We can always thank Seth MacFarlane for a nice spin-off to old classics. In season 2, episode 20 of Family Guy, Peter Griffin is given the opportunity to visit Willy Wonka’s brewery. Now, I’m sure you can imagine how that visit went for the two of them, but a musical segue is unlikely to be one. The power of alcohol is so strong, that Mr. Wonka begins his tour of the brewery with the following lyrics: “Take a drink, And you’ll sink to a state, of pure inebriation. You’ll be tanked, like the whole, Irish nation. When you drink enough, of my beer, You will find this magic brew’ll, make you’re every joke, a jewel. You’ll drive drunker than, Oksana Byull” (see here for background on the last reference: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/16/sports/figure-skating-striving-for-recovery-from-grip-of-alcohol.html?pagewanted=print&src=pm). This memory leads me to wish to lay out the biblical view of alcohol consumption and intoxication, hopefully, to make clear to the reader that the two are two mutually exclusive stages and ideas in biblical thought.
Beginning with the wisest of all leaders and kings, the great King Solomon states (Ecclesiastics 10:19) “for laughter they make bread, and wine makes life joyous, and money is the answer for all.” Following in the footsteps of a golden mean, King Solomon is simply being real. When it comes down to a kernel, man needs bread; the biblical paradigm of sustenance, to live and have his stomach happy. A little wine ameliorates life’s boulders thrown at us and is certainly useful in moderation. And of course, as much as any idealists would want to deny it, money truly is the answer, or better yet, the tool, to gain access to all (or at least most). Why else would God promise His people (Deuteronomy 14:26) that they “may then spend the money on whatever you desire; cattle, sheep, goats, wine and other alcoholic beverages, and anything your soul desires, and you will eat there before The Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.”? Within this balanced familial setting, eating and drinking is by no means off limits, not even to other members of the household.
Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to see why King David lists (Psalms 104:14-15) among the essentials and wonders that God provides: “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and herbs for mankind’s labor use, to grow food from the land. And wine that gladdens man’s heart for oil to make the face shine, and bread satisfies the heart of man.” But before we get carried away, let us be keen and honest about the passages above. The verses cited do not speak of intoxication, nor do they endorse indulgence of other forms of consumption. As we shall see, the goal of man is to strive for a centrist approach to the mundane and physical: “The righteous man eats to the satisfaction of his soul, and the stomach of the evil ones shall lack” (Proverbs 13:25). As my rendition of the Hebrew indicates, the righteous eat to fuel the wanting that his soul desires. His eating is not that of pure lust and desire, he eats to strive for a greater, and longer-term goals. This is unlike the wicked, which eat as an ends meet. They eat to fuel the short-lived desire induced by their stomachs, not to fuel the drive of the enduring and everlasting soul within. Take a moment to introspect: what is *your* intent in drinking and eating?
Every good host knows that one must treat his guests as Malchizedek treated Patriarch Abraham: “Then Malchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine…” (Genesis 14:18). Now, unlike his predecessor, Noah, Abraham and Malchizedek did not place their meal as a top priority. As the context of further verses demonstrate later in the chapter, this meal was a medium to bond and blessing for the two, as diplomatic ties between them had to be established to divide war spoils and release Lot from the survivors of the Battle of Siddim. So, unlike Abraham, what was Noah’s wrongdoing? Upon careful inspection, Noah’s first course of labor after exiting his ark of survival was the vineyard: “Now Noah started off as a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. When he drank of the wine, he became intoxicated, and he uncovered himself inside his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21). See how far a simple plant’s transformation into a simple beverage, can bring Man. A man worthy of being saved during regional destruction and annihilation, now more foolish in appearance than the man in this page’s cover photo.
As Noah is known as the archetypal father figure of modern man, the renown Saul of Tarsus even instructs the gentile leaders of Ephesus (Ephesians 5:16-18) to avoid intoxication at all costs, as this is the single greatest blinding agent to human progression: “making the best use of your time, because the days are wicked. On this account stop being unreasonable, but keep perceiving what the will of The Lord is. Also, do not get drunk with wine, in which there is intemperance, but keep getting filled with spirit.” As for the Prophets of Israel, their words of rebuke have no end in this matter. Shall we provide an exhaustive list of prophetic rebuke? “Prostitution and wine and new wine take away the motivation to do what is right” (Hosea 4:11). “Woe to those mighty ones at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing a strong drink” (Isaiah 5:22). “These also reel with wine and stagger with strong drink; the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are swallowed by wine, they stagger with strong drink, they reel in vision, they stumble in giving judgment” (Ibid 28:7). And a special shout-out to those who capitalize on intoxicating others for their own benefit from Prophet Habakkuk: “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink, you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness” (Habakkuk 2:15).
Rabbinic tradition also provides a few anecdotal passages on the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. While there is much to say, the Palestinian Talmud (Sanhedrin 8§7) comments on the effects of meat and wine on the infamous wayward and rebellious son. The Talmud states “Wine and sleep: for the wicked, it is beneficial to them and to the world, and for the righteous: it is bad for them and for the world.” In other words, if the evil ones of society are paralyzed by their indulgence in alcohol, and by excess sleep, they cannot continue to harm themselves by their action, or the rest of the world by default. The opposite holds true for the righteous and productive in society.
Commenting on the passage of the righteous consuming wine, The Talmud notes that they drink, and sleep “a tad”, in order to “ease their minds” from their lightheartedness. This implies that the righteous have a right to drink as well, but only up to a point where a brief nap would do the trick to bring them back to normal. The Zohar (1§110b) takes the words of the Palestinian Talmud a notch further, by comparing the righteous to “a pig with a golden nose ring” whilst intoxicated. The righteous “must *never* become intoxicated”, and “defame the name of God” when doing so. In an almost Shakespearean like style of writing, I would like to end off with where we began from; with the Proverbs of King Solomon (Proverbs 23:29-35): “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness? Who has quarrels? Who has complaints? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has bleary eyes? Those lingering long over wine; Those searching out mixed wine. Do not look at the wine’s red color As it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly, For in the end it bites like a serpent, And it secretes poison like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will speak perverse things. And you will be like one lying down in the middle of the sea, Like one lying at the top of a ship’s mast. You will say: “They have struck me, but I did not feel it. They beat me, but I did not know it. When will I wake up? I need another drink.”