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Wine and fermented drink contain alcohol, and one easily gets drunk when consuming them. Grapes and raisins, on the other hand, don't make you drunk, do they? So, why the prohibition? Does it have to do with fermentation and production of alcohol in the stomach? Or is it about sugar consumption in general, since modern medical expertise warns against excessive sugar consumption, and grapes are notoriously high in sugar. Or what is it?

Num 6:1-3 (NIV) "The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins".

  • Birds, and other animals, can apparently get drunk by eating berries from trees. Website: animals.howstuffworks.com/birds/birds-get-berry-berry-drunk.htm Also this one: news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/… And this: gizmodo.com/… – Constantthin Feb 13 '19 at 9:49
  • Looked up nutritional information of Grapes just now. Then I compared that information with that of Kiwifruit. To my surprise Grapes don't measure up. I was comparing nutritional values of 100 grams. While Grapes had 15.5 grams of sugar, Kiwifruit had only 9 grams. Grapes had an RDI Vitamin C value of only 18%; Kiwifruit had a whopping 8.6 times higher Vitamin C value at 155% RDI. The other noteworthy value was in Vitamin K where Grapes also had an RDI value of 18%. Here Kiwifruit beat Grapes 2.8 times at 50% RDI. Raisins were even less healthy than Grapes. – Constantthin Feb 16 '19 at 9:48
  • related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/1751/… – Bach Feb 20 '19 at 19:04
  • I was just reading on the net that grapes and raisins are as toxic to dogs as chocolate. Interesting. – Constantthin Feb 23 '19 at 3:05
  • I am reading on the net: "A hard frost will damage the grape and yeast will get into it and start the fermentation process. This can cause the grapes to have an alcohol content." Grapes like these might look like something of a mixture between a fresh grape and a raisin, I guess. – Constantthin Feb 24 '19 at 4:48
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I found an interesting suggestion in the IVP Bible Background Commentary (Num. 6:3) which may explain why grapes and raisins were included in the vow,

Alternatively, one must notice that the grape is one of the principal, one could say characteristic, staples of Canaan and therefore symbolically connected to the issue of fertility (note that the spies bring back a huge cluster of grapes [13:24] as evidence of the fertility of the land). The use of raisins in raisin cakes for the fertility cult can be seen in Hosea 3:1.

And then later again on verse 8,

It may be no coincidence that he three prohibited areas for the Nazirite represent fertility (grape products), sympathetic magic (hair) and the cult of the dead (corpse contamination). These are three principal popular religious practices that Yahweh worship sought to eliminate.

This theory appeals to me a lot, because the prohibition against wine included in the Nazirite vow is clearly because wine in the biblical tradition is associated with lewdness and immoral sexual behavior (see Gen. 9; Hosea 4:11), so it is not far fetched to say that the prohibition against grapes is in some way connected to this theme (fertility cults and lewdness. See Hosea 2:14 as well), and that the purpose is to alienate the Nazirite from the pagan cults as much as possible by prohibiting the three pillars of the fertility cults as suggested above.

Hope this helps.

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    Interesting answer! +1 – רבות מחשבות Feb 20 '19 at 15:44
  • @Constantthin it is indeed 'note'. And I already edited it. – Bach Feb 24 '19 at 0:31
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    +1 for answering in a short and concise way. – Constantthin Feb 26 '19 at 13:30
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+50

The prohibition of consuming of grapes was used as a hedge to prevent even the desire to drink wine

The prohibition of fermented drink and wine could be because this was a highly intoxicating wine which could somehow have lead to defilement on the part of one who had just taken a vow.

Leviticus 10 NKJV

9 “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, 10 that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, 11 and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.”

John Gill commentary

And the Lord spake unto Moses,. At the same time, or immediately after the law concerning the woman suspected of adultery was given; with which the following law concerning Nazarites may be thought to have a close connection, as some Jewish writers observe, women being concerned in it as well as men; and as wine leads to adultery, as Jarchi observes, abstinence from it, which the Nazarite's vow obliged to, and forbearance of trimming and dressing the hair, and a being more strictly and closely devoted to the service of God, were very likely means of preserving from unchastity, and any suspicion of it

Seeing that the nazarite presented a state of innocence so he was prohibited from consuming anything that could have lead to defilement

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    There may be something in what you are saying, although I don't understand why one would be more likely to head for the liqueur shop on the way home from work, if one had a handful of raisins with one's muesli, or porridge, in the morning. – Constantthin Feb 19 '19 at 13:20
  • I will give you a +1 for your first sentence, because It gave me something to think about. – Constantthin Feb 21 '19 at 11:24
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Commentaries

There are various ideas in the commentaries that actually discuss the grape (non-alcoholic) point (bold added to emphasize the main points).

