Come, all you beasts of the field, come and devour, all you beasts of the forest! Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” – Isaiah 56:9-12
Okay so one could argue that beer is not actually water but it does contain water. Since I am a beer fan and this is the first biblical reference to beer that I’ve noticed I thought it would be worth reflecting on today. Of course beer in excess can lead to all sorts problems, but I think beer taken in moderation is not a bad thing any more than wine in moderation is a bad thing.
God is talking generally about the people of Israel and the ways that they have “missed the boat”. The “watchman” of Israel are blind because they lack knowledge of the living God. I think the “watchmen” are the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel. They are the ones who were to know the signs of the coming Messiah, the new song that God has been alluding to in Isaiah.
This reminds me of the beginning of the book The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. Two young people, Eustace and Polly are wisked out of our world into Narnia. Polly has never been to Narnia, but Eustace is returning after being transformed by his adventure in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader which included being stripped down to the soul by Aslan the Christ figure in the books.
Polly and Eustace find themselves in Aslan’s country overlooking a daunting precipice. Polly get’s cheeky and overconfident near the cliff and ends up sending Eustace over the edge. Alsan prevents Polly’s poor choice from being fatal for Eustace, but she is left alone to talk with Aslan and receive important signs that she is to look for to guide them on the mission for which they were sent to Narnia:
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.” – C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
Polly does not want to admit she has a thirst that needs quenching and I fear so are the leaders of Israel in this passage, and to be honest many followers of Christ like myself. The leaders of Israel are not good shepherds — they are asleep at the wheel. They seem to have missed the point of much of what God has been trying to do for them.
The people seem to be more interested in daily pleasures and satisfying their thirst with wine and beer — wine and beer taken for the sake of getting drunk or pleasure. I do not think God is saying that wine and beer are bad, but they can be very bad if they are used as a substitute for God, or the peace like a river that flows from Him.
There is a call here to be something different than the people described in this passage. We are called to be shepherds who have understanding of the wonder of God’s love and are willing to point others toward Him. We are to be “watchers” with knowledge of the signs that God is near so that we can lead by following and help others to faithfully follow Him.
Prayer: God help us to be good shepherds and show others the signs of Your presence and love so that they too many know You.