Deuteronomy 14:26: A License to Drink?

By Dr. Ken Matto

Deuteronomy 14:26 (KJV) And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,

Deuteronomy 14:26 is a verse which has been ripped from its context by Christians who believe a holy God placed it there as a permission slip to drink. They think that it is a license to drink wine, mixed drinks, beer, have Super Bowl parties, etc. The question which they must ask themselves is, “Did Christ go to the cross so they could drink alcohol?” The answer is no but today’s Christian looks for any “supposed” loophole where they can enjoy the fleshly sport of drinking alcohol. We will look at Deuteronomy 14:26 in its proper context and we will see it is not a pass for the Christian to make a trip to the liquor store. The money spent on booze could better be spent on missions.

Deuteronomy 14:22
Deuteronomy 14:22 (KJV) Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.

In the Old Testament God had given Israel the principle of tithing their increase. They were to bring a tithe of all that their land produced. It was the Harvest tithe! But where were they to bring it?

Deuteronomy 14:23
Deuteronomy 14:23 (KJV) And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.

They were to bring their tithes to the place where the Lord had chosen to place His name. They were to eat of their bounty in that place. What place was it?

2 Kings 21:4 (KJV) And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD said, In Jerusalem will I put my name.

The place mentioned in Deuteronomy 14:23 where God chose to place His name is Jerusalem, as we can see that in 2 Kings 21:4. The Scripture specifically states that God will place His name in Jerusalem. This is also confirmed in 2 Chronicles 6:6. 2 Chronicles 6:6 (KJV) But I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there; and have chosen David to be over my people Israel. Up to this point what we have here is the tithe that the farmers must bring to the city of Jerusalem.

Deuteronomy 14:24
Deuteronomy 14:24 (KJV) And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee:

God now makes concessions for those who live a long distance from Jerusalem. He realizes that if a farmer has had a great crop or had a major increase in livestock, then the possibility exists that he will be physically unable to bring the entire tithe to Jerusalem. They only had horse or ox drawn carts in those days to carry produce or animals and a large tithe would be impossible to manage.

Deuteronomy 14:25
Deuteronomy 14:25 (KJV) Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose:

In verse 25, God makes the concession that the farmer may sell the tithe of the produce or livestock and turn that into money which would be a lot easier to manage on a long trip than loads of produce or animals. So God is now instructing those who brought their tithes this way to bring the money to the same place the other ones brought the produce or the animals. Up to this point, are we seeing a theme running through these verses and so far it has nothing to do with drinking alcohol. Now let us get on to verse 26.

Deuteronomy 14:26
Deuteronomy 14:26 (KJV) And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,

The English word “bestow” has for its Hebrew word “nãthan” which means “to give, to put, set something somewhere.” It has other meanings and is used 2016 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is the fifth most widely used word in the Hebrew. They were then, during the feast, able to buy what they needed to celebrate the harvest tithe. They would have purchased the things they needed from the Sanctuary. At this point in Israel’s history, this practice was not yet corrupted by greed of the leaders but was done properly.

The word “wine” is the word “yayin” and in this usage in this passage it is referring to “unfermented wine.”

The word “strong drink” has for its Hebrew word “shêkhãr” and can mean “beer or another type of intoxicating beverage.” Now we must keep in mind that this was a feast which was held before the LORD and by the Temple. The word “shêkhãr” is used 23 times in the Old Testament and is a general term which may include drinking or the eating of solid food. Normally, strong drink was fermented grape juice and was diluted one part wine to three parts water. The type of distillation we have today was invented in the 12th century A.D. So up until that time, fermentation was the way wine became strong drink. There were other legitimate uses for that type of beverage. It was used for cooking, healing and pain killing. The command in verse 26 is to buy the strong drink and is not saying anything about drinking it. The last sentence in verse 26 is also a command where the people are commanded “to eat before the Lord.” So they would have used the strong drink for cooking purposes, especially since the drinking of strong drink is prohibited by God. We must never use verse 26 as some license to drink alcohol because drinking is not in view since it was a feast at the Temple before the LORD. Would you have a couple of shots of whiskey or scotch before you go to church? Pagan festivals encouraged drinking alcohol and God’s people were in no way to imitate those festivals.

God condemned the use of strong drink among His people and He would not contradict Himself in Deuteronomy 14:26.

Leviticus 10:9-10 (KJV) Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: {10} And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean;

Deuteronomy 29:6 (KJV) Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God.

Proverbs 20:1 (KJV) Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

Isaiah 5:11 (KJV) Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

Isaiah 28:7 (KJV) But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.

Just looking at these prohibitions and scenarios, how could anyone legitimately think that God would contradict Himself and allow drinking at a festival by the Temple? Something else too which is very important. God tells us in plain terms in both verses 23 and 24, that the place of the feast will be where He has chosen to place His name. In other words, there is a holy aspect to the feast since God’s name is associated with it. As a CHRISTian who bears the name of Christ, do you think it is biblical to buy a keg of beer or drink whiskey or any type of drink. If Christ saved you, then you are holy and alcohol has no place because it does not enhance your Christian walk, instead it hinders it and ruins your testimony. So for those who want to use Deuteronomy 14:26 as their license to drink, are using the Scriptures to their own destruction. Deuteronomy 14:26 should not ripped out of its context because God did not write the Bible to condone sin but to condemn it.