A Theology of Wine

A Theology of Wine
(This is an article Pastor Joseph wrote which was original published in the Fight Laugh Feast Magazine.  You can subscribe to it here. )

Hans Boersma, in his book Heavenly Participation, says that prior to the Late Medieval Period, all Christians perceived the world around them through a sacramental worldview. He says that “all Christians looked at the material world around them as a deep mystery, as a symbol and a sacramental tapestry that depicted heavenly realities, giving an incomprehensible depth and beauty to all areas of life.”[i] Boersma, being a Roman Catholic, when he says sacramental worldview means more than can be biblically substantiated, but he is right in saying that we live in a sacramental world. I say that as a confessionally reformed presbyterian who believes that the Lord Jesus Christ has ordained two and only two sacraments for His Church as signs and seals of the covenant of Grace. 
So, what do I mean by saying we live in a sacramental world?  St. Augustine famously defined a sacrament as “a sign of a sacred thing.”[ii] God has created the world and invested into creation signs that point to a sacred thing, namely His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature. Creation, all the stuff in it, is designed to showcase the glory of God and to be signposts to us of important truths regarding God and our duty towards him. Nature teaches us much. For example, when you walk through a forest and see the trees, be careful you reflect on the nature of trees. Read through your bible and you will see how trees teach us faithfulness, fruitfulness, and growth of the kingdom. The man who mediates on God’s law is like a tree firmly planted beside the waters. God’s kingdom is like a tree that grows until it fills the earth. Our Lord Jesus died on a tree and there is a tree of life awaiting us in heaven. 
With all this said and thinking of the theme of this edition of the FLF magazine, I thought it would be good to look at one element of a feast, the drinking. Can it rightly be called a feast if good drink is not found in abundance? Alcohol is one element of God’s wonderful creation that is imbued with meaning throughout the scripture. Wine, being one of the elements of the Lord’s Supper, is especially rich with symbolism that depicts “heavenly realities” giving an “incomprehensible depth and beauty”[iii] to life. The interesting thing with alcohol as a sign and a symbol is that it has two sides to it. The very same substance is both a sign of God’s immense blessing and His terrifying fury. Abundance of alcohol can portend of good things or forewarn of destruction. It is either a gift or a curse. Thus, the cup is something to behold with joyous wonder and fearful reverence.  
What follows is a short outline of verses from scripture looking at the symbolism of wine. We will divide this into two parts: part 1 shows how Alcohol is a Curse and part 2 shows how Alcohol is a Blessing. We will further divide those two parts into three sections: 1. The sign (alcohol) in and of itself is either a blessing or a curse, 2. how alcohol is used to symbolize either a blessing or a curse, and 3. how the sign and its symbology are both used together to convey a blessing or a curse.  Following the outline, there is a short application. At the very end of the article is a table with examples and verses for each section. 
Part 1: Alcohol as God’s Curse
God created alcohol. All things that He makes are good. Because of sin, the world is cursed and good things in the hands of the wicked only bring curses. In the hands of the good, good things are blessings. The very same item whether it be sunshine, rain, or alcohol is to the righteous a blessing and to the wicked a curse. Therefore, we can look at alcohol and see how it can be a curse itself. And we can also see how it can be a symbol of an even greater curse, the judgement of God.  
The Sign itself as a Curse
Alcohol has many negative effects if used wrongly. It can do damage to the body and mind. For example, alcohol can so dull one’s senses so that he loses control of something as simple as walking.  He then staggers as Psalm 107:27 says and can fall down further injuring his body yet not even know it. Many drunkards have had gotten injured in the evening and didn’t know it until the next day and even then they did not know how it happened. Alcohol abuse can lead from headaches to death. 
The Symbology of Curse
God uses the sign of wine to describe the pouring out of his wrath. He says that he will make the wicked drunk on his wrath (Isaiah 63:6).  All the negative aspects of alcohol are caught up in this symbol pointing us to the terrible judgments of God.  
The Symbology meets the Sign
Sometimes the sign itself is used by God as a tool of what the sign represents, His wrath. That is God uses wine to mete out judgments upon his people. He may withhold wine and its goodness from the people(Joel 1:5). He may give people over to drunkenness and all the effects of it on their bodies and minds (Jeremiah 25:27). Furthermore, we know that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).  
