3.1.3 Wine: Life-Blood
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 1.3
Three dietary staples are often seen in the same context in scripture. We’ve just explored two of them—grain and oil. The third is wine. Together, they form a picture of Yahweh’s covenant blessings—poured out in abundance if the covenant is being honored, and withheld if the covenant is being broken. Considered as a unit, they present a composite picture of Christ as God’s gift to us: His miraculous provision of sustenance, spirit, and life itself.
As symbols go, wine is something of a “good news-bad news” story. It is a natural metaphor for blood—a deep red liquid obtained by inflicting injury upon the grape. And indeed, Yahshua Himself defined this one for us, equating wine with blood—specifically, His own. So since we are informed several times in scripture that “the life is in the blood,” wine, by association, also speaks of life—a good thing, as long as you’ve got it. Thus when we see blood (or wine) poured out, we understand the picture: life is being lost.
Just as with grain and oil, wine was an integral part of the system of sacrifices and offerings Yahweh instituted in theocratic Israel. “Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to Yahweh from the herd or from the flock an offering by fire or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to Yahweh, then he who brings his offering shall offer to Yahweh a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb….” Some of these things weren’t available in any significant quantities in the wilderness, so Yahweh made it clear that the Israelites weren’t being told to do the impossible: the “rules” would only apply once they entered the promised land. (The instructions themselves were the important part, anyway.) Wine in particular was conspicuously absent from the wilderness diet, as we read in Deuteronomy 29:6. The point is, we can’t offer something Yahweh hasn’t yet provided—which is why it’s absolute nonsense for an unredeemed sinner to try to gain favor with God by promising never to do one wrong thing ever again: cross my heart and hope to die. Sinlessness cannot be “offered” by someone who is sinful any more than a billion-dollar ransom can be paid by a pauper.
Larger sacrificial animals were to be offered with larger amounts of grain, oil, and wine, but the proportions remained relatively constant. “Or for a ram, you shall offer for a grain offering two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a third of a hin of oil. And for the drink offering you shall offer a third of a hin of wine, a pleasing aroma to Yahweh. And when you offer a bull as a burnt offering or sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or for peace offerings to Yahweh, then one shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three tenths of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with half a hin of oil. And you shall offer for the drink offering half a hin of wine, as an offering by fire, a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.” (Numbers 15:1-10) Note that the amount of olive oil (symbolic, as we have seen, of the Spirit of Yahweh) was always the same as the amount of wine to be offered. This equivalence, I’m thinking, is no accident. Yahweh wanted us to connect the two things in our minds—Spirit with blood—both of which are vehicles of life. The two parallel “births” of John 3 are once again in view.
Two lambs per day, every day, were to be sacrificed at the sanctuary: “The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil. It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, an offering by fire to Yahweh. Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to Yahweh.” (Numbers 28:4-7; cf. Exodus 29:38-41) One may wonder: since the animal’s blood was shed as it was sacrificed, why was wine—a secondary, symbolic form of “blood”—also required? Is God being pointlessly redundant here? The answer lies in the fact that only mortal, physical life resides “in the blood.” It’s temporary, a mere shadow of another kind of life—one infinitely beyond the mortal sort of existence we share with lambs, lions, and sea slugs. Spiritual life, however, is not in the blood. So although the blood of bulls and goats was assigned symbolic meaning, it was never actually efficacious in atoning for our sins. But since attaining eternal existence is that about which Yahweh wanted to teach us, He introduced the wine metaphor. The pouring out of wine in the Holy Place was a clear indication that Yahweh was anticipating a life-blood sacrifice of a different sort—one that He Himself would make, one that would achieve in eternity what our blood sacrifices at the altar did in finite time.
Wine is ordinarily spoken of as a blessing, a good thing. One of the evidences brought back by the twelve spies that the promised land was indeed “a good land, a land of milk and honey,” was a cluster of grapes so big it had to be carried on a pole between two of them. But isn’t wine an intoxicating beverage? Yes. So it may come as a bit of a shock to some of our more straight-laced brethren that even wine’s ability to compromise our sobriety is spoken of as a good thing. The Psalmist, for example, identifies it as a gift from God, gives thanks for it, and states why: “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15) The fact that there is far more scriptural admonition warning against its misuse than there is thanksgiving for its ability to “make the heart merry” doesn’t change the fact that God basically considers wine a gift, not a curse, something to be enjoyed in moderation and thankfulness.
