Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Judges 9:13 and Alcohol
But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ -Judges 9:13
Judges 9:13 is often brought up with the contention that it shows God is pleased with alcohol, that alcohol is intended by God to cheer the heart of God and man.
A closer look reveals a number of problems with this view.
1. In the Bible, as much as some wish and assume, wine is not synonymous with alcohol. Sometimes wine refers to an alcoholic drink, sometimes it does not. In Bible times they had no word for “alcohol,” so they described it by its effects. For example, Proverbs 23:29-35 (Significantly, after describing this kind of alcoholic wine, it then says not to even look at it!).
Judges 9:13 is talking about wine, it is not necessarily talking about alcohol.
2. The word for wine used in this verse is the Hebrew word tirosh. Tirosh usually means new wine, just pressed wine, unfermented wine, nonalcoholic wine.
Some even contend tirosh always meant unfermented wine. Two Jewish Encyclopedias take this position. For example, The Jewish Encyclopedia states,
“‘Tirosh’ includes all kinds of sweet juices and must, and does not include fermented wine (Tosef., Ned. iv. 3).”
By the way, this also shows the ancient Jews knew much more than they are often given credit about making and preserving all kinds of nonalcoholic drinks.
3. Notice in this verse the vine says, “My wine.”
What kind of wine does a vine possess? Wine in the grapes, the pure blood of the grape, unfermented wine, nonalcoholic wine, or grape juice.
This is reminiscent of Isaiah 65:8, another clear biblical reference to nonalcoholic wine.
As the new wine is found in the cluster. -Isaiah 65:8 (Notice the English translations that use the word “wine” for this obviously nonalcoholic grape cluster.)
4. “which cheers both God and men.” A number of Christian social drinkers have claimed this has to be alcohol, since it “cheers” both God and man. Some have actually claimed this shows even God enjoys getting a little tipsy.
There are several problems with this view.
1. God condemns drunkenness and it is unlikely He is saying it’s alright to get a little drunk. As Jerry Vines has said, “Moderate drinking is moderate intoxication.” God would not violate His own commandments.
There are now government TV commercials warning, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”
2. Isn’t it possible to have a drug-free cheerfulness? My heart has often been glad (cheered), without drugs being involved.
3. The harvest, and the huge amount of work that went into saving the harvest, when completed gave great cause to be cheerful, to rejoice.
4. They craved sweet things, and a good glass of sweet wine would bring joy. They had no cane sugar; their only sources of sweetness were from fruit and honey. I’ve had Pinot Noir unfermented wine; it cheers my heart every time.
5. It is sacrilegious to present God as getting even a little drunk.
6. If God ever did get a little drunk, can you imagine the trouble we would be in?
Rather than commending alcohol, Judges 9:13 does just the opposite. It shows a great example of one of the many Bible verses that speak of nonalcoholic wine.
(More on this issue in Ancient Wine and the Bible.)
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, February 18, AD 2014.
Ancient Wine Production and the Bible
Deuteronomy 14:26 - Does it Commend Alcohol?
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