God likes Wine – Some Disconnected thoughts on Wine in Scripture, Society and the Christian life | Part 1

Over the last few years, I’ve thought more and more about wine. Growing up in the UK, wine was either brought out for special occasions and namelessly served, or cheap, mass produced wine which was abused by those seeking to self-medicate.

Only since living in South Africa have I been introduced to truly appreciating wine; it’s characteristics, the nuances between grape varietals, the process and care taken to produce this most ancient of agricultural products. South Africa’s wine is so varied1 and affordable2 as to lend itself to an education in the breadth of wine varietals and regions.

Reading the bible, it is hard to get away from wine. It is both a historical artifact of the ancient world, and as with most agricultural processes in scripture, a deeply symbolic and meaningful image.

The symbolism of wine

A few years ago, I was partaking in a eucharist celebration when a friend who was leading the process spoke about the significance and symbolism of the wine making process (rather than just grape juice) as it relates to us remembering Jesus.

Consider this;

  • Grapes are grown in specific conditions and require just the right amount of cultivation to produce wine.
  • They are then tenderly picked and mostly by hand at the end of a sucessful growing period.
  • They are then crushed in order that their inner character can be spilt.
  • They then spend time in the tomb underground, maturing, taking on their new and true quality. Also becoming enhanced and empowered by the fermentation process.
  • At just the right time they are pulled up from the under ground aging processs and enjoyed around a table, drawing together different people into a common family and enabling an uninhibited sharing.

This is not an intellectualised ode to alcoholism, but rather paying attention to the way in which wine operates in society and the power it has which speaks to something of the character of the power of God;

  • It is the produce an seemingly natural item.
  • It is processed through the counter-intuitive process of crushing, descending and then distributing a gift that draws people together.

Wine in the Scriptural God Story

Of course it is hard to deny the significance of wine within scripture, it is by far the most spoken about agricultural product (in fact over 1000 references in scripture), and it is chosen by Jesus as a particular way to remember him, and I’ve written before here about some of the possible siginficnance of that.

Wine connects us to our original task in Eden as those that bear the image of God; to take creation and to enhance and draw beauty from our stewardship of it. We are connected to the created order. Just as a musical instrument crafted from the wood from a tree, wine making enhances the creation in a way that it can be offered back to God in the midst of the joy of His people.

We don’t just stand over creation as it’s stewards, we also draw the material of our life from creation. We are in fact, soil with God’s breath in us. The creation account speaks clearly of this, the name adam, literally meaning earth, ground, soil or clay.

Wine in the scriptures speaks of celebration, of abundance, of the success of God’s kingdom people. It speaks of surplas, more than just neccesity.

Wine takes time, it takes a people who own land (another great theme of the scriptures) that have enough to sustain them and so venture to create this luxury good. When Jacob blesses Judah, he speaks of it in terms of huge vines, large enough to tie a donkey to!3 God’s promises to provide for His people, when the spies go to see a promised land they see huge grapes. It is a picture also of a future peaceable land where every person will sit under his own vine 4.

There are a number of encouragements towards wine for general health 5 in scripture as well as the slightly awkward first miracle of Jesus 6 which produces excellent wine to help finish off a party caught in shame at having too little on hand. Whilst certainly there are messianic and symbolic reasons for this particular miracle, the plain fact of it cannot be denied. Jesus is the wine maker, for a party already well under way in terms of it’s wine consumption.

It is also spoken of as something which mocks us if we over-indulge7. Reminding us that in this inbetween time, if the only key we know is celebration and we are not recognising the reality of suffering we will surely be undone.

Another scriptural writer reminds us that the Lord’s love is better than wine. This, another friend once remarked, is not said to create a contrast, as if wine were bad and love were good. It is said to say, this is the very pinnacle of human engenuity and creation production, and yet God’s love is better!

Receiving creation as gift as a remedy to abuse

A few years ago when my friend (who himself was friends with many a wine farmer) said that you will never find a wine farmer who abuses alcohol8, because, he said, they know the labour of it, they know the preciousness of it. Abusing alcohol comes from a mindlessness towards it. Indeed, often those abusing alcohol are seeking to be mindless because of what it is that is tormenting their minds. Instead, wine makers and wine farmers are attentive to the wine, to the land that created it and the effort and tenuous nature of the agrarian life in general.

Part two next week will take further the enjoying God’s gift in creation, thinking about how grape vines image our lives as christians and our cultural immaturity in our relationship to wine.

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  1. due to a number of micro-climates that lend themselves to wine production) 
  2. both because the pricing has to stay at a level consumate with average incomes but also becuase labour is at an unjustly low level for most labourers. 
  3. genesis 49:11 
  4. in Micah 4:4 
  5. 1 Tim 5:23 
  6. John 2:3 
  7. Proverbs 20:1 
  8. and I’m sure exceptions that prove the rule can be found here. 

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