Part 2: Alcohol as God’s Favor
Having dealt with the negative first, it is important to know that the negative aspects of wine are secondary and not primary.  That is, the negative exists because of sin and so the disastrous effects of alcohol are not a problem of alcohol but rather a problem with man. It is important to recognize that the creation was first called good and very good before there was ever a curse.  Therefore, the primary aspect of alcohol is that it is good. To the righteous ones who obey God, it is good and was designed for their good. Alcohol then is a sign of God’s favor.
The Sign itself as a Blessing
The sign itself has many blessings. Being a fruit of one’s labor, it is a blessing to see work blossom into something useful (Amos 9:14). It has both medicinal and recreational uses (Matthew 27:34).  We also see that the recreational use of wine is something that was designed to gladden the hearts of men (Psalm 104:15).     
The Symbology of Blessing
Wine as a symbol of God’s blessing is a constant theme in scripture. In particular, most, if not all of the prophets, used it to describe the riches of eternal life (Isaiah 25:6). In eternity, wine is said to flow off the mountains endlessly. God makes his people’s cup runneth over with eternal riches and blessings. 
The Symbol meeting the sign
Again there are times when the sign and what it represents are used simultaneously. That is the blessings that are found naturally in the wine are paired with the blessings it represents. For example, God gives his people wine as part of his covenant blessing (Deuteronomy 7:13). The ultimate example of this is in the Lord’s Supper.  
Application
Alcohol is rich with a duel meaning. The very same substance that one drinks is a sign of both God’s wrath and His grace. No wonder it is an element of the New Testament feast, the Lord’s Supper. It accurately represents the gospel which is a fragrance of death to those who are perishing but the wonderful aroma of life to those who live. The gospel is a message of peace, hope, and abundant joy to God’s people and a message of gnashing of teeth and sorrow to those who do not love Jesus. The gospel message is the one and the same news of Christ and His kingdom but to the wicked it brings curses and to the humble it brings blessing. 
Alcohol then as a sign is a great gift and tool to us if we receive it with faith and use it rightly. To the wicked, it brings nothing but earthly curses and troubles. Even worse for the wicked is what it represents, the eternal judgement of God. One reason this sign of God’s goodness, love, and grace is a sign of cursing is that the wicked take what is good and twist it to their own destruction.  Therefore, drunkenness is an abuse of something meant for good. It is a twisting of the good to evil and will bring about serious consequences. 
As Christians recover a healthy attitude towards feasting and enjoying the blessings of the world that God has given us, let us not fall into the snares of the devil. We must have a godly respect for alcohol. It has the potential to be either a blessing or a curse. The fool does not take to mind the aspects of cursing or blessing. He falls into a great ditch with no one to help him out. 
Christians are temperate. This does not mean prohibitionists and legalists, but it does mean they are not mastered by the things of this world. They are rather masters of the things of the world. It is not just that they will not get drunk or that they won’t be “addicted” but rather they will live in such a way that the things of the world, including drink, are in some way indifferent to them. The things of the world do not hold sway over them. They can have a drink, or they cannot. They know that there is right time and reason for everything. Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes, says that a wise king eats at the right time and for strength, but this is not so of the foolish kings. Christ has made us a nation of kings and priests. We must be wise kings. 
And this means that as we fight, laugh, and feast, we recognize the greater blessing feasting points to and we live for that blessing. The gladness of the Holy Spirit is far better than any merriness that a drink can bring. Therefore, do not be filled with wine but with the Holy Spirit. The fool only sees what is in front of him. Rather than finding his true joy in Christ and in being filled with the Holy Spirit, the fool seeks for the temporal blessings of alcohol as an end in themselves. In seeking joy in the creation rather than the creator, the fool twists it to his destruction. The Christian drinks with his eyes open and fixed on Jesus, the source of all lasting joy. Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath for his people. He took the curse so that we may have the cup of blessing. With thanksgiving, we praise God from whom all blessings flow. It is with this holy fear and attitude one can sing: 
“Lift up your glasses high,
And toast, “No king but Christ!”
Then eat your fill and fix your eyes
On Him, our sacrifice.”[iv]
 