This characterization will not change during the Millennial kingdom, either. The prophet Amos describes the good times awaiting us: “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares Yahweh, ‘when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,’ says Yahweh your God.” (Amos 9:13-15) Here, vineyards are compared to people: God will plant Israel in their land as the farmer plants vines in his vineyard—fully expecting to harvest fruit that, when fully mature, will “gladden the heart.” Furthermore, Yahweh intends to guard His vineyard. Never again will His enemies be allowed to “uproot” what He has planted. Perhaps I’m taking the analogy too far, but it occurred to me that Yahweh considers being in the company of people who genuinely love, trust, and enjoy Him a bit intoxicating (cf. Song of Solomon 4:10, 7:9). We “gladden” His heart.
If we understand Yahweh’s purpose toward us—that of blessing us with life and love—then we can see that everything that grows upon the earth, the foundation of our food chain, is really a miracle of transformation. God takes sunlight, water, air, nutrients in the soil, and a living plant (all of which He created and placed on the earth in perfect balance), and causes nutrition to result—something men and animals find edible and enjoyable. It shouldn’t be too terribly surprising, then, that Yahshua’s first public miracle was a demonstration of what Yahweh does for us all the time—a miracle of transformation, but compressed in time. I’m speaking, of course, of the famous incident in which He turned water into wine: “There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine….’”
Note a few salient facts here at the outset. (1) Yahshua had already, at this early date, gathered disciples to Himself. But they hadn’t followed because of His signs and wonders (i.e., evidence of His divinity) or even because of what He’d said and taught. About all He’d done at this point was to ask John to baptize Him, after which He had endured forty days of testing in the wilderness. John had pointed out Yahshua as “the Lamb of God,” the one whom the Spirit had identified as the Messiah—the one who would baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. That was enough for Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael, who had been seeking God’s truth even before Yahshua arrived. (2) His mother, Mary, though she had never seen Him do a miracle either, intuitively knew her son could be counted upon to do what needed to be done. After all, she had not gotten to this place in her life by being unresponsive to the leading of Yahweh’s Spirit. (3) For what it’s worth, the name of the town was Cana, which means “a place of reeds.” We ran across its origin previously in this chapter: qaneh, the “sweet-smelling, aromatic cane or reed” used in the manufacture of the priestly anointing oil, a word that also denotes a six-cubit standard of measure. Are we being told that Yahshua was about to be revealed as the standard by which all men are measured?
The narrative continues: “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’” It’s kind of funny, how “in sync” Yahshua and Mary were. All she had done was inform Him of a problem, but He immediately sensed that the subject really being broached was when, and how, to begin telling the world who He really was—the Son of God. Mary was doing what Godly Moms always do: channeling the Spirit of Yahweh in the lives of their children. She gave the servants the wisest possible advice, something we should all still be heeding, all the time: do whatever He tells you. Mary had no idea what her son would actually do, of course. He could have told them, “Gee, guys, I guess you’d better take up a collection and go buy some more wine.” But He didn’t. Although the time for His sacrifice was still years away, the time for lifting the curtain a bit on His real identity had arrived. His disciples, at the very least, needed to see a glimpse, a preview, of the awesome power Yahshua wielded.
“Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” (John 2:1-11) It’s a familiar story to most of us, but let’s look closely at the telling little details. First, the containers were retasked, at least temporarily. Ritual purification had its roots in the Torah, but the scribes and Pharisees had turned the practice, once a living picture of Yahweh’s cleansing of our lives, into a dead religious obligation (see Mark 7:3). So Yahshua transformed the pots into vessels dedicated to the celebration of love, relationship, fruitfulness, and lifelong commitment.
Second, note that the servants did their jobs with enthusiasm: they filled the pots all the way to the brim. All they knew for sure at this point was that the jars would be heavier, if they had to lift them. But they did as they’d been instructed, with a whole heart and pure motives. If we aspire to be God’s servants, we ought to take a hint here. Third, taking the “water” to the master of ceremonies required an act of faith. The servants (although they probably figured something was going on) had no idea what had been done. They risked looking like insolent fools on the word of Yahshua, and they were willing to take that chance. Fourth, the servants alone knew what Yahshua had done (though they didn’t know how); the master of ceremonies and the bridegroom didn’t have a clue. We “servants” should get used to the idea that although we can easily recognize the providence of Yahweh in our lives, the world will usually be blind to it, assuming some “naturalistic” explanation rather than giving thanks to God, as they should.
