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Book 2, Lesson 9
Part One: Hebrew Shemarim

There is one other Hebrew word that seems to be a problem for all who say that God disapproves of alcoholic wine. The word is shemarim. According to the Hebrew lexicon it means “lees” or “dregs.” Lees or dregs are the settlings at the bottom of the bottle.

Shemarim is found 5 times in 4 verses in the Old Testament. In two verses it gives a picture of judgment or dregs of alcoholic wine. In two it is blessing or long preserved grape juice. Isaiah 25:6 is one of the verses that shows shemarim is a blessing. This verse uses shemarim twice. It is also the verse that causes a problem.

I. SHEMARIM AS THE DREGS OF ALCOHOLIC WINE

Shemarim Stands for Judgment in Psalm 75

One time shemarim pictures how complete God's judgment will be.

     Psalm 75:8: For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine (yayin) is red
     (foams); It is fully mixed, and He poureth out of the same; but the dregs (shemarim)
     thereof all the wicked of the earth shall drain them and drink them.

God will punish the wicked by making them drink down every last drop, even the dregs, of the wine of His judgment.

Shemarim Proves God's Patience in Zephaniah

Zephaniah 1:12, as Dr. Teachout translates it, warns,

And it will come about at that time (the day of Yahweh)
That I (Yahweh) will search Jerusalem carefully with lamps,
And I will punish the men whom I find
Who have become sedimentary on their lees (shemarim),
Who are thinking in false security:
Yahweh is not really going to do good or evil to me. 1

The people of Jerusalem are like a stored beverage but the beverage is evil. The sediment or dregs collect as they sit undisturbed for months. They continue in their wicked ways. “No problem,” they think, “God isn't going to do anything to me.” They take His patience for weakness, but He will search them out and punish them.

II. SHEMARIM AS LONG PRESERVED GRAPE JUICE

Shemarim Shows God's Past Blessing in Jeremiah 48

In Jeremiah 48:11,12, God uses shemarim to picture His goodness to Moab. The New American Standard Bible says,

Moab has been at ease since his youth;
He has also been undisturbed on his lees (shemarim),
Neither has he been emptied from vessel to vessel,
Nor has he gone into exile.
Therefore he retains his flavor,
And his aroma has not changed.
Therefore behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh,
when I shall send to him those who tip vessels,
and they will tip him over,
and they will empty his vessels and shatter his jars.

The whole chapter of Jeremiah 48 is a prophecy of God's judgment on Moab. In verse 11 He looks back on the many years of peace this country has experienced. He pictures Moab as an undisturbed, carefully preserved beverage. He compares it to grape juice which through the years has not fermented because of the way it was preserved. Its taste and fragrance has remained the same. God has allowed Moab a peaceful life but now He says He will punish them because they have put their faith in the god Chemosh (verse 13).

Shemarim Causes a Problem in Isaiah 25

In Isaiah 25:6, shemarim appears two times. This verse seems to be a problem for those of us who say God does not approve of intoxicating drink. Why? God invites His people to a banquet, and the King James version says He serves them “a feast of wines on the lees (shemarim), of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees (shemarim) well refined.” The New American Standard Bible calls shemarim “aged wine.”

And Yahweh of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
A banquet of aged wine (shemarim), choice pieces with marrow
And refined, aged wine (shemarim).
And on this mountain...
He will swallow up death for all time,
And the Lord Yahweh will wipe tears away from all faces,
And He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth;
For Yahweh has spoken.

God pictures for us a wonderful banquet He has prepared. “He will swallow up death for all time and wipe away tears,” are promises of heaven in the Book of Revelation.

The Answer to the Problem

How can we answer the accusation that God Himself serves fermented wine to His people?

     First, the context for shemarim in Isaiah 25:6 is different from the other verses where
     it is found. The context, then, demands a meaning for shemarim that is different from its
     meaning in other verses. This is a picture of a great feast when we will be with the Lord.
     God's goodness is praised. Because He is good, the beverage He offers has to be 
     innately, or in its very nature, good. It cannot be a harmful drink. 2

     Second, God would not serve us, His guests, “dregs” or settlings left over after the real
     beverage had been drunk. He would offer the best drink. Because this is true, the New 
     American Standard Bible translates shemarim as “aged wine” instead of dregs. Many
     people think that aged intoxicating wine is good, the “most special” drink there is. But 
     the Bible says grape juice is the good drink.

