Seder or Symposium?

Is drinking at the Feasts making Hebrews too much like ancient Greeks? | Land of Honey
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Of the traditional six foods on the Seder plate, plus the matzah, and wine at the Passover meal, do you know how many of them are dictated by Scripture? Answer: three or four. The unleavened bread, the Pesach lamb, and the bitter herbs, with the wine being debated (since Yahusha emphasized it). Of course the other items have significance, even if not Biblically required, like charoset to recall the mortar the Israelites made into brick during their Egyptian slavery. But the Seder element on my mind today is wine.

Traditional Seder meals involve four cups of wine. Each cup symbolizes a promise from YHWH. "I will take you out," the first. "I will deliver you," is the second. Third, "I will redeem you," and the fourth cup stands for, "I will take you." This is a really beautiful part of the Passover meal, a chance to look back on the work of YHWH personally as well as for corporate Israel as a whole throughout history. When you consider the traditional Hebrew feast of wine celebration as a betrothal the symbolism goes even deeper. I like this allegory a lot. It's very meaningful. But I think we need to consider another verse before we partake:

Ephesians 5:18 - "Do not get drunk with wine."

I think we need to examine the spirit behind the idea that it's okay to get drunk during a Festival of YHWH (or ever). Obviously there are many passages of Scripture that show us the drinking of wine is generally permissible, but Ephesians also makes it clear that we need to stop before getting drunk. Should we make an exception for drunkenness during the Feasts?

According to the writings of Plato, a popular social event in ancient Greece was a symposium. Unlike cocktail parties of today symposiums had minimums on the amount of alcohol guests would consume, so party goers didn't really have the option to forgo or limit their alcohol. Obviously, this must have made for some drunk parties. Symposiums could last all night, so wine was drank literally for hours straight (raise your hand if you've ever attended a five hour Seder meal). These were not casual affairs, but heavily ritualized with precise rules. While philosophy and politics were typical discussion topics oftentimes libations were poured to gods or other rituals done as an act of worship. Do we want our worship of YHWH to look like this?

As a side note, are you familiar with the many man-made rituals observed at traditional Passover Seders? There are so many the hosts thoughtfully provide a book so you can keep up. Like with the four cups of wine, there's nothing wrong with washing your hands, hiding the afikoman, reciting blessings, dipping parsley in salt water and so on but we shouldn't treat these as commands or emphasize them over YHWH's instructions.

Seders have looked too much like symposiums. Ministries working to teach the importance of obeying YHWH's commands send a mixed message when they tolerate drunkenness at Passover. People drink too much, behave obnoxiously, and distract from the worship of YHWH at a Feast. And if Seder is nothing more than drunk discussion with made up rituals to honor some sort of Deity, how is that different from a symposium? This should concern us for obvious reasons. Scripture tells us that we are not to copy the customs of pagan cultures. Nowhere in Scripture do we have an example of righteous people getting drunk to celebrate YHWH's Feasts. Yahusha used wine at his last supper, yes. But the lengthy accounts of this feast in the Besorahs give no indication of drunkenness on anyone's part. The fact Matthew and John each remembered the night well enough to write extensively on it suggests their sobriety.

We need to examine the way we keep this Feast. There is nothing wrong with celebrating over a meal - we are told to do this. Yahusha even mentioned specifically to have the unleavened bread and wine in remembrance of him at Passover. This is important to him. But he doesn't say, "go ahead and get drunk and act like an idiot." He says, "Do this to remember me," not, "Do this and wonder what you did last night." We need to look at what else is going on surrounding the most significant Passover celebrations in Scripture: the impending deliverance of Israel from slavery and the impending death of Yahusha for a broken covenant. We would be completely remiss to overlook that and place the emphasis of the meal on drinking. Yes, YHWH put emphasis on the food and so did Yahusha but neither commanded or condoned drunkenness.

The four cups of wine are meaningful. But that's not an excuse to ignore the instruction to not get drunk. If having four cups of wine is important to you, make them small glasses. You could also water down the alcohol content by making a sangria with fruit. Alternatively you could serve grape juice throughout the evening or switch to grape juice after the first glass or two. Let's make all aspects of Seder honoring to YHWH. Let's celebrate the Feast without the old hametz of ancient Greece. Here's to a sober Seder!

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