From Thomas Whitelaw, “Introductory Essay on the Authenticity and Authorship of the Book of Numbers,” in Numbers, edited by H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary (London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1910), pp. 50-51—

  1. Abstinence from the fruit of the vine. It was to be a rigorous abstinence. This we may take to signify a protest in the most comprehensive way against all seeking of mere pleasure and comfort. The grape was the symbol of sensual delights. The spies brought back grapes of Eshcol more than any other produce to testify the riches of Canaan: this shows how much the Israelites thought of the fruit. There was, of course, no peculiar merit and advantage in abstaining from the grape itself. The abstinence was simply a sign indicating a desire to rise above the common pleasures of men. The Nazarites were not ascetics. They did not refrain from a good creature of God by way of penance. But in the grape there was the possibility of wine and strong drink, and the wine and strong drink were the testimony of the worldly soul that he loved to gratify his sensual nature, and cared not that his body should be so disciplined and restrained as to be the effectual minister of God. The appropriate joys of human life are not to be found among the powers that link us to the lower creation. We are to look for them in communion with God and following Christ. Our joy is in the Holy Ghost. “Is any merry, let him sing Psalms.”

So for Whitelaw, it was simply a testimony to being committed to God over and above the fruit of the vine that brought such varied pleasures for humanity's consumption.


From Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), Vol. 1, pp.672-673&mdash

The vow consisted of the three following points, vv. 1–4: In the first place, he was to abstain from wine and intoxicating drink (shecar, see Lev. 10:9); and neither to drink vinegar of wine, strong drink, nor any juice of the grape (lit., dissolving of grapes, i.e., fresh must pressed out), nor to eat fresh grapes, or dried (raisins). In fact, during the whole period of his vow, he was not to eat of anything prepared from the vine, “from the kernels even to the husk,” i.e., not the smallest quantity of the fruit of the vine. The design of this prohibition can hardly have been, merely that, by abstaining from intoxicating drink, the Nazarite might preserve perfect clearness and temperance of mind, like the priests when engaged in their duties, and so conduct himself as one sanctified to the Lord (Bähr); but it goes much further, and embraces entire abstinence from all the deliciae carnis by which holiness could be impaired. Vinegar, fresh and dried grapes, and food prepared from grapes and raisins, e.g., raisin-cakes, are not intoxicating; but grape-cakes, as being the dainties sought after by epicures and debauchees, are cited in Hos. 3:1 as a symbol of the sensual attractions of idolatry, a luxurious kind of food, that was not in harmony with the solemnity of the worship of Jehovah. The Nazarite was to avoid everything that proceeded from the vine, because its fruit was regarded as the sum and substance of all sensual enjoyments.

So Keil & Delitzsch consider it a symbol of abstaining from all "deliciae carnis" (sensual pleasures), which he believes the grapes then were a "luxurious kind of food, not in harmony with the solemnity of the worship of Jehovah" (but in contrast to that, see Cole's commentary below).


From John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Samuel T. Lowrie, and A. Gosman, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Numbers (1879; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), pp. 40-41—

  1. He shall separate himself from wine, etc., vers. 3, 4. The primary object of this prohibition is already intimated in the history of Aaron’s sons who were destroyed. Theocratic enthusiasm must as strictly as possible be preserved pure from all disturbance by the spirit of drunkenness. Hence the prohibition not only of wine and of all spirituous, strong drink, not only of flat wine, wine or other vinegar, but even of grape juice just expressed (מִשְׁרַת). The prohibition is symbolically intensified and completed by forbidding the enjoyment of fresh and even of dried grapes (raisins). KEIL’S notion only obscures the simple, fundamental thought, when he says that the prohibition to use grapes looks to abstinence from all deliciæ carnis so damaging to sanctification. The grape confections of Hosea 3:1 hardly serve to prove this.

For Lange, the grape and raisins were merely "symbolically" adding to the alcoholic prohibition (what could be produced by them); so he attempts to keep the focus on the alcoholic aspects; he rejects explicitly Keil's broadening to all sensual pleasures.


From Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Numbers 6:3-4—

Abstinence from grape products. Prohibition of grape products has suggested to some interpreters that a nomadic lifestyle is being elevated, but it is very difficult to see that as a biblical or priestly agenda. Alternatively one must notice that the grape is one of the principal, one could say characteristic, staples of Canaan and therefore symbolically connected to the issue of fertility (note that the spies bring back a huge cluster of grapes [13:24] as evidence of the fertility of the land). The use of raisins in raisin cakes for the fertility cult can be seen in Hosea 3:1.

So without explicitly saying it, Matthews et al. are arguing that such association to "fertility cult" practices was in view.