     Third, the use of the words “aged wine” in a context that shows God's blessing and 
     favor does not fit in with the overwhelming evidence of Scripture. The Old Testament 
     evidence supports the conclusion that God fully disapproves of any drinking of the 
     harmful beverage known as wine. 3

Dr. Bacchiocchi writes that the word "wine" does not appear in the Hebrew in Isaiah 25:6. The Hebrew word is shemarim. It means “preserves” and can refer to the vintage-produce (grape juice at harvest). The Latin Vulgate translates shemarim in Isaiah 25:6, “a feast of vintage produce, a feast of vintage produce well cleansed.” This could refer to filtered grape juice. 4

The Reason for Using Shemarim in Isaiah 25:6

Why is shemarim used instead of yayin? Dr. Teachout says Jeremiah 48:11 is a clue. Moab was like good juice stored for years. It kept its wonderful taste and aroma. Now in Isaiah 25:6, with a slightly different meaning, God is talking about the millennium, when He will bring out for His people a beverage (in figure) that has been stored 2000 years waiting for this wonderful day. God will provide in the millennium the blessings He promised long ago in His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. 5

A second clue, and Dr. Teachout thinks it is the most important one, is that this is poetry. The sound and rhyme of the word shemarim make it fit beautifully into the verse in Hebrew. 6

Dr. Teachout's translation of Isaiah 25:6 is easy to understand.

A banquet offering the very best,
A banquet of preserved grape juice (shemarim);
Serving the best cuts of choice prime beef,
With preserved grape juice (shemarim) strained clear. 7

Strained clear could mean the grape juice was filtered to preserve it sweet. This translation fits well with the chapters around it in Isaiah. Chapter 24 shows that a terrible time of judgment will come before the promised blessing. In verses that we have studied before, God predicts the curse upon the earth when the fresh grape juice mourns and the vine decays, Isaiah 24:7,8. Then in chapter 25 He reveals to Israel that after judgment, His best (pictured by the preserved grape juice) is still stored up for future blessing. 8

III. SUMMARY OF THE MEANING OF SHEMARIM

Shemarim then can refer to the sediment or dregs of a beverage, or it can mean grape juice that has been preserved for a long time. It is used figuratively (as a picture or symbol) all five times it is used in the Bible.

We have now completed the study of the Hebrew words for wine in the Old Testament.

In Part Two of Lesson Nine we will review the positions
people take on the wine question. 
     Position I
lists some of the often heard arguments used to support alcoholic
wine and the answers to those arguments. 
     Position II gives three broad reasons why we know God approves of grape
juice but not alcohol.

LESSON 9 PART TWO: WINE THROUGH THE AGES

All through history there have been two sides to the question, “What does God say about intoxicating wine?”

Dr. Teachout's research as a Hebrew scholar led him to the conclusion that God has never approved the use of wine or any other intoxicating drink. Each of us has to decide, before God, where he or she stands.

The popular position among Christians today is that God does approve of alcoholic drink. Many Christian people who agree that God approves of alcoholic wine try to limit that position with an in-between “moderation” stand. They find no fault with what, according to their judgment, is moderate drinking. Some of them reason that immoderate use of alcohol causes so much harm in our world today they will set an example of not drinking. They may also state that, although God approves of fermented drink, they as spiritual Christians must set an example of abstaining from alcohol. Why? So they will not cause a “weaker Christian brother” to stumble.

We will study the “abstaining because of a weaker brother” stand when we get to the New Testament verses about the weaker brother. Actually, although that reasoning sounds right to most people, it is not biblical. The truth is, if God calls intoxicating wine good, there is then no reason to keep people from drinking it. 9

Those who honestly believe God approves of intoxicating wine usually have not studied all the verses on wine thoroughly. Following is a review of some commonly held beliefs of those who think God approves of alcohol and the claims of the Bible itself.

