Monday, May 4, 2009


Dear Friend:

Please consider my comments on a passage of Scripture that answers the question raised recently about moderate drinking among Christians. Let me know what you think. Use this little any way you think God would have you use it. Thank you, and may the Lord bless you today!

Rick Flanders


By Rick Flanders

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”

(Daniel 1:8)

Daniel the prophet refused to drink the wine provided for him and the others involved in the training program for Babylonian governmental service. It was sent from the emperor’s kitchen, along with certain food (“meat”), with the idea that men fed from Nebuchadnezzar’s table would be healthier and brighter than they would otherwise have been. But Daniel (along with his companions in captivity from the nation of Judah) “purposed” not to “defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank,” and we might wonder why. The story told in Daniel 1 of how God spared His servants from harm in spite of their defiance of the imperial decree inspires and instructs us all to do right and trust the Lord with the consequences, but the exact reasons for the stand they took may not be evident at first glance. A closer examination of this issue will give us the answers we want, and will also answer a question current-day evangelicals and fundamentalists are raising about moderate drinking.

The problem with “the king’s meat” does not seem too difficult to understand. Israelites had been commanded to observe certain dietary laws that were not required by God of the Gentiles. Read such laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. They forbid Jews to eat “unclean” animals like pigs and pelicans. The Law of Moses forbad Jews from ingesting blood or fat (Leviticus 3). Without question the king’s table was furnished with many foods that Jewish law deemed “unclean.” This is why Daniel and his companions would not eat them. But what was the matter with the wine?

The nation of Israel did not have a Prohibition amendment in its constitution. All of its laws, moral and religious and civil, were given by the Lord in the covenant He made with that nation. The religious laws in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) stipulated how Israelite rituals and ceremonies were to be performed. The moral laws expressed in the covenant with Israel reflect the holiness of God, and apply to all men of all times. The civil laws, however, simply tell how Israelite society was to operate. These civil laws did not necessarily give the final verdict on God’s opinion of human behavior. They permitted things that the Lord did not really approve. In allowing them, the Lord was just not making these things illegal or subject to civil punishment, although He did not approve of them. In our country today, there are many things that are legal but not morally right.

When asked about divorce, the Lord Jesus differentiated between what the Law of Moses permitted in Israel and what God really wanted.

“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”

(Matthew 19:4-8)

Jesus said that Moses allowed (“suffered”) divorces that God didn’t really approve because the people’s hearts were hard. Their hardness made it impractical for God’s perfect will to be encoded in the civil law of Israel in regard to this issue. The same thing could be said about polygamy, and also about alcoholic beverages.

Daniel got his convictions about the king’s wine, not from the civil laws of his nation, but from his study of the proverbs of Solomon. The writings of King Solomon were words of wisdom, divinely inspired (“given from one Shepherd”—see Ecclesiastes 12:9-11) and set in the scriptures to help people live right (“as goads and as nails”). Anyone who has studied the writings of Solomon in the Bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs) realizes that “wisdom” in those books is an understanding of how life works. Wisdom does not mean native intelligence or knowledge of facts acquired through education. Wise men see things the way they really are, the way God sees them. To be wise is to know and to follow the perfect will of God. Wisdom in Solomon’s books is comparable to righteousness in other books, such as the Book of Psalms, and is far more widely applicable than the precepts of the Law of Moses. From the Book of Proverbs, Daniel got the idea that those who know and follow the perfect will of God will not drink intoxicating liquors.

Look at Proverbs 20:1.

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

In other words, Solomon said that wine will make you a fool (it will mock you), and strong drink will make you a monster (raging). If you are deceived by these intoxicants, you are not “wise” (you do not understand or follow the perfect will of God). What it means to be deceived by intoxicating beverages is explained in Proverbs 23.

“Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”

(Verses 29 through 32)

The bite and sting of alcohol (woe, sorrow, contentions, babbling, wounds, red eyes) come “at the last,” not at the first. A wise man will therefore refuse to “look…upon” it; he won’t drink it. A man who drinks it at all is being “deceived” by it, since its worst effects wait until later. Once you have started the life of a drinker, you get controlled by drink and cannot quit (see verses 33 through 35). Daniel was a young man with a desire to be wise (note Daniel 1:20), and because of this desire, in the light of the teaching of the Proverbs, he would not drink the king’s wine.

There are two words in the original languages of the Bible that are normally translated in English by the word “wine.” The Hebrew word in the Old Testament is yayin, and the Greek word in the New Testament is oinos. These words fundamentally mean the same thing, the liquid product of the vine. This is also the basic meaning of the English word “wine” as it was originally used. Sometimes when we find these words in the Bible, we can assume that the “wine” was fermented, and thus alcoholic, since refrigeration was not available in ancient times as a method of preserving grape juice (although according to Patton’s famous work, Bible Wines, other methods were used to keep it fresh). But clearly not all biblical references to wine refer to fermented juice. Jeremiah 48:33 says, “I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting…” Of course, when grapes are squeezed by treading them in the winepresses, the liquid that comes out has not fermented. In this verse yayin means unfermented juice. Here and in other Old Testament passages, “wine” is counted as an agricultural product, and it means grape juice. Jeremiah 40:10 uses yayin this way when it says, “gather ye wine, and summer fruits, and oil.”