Fifth, the wine Yahshua had created out of plain water was of surprisingly good quality. When God provides, He provides well. (Remember the manna? It was to all accounts both tasty and nutritious, even if folks did get a little weary of it after forty years.) Sixth, notice how much wine was produced—about 150 gallons. It was not without cause that Paul described Yahshua as “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20) Yahweh is not on a budget. And seventh, this miracle was embraced as a sign, a manifestation of Yahshua’s glory. Not only was the water transformed into wine, but the disciples were transformed from merely being interested in Yahshua into believing in Him—trusting in the premise that He was actually Yahweh’s Messiah.
Although wine is generally characterized as a good thing, an indication of blessing, in scripture, it can be misused, abused, even elevated to the status of a false god. Like any number of other good things—wealth, sex, sustenance, pleasure, or security—wine can become the object of our desire, replacing in our affections the very God who provided it to be enjoyed. As I said, the Bible spends far more time warning us about the pitfalls of drunkenness than it does extolling the virtues of this particular blessing.
Solomon, for example, asks, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:29-33) The undercurrent of thought is not so much that drunkenness is a mistake in judgment, merely too much of a good thing. It’s that people often use alcohol as a means to an unwise end: disconnecting themselves from reality. It would be tempting to relegate this whole line of thought to an attempt to flee from one’s adverse circumstances—“drowning one’s sorrows,” as the saying goes. But that would be a gross oversimplification. People also drink excessively when they’re happy, when they’re bored, or just because it’s Friday night. And whether or not they’ll admit it, the reason usually boils down to that one thing: a desire to escape from reality.
It might seem to make sense (from a certain point of view) to get drunk when your life is rotten, when you desperately want to forget how bad things are. It’s human nature: if evil stands before us, we want to shut our eyes. But why do people also want to get drunk when they’re happy—when they’ve just gotten the big promotion, or passed some dreaded milestone? It’s just a theory, of course, but I believe it’s because they—deep down—realize that even at their best, their lives are pointless. Okay, I’ve just gotten everything I’ve always wanted. So how come I still feel empty? Reality without Christ feels just a little too real.
The solution to a pointless existence is to get a life—a real life, one that lasts for eternity, one that is lived in peace and fellowship with our Creator. That’s why Paul admonishes us, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21) I’m aware, of course, that the lost world would characterize this as “escapism.” Whereas they seek shelter from reality in wine (or some other equally pointless diversion), we seek it (they’d say) in religious fervor. But we who endeavor to be “filled with the Spirit” know better. We’re not fleeing from reality at all, but running toward it—embracing it. This isn’t “religious fervor” at all, but rather a conscious, rational determination to live life to the fullest, in good times and bad. The Spirit of God is not an escape mechanism, but a coping mechanism (so to speak); It does not numb our senses, but sharpens our perception of what’s really going on around us. It doesn’t merely insulate us from the world; it detaches us entirely from its evil—if we’re willing to let the Holy Spirit fill us. The world can still attack us, of course, but all it can reach is our mortal bodies, and these bodies no longer define who we are. They are but shadows cast by our true identities, the lives we live in God’s Spirit. You can stomp on my shadow all you want—I won’t feel a thing.
Wine influences our mortal flesh if we allow it to do so. And the Holy Spirit can influence our souls—but again, only at our discretion. The choices are ours. Isaiah points out that the pursuit of pleasure is directly antithetical to the quest for the knowledge of Yahweh: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of Yahweh, or see the work of His hands. Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her.” (Isaiah 5:11-14) It’s not like the distinction is academic. Our actions have consequences—in the case of drunken dissipation: ignorance, exile, dishonor, hunger, thirst, and ultimately death. The pursuit of Yahweh’s kingdom yields exactly the opposite result: knowledge, peace, honor, satisfaction, and eternal life. So although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with “wine, women, and song,” to run after these things in lieu of Yahweh’s truth is to worship a false god.