I. POSITION 1: SCRIPTURE APPROVES OF ALCOHOL

Why People Believe God Approves of Alcoholic Wine

1. Bible Translations and Greek and Hebrew Lexicons

Most Bibles include all the Hebrew words for wine, and the Greek word oinos too, in just one English word “wine.” Since the Bible sometimes approves of wine (yayin or oinos), and the lexicon says yayin and oinos are fermented intoxicating drinks, that settles the question for many people. Yayin is always alcoholic in their eyes. This unclear teaching has caused much confusion. The truth is that long before this century, scholars showed that yayin, oinosand vinum (Latin) could “equally refer to fresh grape juice or fermented wine.” 10 Actually, the word wine in English originally had a double meaning too. See Book One, Lesson 2, page 13.

The Argument of Progressive Revelation

This argument says that intoxicating wine is really not condemned in the Bible until the book of Proverbs. Therefore, in the years before Proverbs was written, God did approve of intoxicating wine. Trouble came when people drank too much, so God warned them in Proverbs.

This reasoning is not sound. God shows the results of drunkenness in Genesis 9 in the story of Noah. In chapter 19 He tells us the story of Lot. These examples are clear enough. But as the people rebelled more, God gave the warnings in Proverbs. Later the prophets like Isaiah spoke. Finally God judged the people.

But, some continue to argue, God only said the priests and Nazarites should not drink. No, drinking was always sin, but priests who drank in the presence of God received the death penalty; Nazarites lost their separated position.

3. The Problem of the Percentage of Alcohol

One argument states that God approves of naturally fermented juices because they have a low alcohol content. This is not true. At any rate, Noah and Lot were so drunk they did not know what was going on. Modern and ancient wines have between twelve and fourteen percent alcohol content.

4. The Problem of the Lack of Water

“The people drank wine because the water was bad.” This is a popular belief today. But water was a special gift of God in the good land He promised Abraham. Wells were common and many houses had their own cisterns. Anyone who says there was not enough water contradicts God's own words in Deuteronomy 8:7 and 11:11,12.

     ...thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains 
     and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; ... the land... drinketh water of the 
     rain of heaven....

Psalm 65:9,10 again tells of the blessing of water.

Grape juice was also a gift of God, but nowhere does the Bible say that it takes the place of bad water.

Water is mentioned almost twice as often as grape beverages in the Old Testament. It was the most common drink in the diet. Twenty-eight references talk about drinking water with a meal. Water was valuable for irrigation and for animals as well as for humans. In a time of drought, water became a problem, but the grape harvest failed also. This was what God promised for disobedience, Deuteronomy 28:23,24,39.

5. The Idea That Intoxicating Wine Is a Healthful Drink

Grape juice is a very healthful drink. Because “grape juice” and “intoxicating wine” are both translated “wine” in the Bible, people who count all Bible wine as alcoholic wine may say alcoholic wine is beneficial. For the most part, the idea that alcoholic wine is healthful comes from the news media and advertising, both influenced heavily by the alcohol industry. 

Even pagan wine loving Greeks did not have faith in the beneficial effects of alcohol. They mixed wine heavily with water when they did not want the harmful effects. “Yet,” says Dr. Teachout, “the Old Testament record does not anywhere even suggest that the value of wine (its good effect) is increased by dilution.” 11

Medical studies show that an amount of less than one drink of ordinary wine can affect the drinker. And honest scientific  research, especially new research on the the brain, shows that the pleasant sensation a drinker gets is alcohol putting brain cells out of commission. 12

God is not surprised by knowledge of the harm alcohol does. He has always wanted us to be in full, spirit-led control of our minds. That is why He wrote Proverbs 20:1.

Contrary to what the media has reported, and the ideas people have, the U. S. Center for Disease Control now says there is no proof that alcohol helps aganst strokes and heart attacks. There is in fact, no consistent evidence to prove that alcohol is good for health. Alcohol was classified as a class "A" carcinogen by the U. S. government in 2000.

