For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills. -Deuteronomy 8:7
For years I’ve heard the claim by otherwise intelligent people, “You can’t drink the water in Israel. The water is contaminated. Therefore, they had to drink alcoholic wine. They had no choice.”
Or, a variation of this, “They had to have alcoholic wine to kill the germs or pathogens in their water.”
These claims are simply, false. False for several reasons.
1. The expense. Wine is expensive. Imagine having to pay for wine for all your drinking and hydration needs. It gets hot in Israel and they worked hard. They would have needed a lot of liquid.
2. If alcoholic wine is all they had to drink, the men, women, children of Israel would have been drunk 24 hours a day every day. That just doesn’t make sense.
3. If they could not drink the water, what would have happened if their yearly supply of wine ran out, was stolen, or destroyed? What if they had a crop failure in the vineyard? And, could they consistently grow that many grapes? It would take a lot of grapes to provide a family with enough wine for all, not part, of their thirst for an entire year.
4. They knew how to make and preserve both alcoholic and nonalcoholic wine. They called both wine (Isaiah 65:8, etc.). Much like today, they had a choice of what to drink. See articles below and the book “Ancient Wine and the Bible” for more evidence.
5. Israelis were masters on the subject of water. They had to have drinkable water or not survive. They dug wells, both shallow and deep. They maintained them for centuries (John 4:5-11; etc.). They knew about springs and how the water from them was generally safe and good. They dug cisterns, and used natural cisterns (Genesis 21:25Leviticus 11:36Deuteronomy 8:72 Kings 18:31Nehemiah 9:25. Of course they also used rivers and streams. They valued running water. They collected rain water. They even knew the value of dew. They knew bad water, probably both by training and by experience (Proverbs 25:26). By the way, modern day Israelis are still exceptional in the areas of water, irrigation, farming, agriculture.
6. In Bible times, while they did not know about micro-organisms, they certainly knew clean water from dirty water. They knew how to find clean water. Also, to some extent, locals can build a tolerance for some defects in water.
7. To sum up, in Bible times they drank water on a regular basis. Many Scripture passages support this fact (Genesis 21:19; Genesis 24:17; 1 Samuel 30:11; 2 Samuel 23:15; 1 Kings 17:10; 2 Kings 6:22; Job 22:7; Proverbs 5:15; Proverbs 25:21; Lamentations 5:4; Ezekiel 12:18; Daniel 1:12; Mark 9:41; John 4:7
8. Alcoholic wine does not sterilize impure water. It just doesn’t. I’ve never seen a modern or ancient scientific authority recommend you take a bottle of wine on your next camping or hunting trip so you can make the water safe to drink. Alcoholic wine does not disinfect water to make it drinkable.
It should also be noted that even the alcoholic wine in Bible times was of a rather low alcohol content, making it even less likely to sanitize contaminated water. Distilled alcohol, which can dramatically increase alcohol content, was unknown in Bible times.
The word “water” is used 634 times in the Bible (NKJV). This does not even include related words such as well, drink, spring, river, cistern… So there are many more biblical references than those listed above.
In short, the oft repeated claim that they had to drink alcohol because the water was undrinkable is a false claim. Don’t buy it. Also, the oft repeated claim that you can make contaminated water safe by adding alcoholic wine is a false claim. These are some of the weakest arguments by social drinkers. Arguments that do not hold up to a valid investigation.
Parenthetical Note: That there be no misunderstanding. while we may disagree on details, I’m on the side of all who wisely choose to abstain from alcoholic beverages.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, December 6, AD 2016.
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