This very distinction was codified in God’s instructions to the Levitical Priesthood. Speaking to Aaron the High Priest, Yahweh said: “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that Yahweh has spoken to them by Moses.” (Leviticus 10:9-11) In other words, although it would be okay for the priests to enjoy wine in moderation when they were “off duty,” they were never to minister in the sanctuary when they were under its influence. Remember, the priests (in their role as priests) are symbolic of believers in general—those who intercede with God as children of the Chief Intercessor, Christ. And the sanctuary—the tent of meeting—represented the plan of Yahweh for the redemption of mankind. So the priests were to personify the “distinction between the holy and the common.” They were to exemplify the difference between the clean and the unclean. They were to demonstrate through their lives that the ordinary pleasures of life, though not forbidden under ordinary circumstances, had no role to play in our reconciliation with God. The point, I think, is that the material blessings God showers upon us should not be confused with what He has done to redeem us. There is no correlation between how “blessed” a person’s circumstances seem to be and how “saved” he is. (On a completely different level, this may also be a warning against using mind-altering substances to facilitate contact with deity—something endemic in pagan modes of worship the world over. Since Yahweh is real, one needn’t enter a shamanistic trance to encounter Him.)
The Levitical priesthood wasn’t a status one could attain through dedication, study, or good behavior. Genetic serendipity was the only criteria. It was a position thrust upon the males of one sub-clan of Israel—the sons of Aaron—whether they wanted it or not. I imagine God’s reason for setting it up this way was that He didn’t want anyone to get the impression that they could work for their salvation. On the other hand, neither was being predestined to salvation (or to the converse, for that matter) the idea He wanted to convey. In point of fact, salvation had nothing to do with this particular image. God’s children are often assigned what roles to play in the family drama, but whether or not we’re in the family to begin with is a choice that’s entirely up to us. Although the priesthood is metaphorical of the household of faith, it is not a picture of how to reach this status, but only of what we’re to do once we’ve arrived.
So in order to avoid leaving the impression that His children’s initiative or dedication meant nothing to Him, Yahweh instituted the “Nazirite vow,” a voluntary, usually temporary, state of total separation to Yahweh that any believer could elect to do. And as with the priests, abstinence from wine while “on duty” was part of the formula. The name of the vow is derived from the Hebrew verb nazar: to dedicate, consecrate, devote, or keep sacred and separate. “When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to Yahweh, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.”(Numbers 6:2-4) It’s the same basic image we saw with the ministry of the priests, only this time it’s concentrated and focused. Not only was wine (symbolic of blessings enjoyed in this mortal life) to be avoided during the vow’s duration, but so was any contact with grapes or anything made from them. (There were other prohibitions associated with the Nazirite vow as well, but they’re beyond the scope of this discussion.) The idea seems to be the elimination of all potential loopholes and technicalities, in order to demonstrate the depth, sincerity, and totality of one’s dedication and separation to Yahweh. It’s an all-or-nothing approach to serving the God of Israel, one so difficult to maintain in our sinful, mortal state, that it was designed to be intense but temporary—sort of like fasting or holding your breath under water: you weren’t meant to live your whole life like this, but it could nevertheless be a valuable, useful, or enlightening experience.
In this respect, it’s sort of like the wilderness wanderings. In a previous chapter, we explored the symbolic distinction between the wilderness and the promised land. Now, with our new perspective, we can see why wine was not part of the wilderness experience (beyond its obvious scarcity): “And Moses summoned all Israel [just before they were to cross the Jordan and enter the Land] and said to them: ‘You have seen all that Yahweh did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day Yahweh has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am Yahweh your God.’” (Deuteronomy 29:2-6) There are benefits to living settled lives in the land of promise—exemplified by having wine to drink that “gladdens the heart.” But there are also challenges. Not only are there “Canaanites” (enticements to compromise) in the land with whom we must do battle, but also certain hidden dangers that present themselves—blessings that threaten, if we’re not vigilant, to morph from gifts into gods.
