And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Dt 14:24–26 emphasis mine).
The above passage is not very favorable towards the position that any consumption of alcohol, by Christians, is sinful or perhaps unwise. It is my contention that ‘strong drink’ is indeed a blessing from the Lord and to be enjoyed as the passage cited describes. Notice that the text declares that when the people of God were commanded to bring their tithes before the LORD; if their the traveling was too long the people were to turn it into money and buy whatever they desire and specifically mentioned in the desires is “strong drink.’ It is further commanded that they eat before the LORD and rejoice. Is it possible to drink alcohol and rejoice in the Lord? Absolutely! The Word of God, from thrice holy God, declares it so.
Those instructions to buy, drink and enjoy ‘strong drink’ do not come from any postmodern Christianity that is overcome by “worldliness” as is often painted by proponents of total alcohol abstinence Christianity. No, these instructions are from the giver of ‘strong drink’- the Most High- and is to be considered a blessing and enjoyed. The desire (note that the desire for ‘strong drink’ is commended by God) is for the enjoyment of the substance itself in rejoicing. We’re not dealing here with drinking to “engage the culture” or being “missiological” to “win the younger generation for Christ.” We’re not drinking alcohol to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some “(1 Co 9:22). In fact such a position of “evangelism” is, in my opinion, compromise to worldliness. Rather, Christians should desire ‘strong drink’ and enjoy it if their conscience is not convicted that it is sin. In simple words we should consider alcoholic beverages in themselves a blessing from the Lord. Being a drunkard, on the other hand, is indeed sinful and a different matter.
We don’t need to make excuses of “evangelism” and “culture engagement” to defend our consumption of beer, liquor or wine. We simply look to take God at His Word when it declares, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart”(Ps 104:14–15). If asked by non drinking Christians why I drink, I give a very biblical response, “it gladdens my heart.”
It gladdens my heart for two reasons. One is that I do like the taste. The second is that I like the effects of it. I’m not referring to drunkenness (can’t walk, talk or function properly) or what Luther calls “piggishness.” Sometimes when I partake in beer or ‘strong drink’ my heart is gladdened or I’m feeling different than normal. Perhaps now the Christian prohibitionists are in an uproar. Permit me to further justify this biblically. Remember when Joseph’s brother’s return to Egypt for Joseph after selling him? They have a meal together as Joseph is disguised and the Word says “Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him”(Ge 43:34).
Our English translations say after they drank they were ‘merry’ (an attempt to water down the effects of ‘strong drink’) with him. But the literal translation is that they were “intoxicated.” Even prohibitionist R. Laird Harris writes, “Joseph’s brothers with Joseph in Egypt, says literally “they drank and ‘became drunk’ with him” (KJV “were merry with him”). The emphasis is on conviviality, not drinking to the point of drunkenness.” * Joel McDurmon speaks in a similar fashion, “The Hebrew text, however, says something more revealing than the English translators were willing to admit: it says “they drank and shakar with him.” That is, they drank with him until they were all clearly under the influence. They enjoyed themselves.”*
In fact the word translated “merry” in Genesis 43:34 is translated ‘strong drink’ in the passage we started with- Leviticus 14:26. It is also translated elsewhere as “drunk, ” “drunkeness.” That is because it is fermented drink that does indeed alter one’s mood- it gladdens the heart.
Have you ever considered that wine and strong drink are often mentioned in connection with feasts and celebrations? That is because it has more to do with the idea that it gladdens the heart than it does with the prohibitionists argument that it was solely for “purifying water.” Please do not read the idea of drunkeness where people are stumbling over themselves and cannot talk or function properly back into the idea that ‘strong drink’ gladdens the heart. That is clearly condemned by God and is not what is being defended here. But to enjoy wine, beer or liquor even when it alters our mood is something commended by God. That is why Scripture says that it “gladdens the heart.”
I’m aware of the arguments against the consumption of alcohol. The idea that it is a symbol for “debauchery.” Therefore should be avoided to “abstain from all appearances of evil.” My response is that the abuse of ‘strong drink’ should be avoided and is the appearance of evil, not ‘strong drink’ itself. We have already covered that it is given by the Lord and should be enjoyed. Furthermore as has been argued by others, women have become the symbol of sexual immorality, should we then do away with them to “abstain from all appearances of evil?” No one I know would affirm that in the positive. I believe that we start with what God says and not the world and go from there. The world tells me that I’m a fool and stupid for believing in the cross of Christ. I’m not going to deny my Master who bought me because of what the world thinks.
As to the assertion that wine in biblical times was only grape juice, well, that is preposterous. “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Ge 9:20–21). I’ve never met anyone to have gotten drunk from grape juice.
How about the argumentation that the wine then was less stronger than it is now? That’s not the point. That it contained fermentation is the point. Whether it was weaker or stronger does not matter. It was gladdening the people’s hearts because it was fermented and altered ones mood. It intoxicated. So what if they had to drink more then than we do now to have the heart gladdened? Either way, it was gladdened by the Lord.
On a final note I am not encouraging any Christian to enjoy beer, wine or liquor if goes against their conscience or if they are recovering alcoholics (unless they Lord has removed that weakness) for to do so would indeed be sinful. However, do not frown upon those of us that make merry our hearts in the consumption of ‘strong drink,’ beer or wine.
Joel McDurmon has some wise words, “The drunkard forgets God; the prohibitionist tries to be God.”*
For my fellow strong drinkers, in the words of the most interesting man in the world, “stay thirsty my friends.”
Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Hamilton, V. P. (1999). 2388 שָׁכַר. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (926). Chicago: Moody Press.
*McDurmon, Joel; Wilson, Douglas (2011-08-19). What Would Jesus Drink? A Spirit Filled Study (Kindle Locations 653-656). Tolle Lege Press. Kindle Edition.
Ibid, Kindle Location 163