31 Do not look on the wine when it is red,Proverbs 23:31-33
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it goes down smoothly;
32 At the last it bites like a serpent
And stings like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange things
And your mind will utter perverse things.
Art and literature play a powerful role in how we read and experience the Bible. Take the forbidden fruit of Genesis, for instance. Though John Milton wasn’t the first to introduce the idea, he is largely responsible for the fact that when we read the account of the Fall, many of us wrongly think of Eve (without Adam urgh) with an apple (with a capital A).
We see this played out numerous times in modern advertising, where Eve and apples are continously exploited to peddle lies to women about our bodies, to foster guilt in our relationship to food and to undermine our worth. The Heinz ad below is one of numerous examples of this.
But the apple as a manifestation of temptation wasn’t always so. Over the centuries, scholars have hypothesized about the forbidden fruit being a pomegranate, fruit from a tamarind tree, even wheat and a mushroom. Rather sensibly, Michelangelo painted the forbidden fruit as a fig. After all, Adam and Eve covered themselves with leaves from a fig tree after they disobeyed God (Gen. 3:7). As fig leaves are known to be rather itchy, some argue this was the first instance of self-flagellation. OOF.
Though the account in Genesis doesn’t explicitly tell us which fruit Adam and Eve ate, there are some who think that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was in fact …. a grape. And here’s where again the Nazirite vow may hold the key to unlocking this mystery and, more importantly, enriching our appreciation of Jesus.
Let’s look at the vow in the larger context first. At the beginning of human history, God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit (Gen 2:15-17). He gave Adam and Eve instructions for a life of obedience. Like Jesus, Adam was ‘filled with wisdom’ (Luke 2:40) but also ‘without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).
Unlike Jesus, Adam was pretty much a total failure, the first human anti-Christ. Unable to resist the serpent’s lies, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, which they took in an act of disobedience of God. Adam blamed the woman instead of laying down his life for her, and both tasted death. Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, and the world plunged into darkness.
Fast forward in time, and here’s where the Nazirite vow comes in. You may recall that the Nazirite vow involved growing one’s hair long, abstaining from grapes (including wine, seeds, skins, etc.), and keeping away from dead bodies (Numbers 6:1-21). The entirety of the vow symbolizes the coming Messiah, Jesus’s defeat of the evil one through perfect obedience. In Christ, Adam’s sin is reversed. And we get a taste of that in the Nazirites.
I wrote in a previous post that Nazirites burned their hair (a sign of life) to mark the completion of their vow, an act that was the closest Israel came to human sacrifice. But what about the grapes? Numbers 6 tells us that once the vow was completed, once they had burned their hair, Nazirites could eat grapes and drink wine again (verse 20). What connection does this have to Jesus of Nazareth?
Well, here are a few clues.
Consider that there are several potential re-tellings of Adam and the fruit starting as early as the story of Noah, whose nakedness is exposed after he plants a vineyard and gets drunk.
Consider the warning in Deuteronomy against the enemies of God, whose “rock is not like our Rock … whose grapes are grapes of poison … Their wine is the venom of serpents, the cruel poison of vipers” (Deut 32:31-33).
Consider the later warning about wine in Proverbs 23, which I quoted at the start of this post. In the end, says the sage, it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper.
Consider also Saul, plagued by demonic attacks, given bread and wine by David, only to commit suicide. We see echoes of Saul in Judas Iscariot, who, having been given bread and wine at ‘the last supper’ by Christ Himself, went and ‘hanged himself’ (Matthew 26:5).
In such stories, in such men, we see Adam, the one who partook of grapes in an unworthy manner, who ‘eats and drinks judgement on himself.’ We see Adam in the ‘many’ partakers of the grapes of the Lord’s Supper at Corinth, who became ‘weak and ill, and some … died’ (1 Corinthians 11:27-34).
What I take from all this is this:
In Adam, we are associated with the Tree of Death.
We cannot eat the fruit of the Tree of Life until our sin is dealt with.
The Nazirite vow proclaimed this to Israel just as it proclaims it to us.
We see hints of this in God’s command to Israel that fruit from any tree they plant is forbidden for three years. Three! The number of days that Jesus remained in the grave.
When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten.Leviticus 19:23-25
In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD.
But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God.”
So finally, consider our Nazirite Jesus. He went to his death perfectly after drinking sour wine, his whole body (not just his hair) having been offered up as a perfect sacrifice for sin, his vow completed. Where Adam had drunk the cup of God’s wrath in sin, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath in perfect obedience. Jesus dealt with Adam’s failure. As Paul writes,
just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”Romans 5:19
The two trees in the Garden of Eden held the potential for life and death (Rev. 14:18). But between them is the tree on which Christ died (Gal 3:13). Jesus embraced death, ate of the fruit leading to death, but did so without sin, unlike Adam. In this act, the cup of wrath has become the cup of salvation for His people. We remember this act when we ourselves drink wine in the communion service. We who are in Christ can now drink without fear.
So it is that Jesus Christ restored our access to the Tree of Life.
But as I keep going on about, the best is yet to come. At Passover, while drinking wine with His disciples, Jesus promised that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine til the kingdom of God comes again (Matt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Luke 22:18).
When we are with Him again, we will drink with Him, not just any old wine but the best wine, which He saves til last.
The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.
This is the wine Jesus promised to us at the wedding at Canaa (John 2:1-12). It is the wine of the Tree of Life, taken from the True Vine, ours now and also when we meet Him again.