We must therefore maintain constant watchfulness, lest we abandon the Giver as we pursue His gifts. Moses warned Israel about this very thing. (Well, that’s not quite accurate: actually, he prophesied that they would eventually fall into this trap.) Yahweh (in Deuteronomy 29-32) promised that He would send fierce enemies to punish this future rebellious permutation of the Israel whom He had gone so far out of His way to redeem. The only reason (He says) that He doesn’t wipe Israel out altogether is that He, having given His word to the contrary, doesn’t want these enemies to conclude that their own strength has made them victorious over God’s chosen people—and thus by implication, over God Himself. Moses then describes Israel’s future enemies: “They are a nation void of counsel, and there is no understanding in them. If they were wise, they would understand this; they would discern their latter end! How could one have chased a thousand, and two have put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and Yahweh had given them up?” Good point: no one could possibly enjoy any success against Yahweh’s elect unless He Himself has empowered them—for His own purposes, to wit: to encourage our repentance. “For their rock is not as our Rock; our enemies are by themselves.”That’s especially relevant today: Israel’s enemies, like Islam, are “by themselves,” for the god they serve is nothing—a figment of the imagination. “For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter; their wine is the poison of serpents and the cruel venom of asps.” (Deuteronomy 32:28-33) Not every vintage is a blessing from God, it turns out. It’s another incredibly important lesson: a gift from an enemy is not a gift, but a curse. The wine the enemy offers us may look tempting, but it’s actually poison. Consider the source.
Case in point: Babylon. “Another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.’” (Revelation 14:8) This “sexual immorality” is a prophetic euphemism for idolatry—the love, veneration or adoration of anything other than Yahweh and His Messiah in the hearts of men. John later saw Babylon’s true character: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.’ And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:1-6) “Babylon,” the purveyor of idolatry in the world, has made her “lovers” blind, stinking drunk. But the wine she has been pouring out—that which the lost world finds so intoxicating—is the life-blood of Yahweh’s saints—His sanctified ones, those consecrated through the covenant of grace. Satan can’t touch God, so he settles for attacking His children, His loved ones, His bride. But Satan, being a created spirit, can’t achieve anything of substance in this world without enlisting the assistance of men. So beware: people who do the devil’s bidding will share the devil’s destiny.
The ultimate “target” for Satan’s minions was, of course, Yahshua the Messiah. The Torah’s strange instruction to pour wine out onto the ground (as we saw above) was a prophecy of what would happen literally on Calvary’s pole, fulfilling the promise of Passover. So on the night He was to be betrayed, Yahshua taught His disciples what the bread and wine of the Torah’s offerings really signified—His own body and blood: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant [called “the new covenant in My blood” in Luke], which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:26-29; cf. Mark 14:22-25) When He said these words, the disciples had no idea what He was talking about. For all they knew, Yahshua was talking in esoteric riddles, in mystical allegory. It didn’t matter that He had told them plainly that He would be betrayed, that men would kill Him, and that on the third day He would be raised from the dead (see for example, Matthew 17:22-23). They didn’t “get it” any more than most Christians today really comprehend what His return will entail. But by sundown the next day, Yahshua’s blood had been poured out as a drink offering upon the ground—and before the morning dawned on the third day His resurrection would prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was indeed the Son of God.
All of that would conspire to invest Yahshua’s sad, strange words with stunningly literal relevance. This was something that had been rehearsed innumerable times in Torah rituals over the previous millennium and a half: the blood of the perfect Lamb had now been “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And at last, the disciples were in a position to sort out what “the new covenant in My blood” meant. They understood the “old” covenant well enough. The contract of Deuteronomy 28—either heed the precepts of the Torah and receive God’s blessing, or violate them and endure His wrath—had been played out with unerring precision since the days of Joshua. This “new” covenant wasn’t so much new as it was renewed, solidified, and restated in eternal terms. In the “old” covenant, temporal blessings and curses had been in view, but it was now clear that the blessings and curses would extend beyond one nation, beyond the mortal realm, and beyond the constraints of time. It was finally clear: the Torah Code did have a key, and His name was Yahshua. Everything Moses had said was true, though encrypted in mortal circumstance and cloaked in symbol and imagery. But now, with the resurrection of God’s Messiah, the significance of the covenant became clear—so clear, in fact, that the eyes of evil cannot endure its brilliance.
Yahshua Himself had restated the conditions of the covenant, but in terms that were calculated to reveal its “new” eternal ramifications—which, of course, rendered it all but incomprehensible to those who assumed they had the Torah down to a science, those who had worked a lifetime getting the steps down, so they could get through their days without even thinking about what the Torah meant. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.’” (John 6:53-55) Oh good grief. Here He goes again, asking us to engage, to react, to respond, to think about what it all means. All we really want is a nice, tidy list of rules to follow, so we can get God off our backs. Sorry, guys: the covenant of the Torah is anything but tidy. It was designed to encourage us to ponder its meaning. But even stated this way, the covenant between God and man is still a legal contract, with both parties responsible for keeping up their part of the bargain. Yahweh, for His part, promises to “abide in us,” nourish us with His truth, and imbue us with eternal life. So what do we have to do to get these good things? We have to “feed on His flesh and drink His blood.” Huh? Goofy Catholic superstitions like transubstantiation notwithstanding, this obviously isn’t meant to be taken literally, but metaphorically. We are to assimilate Christ, make Him part of us, allow Him to repair, restore, and build up our souls, just as food and drink do for our bodies. Is that really so hard to understand?
