Sunday, December 03, 2006

Drinking and the Bible

I enjoy talking about what the Bible has to say about drinking. Really, if you investigate it closely, there's a lot more than most people would think.

Compare these two verse selections:

This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: "Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them."

So I took the cup from the LORD's hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it

"Then tell them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more because of the sword I will send among you.' But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink, tell them, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: You must drink it! See, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears my Name, and will you indeed go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.'

Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29

The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.

Revelation 17:4

The common image in the above verses is the cup. In these passages, the cup symbolizes the authority and power of i's bearer.

When Joseph tricked his brothers by hiding his cup in the youngest sibling's bag in Genesis 44, the crime is especially grievous because the supposed theft involved an item that was valued, not for its price so much as it's owner. This is especially obvious in Jeremiah, when God states that even if the nations refused to drink His cup, they will indeed drink, meaning God not only had the right to punish the nations, but also the ability to do so.

Of course, we can't overlook the most important aspect of the cup - that it carried something to the drinker. In the Old Testament, God's wrath is often depicted as a cup filled with wine. The wine is described as mixed or filled with spices - characteristics which imply an enhanced ability to inebriate. Moreover, note what God says about the effect of his wine in Jeremiah 25:16:

When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them."

Note the effect of God's wrath is twofold: those who drink His cup will stagger and go mad.

Each effect is important. To stagger is to physically stumble. To go mad is to lose mental competence. Thus, those who experience God's wrath will suffer both physically and mentally - in much the same way someone who drinks too much alcohol does.

But don't think that the effect of drinking God's wrath leaves the drinker feeling like a frat boy fully-lit on Absolut. Your typical frat-party patron reels and mumbles because he's so drunk he has no control of his body, but it can be rather pleasant (vomiting and hangover aside). But imagine reeling from intense pain and being so mentally distraught you can't speak a clear sentence. Really, what kind of pain and suffering would it take to reduce someone to a babbling vegetable?

Let's jump ahead into the New Testament. Keep the imagery of the cup and wine in your mind as you read the following verses:

"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?"
"We can," they answered.

Matthew 20:22

"Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

Mark 14;36

Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

John 18:11

Understanding the Old Testament imagery and meaning of the cup casts light on Christ's use of the metaphor in the New Testament. Jesus made these references as the time of his death approached, and if we examine Christ's suffering on the cross, we see that He suffered both physical and mental (or spiritual) anguish.

If you look at Christ's last words on the cross, John Stott points out that two of them deal with His physical pain. Namely, "I thirst." The remainder of His words dealt with His spiritual suffering. For example, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?", and "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". These words are the results of Jesus drinking the cup of God's wrath. The physical portion was the most cruel, barbaric, and horrible way a human being could (and still can) possibly die. Yet Christ minimized the focus on His physical pain because the mental / spiritual pain was far greater - the experience of being abandoned by God.

But the cup imagery doesn't stop there:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Matthew 26:26-28

The cup Christ offered to His disciples (and by extension, to us) was a cup of forgiveness. Remember the cup symbolizes authority and power. Christ had the authority to forigve sins (Mark 2:5) and, by His crucifixion, the power to do so.

Now look at Psalm 23:5:

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

The cup of the children of God is a cup of blessing. Thus, Christians have the right and ability to bless.

In summary:

1. God gave Christ His cup of wrath.
2. Because Christ willingly drank God's cup, He offered us His cup of forgiveness.
3. If we willingly drink Christ's cup, we can offer a cup of blessing to others.

- Graffy


robert said...

Wow what a terrible accusation to say the Father gave his son a cup of wrath and made him go mad.

Two streams pour from father's cup; the just drink from the stream of wisdom, the unjust drink madness. Jesus was a just one.

The cup at the last supper was wisdom being poured out to teach us how to remove sins.

Wisdom says come to my house and eat my bread and drink my wine.

Jesus' body (bread) and blood (wine of wisdom) are the words he spoke; the words of the wise Sirach said are like a living fountain.


Robert Roberg

Graffy said...

I suppose I can see where you think I was implying Jesus became a babbling vegetable on the cross. Perhaps I should point out the fact that Jesus was sinless (and God in the flesh) and the other references were to those who were sinful and rebellious toward God - very different cases. In any case, I don't believe Jesus was undergoing some sort of delusional madness on the cross (his lucid statements from the cross make that clear), but I do believe he drank in the Father's wrath (according to the Father's will) and, by so doing, suffered severe mental, physical, and spiritual pain as he experienced separation from the Father.

Ultimately, I sense this comment is a challenge to the doctrine that Jesus died in our place (and by so doing, secured our eternal salvation). If indeed that is the challenge, I need only point out that the New Testament authors refer to Christ's death on the cross as a propitiation. In other words, Jesus appeased the wrath of the Father by His death on the cross. The only way Jesus could appease God's wrath were if he somehow became it's object - instead of us. If we are still the object of God's wrath, then it is left to us to appease it. You may balk at the idea, thinking it insensitive and cruel of a loving God, but I do not believe there is any other conclusion to be reached if we follow the Biblical viewpoint .