The drinking of wine can, not inevitably though, lead to strange behavior, and equally not drinking wine can lead some to strange conclusions. And I’m not sure which is worst – a headache or forced exegesis? One goes away in the morning but the other stays all day, all life-long. One is certainly regrettable, the other rarely repented from.
It is alleged Sir Winston Churchill replied to a woman who told him he was drunk, that She was ugly but in the morning He would no longer be drunk. Now, I am not making a case for being drunk anymore than others should make a case for being ugly.
The prophet Joel had a lot to say about wine, among other loftier matters. No doubt he enjoyed a cup with his bread. If you’ll read through his book it leaves little doubt that wine and food ‘withheld’ was viewed as God’s judgment on the nation, and food and wine ‘restored’ was God’s favor and goodness shown to Israel. This is hardly convenient to those that howl against any consumption. They would have missed the party and the point.
He begins by saying, “Awake, O you drunkards and weep; and howl, all you drinkers of wine …” At this point I digress, because this is where some people stop, their proof text (not full-proof) firmly under their arm, and proceed to rail against, as they suppose Joel is doing, all drinkers of wine.
On the contrary, and if context can have its way, he was saying that a sign of the judgment of God on the nation was drought and famine. These are the very conditions that preclude a harvest and blessings – wine and food being the chief ingredients in that harvest.
Joel was both spiritual enough and worldly enough to know that people require God’s bread and the bread of this world to be satisfied, whole and holy. Food and wine were always at the core of community and connection. A table, with a glass, is what created an identity and shared joy. A meal with wine is at the heart of covenant faithfulness or, as the case was, an occasion for great treachery – ‘take this bread … take this cup’ and, ‘he that has eaten with me will hand me over in an act of betrayal.’
When you separate these three elements you always get less than bargained for. Wine by itself leads to brown paper bags, food by itself leads to enlargement, and being by yourself leads to a diminished life, which adds up to being drunk, fat and lonely. Put all three together however and you have community, love and life.
Joel didn’t condone drunkenness, but equally, he didn’t condone artless living. Withdrawal and excess are sired from the same stable.
Paul had some sage advice for a young and apparently nervous leader, Timothy. It may not suit tea total-lers who always water down the wine but didn’t Timothy have a problem with digestion, something water was insufficient for? Wine helped him, whereas the local water probably didn’t.
Paul told him that God had not given him a spirit of fear and timidity – on the contrary. Timothy needed to hear and digest the promises previously declared over him. He also needed to drink some wine for his weak stomach that appeared to give him indigestion, possibly fuelled by anxiety. He needed the wine of heaven and the wine of this world – both.
You can have your cake and eat it too; in fact we may need to have new wine and old wine, heaven’s bread and a fresh baked loaf. We may have our head in the clouds but our feet are still mired in the clay, that rich mother lode that contains hints of blackberry, chocolate and nut.