Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Theological Intoxication

I think my favourite thing about going through the Psalms in the LXX is that everything is just phrased slightly differently. It makes you stop and take notice of things that you might not otherwise. Switching from one translation to another often has that effect.

What I've been struck by most recently has been the language of intoxication.

Here are a couple examples of what I'm talking about:

"You anointed my head with oil, and your cup was supremely intoxicating" (Ps. 22:5 [23:5] NETS).

"You showed Your people hard things; You gave us to drink wine of stupification" (Ps. 59:5 [60:3] NETS).

"You visited the earth and intoxicated it; You multiplied enriched it; the river of God was filled with water; You prepared its nourishment, because so it Your preparation. Intoxicate its furrows! Multiply its crops; it will be glad with its drops, when it sprouts" (Ps. 64:10-11 [65:9-10] NETS).

These were the passages that I ran across in Psalms just recently which prompted me to do a little more searching to see how the imagery of wine and inebriation are used in scripture.

Now, before I get going I want to be clear that, at least in my view, the scriptures (both OT and NT) are very clear on drinking: the drinking of alcoholic beverages is not only permitted but considered normative (Yes, even in the NT: Lk. 7:32-35; Jn. 2:1-12; Rom. 14:21; 1Tim. 5:23). HOWEVER, the scriptures are also abundantly clear that drunkenness is forbidden... always (Pr. 20:1; Is. 5:22; Eph. 5:18; 1Tim. 3:8; Tit. 2:3; etc). Nothing good comes from drunkenness (Gen. 9:20-25; 19:30-38; 2Sam11).

Of course, the other concept essential to this is whether one's drinking is a "stumbling block" to our brothers and sisters (Rom 14; 1Cor.8).

But it's not the topic of drinking that I want to talk about; it's the metaphor of drinking/drunkenness that I'm talking about.

Drunkenness is strictly forbidden by God and yet, as part of His revelation to us, He uses the imagery of intoxication as a means of communicating His Truth. Isn't that just a bit odd?

Now, most of the time it actually makes sense, because in the majority of cases the language of drinking and intoxication is in reference to God's judgement and wrath (Job 21:20; Rev. 16:19; etc). A good example of a wine & wrath scripture is this one from Jeremiah:

"Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them" (25:25-26).

To me this connection between drunkenness and wrath makes sense. It just connects the idea that those who fall under God's wrath will be thrown into chaos and confusion.

But there are numerous other passages that talk about drinking and even drunkenness in very different terms. In fact, in Jeremiah just two chapters before the passage I just quoted we run into this verse:

"My heart is broken within me; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord and because of his holy words" (Jer. 23:9 ESV).

I find this interesting because this passage isn't directly dealing with wrath. Instead, I think it is talking about the effect that God's revelation is having on Jeremiah. Even though we can fairly say that Jeremiah was a righteous man He feels "like a drunken man" upon receiving word from God.

Even more juxtaposed to this is the fact that God not only refers to wine and drunkenness in connection to His wrath, but wine is often connected with passages that talk about plenty, blessedness, and restoration:

"14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart" (Ps. 104:14-15 ESV).

Prophesying about the New Covenant, Isaiah says, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Is. 55:1 ESV).

Earlier in Isaiah we see that "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined" (Is. 25:6 ESV).

Hosea prophecies that when God removes His blessing on Israel: "... I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness" (Hos. 2:9 ESV), but then when he prophesies about the restoration of Israel: "... and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil..." (2:22).

And again we see Joel using similar terms: "So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwells in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. 18 "And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Shittim" (Joel 3:17-18 ESV).

In Proverbs we read that Wisdom personified says, '4 "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!" To him who lacks sense she says, 5 "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight."' (Pr. 9:4-6 ESV).

And, quite significantly, we read of Melchizedek, the forshadower to the Christ:
"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)" (Gen 14:18 ESV) ["bread & wine"... think New Covenant & Communion].

So, what do you make of all of these (and the MANY other) scriptures that talk about drinking and intoxication?

What other theological themes do you see in connection to drinking/wine/ect?

Why do you think this has become such a divisive issue within evangelical Christianity?


natron said...

i was listening to 'Siamese twins with Jesus' on the Happy Gospel podcast by Benjamin Dunn, he brought up some of the Psalms you mentioned on you post. It came up on the first page when i googled "septuagint intoxication"

good stuff

Timothy Braun said...

Cool. Glad I could be of help!