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  • Rick LoPresti

Don't settle on the lees


One of the challenges in interpreting the Bible is the language challenge. The old Testament was written in mostly Hebrew with a couple of passages written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek. These language have different structures, manners of expression, and rules of grammar among other differences. Added to this is the knowledge that language changes over time. Just look at how much word meanings can change in one decade, besides all the new words that are invented. The last book of the Old Testament was written around 450 B.C., and the last book of the New Testament was written either around 65 or 90 A.D. That is about 1/3 of human history ago. The translation of the King James Version is dated 1611, and was done in the English of its time. No one speaks that way any more. Also, we do not have any of the original manuscripts. All of this would seem to make it very difficult if not impossible to correctly understand the scriptures, but that is far from true, especially today. Not only do we now have over 20,000 manuscripts which perfectly confirm the over 5,000 that the King James translators had, we have the confirmation of the Dead Sea scrolls. We also have older manuscripts than before, some of which date to within 100 years of the originals. We also have the work of many scholars in the ancient versions of the languages to help ensure the best interpretations into our modern way of communicating. We also have the internet, which makes all of this information easily accessible to anyone who is sincere and not lazy. After all, the Bible asserts itself to be the word of God. This assertion demands our attention and effort. If it is not, it doesn't really matter. If it is (and it is), we had best make a serious effort at being its students.

One thing we can do to properly bridge the gap between the ancient languages of the Bible and our modern understanding is that we can use dictionaries (lexicons) to look up the original words and their nuances. Widely accepted ones are Genesius' Hebrew Lexicon, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, and Thayer's Greek Lexicon. One example of how there is a difference between the old words and today's in the Bible is the word wine. In the Bible, this is a generic word that covers many different uses of the grape. Most of the time it does not mean fermented or alcoholic wine. When it does, it is almost always in disapproval and as a symbol of sin. The word wine can mean anything from a cluster of grapes (Num 6:3), to a bunch of raisins (2Sam 6:19), to unfermented grape juice (Ex 29:40, Lev 2:11), to what we narrowly call wine today in modern English (Lev 10:9). There are 3 main words in Hebrew translated wine, and also 3 in the Greek. The most famous story in the Bible about wine is the wedding in Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). People like to cite this as validation for drinking alcohol, but that is not right. This was an "orthodox" Jewish marriage feast, not a modern secular wedding which usually includes alcohol and carnal dancing (and other unholy things). These celebrations often lasted 7 days. That is probably why they ran out of wine. John carefully counts the days from John preaching in the wilderness which led up to the baptism of Jesus up to this wedding (Jn 1:29, Jn 1:35, Jn 1:43, Jn 2:1). Then he says not many days after was the Passover (Jn 2:12-13). The Jews would get rid of all leaven (yeast) for 7 days before the Passover (Ex 12:15-19). Yeast is the ingredient put into bread and grape juice to make them ferment. Yeast is a symbol of sin in the Bible (Mt 16:6-12, 1Cor 5:6-8, Gal 5:9). It was forbidden from the offerings at the altar (Ex 34:25, Lev 2:11). Unleavened bread was a symbol of communion with God and freedom from sin (Ex 13:7, Lev 6:17, Lev 10:12, 1Cor 5:8). Offering leavened bread was like worshiping God with unrepented sin in us (Amos 4:5). Another way to show that Jesus turned water into unfermented grape juice and not alcohol is that the water pots were made of stone. Stone containers were the most valuable, and were specially used to keep things pure. Clay jars were the least valuable, wood was better, and then bronze and stone (Lev 6:28, Lev 11:32-34, Lev 15:12). They would not have put something fermented into them. Also, the amount of beverage Jesus provided was 60-180 gallons. It would be difficult to swallow (pun intended) that after the group had already had plenty (well drunk - not drunken with alcohol), Jesus gave them this much more alcohol to get even worse. This contradicts the teaching of the Bible on alcohol, the nature of Jesus Christ, and common sense. Also, "orthodox" Jews would not have called alcohol the best wine. An excellent book on the subject of wine in the Bible is "Bible Wines" by William Patton.