The Old Testament uses another Hebrew word for wine, which specifically means grape juice and not fermented drink. It is the word tiyrowsh, and sometimes the English Bible expresses it with phrases like “new wine” or “sweet wine.”

“…thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Proverbs 3:10).

“…the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it…” (Isaiah 65:8).

“…corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids” (Zechariah 9:17).

We also find it translated simply “wine” in places where it is associated in an agricultural reference with “corn.” It always means fresh grape juice, and does not have the power to intoxicate. As we have noted already, yayin is a generic term for the liquid product of grapes, which could be and often was fermented, but is not always so. The other word for wine in the Hebrew Old Testament is tiyrowsh, which means the fresh, unfermented fruit of the vine.

The New Testament Greek word oinos has the same meaning as yayin, and it is also translated “wine.” The original meaning of the English word “wine” and the Hebrew and Greek words with which it is associated did not necessarily and always refer to an intoxicating beverage. It often did, but sometimes it referred to fresh grape juice. Scriptures which speak of wine in positive or neutral terms do not justify drinking alcoholic beverages, since the term does not automatically mean a fermented drink. The warnings in the Proverbs about wine deal with the intoxicating effects of fermented wine. And the Bible consistently speaks against intoxication.

We are taught that it is wrong to be “drunken” in passages like I Samuel 1:13-14, Isaiah 19:14, Jeremiah 25:27, Habakkuk 2:15, Matthew 24:49, and I Corinthians 11:21. We are taught that “drunkenness” is wrong in Jeremiah 13:13-14, Ezekiel 23:33, Luke 21:34, Romans 13:13, and Galatians 5:21. We are taught not to be “drunkards” or “winebibbers” in Proverbs 23:20-21, Isaiah 28:1-8, Nahum 1:10, and I Corinthians 6:10. Intoxication is always a problem, and it is always condemned in the Bible. And the drinking of alcohol always produces intoxication, at least to some degree. The truth is that there is no real distinction between drinking alcoholic beverages and getting drunk. The police want to check the blood-alcohol level of the driver they suspect of being legally (or illegally) drunk, but they also know that even if the reading is not above the legal limit, any alcohol impairs the judgment and motor skills of a driver. The “drinking driver” is impaired even if he cannot be charged with being a “drunk driver” under the law. Any alcoholic intake affects the drinker (and Christians should remember the warning in I Corinthians 6:12 not to be brought under the power of anything). Drunkenness is the result of drinking alcohol, and every drinker is at least a little drunk. And God tells us in the Bible not to impair our minds and bodies by drinking something that will intoxicate us, even a little. So Daniel would not drink the wine, since it was almost certainly fermented and alcoholic.

Proverbs 31 warns the king against drinking wine at all.

“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment to any of the afflicted.”

(Verses 4 and 5)

The king’s responsibilities were so great, and his judgments so important, that he could not risk impairing his mind with any amount of intoxication. Verses 6 and 7 (which are sometimes used out of context to justify not only drinking but also drunkenness) simply tell the king that although others indulge, he must not. Verses 8 and 9 (read the whole passage) again emphasize the importance of his responsibilities. The Proverbs tell the young man that part of being wise is avoiding the effects of alcohol by not drinking wine.

Other good Christians in the Bible clearly abstained from intoxicating beverages, too. Paul wrote to the Roman believers that “it is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth” (Romans 14:21). He wrote to Timothy an admonition to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23). He was advocating the use of wine for medicinal purposes, but the admonition would have been completely unnecessary if Timothy were already in the habit of drinking wine for other purposes. The young preacher was a “total abstainer” and had to be urged by an apostle to drink just a little wine for his health. Daniel also was a non-drinker, and every wise man, informed by the Word of God, will follow his example!


Anonymous said...

I think that one reason Daniel didn't drink the wine was that most of the meat and wine would have been considered an offering to pagan god(s). Drinking wine, at least before exile, was a very jewish thing to do, even until the time of Christ.

mark said...

What about Daniel 10:3 ? If Daniel was fasting from wine then he should have drunk it because you cannot fast from something you don't eat or drink.

Bro. Jeff Hallmark said...

From Barnes Notes -- Neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth - That is, he lived on bread or vegetables. It is not to be inferred from this that Daniel ordinarily made use of wine, for it would seem from Dan. 1: that that was not his custom. What would appear from this passage would be, that he practiced on this occasion the most rigid abstinence.