Section 1- Alcohol and God’s Curse
 
The Sign itself as a Curse
1.  It can make one sick. Isaiah 19:14
2.  It makes one drunk. 1 Samuel 35:36-37
3.  It makes one forget his duties. Proverbs   23:19-21, Proverbs 31:4-7, Isaiah 5:21-23
4.  It dulls the senses. Proverbs 26:9, Genesis   49:11-12
5.  It makes one vomit. Isaiah 19:14, Jeremiah   48:26
6.  It makes one stagger. Psalm 107:27, Isaiah   19:14, Isaiah 28:7
7.  It makes one fall down and be injured.   Jeremiah 25:27, Proverbs 23:29-35
8.  It makes one unable to feel pain thus   bringing on more injury. Proverbs 23:29-35
9.  It makes you poor.  Proverbs 21:17, Proverbs 23:19-21
10.  It causes redness of eyes. Proverbs 23:29
11.  It makes one quick to fight. Proverbs 20:1
12.  It causes one to do stupid things so that   he is mocked. Jeremiah 48:26, Proverbs 20:1
13. It makes   one drowsy and unable to protect himself. 1 Kings 16:8-10, Luke 21:34,   Genesis 19:32-33, 2 Samuel 13:28, Proverbs 23:19-21
14.  It takes away understanding. Proverbs 20:1,   Hosea 4:10-11
15.  It does not satisfy. Proverbs 23:29-35,   Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, Habakkuk 2:5
16.  It exposes one to shame. Genesis 9:20-21,   Habakkuk 2:15
17.  It is associated with gluttony. Deut. 32:14
18.  It makes one open to sexual immorality.   Genesis 19:32-33, Esther 1:10, Hosea 4:10-11
19.  It makes one neglect or harm family.  Deuteronomy 21:18-21, 1 Samuel 35:36-37
20. It makes   one waste his life. Ephesians 5:17-19, Ecclesiastes 2:1-3
21. There are   civil consequences for drunkenness. Deut. 21:18-21
22.  It makes one forget the judgments of   God.  Isaiah 22:12-1, Daniel 5:2
23.  It enslaves. John 8:34
24.  It leads to death. Deut. 21:20-21, 1 Kings   16:8-10


The Symbology of Curse
1.  God speaks of his wrath as wine being wrung   out of a winepress. Isaiah 63:6
2. He says he   will make the wicked drunk on his wrath so that they are sick and die.   Jeremiah 23:9, Jeremiah 25:27, Jeremiah 48:26, Jeremiah 51:39, Ezekiel 39:19,   Psalm 60:3, Psalm 75:8, Jeremiah 13:12-13
3.  God’s wrath is said to be like the   trampling of grapes. Isaiah 63:3, Jeremiah 25:30
4.  God’s wrath is a cup being poured out.  Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15, Revelation   14:10
5.  Drunkenness is compared to harlotry.  One may be drunk with lust or drunk on   idolatry. Isaiah 51:21, Revelation 17:2, Hosea 4:10-11
6.  The Cup represents the New Covenant. We   typically think of this as a blessing and it is but for those who taste of   its goodness and turn back, they trample under the blood of Christ and have   nothing but the fiery expectation of wrath.
 
The Symbol meets the Sign
1.  God removes wine from those He judges. Joel   1:5, Deuteronomy 29:6, Jeremiah 48:33
2.  God lets people labor in vineyards and   winepresses, but they do not enjoy the fruits of their labor. Deuteronomy   28:39, Amos 5:11, Zephaniah 1:13
3.  God mocks drunkards as he takes away the   wine from their lips. Joel 1:5, Joel 1:10
4.  He gives people over to drunkenness.  Jeremiah 25:27
5.  God brings judgment on those who are   drunk.  Isaiah 28:1, Habakkuk 2:15,   Isaiah 5:11-12, Isaiah 5:21-23
6. God’s   people do not associate with drunkards. 1 Corinthians 5:11
7.  Drunkards do not inherit the kingdom. 1   Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:21
 
