Palestine lacks fresh water rivers and lakes and its dependence upon rain after its yearly hot, dry period makes drought an ongoing possibility. In view of frequently occurring shortages of water, thirst and drinking are of particular significance in the Scriptures. The act of drinking as well as the object of drink became powerful metaphors in Scripture. Drink is used figuratively to symbolize participation in a number of Acts or relationships, the reception (internalization) of a belief or teaching, or the sustenance needed to live.
Participation in and Sustenance of the Spiritual Life. Drink can be used metaphorically for that which sustains the spiritual life. Stemming from the fundamental fact that one needs to drink liquids in order to sustain life, drink used figuratively can speak of a consciousness that one does not live by physical elements alone but ultimately by spiritual nourishment from God. In Isaiah 55:1-5 the exiles are summoned to return and to be restored by satisfying their spiritual thirst. Against the physical background of Palestine, where drought was too often a reality and the need for drink to quench the thirst a necessity, the desire for God is spoken of as a "thirst" that God alone could satisfy ( Psalm 42:1-2 ; 63:1 ; 143:6 ). Here "to drink" is to take the salvation offered by grace alone and to live by it. am 8:11 speaks figuratively of a famine or thirst for the Word of God that can be quenched only if God wills.
The phrases "drink from your river of delights" ( Psalm 36:8 ) and "spring of living water" ( Jer 2:13 ) may well be sources of the title "river of the water of life" that flows from the temple of God, creating so many joys ( Ezek 47:1-12 ; Rev 22:1-2 ). As well the metaphors of "cup" and "well of salvation" ( Psalm 116:13 ; Isa 12:3 ) are used to express the deliverance and goodness of the Lord. Spiritual participation with the true God brings not a mere existence but a life of joy and an experience of the goodness of God.
In the New Testament Christ invites people to drink the water that will "become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" ( John 4:14 ). While the water here is designated as eternal life, in John 7:38-39 the drinking of "living water" is related to the Spirit who would be given after Christ was glorified. In the final chapter of the Bible the same invitation to participate in the eternal life of Christ and the Spirit is given. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come!' And let him who hears say, Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" ( Rev 22:17 ; cf. Rev 21:6 ). This drinking of the water of life is parallel to eating the bread of life ( John 6:27 John 6:50-51 ). In another metaphor John records the words of Christ "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" ( John 6:53-54 ). Here Christ is again seen as the source of life; the appropriation of himself as God's appointed sacrifice is needed for eternal life.
Drinking Together as Denoting Fellowship. Drinking takes on a deeper significance when, often along with eating, it expresses the fellowship and unity that exist among those who share a meal. Because drinking together denotes fellowship and acceptance there will be those who will call upon the fact that they have eaten and drunk with Jesus to claim a place at his side in eternity ( Luke 13:16 ). But Jesus will reply that he never knew them ( Luke 13:27 ). Fellowship, while symbolized by drinking together, must be based on something greater.
Drink can in fact be a metaphor for consummation or initiation of a relationship. Israel eats and drinks before God at Sinai in a covenant meal celebrating the sealing of the Mosaic covenant ( Exod 24:11 ). This meal that includes the act of drinking may foreshadow the Lord's Supper, which celebrates the new covenant sealed by Christ's death ( 1 Cor 11:25-26 ).
This symbolic meaning of fellowship also lies behind Luke 5:30; by eating with sinners the disciples, like Jesus, stand on their side. Luke brings an important qualification by inserting the words "to repentance, " for true fellowship must be based on more than the mere physical act of drinking and eating together ( Luke 5:32 ).
Drink as Sacrifice. Perhaps owing to its life-giving qualities and that it was seen as a blessing of God ( Gen 27:28 ), wine was designated as a form of daily sacrifice to the Lord called the drink offering ( Exod 29:38-41 ). Paul uses the drink offering to symbolize the possibility of his life being given ("poured out") as a sacrifice upon or accompanying the sacrificial service of the Philippians ( Php 2:17 ). Though this may refer to his entire ministry it may be best to see it as referring to his death if he is killed as a martyr.
Even the water that David's mighty men had obtained from the well at Bethlehem at dire risk to their lives was viewed so dearly by David that he would not drink it but poured it out as an offering to God ( 2 Sam 23:13-17 ). He regarded the drink as "the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives" (v. 17).
Drink as Symbolic of Acceptance of God's Will. Drink is used symbolically of Christ's acceptance of God's will. In John 18:11, when referring to his willingness to suffer God's judgment on man's behalf, Jesus asks Peter the question "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" Jesus was prepared to suffer the judgment of God as payment for humankind's sin as part of his acceptance of god's will ( Matt 26:42 ).
The suffering of the disciples, though not for God's judgment on humankind's sin but as a participation in Christ's suffering, is referred to by the figure of speech "drink the cup" ( Matt 20:22-23 ). To "drink the cup of suffering" is to experience and take to oneself the suffering sent by God ( Mark 10:38 ). Their following Christ will necessitate an experiencing of suffering (v. 39).
Participation in Killing. Killing one's enemies is spoken of figuratively as a lion that "drinks the blood of his victims" ( Num 23:24 ). "To drink blood" is a figure for killing ( Isa 49:26 ; cf. Rev 16:6 ; 17:6 ) taken from the actions of beast of prey ( Num 23:24 ; Ezek 39:17-18 ). On the day of the Lord's vengeance the sword "will devour till it is satisfied, till it has quenched its thirst with blood" ( Jer 46:10 ). Battles often use the imagery of sacrifice including "drinking of blood" ( Isa 34:5-7 ; Ezek 39:17-18 ).
Participation in Evil. Evildoing is spoken of as "drinking up evil" ( Job 15:16 ). This is especially true of violence ( Prov 4:17 ; 26:6 ). This drinking seems to be symbolic of the sinner's habitual participation and internalization of all kinds of evil.
Reception of God's Judgment. Drink can stand for the way God's judgment comes to men as the "cup of God's wrath." The sinful will "drink" of this wrath, symbolic of their reception and suffering of God's judgment ( Job 21:20 ; Isaiah 51:17 Isaiah 51:22 ). The image of drinking expresses the fact that those smitten by it execute the judgment on themselves by their own Acts. This cup of wrath is often referred to also as a "cup of wine" and therefore experiencing God's judgment is compared to becoming drunk ( Psalm 75:8 ; Rev 14:10 ; 16:19 ). It is the fate of ungodly nations in particular ( Psalms 60:3 Psalms 75:8 ; Isa 29:9 ; 63:6 ; Jer 25:15-16 ; Lam 4:21 ; Ezek 23:32-34 ; Hab 2:16 ; Zech 12:2 ). However in Jeremiah 8:14; 9:14, and 23:15, God is said to give poisoned water to his own people, referring to the bitter punishment they are being called to bear.
Drink Used to Refer to Sexual Relationships. "To drink water from one's own cistern" means to ensure that your wife is the source of your sexual pleasure, as water refreshes a thirsty man ( Prov 5:15 ). In this case drink is used symbolically to mean "appease desire."
Stephen J. Bramer
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Drink'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".