6. The Question of Jewish Practices

Some religious Jewish people in the past and even now have moderately used wine. We, however, do not base our actions on what the Jewish people do, but upon what the Bible says. For many centuries the Jewish people have been spiritually blind. What they do does not determine what we should do.

7. The Problem of Preserving Juice Fresh

A favorite argument today for intoxicating wine is, “People of the Bible could not preserve juice sweet for any length of time. The juice would naturally ferment. Since they had to have yayin for sacrifices all year long, and since they could not preserve it, they had to use fermented wine.”

We know from our study in Book One that these statements are not true. The ancients had more than one way of preserving fresh grape juice for very long periods of time. Even pagans who did not think getting drunk was morally wrong liked the fresh juice and preserved it. In fact, they liked it so much they carefully wrote down their recipes for preserving both fresh grapes and fresh grape juice.

A second part of the argument is the argument from silence. “Grape juice would ferment in a hot climate. Since the Bible does not say how the Israelites preserved the fresh juice, this means they did not know how to do it.”

This conclusion is seriously wrong. An argument from silence is not a good argument. The Bible is also silent about the art of preserving intoxicating wine. Does that mean no one knew how to do it and it all spoiled in the heat or turned to vinegar? We have learned that it is just as difficult to preserve fermented wine as it is to preserve fresh juice – maybe more difficult (see Book One). The Bible shows that Israel used unfermented juice all year long. We accept the facts in the Bible because the Bible says so. In this case, however, there is also plenty of evidence from outside the Bible to support the fact that the ancients preserved their grape juice.

II. POSITION 2: SCRIPTURE APPROVES OF GRAPE JUICE

Why We Know God Approves of Grape Juice but Not Alcohol

1. In Hebrew, Latin, Greek and English the word most used for “wine” means either fermented wine or unfermented juice.Yayin, vinum, oinos and wine, traced back in history, all had the same beginning. They are the same word in four different languages and they all have two meanings. 13

God approves of yayin in some verses and hates it in others. God does not change, Malachi 3:6. He always approves of grape juice yayin and disapproves of intoxicating yayin.

2. The Gift of the Grape to Man Is One of God's Best Gifts

In the Bible the vineyard is a picture of God's special blessing for His chosen people. Isaac asked God for an abundance of grapes for Jacob when he blessed him. Jacob passed on this same blessing to his son, Judah. In Deuteronomy 6:11, 8:8, and 32:14, God tells how He will give His best to the people and the grapevine and its juice is one of His gifts.

God said He owned the land, Leviticus 25:23. He wanted His people to use the land to make fertile vineyards. As the owner of the land, He also told them He would remove His blessing, the vineyard, if they were not faithful to Him.

3. The Reason for the Gift of the Grape Was the Grape Juice

God gave the vineyard as a special blessing, but He gave it because of the juice. He gave grain for bread, the vine for drink, and olive trees for oil, Psalm 104:15. He wanted man to have a natural, delightful beverage to rejoice his heart, not make it merry. The word merry is associated with intoxication.

The problem is that man has perverted the gift of God for his own sinful purposes. Dr. Teachout writes, “Allowing the juice to spoil with control ...man chose to use the grape to suspend his cares rather than trusting God to remove them.” 14

God denounces the perverted use of His gift of the grape with the strongest language in the Old Testament. He shows in His word how people drink alcohol to their own “sin, shame and destruction.” 15 He uses intoxicating wine to describe His terrible judgment upon rebellious mankind.

The use of rice, corn, grain, dates and many other products has been perverted too. Today men distill the wines and beers to get even stronger alcoholic drinks.

4. God Wholeheartedly Gave Grape Juice to Man

It was God's good pleasure to give man delicious, healthful grape juice to drink. Are there those who still believe this grape drink yayin the Lord gave is alcoholic wine drunk in moderation? The Old Testament gives one important truth to convince them that this stand for moderation is impossible. What is this truth? That nowhere in the Old Testament does God limit the amount of yayin one can drink. Song of Solomon 5:1 says, “Drink abundantly, O beloved.”