Section 2: Alcohol and God’s Favor
 
The Sign itself as a Blessing
1. It   gladdens the hearts of men. Ruth 3:7, Psalm 104:14-15, Ecclesiastes 10:16-18
2. It brings   good cheer to God and man.   Judges   9:7-15, Ecclesiastes 9: 7-9  
3. There are   some good medicinal results. Matthew 27:34, 1 Timothy 5:23
4.  It brings good fellowship. Job 1:4-5
5.  It is a fruit of one’s labor. 2 Chronicles   31:5, Amos 9:14
6.  It is used at weddings, birthdays, and   other celebratory events. John 2:1-10, Genesis 27:25, 1 Chronicles 12:38-40,   Job 1:4-5
7.  It replenishes the warrior. 2 Samuel 16:1-2
8.  It can help the perishing or downtrodden to   have some relief. Proverbs 31:4-7
9.  It is a staple of the economy. Genesis   27:37, 2 Chronicles 31:5
10.  It was used in the worship of God in OT as   a way to celebrate before the Lord. Exodus 29:40, Numbers 15:5, Deuteronomy   14:26, Deuteronomy 16:13, Ezra 6:9 
11. It tastes   good. Joel 3:18, Amos 9:13
12. It helps   with thirst. 2 Samuel 16:1-2, Matthew 27:48
13.  It was an expected part of the tithe and   offerings to the Lord and part of the pay for His ministers. Numbers 18:12, 1   Samuel 10:3, 1 Samuel 1:24, 2 Chronicles 31:5
14.  It can help one sleep. Ruth 3:7
15.  It was used in peace treaties or as gifts   to and from kings. 2 Kings 6:15-23, 1 Samuel 16:20, 1 Samuel 25:18, 2 Samuel   16:1-2, 1 Chronicles 12:38-40, Ezra 6:9, Nehemiah 5:14-19, Esther 7:1
16.  Christ drank it. Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34
The Symbology of Blessing
1.  Abundance of Wine is a promise of the   Eternal Kingdom. Isaiah 25:6, Isaiah 55:1, Isaiah 62:8, Jeremiah 31:12, Joel   3:18, Amos 9:13
2.  Fermentation brings life to the grapes just   like there is life in the blood of Christ. John 6:54
3.  It symbolizes fruitfulness. Ecclesiastes 9:   7-9, Amos 9:13, Amos 9:14
4.   Abundance of wine is a sign of God’s   favor. Deuteronomy 33:28, Zechariah 9:15
5.  Eating and Drinking together is a sign of   fellowship with God. Isaiah 25:6
6.  Drinking together is a sign of peace with   God. Exodus   24:11
7.  The Holy Spirit is also tied with abundance   of wine. Acts   2:13 
8.  God in the OT and Christ in the NT are   described as the vine and as a vineyard worker. Isaiah 5:2, John 15:5
9.  The Gospel is spoken of as new wine.  Matthew 9:17
10.  The gladness or merriness that comes from   drinking wine is used as a metaphor to describe the gladness that we have   because of God. Psalm 4:7, Zechariah 10:7
11.   The Wedding banquet/feast with choice   foods and wine represents the union of Christ with the Church and final   kingdom. John 2:1-10, Isaiah 25:6
12.  Wisdom is said to be like the serving of   wine. Proverbs 9:2-4
13. Love is   like good wine. Song of Solomon 1:2, Song of Solomon 7:2
13.  The Cup represents the New Covenant. Luke 22:20
 
The Symbol meeting the sign.
1.  God gives his people an abundance of wine   as a blessing. Genesis 27:28, Deuteronomy 7:13, Deuteronomy 11:14,   Deuteronomy 14:23, Psalm 104:14-15, Proverbs 3:9-10. Joel 2:19, Zechariah   9:17
2.   The Priest Melchizedek gives Abraham bread   and wine. Genesis 14:18
3.  The Lord Gives good wine. John 2:10, Joel   2:19 
4.  The Lord’s Supper. Luke 22:20
 
[i] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 85.
[ii] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1.2.2
[iii] Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 85.
[iv] Josh Bishop. “Come, Men of Christ, Be Strong.” Josh Bishop Writes, October 4, 2020. https://joshbishopwrites.com/2020/09/12/come-men-of-christ-be-strong/.

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