From R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, Vol. 3B, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), p. 122—

All forms of intoxicating beverage are off limits at all times to the Nazirite for the duration of the vow. This restriction is more extensive than the prohibition placed upon priests, who are limited from consumption of such drinks only during the period of tabernacle or temple service (Lev 10:9). Yet not only is a Nazirite restricted from consuming wine (yayin) and fermented drink (šēkār), but that individual also cannot partake of wine vinegar (ḥōmeṣ yayin), vinegar from other fermented liquids (ḥōmeṣ šēkār), unfermented grape juice, grapes, raisins, grape seeds, and hulls, or anything else derived from the vineyard. The reference to seeds and hulls is probably hyperbolic, emphasizing the total abstinence from the vineyard. The vineyard restriction is paralleled by the Rechabite tradition that forbade the planting of vineyards, an indication of a sedentary lifestyle. Abstaining from the vineyard and related products was a personal and generally private act of special devotion of one’s life and mind to the Lord.

The vineyard and its produce thus can have an antithetical usage in the Bible. On one hand vineyards are evidence of Yahweh’s great blessing upon the land (Isa 5:1–2, 7a; Jer 2:21). A large cluster of grapes was brought back by the team of spies who explored the land of Canaan prior to Israel’s rejection of the land (Num 13:23–24). Wine is combined with various elements in the sacrificial system for worshiping God and making atonement (Num 15:5, 7, 10; 28:7–10, 14). Israelites living far from Jerusalem were even encouraged to purchase wine and strong drink along with sheep and cattle with money from their tithes, and then they would eat and drink these in the presence of the Lord with rejoicing (Deut 14:24–27). However, excessive consumption is condemned categorically (Prov 20:1; 23:30–31; 31:4; Isa 28:7).

So notice in the second paragraph how Cole gives evidence against Keil's hypothesis noted above that wine was "luxurious kind of food, not in harmony with the solemnity of the worship of Jehovah." Cole's main emphasis is similar to Whitelaw's above, that such abstinence related primarily to showing the devoutness to God.

Contextual Considerations

The fact is that the primary "reason" for the abstinence from all things related to the vine is that God said so. He made the declaration (v.1) that these things are what He expected for a vow of separation, which included this extensive abstinence from products of the vine (v.3-4). Similar to the laws of what is clean or unclean, there is not necessarily anything inherent in the objects that make them so, but simply the declaration of God that such is the case at any particular time (e.g. Acts 10:9-16).

Once the vow was over, "When the days of his separation are fulfilled" (v.13) and the Nazirite performs the finishing sacrifices of the vow (vv.14-20a), then wine could be partaken of again (and hence, all products of the vine), as v.20b makes explicit, "... After that the Nazirite may drink wine."

So the prohibition from all fruit of the vine clearly has everything to do with the Nazirite being separated to God, devoted to this vow, and not specifically to anything inherent in the grape itself. While alcohol could impair judgement (during the vow), and so had a more inherent, practical aspect to finishing the vow without being out of one's right mind of judgment, the three main points served to distinguish the one under a Nazirite vow from all others: men and women could normally partake of the fruit of the vine, so the Nazirite would stand out in social functions where people were consuming such; men and women would normally at least "trim" their hair to keep it neat, if not in some cases fully cut it off, but the Nazirite would stand out in not cutting it at all (and the hair was intended as part of the sacrifice at the end, v.18); men and women could normally take care of their dead relatives, allowing that uncleaness to come and then cleansing themselves from that (Num 19:11-13), but even that was something the Nazirite was unable to do.

So all the points, in context, relate to showing a distinction; that one has separated to God for the purpose of the vow. There are other causes of uncleanness God could have emphasized; indeed, He could have stated any conditions He wanted. He chose to state these conditions, without explicitly saying why, other than they were the distinction of being separated. There may be some relation to the fact that it is the "head" that is emphasized in the separation, for even if one accidentally ended up defiled by the dead, it "defiles his consecrated head" (v.9) and he/she was to shave off what hair was grown out. So if there is any inherent aspect to the grape prohibition, it likely relates to the consecration of one's head as well. That alcohol affects the "head" is clear; but that anything consumed occurs through the mouth (and thus "head") may indicate that God simply wanted the "head" separated from all products of the vine during this time. The "why" for the non-alcoholic forms is not given, and all speculations must remain that, speculation. (One speculation would be that the only prophecy related to grapes and vines as of the giving of this law of the Nazirite in Numbers is in relation to Judah's prophesied kingship in Genesis 49:11; so one could speculatively argue that the prohibition here shows a symbolic submission to the work of the "Him" to whom "the obedience of the people" would come in Gen 49:10, to which the vine and grapes are tied in v.11; but that is still speculation.)

Conclusion

And so it seems of the commentaries noted above, given what is stated in the passage in Numbers 6 itself, that Whitelaw and Cole fall the most in line with the idea that the prohibition of all fruit of the vine simply relates to showing devoutness to God by the vow taken to God. The prohibition is a sign of the devotion, nothing more.