The Bible says yayin is to be enjoyed as the unlimited freely given gift of God. It also warns against intoxication or being “merry.” Scientific studies report that a very limited amount of yayin can be taken before the drinker risks becoming intoxicated. It seems incredible, says Dr. Teachout, that this unlimited gift to make man's heart rejoice would have to be limited to one small five and one-half ounce portion or less to prevent intoxication. 16 That is what science would have to consider the “unlimited freely given gift of God.”

How can the man who believes that God approves of alcoholic wine if you just don't drink too much explain what God means when He approves of wine without limit? He can't explain unless he admits that God is talking about two kinds of wine.

We can only solve the problems about wine and moderate drinking if we are willing to search the Scripture and believe what it says. Careful Bible study makes it plain that yayin is fresh juice if God approves of it for rejoicing, and fermented wine when He warns against intoxication.

Since God never approves of intoxicating wine in any amount (moderation), He does not have to tell us how much of it is safe to drink. It is never safe to drink any. On the other hand, He can recommend grape juice in quantities. He does this in Song of Solomon 5:1, where He says it can be drunk deeply to provide satisfaction.

III. A FINAL SUMMARY

Intoxicating wine is man's perversion of God's good bounty. God condemns not only drunkenness but also any drink that causes it. To say God approves of intoxicating wine, but disapproves of what it does to man is really foolish. God is “the owner of the vineyard, the bestower of its fertility, the blesser of its products, and the champion of its normal beverage, but the implacable foe (never changing, absolute enemy) of its prostitution (being used for bad purposes).” 17

All through the Old Testament God consistently teaches that He blesses man through the vineyard. That is why the vineyard is so important as a picture of God's relationship to Israel in Isaiah 5:1 – 7, and Christ's relationship to the church in John 15. Even the prophecy of Israel's future blessing is filled with words about the vine. In Jeremiah 31:10,12,14, He tells us that He will gather Israel, and they shall be radiant over His bounty, over the threshed grain, and the harvested grape juice and the fresh oil. He repeats this in Joel 2:18,19 and Zechariah 9:16,17.

In the New Testament, the truth of God's blessing through the grapevine is reflected in Jesus' words at the last supper before He was betrayed. “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine... until... I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom,” Matthew 26:29.

Endnotes

1. Dr. Robert Teachout, The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, Doctoral Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979, p.375.
2. Ibid., p.377. Dr.Teachout notes that Bible imagery is always appropriate (exactly right for the purpose) and meaningful.
3. Ibid., p.378.
4. Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Wine in the Bible, Biblical Perspective, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 1989, p.124.
5. Teachout, Use of Wine..., p. 379.
6. Ibid. In the original there is intricate assonance (likeness of sound) especially of the vowels. Every vowel is paralleled as well as most of the consonants.
7. Ibid., p.380. In the King James Version the Bible describes a feast of fat things, and fat things full of marrow. Dr. Teachout notes that fat to the Hebrews, and full of marrow meant that which was most choice. The choicest beef is referred to because the related word, marrowed fatlings, is parallel with the Hebrew word for bulls in Psalm 66:15.
8. Ibid., p.381.
9. Ibid., p.314.
10. Ibid., p.317.
11. Ibid., p.324.
12. Ibid., p.324,325. Ordinary wine, in an amount of less than one drink, causes harmful effects. Even though the average 150 pound person thinks he can drink one small five and one-half ounce glass without noticing anything, the harmful effects are there. The people of ancient Israel on the average weighed less than the average American today. The effect of the same size drink would have been greater in their bodies.
13. Dr. Robert Teachout, Wine, The Biblical Imperative: Total Abstinence, 1986, p.11.
14. Teachout, Use of Wine..., p.332. Dr. Teachout says that even doctors who favor the use of alcohol admit that man would not drink it if it did not anesthetize brain cells and in this way create a false sense of well-being. He cites William B. Terhune, M.D., The Safe Way to Drink: How to Prevent Alcohol Problems Before They Start., New York, William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1968, p.24.
15. Ibid., p.332.
16. Ibid., p.334. See chapter note 12, Lesson 9.
17. Ibid., p.335.

 

   
 
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