Reading 1 - Num 32
"The destruction of the power of Midian, who might have harassed them from the east, secured to Israel the quiet possession of the district east of Jordan, which their arms had already conquered. All along, from the river Arnon in the south, which divided Israel from Moab, to the river Jabbok and far beyond it, the land of Gilead and of Bashan, their borders were safe from hostile attacks.
"The accounts of travelers are unanimous in describing that district as specially suited for pastoral purposes. We read of magnificent park-like scenery, of wide upland pastures, and rich forests, which everywhere gladden the eye. No wonder that those of the tribes which had all along preserved their nomadic habits, and whose flocks and herds constituted their main possessions and their wealth, should wish to settle in those plains and mountains. To them they were in very truth the land of promise, suited to their special wants, and offering the very riches which they desired. The other side Jordan had little attraction for them; and its possession would have been the opposite of advantageous to a strictly pastoral people. Accordingly, the children of Gad and Reuben requested of Moses: 'Let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan' (Num 32:5).
"If this proposal did not actually imply that those tribes intended henceforth quietly to settle down, leaving their brethren to fight alone for the conquest of Palestine proper, it was at least open to such interpretation. Moses seems to have understood it in that sense. But, if such had been their purpose, they would not only have separated themselves from the Lord's work and leading, but, by discouraging their brethren, have re-enacted, only on a much larger scale, the sin of those unbelieving spies who, 38 years before, had brought such heavy judgment upon Israel. And the words of Moses prevailed. Whether from the first their real intentions had been right, or the warning of Moses had influenced them for good, they now solemnly undertook to accompany their brethren across Jordan, and to stand by them till they also had entered on their possession. Until then they would only restore the "folds" for their sheep, and rebuild the destroyed cities, to afford safe dwelling-places for their wives and children, and, of course, for such of their number as were either left behind for defense, or incapable of going forth to war.
"On this express promise, their request was granted, and the ancient kingdoms of Sihon and of Og were provisionally assigned to Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, which latter had made special conquests in Gilead (Numbers 32:39). But the actual division of the district among these tribes was left over for the period when the whole country should be allocated among the children of Israel (Jos 13)" (Alfred Edersheim, "Old Testament History").
Reading 2 - Pro 23:29-35
How easy it is, and with what a sense of comradeship (it seems) can one join one's friends in a group for a few drinks. What harm is there, provided one is "temperate"? Did not Paul advise the young Timothy to "use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine oft infirmities"?
The trouble with drinking is that it is not in the nature of the young, generally, to be temperate. And drink clouds the mind; it over-stimulates the senses and weakens the self-control. A car can be an instrument of death in the hands of someone who drinks to excess.
Drink can arouse excessive merriment in some and bad temper in other. The most violent quarrels occur in bars.
Paul used a phrase which aptly described the weakness of will which can be caused by drinking: "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess" (Eph 5:18). It is in the nature of alcoholic beverages that they encourage "excess" in many different ways -- all of which are negative.
It is not so much that we should never touch wine and the like, but the company, the places and the dangers must ever be in our minds.
"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man" (Luk 21:34-36).
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers... nor drunkards... will inherit the kingdom of God" (1Co 6:9,10; cp Gal 5:19-21).
The loathsome effects of excessive strong drink are described -- almost humorously -- in the book of Proverbs:
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 'They hit me,' you will say, 'but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?' " (Pro 23:29-35).
Present-day abstainers are in very good Scriptural company: John the Baptist was one of the greatest men who ever lived (Mat 11:11), and he was a teetotaler (Luk 1:15; 7:33). The leaders of the early ecclesias were commanded to be "sober", "not given to wine" (1Ti 3:1,2; Tit 1:7). Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's wine (Dan 1:8). The Nazarites also vowed to separate themselves from every product of the grape (Num 6:3).
The moral issue from the Biblical standpoint is therefore simply this: A brother under the influence of alcohol is a brother who deliberately deprives himself of the ability to "serve the law of God with his mind" (Rom 7:25). God has graciously given us a knowledge of the Truth: an understanding of His laws, as well as a spirit "of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2Ti 1:7). Are we acting lawfully when we knowingly engage in a practice which will deprive us of soundness of mind, and bring us under its power (1Co 6:2), exposing us to the uncontrolled workings of the flesh? Is this the way to "flee from sin"?
Reading 3 - John 5:2,3
"Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie -- the blind, the lame, the paralyzed" (John 5:2,3).
"High on the hill of Zion the immaculately robed priests observed the temple ritual, aloof and impersonal. In the shadows of its walls the halt, the blind and the withered waited for the movement of the water" (Melva Purkis, "A Life of Jesus" 86).
Jesus turns from the temple and instead goes to Bethesda. "The true scene of his ministry was not among the subtle analysts of the Law but in the midst of suffering humanity" (Melva Purkis 89).