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  • I gave you a +1 for pointing out that the Nazirite vow was a temporary commitment. This is very interesting and needs to be meditated on. There seems to have been two kind of Nazirites; the temporary ones and the lifelong ones. Samson and John the Baptist seem to have belonged to the latter group. And, strangely enough, I can't think of anybody from the Bible that just from time to time practiced Naziritism , but there must have been some? – Constantthin Feb 21 '19 at 11:54
  • @Constantthin The "lifelong" ones are questionable. Samson was "from the womb" (Jdg 13:5), and his mother believed it would be "to the day of his death" (v.6), but Samson failed: He touched dead bodies after killing the 30 Philistines and stripping them of their clothing (14:19; violation of Num 6:6), which should have negated "the former days" of his separation (Num 6:9), then the hair cut (Jdg 16:19). Many theologians question whether John the Baptist was really a Nazirite at all (the Bible is not explicit and the only prohibition that matches is not to consume alcohol, Lk 1:15). – ScottS Feb 21 '19 at 16:36
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A Reason From Nature
The earliest winemaking undoubtedly relied on the yeast which is naturally present on the skin of the grape. In other words, nothing has to be added to make wine: one simply crushes the grapes, allows fermentation to occur, and filters out the liquid. The simplest wine is essentially a "natural" process.

A prohibition on grapes is a type prohibition on wine. In this case, before it is made. Similarly, a prohibition on raisins reflects the unrealized wine-making potential of a grape. Instead of crushing the grape to allow fermentation, the juice is allowed to escape naturally.

The common denominator is the yeast which is present on the grape. So the vow to avoid wine extends to any form of yeast which is natural to the grape.

A Reason From Scripture
Yeast (i.e. leaven) is used to symbolize sin. Just as the naturally occurring yeast can be cleaned from the grape, a person can be cleansed from sin:

Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. (John 15:3) [ESV]

If the grapes are not removed to make wine or to be eaten, then they will remain on the branch:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing...By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:5, 8)

The fruit of the vine remains on the branches until the vinedresser removes branch and/or fruit:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
(John 15:1-2)

The prohibitions are symbolic of surrendering control of cleansing from sin.

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Frost damaged grapes, that might look like a mix between grapes and raisins, could contain alcohol. For example some birds in Canada get themselves drunk by consuming frost damaged fruits: Why Backyard Birds Are Getting Drunk on Fermented Berries

Adultery, and the like, no doubt are against God's law, but since the Nazarite vow had a built in temporary-clause, it doesn't look like it's main focus was to protect from sexual immorality, otherwise it would have been excusable to commit lewd acts in the break between two Nazirite periods.

Num 6:13,14,19,20 (NIV) “‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting. There they are to present their offerings to the Lord... “‘After the Nazirite has shaved off the hair that symbolizes their dedication, the priest is to place in their hands a boiled shoulder of the ram, and one thick loaf and one thin loaf from the basket, both made without yeast. The priest shall then wave these before the Lord as a wave offering; they are holy and belong to the priest, together with the breast that was waved and the thigh that was presented. After that, the Nazirite may drink wine.

Thus, if wine consumption equaled sexual immorality wine would not have been allowed in the interim times of the Nazirite phases. And since Samson's testosterones did not seem to have been curtailed by his alcohol abstinence during his Nazirite-hood, the theory that wine consumption is the precursor to sexual immorality is inconclusive. John the Baptist's ascetic version of the Nazirite-hood serves as an antithesis to Samson's sensuous version here. Nevertheless, what is clear though is that too much wine can cause trouble, of which both Noah and Lot are good examples of.

Eph 5:18 (NIV) Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

The Nazirite vow, more likely, had to do with strength and lack of strength, in relation to extent of alcohol consumption. The Samson story would, of course, then have been a secret letter from God to his children about alcohol's effect on cell proliferation, and body rejuvenation. Samson's long hair must have symbolized cell-growth, and touching a dead body must have symbolized cell-atrophy.

The best available current evidence suggests that consumption of alcohol (chemically known as ethanol) does not improve health. Previous assertions that low or moderate consumption of alcohol improved health have been deprecated by more careful and complete meta-analysis. Heavy consumption of ethanol (alcohol abuse) can cause severe detrimental effects. Health effects associated with alcohol intake in large amounts include an increased risk of alcoholism, malnutrition, chronic pancreatitis, alcoholic liver disease and cancer. In addition, damage to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system can occur from chronic alcohol abuse. Even light and moderate alcohol consumption increases cancer risk in individuals. The long-term use of alcohol is capable of damaging nearly every organ and system in the body. Long-term effects of alcohol consumption

Consequently, by abstaining from alcoholic substances throughout most of the year weakness and bodily decay is prevented. Thus, making a controlled brief exemption to one’s alcohol abstinence once a year, like over Christmas, wouldn't make much of a difference to one's overall health.

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