DRINKING STRONG DRINK COMMANDED?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Frequently those of us who preach the gospel come across some strange concepts as we find those who attempt to justify some practice they want to uphold, whether in unscriptural marriage relationships, social life, or other things. We have heard our share of them over the years, but one of the most interesting ones took place in a congregation in which I was preaching some time ago. There was a man attending, though not a member of that congregation, who had invented a new alcoholic beverage that was supposed to be superior to the run of the mill stuff. I never did discover whether the superiority was in the fact that it would make a man a raving maniac more quickly, make him a pauper more easily, or exactly what. But since he graced us with his presence with reasonable regularity on Sunday mornings, I felt that I should try to discover his justification for making, selling and drinking a deadly brew that dethrones reason, destroys homes, perverts justice, leads to murder and various other crimes, and probably has done more damage throughout the history of man than all other drugs combined.
His arguments went along the usual lines at first. Christ made wine and Paul told Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake. So that is supposed to justify almost any kind of drinking. Then he climaxed it with his “block buster”! God not only authorized and condoned the drinking of strong drink, he commanded it!
Not being an astute Bible scholar, I was aware that I might easily have missed a point like that even in half a century of checking. My mind ran over some of the warnings and prohibitions such as Leviticus 10:9, Proverbs23:31; 26:1; 31:4, Isaiah5:11and others, but those commands for doing it seemed to elude me. He pointed out two of them. The first was in Deuteronomy 14:26 and the other in Proverbs 31:6,7.
In Proverbs, after Solomon had finished pointing out that “wine is a mocker, strong drink a rager, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1), and that kings and ruler should not drink of it (Proverbs 31:4,5), he says, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter”(NASB). The man’s idea was that if a fellow feels like he is about to die, God commands a good slug of hard liquor to bolster him up, and he has a heavy heart, God commands that wine be given him!
Even if we could prove that if a person was on his death bed one might properly give him a strong narcotic to alleviate his pain, this is still a long way from proving that this passage is authority from God for the manufacture, sale or use of hard liquor for anyone who can beg, buy, borrow, or steal a drink.
But the truth is that God is NOT COMMANDING to give strong drink to one who is ready to perish any more than He is commanding in Proverbs l9:25 or22:10that we smite and cast out every scornful person. Proverbs 23:2 is NOT a command to cut your throat, nor23:14a command to beat your child with a rod every time he needs correction. Ecclesiastes 11:2 is not a command that whenever we find 7 or 8 persons we are to give portions to them. Perhaps a person who understands neither the Hebrew nor English language nor understands the difference between idioms & idiots would have a hard time understanding that, especially if he were desperately searching for justification for what he wanted to do. But I believe a simple illustration may be of some help even to that kind of person if he is honest and sincere.
Suppose I am trying to emphasize the fact that I do not appreciate the drunken driver smashing up my car. I may say, “Let him wreck his own car, break his own neck, and kill his own children,” but surely no one would understand me to be authorizing or commanding him to break his neck or kill his children! If a man should say, “A Christian should not lie and murder. Let the Hitlers, Stalins and Castros lie and murder,” surely no one understands that to mean he approved of their lying and murdering!
But for some, the passage in Deuteronomy 14:26 may be more difficult, for it might appear to the casual reader that God at least authorizes, and perhaps commands, the drinking of strong drink.
Although we have no commentaries available that cast any light on the matter, we do have God’s word and note the following things. First, we have already noted several passages where the propriety of drinking strong drink is questioned, the wisdom of doing it is denied, or the right to do it is prohibited. Any passage, therefore, which is presumed to condone or command it is subject to suspicion, to say the least. Second, the context of Deuteronomy 14:23-26 shows that he is talking of making a sacrifice or offering to the Lord. It is true that sometimes when a sacrifice of an animal was made the blood was poured on the altar and the flesh was eaten (Deuteronomy12:27). But it is interesting to note that the drink offering was poured out on the altar before God (Genesis 35:14, Exodus 28:40-41, Leviticus23:18,37, and many other places). It is significant that in Numbers 28:7 when he says, “`Thou shalt cause the strong wine to be poured unto the Lord for a drink offering,” he uses the same Hebrew word for strong wine (shekar) that he used in Deuteronomy 14:26 for strong drink. It was poured unto the Lord!
Every reference of which we are aware is similar to 1 Kings16:13, “And he burnt his burnt offerings, and his meat offerings, and poured his drink offerings, and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings upon the altar.” There is NO case of which we are aware when the offerer was commanded or allowed to drink his strong drink, but the general statement of Proverbs 20:1 is always evident: “Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”
Although it does not necessarily bear directly on the situation, it may help you to appreciate the point if you are aware that when Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:6, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand,” he used the word “spendomai” for “offered” which means, “poured out as a drink offering.” He did not say, “I am ready to be drunk (pino),” but “I am ready to be poured out as a sacrificial offering.” He uses the same figure of speech in Philippians 2:17 when he speaks of being “offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith” as if his life were being poured out as a libation before God.
We are not denying that God allowed His people to have some form of wine under some circumstances, nor affirming as some irate member asked me about 35 years ago, “Are you trying to tell me that I will go to hell for drinking a spoonful of wine?” (It has always interested me that the person who talks of “a spoon full” is never interested in “a spoon full,” but wants a bottle!) But we are denying that those passages in Proverbs and Deuteronomy permit, encourage, or authorize the manufacturing, dispersing of or drinking strong drink as advocated and practiced by a number of persons who call themselves Christians.
And even if, after a careful study of all the passages that touch on the matter, a person was not convinced that God neither condoned or commanded His people to drink strong drink, any person who wanted to let the life of Christ be demonstrated in his mortal flesh would still have to deal with such passages as Romans 14:21, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth or is offended or is made weak.”