Wine Skins in the smoke

“Though I am like a wine skin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.” Psalm 119:83

In the period of the Judges and Kings the Israelites were typically nomadic, travelling within great expanses of arid Negev desert. This was a time well before the irrigation and fertility of present day Israel, indeed the Southern kingdom of Judah was largely a desert nation.

As you can imagine the things which were of greatest value to you were not silver or gold, but shelter (tents), transport (mules or camels) and hydration (mildly alcoholic (sterile) wine). Without these things, rich or poor, you would soon die of exposure, exhaustion or dehydration.

Israelite wine skins were made from the skins of young goats. The rough goat hair provided insulation from both daytime heat and night time cold (the Negev has a temperature differential of between 0-42 degrees centigrade.)

The inside of the skin, much like a chamios leather, was very malleable and watertight. This again provided protection against leaking due to the expansion caused by fermentation or heat. The softness of a skin was also a defence against getting dropped and empty skins could be packed away flat to be refilled at the next appropriate vineyard.

Clearly you don’t leave the one item that could save your life outside of your tent at night, not least because you would want to drink from it. At the same time Israelite tents did not have chimneys and the majority of their cooking took place within the courtyard of the tent; filling the rooms with smoke. This smoke had the same impact upon the skins as it would to any soft meat, turning it hard and crisp over time.

A hardened wineskin was a potential threat to your life; should it break far from a source of water a traveller could easily die. These skins would crack under the pressure of the wine inside or rough treatment outside. Simply drop them on the rough ground and they would shatter like a glass jar.

Christian leaders spend most of their time within the ‘smoke’ of the ‘tent’ of the church.  Within this setting they are constantly exposed to the conflicts, disappointments and extension of ministry as well as the projections, transference and manipulations of some of those they are trying to assist. Jesus uses the metaphor of the wine skin for the human heart (see Mat 9:19) “New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved”. In order for a leader to receive the ‘New Wine’ of God’s renewal through the Holy Spirit he must keep his heart soft, like the new wine skin.

Many leaders I meet have denied the impact of ‘the smoke’ of ministry for a long time. They have become cynical to the work of God, suspicious of anything new and hard towards the broken. Often at this stage people will experience creeping emotional health issues; stress, anger, tearfulness and panic.

Are you a ‘wine skin in the smoke’? Could this be the time to retreat and reclaim your softness? If so have a look through some of the resources in this leadership section. If you need more personalised help you can contact us confidentially and we will see to sign-post you within your locality.
Will Van Der Hart, 26/06/2013
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