The fact that wine is produced by crushing grapes in order to extract the juice from them is, quite obviously, the origin of the symbolic connection between wine and the blood of life. Wine (like bread and olive oil) begins with Yahweh’s miraculous gift of life, but is delivered to us—is made available for our use—only through violence and crushing pressure. That God would subject Himself to this kind of brutality for our sakes was so subtle in the Torah’s rites that nobody (I suppose) really understood this part of the picture at first—though in twenty-twenty hindsight, we can see it written between every line.
So among the “curses” promised for failing to heed Yahweh’s instructions, we read this warning: “You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them.” (Deuteronomy 28:39) The people who were unwilling to honor the God who instructed them to (among other things) pour out wine as a drink offering would find themselves with no wine to pour out. The Prophet Haggai would later look back on the literal fulfillment of the curse—confirming that Israel had indeed been disobedient to the voice of Yahweh: “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares Yahweh of hosts. Because of My house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” (Haggai 1:9-11) Our priorities matter to Yahweh: He insists that we put His kingdom before our own. Granted, this whole “Me first” attitude would sound ludicrous coming from anybody else. But in Yahweh’s case it’s the only course of action that makes sense: when we place Yahweh first in our lives, it benefits us, not Him—and because He loves us, He wants us to prosper. So the grain, the oil, and the wine (and all the rest) were removed from Israel because they had refused to honor Yahweh with them as instructed: as rehearsals of our redemption, the Torah’s picture-prophecies. It matters not that the people didn’t comprehend the prophetic significance of the Torah’s precepts. This was an exercise in trust: Yahweh said to “do it,” and they didn’t. I’m not picking on Israel, here: we’re no more obedient than they were, in many cases—even though we’re better informed. We’re so well informed, in fact, that we (unlike Israel) have no excuse for failing to see (and heed) the warnings latent in the symbols. Specifically, since wine is clearly a euphemism for one’s life-blood, we should perceive that in the end, rebellion will do more than compromise our prosperity. It will crush our very lives.
Remember, the Torah uses temporal symbols to teach spiritual truths, but those spiritual lessons are no less literal, no less real, just because they encompass more than our fragile, fleeting mortal existence. The symbols help us bridge the gap in our minds. They point out the continuity between what we can see with our waking eyes, and what is still over the spiritual horizon. Wine is no exception. If Yahweh allowed His own Messiah to be crushed like a grape to atone for our transgressions, it should come as no surprise that His anger toward those who choose to spit on His sacrifice will manifest itself in the same symbolic terms—the “grapes of wrath.” So just as Yahshua prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will…. My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done,” (Matthew 26:39, 42) we later read of a similar cup being thrust into the hands of Yahweh’s unrepentant enemies: “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath.” (Revelation 16:19) If we aren’t willing to allow Yahshua to take the wine of God’s wrath for our sins, we’ll have to drink it ourselves.
“Babylon” is generally used in scripture as a metaphor for systematic, organized idolatry. It appears that “Babylon bouillabaisse” comes in three flavors—religious, political, and commercial—and they all smell mighty fishy. This is what happens when “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” take on corporate proportions. Several times in scripture, we are told what to do when we encounter Babylon’s power, but the instructions may not be what we’d expect: we are not told to fight her, reform her, try to influence her, or encourage her to “do better.” No, we are told to flee—run away, hide, find shelter from her insidious influence. We are told to be holy, for Yahweh our God is holy. The reason we’re instructed to flee should now be apparent: Babylon—in all its guises—is going to experience the wrath of God. She’s not just going to “taste” it, either, but will “drain the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath.”
