/ Nathan Eshelman

Wine Juxtaposed with Wine

The use of wine is seen both positively and negatively in the Scriptures and two paintings by Jan Steen at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California illustrate these two sides.

The faces of joy and laughter, celebration and dance are easily seen in the 1676 Jan Steen oil painting The Marriage at Cana. The painting captures the blessings of wine that God has given to his people, blessings that the Lord Jesus chose to demonstrate as the first sign of the kingdom of God. At the marriage at Cana in Galilee, the Lord Jesus produced the best wine after the celebrators “had drunk freely.” The kingdom of God is joy and Jesus demonstrated that joy at his first miracle.

Jan Steen, in his oil painting, perfectly captures that joy and celebration in the faces of the celebrants, communicating that the kingdom of God is joy. The viewer takes in the happiness on all the faces. Even the dogs look happy in the painting. The viewer smiles as he or she enters into the scene, clearly perceiving God’s joy and blessing of wine in Cana.  God gives wine to gladden the heart of man. Psalm 114:14

Wine gladdens the heart.

Jan Steen, as he points us to Christ and his first miracle, reminds us of the gladdened heart. But then he takes us to the dark side of wine. Juxtaposed to The Marriage at Cana at the Norton Simon is another Jan Steen painting.

Like all of God’s good gifts, mankind has found ways to turn the gift of wine to gladden the heart into an idol and a curse. The 1663 Steen painting entitled Wine is a Mocker depicts an inebriated young woman in long red stockings and a low-cut dress being dragged into a wheelbarrow by a man while others look on with mocking grins and pointing fingers. A tavern pipe lies beside her on the ground and her shoes have fallen off. The quality of the clothing signifies the young woman’s wealthy status in society, and yet the cut of her dress and the color of her stockings seem to signify that she is a woman of the night.

Wine is a mocker.

So, what is the biblical teaching on wine? Some will claim that since wine is a mocker,  therefore the Christian ought to abstain. Others, pointing to the fact that wine is a gift of God that makes glad the heart of men, will proclaim Christian liberty as the biblical position on wine.

Yes. Wine is a mocker. 

Yes. Wine makes glad the heart of men.

Which is it?

Jan Steen’s paintings, hanging side by side in the Norton Simon, remind the Christian that often we take just one painting’s approach to wine in the Bible. We look at the 1663 painting and proclaim, “The Bible says wine is a mocker!” Or we look at the 1676 painting and proclaim, “Wine makes glad the heart of men!” We put these two paintings against one another, as if they come from different Bibles. 

What is the biblical view on wine and alcohol? Is the answer “Mocker!” or is the answer “Gladness!”?

The answer is wisdom.

The believer is instructed from both of Jan Steen’s paintings to understand the fulness of biblical teaching on this ethical question. 

Wisdom understands the joys and dangers of wine. Wine is a mocker. And yet wine makes glad the heart of men. Remember there are two paintings, not just one.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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