One of the byproducts of the fermentation of grape juice is lees or dregs. This is the material that settles to the bottom of the container. This material is symbolic of sin and the judgment of God (Ps 75:8, Is 25:6, Is 51:17 & 22, Jer 48:11, Zeph 1:12). Once it contaminates a porous vessel, it can continue to contaminate whatever is put into it afterward. That is what Jesus was talking about when He discussed putting new (unfermented) wine into old bottles (Mt 9:17). These were not glass bottles like wine is put into today. These were porous animal skins. If someone was to put unfermented grape juice into previously used wine skins, the chemical reaction would damage the skins and both the wine and skins would be lost. Jesus was talking about the Jews who preferred to stay with their old traditional ways rather than receive the new covenant He was offering them. This can apply to people today who prefer religion to relationship with God, and who prefer the doctrines of men to the word of God (Col 2:8-12). When the Bible talks about settling on our lees, this describes what happens when we become complacent in our pursuit of God, and we just settle back and rest on our past achievements. We are either moving forward toward God or backward away from Him. There is no spiritual Switzerland. "Woe to them that are at ease in Zion (Amos 6:1)" We are never done growing in God and learning from Him. The only diploma we get from His school is when we graduate to the next life. A fresh sacrifice must be placed on the altar every day (Ex 27:21, Lev 24:3). Yesterday is gone. Today is a new day. God does this for us. He gave the Israelites new manna every day in the wilderness (Ex 16). They were not to try to live off yesterday's. The unleavened bread in the tabernacle was to be continually renewed (Ex 25:30, Lev 24:5-9). David took advantage of this rule when he was fleeing from Saul (1Sam 21:6). The priests were not allowed to eat leftovers from their sacrifices (Ex 12:10, Ex 29:34, Lev 8:32). God's mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). Paul challenged the Christians in Galatia with these words, "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage (Gal 4:9)?" There is nothing back there to turn to. One of the shortest verses in the Bible is "Remember Lot's wife (Lk 17:32)"

Wine is also symbolic of the Holy Ghost, especially new (unfermented) wine. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the disciples were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke with tongues, some of the people who witnessed it thought they were filled with new wine (vs 13). Peter responded that it was not new wine, but the Holy Ghost they were filled with. He then quoted Joel 2:28-32. Joel spoke of the state of Israel by symbolically referring to their agricultural pursuits (Joel 1). When he spake of their spiritual emptiness, he said that their new wine was dried up (Joel 1:5 & 10). When he spoke of their spiritual renewal, he said that the mountains would drop down new wine (Joel 3:18). When we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost with the initial outward evidence of speaking with tongues, that is not the end. It is just the beginning. God gives us the Holy Ghost so we can begin the process of developing His nature in us (2Pet 1). He empowers us to become His witnesses wherever we go (Acts 1:8). At the end of our life or when He returns, whichever comes first, His Spirit will empower us to be resurrected to eternal life (Rom 8:9-11). Yet we must ensure we continually "stir up the gift of God, which is in thee (2Tim 1:6)", and to "stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance (2Pet 3:1)." In 2Tim 1:6 stir up means to rekindle a dying flame. In 2Pet 3:1 it means to arouse from sleep or to stir the sea. God gave us the moon, not only to give us a light for the night (Gen 1:16), but to provide a gravitational pull on the oceans to keep them stirred up. Anyone who has a fish tank knows about the maintenance required to keep it clean, and the pump, filter, and aerators needed to keep the water moving and fresh. God does this naturally to the 7 seas with the tides. We must keep the Spirit of God alive and moving in us through prayer, fellowship with the Bible, and other means. The Holy Ghost is living (moving) water (Jer 2:13, Jer 17:13, Zech 14:8, Jn 7:37-39, Rev 7:17). We must not allow ourselves to settle on our lees. We should always be moving and stirring spiritually, and experiencing each new thing God wants us to know.


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