You may be saying, “That’s a relief: I’m not all that organized, so I guess I’m not part of Babylon.” Sorry; you’re not off the hook yet. All it will take to incur God’s wrath, in the end, is to “look out for Number One” (which is sort of what Haggai was talking about, above), to do what conventional wisdom says you have to do to survive: compromise with the world. Here’s the specific warning to those living during the Tribulation: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:8-11) I realize that this particular scenario will be in place only for a very short, specific period of time—mostly during the last three and a half years of the Tribulation—when the “beast,” the Antichrist, will wield undisputed control over the earth. Those who buy into his scheme (which will involve overt Satan worship, one way or another) will “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger.” But what if you’re living now, before the Tribulation begins? What if the beast hasn’t shown his face yet? Are you therefore “safe” from God’s wrath? Not necessarily.
I don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of predictive prophecy (been there, done that, wrote a 900-page book explaining it). I merely want to offer some sobering observations about those who will be asked to “worship the beast and receive his mark.” First, doing so will both “seem reasonable” and be required by law. System 666 will ostensibly facilitate commerce, ensure peace, and prevent crime. Second, refusing to comply will bring a death sentence down upon your head. You’ll be an outlaw, ostracized from society, forced to live off the grid, hunted like an animal, and hated by all the “normal” people. Third, the only real reason you’ll have for your “rebellion” against the system will be a nagging conscience—you’ll know, deep down inside, that this is just wrong.
My point is that although the actual “line-in-the-sand” system isn’t here yet, the attitudes that will drive it are in evidence already, and have been for as long as we can remember. Anywhere in the world today, anyone who unabashedly, unapologetically honors Yahweh and His Messiah is looked at by the majority of his neighbors as “a bit off,” disturbingly out of step with polite mainstream society. Oh, it’s still socially acceptable to attend church and celebrate religious holidays (as long as they bear no resemblance to what Yahweh actually ordained). But to get serious about your relationship with God, to study His word and heed the lessons you find within its pages, to pray when there’s nothing in particular you want, to love your neighbor with no ulterior motives, to choose not to participate in the pointless dissipation of the world—these are the sorts of things that will get you labeled an unbalanced fanatic, someone to be shunned. Compromise with the world will effectively deflect this antagonism, but it will also separate you from the God who called you out of it. As John advised, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (I John 2:15-17) We have to live in the world. We don’t have to let it live in us. Today, compromise with the world is a slippery slope; tomorrow, it will be the Slip-n-Slide to hell.
The imagery of the winepress of God’s wrath only gets squishier as we dig deeper into prophetic scripture. Isaiah asks, “Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like his who treads in the winepress?” And Yahweh (in the persona of Yahshua) answers, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me; I trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath; their lifeblood [there’s the definition of the “wine” metaphor] spattered on My garments, and stained all My apparel. For the day of vengeance was in My heart, and My year of redemption had come. I looked, but there was no one to help; I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold; so My own arm brought Me salvation, and My wrath upheld me. I trampled down the peoples in My anger; I made them drunk in My wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood [there it is again] on the earth.” (Isaiah 63:2-6) Twice here God contrasts the “drink offering” that was poured out with the Levitical sacrifices—prophetic of Christ’s blood, spilled for our redemption—with the lifeblood of the rebels destined to be destroyed in Yahweh’s wrath.
John saw the same thing: “And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, ‘Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’ So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.” (Revelation 14:18-20) It’s Armageddon, and the angels are seen “feeding” the winepress of God’s wrath. I don’t know why people call it “the Battle of Armageddon.” This is no battle. Satan’s sadly deluded minions, up to and including the Antichrist himself, are not even participants; they’re mere cannon fodder, grapes for the press, a feast for the birds. They came hoping to destroy Yahweh’s people, Israel, once and for all. But they ended up facing Yahweh’s Champion, His Messiah, King Yahshua.
John was the faithful prophetic witness to all these things: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war…. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is The Word of God…. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16) Yahshua had begun His first-advent ministry demonstrating His power by turning water into wine at a wedding—celebrating relationship, love, and life. He will begin His second-advent ministry demonstrating His power by personally “treading the winepress of the fury of the wrath of Almighty God”—“celebrating” (if one can use that word) what happens when the world turns its back on relationship, love, and life.
So, does our exploration of wine as a symbol end with bloodshed and wrath? No. There is life beyond Armageddon—abundant, vibrant life, beginning with Israel and flowing out like sweet wine upon the rest of redeemed humanity. “Then Yahweh became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. Yahweh answered and said to His people, ‘Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations…. The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil…. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of Yahweh your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And My people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am Yahweh your God and there is none else. And My people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:18-19, 24, 26-27) I’ll drink to that!
(First published 2014)