The Application of Wisdom: Alcohol

Notes on Proverbs

Despite the warnings in the book of Proverbs and the rest of the Scriptures against both the destructive and casual uses of alcohol, many claim that a Christian is free to drink alcohol, just so long as he does not become drunk. In light of this, it is especially important to note what the book of Proverbs has to say about alcohol.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (20:1).

Solomon begins this verse by saying, “Wine is a mocker.” Alcohol has the ability to make a fool out of someone. It allows one to think he is in control when he really is not. The point is made later in the book that alcohol alters the way one thinks (31:5). It is a “mocker” to those who believe they can partake in the consumption of alcohol without being affected by it. Next, the wise man says, “Strong drink [is] a brawler.” This refers to the violent tendencies of one who is given to alcohol and how it causes trouble for both the drinker and those around him. So Solomon says, “Whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” We have been studying how to apply wisdom. If we are to follow the wisdom that comes from above, we must avoid the sin of drunkenness.

Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags” (23:20-21).

Solomon groups the sins of drunkenness and gluttony together in these verses. He warns that we should not be “with” them, meaning that we should not go along with them so that we put ourselves in a position to be tempted to practice their sins. We cannot avoid all contact with sinful people (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10), but we can avoid putting ourselves in situations in which we will be tempted to give into peer pressure and do what others are doing. Furthermore, Solomon makes a point here about stewardship. He warns that the “heavy drinker…will come to poverty.” Not only is such use of alcohol to be avoided because it has a negative effect upon one’s thinking, but also because it is a waste of money.

Solomon’s Warning About Alcohol

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine.

Do not look at the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper.

Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me, but I did not become ill; they beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink’” (23:29-35).

The above passage contains clear warning from Solomon about the dangers of alcohol. Many will try to justify the casual use of alcohol (often referred to as “social drinking”), but given how destructive alcohol can be, Solomon warns that one should not even go this far.

Who has woe… sorrow… contentions… complaining… wounds without cause… redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine, those who go to taste mixed wine” (23:29-30). Though people often resort to alcohol in an attempt to escape their problems (cf. 31:6-7), Solomon warns that trouble comes to those who “linger long over wine” (implying drunkenness) and those who “seek [KJV] mixed wine” (implying the pursuit of alcohol, which would necessarily be before drunkenness). The problems caused by alcohol affect every aspect of one’s life – emotionally (“woe” suggests the idea of lamentation), financially (“sorrow” is from a word suggesting want, in the sense that one comes to be in need), socially (“contentions” denote the strife and discord that will exist between the drinker and others), verbally (“complaining” or “babbling” [KJV] refers to the fact that one will not be able to communicate effectively), mentally (“wounds without cause” are those wounds one suffers that he cannot recall how he received them because his memory has been affected by the alcohol), and physically (“redness of eyes”). Alcohol is not something to be treated lightly.

Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper” (23:31-32). Those who believe that the casual use of alcohol (“social drinking”) is acceptable, just so long as one does not proceed to drunkenness, need to remember this verse. Rather than advising one to enjoy alcohol in moderation, Solomon warns that one should not even look at it! Though it may go down smoothly, it will cause trouble for the one who consumes it. Far from condoning the drinking of alcohol in moderation, Solomon instead warns that one should not even look at it, lest he be tempted to take the first drink.

Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things” (23:33). Alcohol affects one’s perception of reality so that he sees “strange things.” It also loosens one’s tongue so that, rather than filtering out speech that would be improper, offensive, contentious, and unwise, one who consumes alcohol will be more inclined to say those things which should not be said.

And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me, but I did not become ill; they beat me, but I did not know it’” (23:34-35). Alcohol makes one oblivious to his surroundings (as “one who lies down in the middle of the sea”) and unaware of any danger in which he may be (as “one who lies down on the top of a mast”). Furthermore, alcohol dulls pain (“they beat me, but I did not know it”) so that the natural reflex to recoil from pain and flee from harm is absent, thus putting the drinker in the position to be harmed even further.

‘When shall I awake? I will seek another drink’” (23:35). This phrase reminds us of the addictive nature of alcohol. Despite all the trouble that comes to those who are given to it, many will continue to go back to it.

Warning to Lemuel About Alcohol

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more” (31:4-7).

This passage is sometimes used by those who want to condone the use of alcohol as a means of dealing with one’s problems. Many claim to use alcohol as a way to handle the stress they have from their home, work, or love lives. Yet if we consider the context, there is another point altogether that we should take from this passage.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (31:4-5). First of all, we should note that this instruction is directed toward kings. There is a reason behind this. Because a king is in a position of authority over others, there is much more harm that can come from his use of alcohol than others. This passage mentions two reasons why kings and rulers are to avoid alcohol. First, “they will drink and forget what is decreed” (31:5). When they forget the difference between right and wrong, it becomes impossible for them to rule effectively or fairly. Second, they will “pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (31:5). This does harm to others because it denies them the justice that they deserve. So the admonition is for kings and rulers not to “drink” or even “desire” alcohol (31:4). The instruction to not “desire” it means that the use of alcohol should never even reach the point of casual use (“social drinking”), let alone the destructive use (drunkenness).

Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more” (31:6-7). These verses are seen by some as an authorization for the use of alcohol as a way for one to deal with the hardships of life. Yet this does not fit at all with the other passages in Proverbs that identify alcohol as the cause of so many hardships in life (23:20-21, 29-35). And while the Bible does authorize the medicinal use of alcohol for physical ailments (1 Timothy 5:23), this passage is talking about mental and emotional hardships. The alcohol, because it alters one’s thinking, thus allowing him to “forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more” (31:7), is appealing to many. But instead of authorizing the practice, this passage simply mentions it as a common practice. A practice being common certainly does not make it right. The context emphasizes sober-mindedness (31:5). One who is to be sober-minded – such as the king of this context – must ignore what others are doing, leave them to their devices, and avoid alcohol himself so that he can do what he is responsible to do. Rather than condoning the use of alcohol as a way to forget the troubles of life, this passage teaches us that we must avoid alcohol so that we can think clearly and do those things which God would have us to do.


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