Grain and New Wine

“Grain and new wine” is an automatic combination throughout the Hebrew Bible (cf. e.g., Genesis 27:28, 37; Numbers 12:27; Deuteronomy 7:13; 2 Kings 18:32; 2 Chronicles 31:5; 32:28; Isaiah 62:8; Hosea 2:8). Grain (dagan) is almost never used without “wine,” and when it happens you know something is wrong.

As in Nehemiah 5, when some Jews become so poor that they have to sell their children into slavery to get “grain.” Nehemiah castigates the predatory Jews who are enslaving brothers. When he demands that they return property to their poor brothers, he demands that they restore not only grain but also new wine and oil (5:11). Poor Jews have been deprived of necessities, but Nehemiah is not content to provide sustenance food. He insists that they should enjoy the drink of celebration as well.

Nearly all the other instances where “grain” occurs without “wine,” the context refers to famine  or the end of famine (Ezekiel 36:29; Joel 1:17).

All of which suggests some sacramental applications: First, we could spin out a Eucharistic theology from the uses of the phrase “grain and wine” or “grain and new wine.” Grain and new wine are expressions of Yahweh’s love for Israel (Deuteronomy 7:13), a gift to priests (Numbers 18:12, 27), the product of Yahweh’s generous gift of heavenly rain (Deuteronomy 11:14).

Second, and practically, this gives us further reason to be opposed to communion in one kind. Israel receives grain without wine only during times of famine, so communion in one kind is a sort of institutionalized famine for the church. Luther was a Nehemiah: Give them their bread, and also their new wine!

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