They gave him vinegar to drink
It was a custom with the Jews F15 when
``a man went out to be executed, to give him to drink a grain of frankincense in a cup of wine, that his understanding might be disturbed, as it is said, ( Proverbs 31:6 ) . "Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those that be of heavy hearts"; and the tradition is, that the honourable women in Jerusalem gave this freely; but if they did not, it was provided at the charge of the congregation.''The design of it was to cheer their spirits, and intoxicate their heads, that they might not be sensible of their pain and misery. But such a cup was not allowed Christ at the public expense, nor were the honourable women so compassionate to him; or if it was sent him, the soldiers did not give it him, but another potion in the room of it; indeed Mark says, they gave him "wine mingled with myrrh", ( Mark 15:23 ) ; which was either a cordial provided by his friends, and given him, and is different from what the soldiers gave him here; or the sense is, that they gave him the cup, that was so called, but not the thing; but instead of it,
vinegar mingled with gall.
The Vulgate Latin and Ethiopic versions, instead of "vinegar", read "wine"; and so does Munster's Hebrew Gospel, and so it is read in Beza's most ancient copy, and in another exemplar, and in one of Stephens's; and which may be easily reconciled with the common reading, and that with Mark; for the wine they gave him was flat and sour, and no other or better than vinegar; and real vinegar may be so called, as this seems to be; and the rather, because vinegar was a part of the Roman soldiers' allowance, and so they had it ready at hand; (See Gill on John 19:29). As also, because it was thought that vinegar was useful to prolong the life of a man ready to die; and therefore they might choose to give it to Christ, that he might live the longer in misery: so the Jews F16 write, that
``if a man swallows a wasp or hornet alive, he cannot live; but they must give him to drink a quarter, (zgmv alxd) , "of vinegar of Shamgaz", (which the gloss says is strong vinegar,) and it is possible he may live a little while, until he hath given orders to his house.''The Arabic version, instead of "gall", reads "myrrh"; nor are we to suppose that this drink was mixed with the gall of a beast itself, but with something that was as bitter as "gall"; as wormwood, or myrrh, or any other bitter, to make it distasteful. This potion of vinegar with gall, was an aggravating circumstance in our Lord's sufferings, being given to him when he had a violent thirst upon him; and was an emblem of the bitter cup of God's wrath, he had already tasted of in the garden, and was about to drink up: the Jews had a notion of vinegar's being expressive of the chastisements of the Messiah; the words in ( Ruth 2:14 ) , they say F17,
``speak of the king Messiah; "come thou hither", draw nigh to the kingdom; "and eat of the bread", this is the bread of the kingdom, "and dip thy morsel in the vinegar", (Nyrwoyyh wla) , "these are the chastisements", as it is said in ( Isaiah 53:5 ) , "he was wounded for our transgressions".''By this offer was fulfilled the prophecy in ( Psalms 69:21 ) , and which he did not altogether refuse; for it follows,
and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink:
not because it was the vinegar of Gentiles, which was forbidden by the Jewish canons F17, lest it should have been offered to idols; but because he would make use of no means either to prolong his life, or discompose his mind; and that it might appear he knew what he did, and that he was not afraid nor unwilling to die; though he thought fit to taste of it in a superficial way, to show he did not despise nor resent their offer; and that he was really athirst, and ready to drink a more disagreeable potion than that.
F15 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 12. 2.
F16 Midrash Ruth, fol. 33. 2.
F17 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 29. 2.