfruits of your grain, new wine, and oil, and the first sheared wool of your flock. For Yahweh your God has chosen him and his sons from all your tribes to stand and minister in His name from now on… “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations. No one among you is to make his son or daughter pass through the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, cast spells, consult a medium or a familiar spirit, or inquire of the dead… “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers… Then the Lord said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name… You may say to yourself, ‘How can we recognize a message the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the Lord’s name, and the message does not come true or is not fulfilled, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.
Moses continues to lay out expectations for Israel under God’s sovereign command and the first question that comes to mind is why do we need to know these laws when we are living under the new covenant and are not bound by Mosaic laws?
In my formative years as a new believer, I spent my scripture reading time in the New Testament and avoided the Old Testament as I had challenges understanding it and found it irrelevant to my spiritual walk. Many of the stories were taught to us as kids in Sunday School but they were just stories and did not seem to have any relevance to modern times.
As I have committed to reading and studying the Old Testament, I have found that it is a rich source of understanding God’s ways and man’s brokenness. The Word of God is not written only from Jesus’ times but right from the beginning of time and everything that happened before Jesus arrives on earth points us to Him starting from the 1st chapter of Genesis.
Today Moses speaks to us about what the Levitical priests were to receive as an inheritance. It might seem extremely harsh that they were not to receive any land as a portion of their inheritance from God but instead were expected to live off only the offerings of Israel but in reality, they were recipients of the best of the land. They did not have the challenges of tilling the ground or herding the flocks but they received the best portions of it because of their calling.
Their inheritance was from God and was God indeed. Their every need would be provided for just as Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?”
Even as we understand this, one aspect that we tend to leave out is the question about ‘wine’. Was this a fermented drink or simply grape juice and how were the priests permitted to drink this? Was this a typo or was the wine meant as an offering?
It might come as a shock to you that this wine is not simply grape juice but instead a fermented beverage. Grape juice does not have a long shelf life and the only way it will last is when it is fermented. Several times through the Old Testament, there are mentions of wine and alcoholic beverages and they were mostly mentioned as a blessing. Refer God’s blessing to Israel if they would obey Him in Deuteronomy 7:13. In Deuteronomy 14:26, the Israelites were asked to save their tithes and buy whatever they would like including wine or other fermented drink and they were called to consume it in the presence of God and rejoice.
Recently I was informed that the wine Jesus referred to or consumed was not fermented. However, when we consider the parable of the wineskins (Luke 5:33-39), it should help us realize that this was not grape juice because it does not ferment and burst the old wineskin. Jesus was referring to the fermented beverage. Similarly the miracle Jesus performed of turning water into wine was another reference to a fermented drink because the Greek word used is ‘oinos’ or fermented drink.
Wine is mentioned 37 times in the New Testament in positive light and only 7 times in association with drunkenness and excesses. Jesus questions His questioners about His own eating and drinking and that should put to rest the question of whether Jesus Himself consumed fermented drinks.
“For John the Baptist did not come eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Luke 7:33-34
Paul states that in the selection of both elders and deacons, they must not consume ‘too much wine’ (1 Tim. 3:1-13). Furthermore, he instructs Timothy to ‘consume some wine because of his stomach and frequent illness’ (1 Timothy 5:23). Again, these are clear indications that consumption of wine was not forbidden or condoned.
However, the Bible condemns drunkenness and its effects (Proverbs 23:29-35). Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In light of these principles, it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol in excess to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
To sum up, consumption of alcohol is not forbidden but when consumed in excess, it is not a blessing to the body either. Keeping the above cautions in mind, it should give us reason to examine our motives when we consume alcohol and I pray that we will be released from our bondage to a misunderstood concept but at the same time not destroy our testimony in this quest.
My intention today was not to justify alcoholism but to remove the confusion surrounding it from a Christian perspective and give us reason to examine our motives behind its consumption. Understanding scripture keeping context, culture and relevance is key and I pray that God will use His Word to shape us and not permit us to contort His Word to justify our actions.
In His Loving Service,
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