Question:

I am studying with a brother in Christ about alcoholic drinking. He is quite persistent in his assertion that moderate drinking is not only acceptable for a Christian, but that it is beneficial. How would you approach Isaiah 25:6? His assertion is that this must be alcoholic wine and as a metaphor of the beauty and richness of God's reward it implies that alcoholic wine is not inherently evil -- and that God wouldn't use something sinful to talk about something (probably the pure word of God under the New Covenant) good under the New Age. What do you think?


Answer:

"And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees" (Isaiah 25:6).

The Hebrew word shemer refers to the dregs or lees when pressing grape juice. It is the small bits of solids from near the skins that make its way in to the juice. If the lees are left in the juice for a period of time, the juice will take on a stronger, more robust flavor as the heavier lees slowly settle to the bottom. But if left too long, the lees contain the yeast that cause fermentation. Thus, one method for preserving grape juice was to refine or filter the juice with the lees to remove the dregs.

The filtration method aims to separate the albumen of the grapes, a layer next to the skin and seeds, from the pulp of the grape. The albumen is where the gluten (or yeast) is naturally present in grape juice. Without the gluten, fermentation could not take place. Plutarch, who lived between 46 and 120 A.D. said, "Wine is rendered feeble in strength when it is frequently filtered. The strength or spirit thus being excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind and passions, and is much more pleasant to drink." Pliny said, "The most useful wine was all its force or strength broken by the filter." Notice that non-alcoholic beverages were valued more than the alcoholic variety.

Notice that the beverage spoken of there was well-filtered or well-refined juice with the lees. Perhaps it can be argued that there are two types of shemer being spoken of here: both the unfiltered and filtered variety.

It is true, that in making fermented alcohol, the lees remain in the juice while the fermentation takes place. These wines have to be filtered before drinking. "If wine were simply left on the lees unfiltered, it would become thick and syrupy." [The Complete Biblical Library]. This is the imagery God used to describe Moab.

""Moab has been at ease from his youth; he has settled on his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into captivity. Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent has not changed. Therefore behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "That I shall send him wine-workers who will tip him over and empty his vessels and break the bottles"" (Jeremiah 48:11-12).

Moab was bottled grape juice that was never filtered. They never had real challenges to improve them and remove the dregs of their society; thus that society became useless.

The same imagery is used against Jerusalem.

"And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency, who say in their heart, 'The LORD will not do good, nor will He do evil.' Therefore their goods shall become booty, and their houses a desolation; they shall build houses, but not inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards, but not drink their wine." (Zephaniah 1:12).

"Settled in complacency" translates the same word, shemer. Again, we find it used in a negative sense because the juice was never filtered and the result was unusable.

"For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down" (Psalms 75:8).

Once again shemer is used in a negative sense. The wicked will drink an intoxicating beverage that is foaming (red) and mixed with spices (drugs), and they will forced to drink all of it, down to the unpalatable dregs. The description is that of the type of wine Israelites were told to avoid: "Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things" (Proverbs 23:30-33).

Thus, shemer tells us the physical state of the juice (it is pre-filtered), but it does not tell us whether the filtering takes place before or after the juice is fermented. We do know that unfiltered shemer was viewed as something bad after it was left for a while. It was only good after being filtered or drank immediately before it began to change.

The false assumption is that a good tasting beverage must be alcoholic. No such assumption is required by Isaiah 25:6.