Proverbs Week 9: Alcohol
20:1 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
21:17 He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.
23:19-21 Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
23:29-35 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?"
31:4-7 It is not for kings, O Lemuel— not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
3:9-10 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
9:1-5 Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. "Let all who are simple come in here!" she says to those who lack judgment. "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.
Deut. 14:22-26 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.
Psalm 104:14-15 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.
Song of Solomon 1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than wine.
Isaiah 5:11-12 Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands.
Isaiah 5:22-23 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.
Isaiah 25:5 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Joel 1:5 Wake up, you drunkards, and weep! Wail, all you drinkers of wine; wail because of the new wine, for it has been snatched from your lips.
Joel 2:23-24 Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
Zechariah 7:4-6 Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: "Ask all the people of the land and the priests, 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?
John 2:1-12 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.
Rom. 14:1-4 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Rom 14:13-23 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Discussion question: What are the dangers of wine that are mentioned in the first set of Proverbs?
Mocking and brawling (20:1, 23:29). Drunkenness leads to violence and quarrels.
Poverty (21:17, 23:19-21). Craving and striving after luxuries (to which category both wine, oil, and meat belonged in the ancient world) leads to poverty. Even now, alcohol is certainly not a necessity of life.
Health problems (23:29-35) – bloodshot eyes, vertigo. Alcohol in large quantities is literally a poison, as the author of proverbs seems to know.
Dulling of senses (23:29-35) – alcohol is also a mind-altering substance. Drunkenness weakens our self-control.
Dulling of our moral sense (31:4; see also Lev. 10:8). When we are drunk, we are less likely to act morally and in obedience to God. See also Is. 5:22. This is a real danger! Perhaps less so now, since there are some checks on the behavior of politicians, but in the ancient world, it was probably extremely easy for an absolute monarch to be utterly dissolute and abandon himself to drunkenness.
Addiction (23:35, 31:4). “’Everything is permissible for me’, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). Alcohol can become a dependence that enslaves us.
Discussion question: Do these commands add up to a blanket prohibition on alcohol use?
It seems that the first four texts condemn not the drinking of alcohol, but only the abuse of alcohol leading to drunkenness. We are warned against being ‘led astray’ by alcohol (20:1), drinking ‘too much wine’ (23:19), and ‘lingering’ over wine (23:29). The only passage that seems to be a unilateral prohibition is 31:4-7, but the context indicated that it is directed specifically at people in authority (where luxury and dissipation were an even greater temptation!) to remind them of their duty to their subjects. It we want to follow this proverbs advice explicitly, it goes on to recommend giving alcohol to the poor and sick as an anodyne. It is also interesting to note that here and elsewhere in the Bible (21:17, Is. 5:11), drunkenness is condemned alongside gluttony. (This is not to imply that we should ignore both warnings, but rather to give heed to both!) It seems, then, that these verses certainly warn against and condemn drunkenness, but do not necessarily condemn all drinking of alcohol.
Discussion question: If we believe that a prohibition against alcohol is not given here, can we ignore these verses? What should we take away from them?
Of course not! In fact, studying this passage has made me carefully rethink my position on alcohol and realize again its dangers. After all, alcohol is a luxury, and certainly drinking alcohol is nowhere commanded in the Bible. Since there is a danger associated with it, we need to be cautious to heed the Lord’s warnings, so that what he intends for a blessing doesn’t become a curse
Discussion question: What does the context of the verses in 3:9 and 9:1 imply about the nature of alcohol?
These verses give positive connotations to wine. 3:9 states that tithing will be honored by the Lord with overflowing harvest and new wine. Clearly, these are good things if they are a blessing from the Lord. Similarly, the richness of Lady Wisdom’s table is highlighted by the wine that she mixes. The Israelites mixed wine with 2-3 parts water so that it was often more dilute than modern wine (though still alcoholic – hence the warnings against drunkenness!). Thus, it seems from these verses that alcohol is not inherently bad. In fact, it is a blessing from God. However, its abuse and misuse are wrong.
If we look at the rest of the Bible (which is always a good idea if we want a clear picture of some issue), this idea is reinforced.
Deut. 14:22-26 is one of the most positive teaching on alcohol in the Bible. The Lord commands the Israelites to bring their tithes to the temple and to present a fellowship offering to the Lord. They are permitted (commanded?) to buy whatever their hearts desire, including wine or fermented drink (probably beer), and feast with the Lord as an expression of thankfulness. In fact, the Lord states that in doing so, they will learn to revere Him.
In Song of Solomon and Psalm 104, we again see wine portrayed in a casual, yet distinctly positive light as something that brings delight and joy and which should therefore be seen as a blessing from God.
Discussion question: Is there a contradiction in the passages from Isaiah and Joel? Why is wine first condemned and then held up as a sign of blessing to come?
These passages are certainly condemning drunkenness. However, I think the real concern of the prophets was deeper. They were condemning the people for running after wine and partying given the terrible seriousness of their spiritual condition. They were on the brink of divine judgment, yet were completely unconcerned. They were running after pleasures and utterly neglecting their moral duties (Is. 5:11), the glory of God (Is. 5:22), or their immanent judgment (Joel 1:5).
Yet through these same prophets, when God promises restoration of Israel, it is linked with abundant harvests and new wine (Is. 25:5 – look specifically at the emphasis on the high quality of the banquet, Joel 2:23), which are blessings from God. The message is that we should be seeking God rather than his blessings and that in God our restored relationship with God, we will find all the blessing that we desire.
Discussion question: If we decide to drink or to abstain, how should we do so?
First, with humble hearts, ready to submit to God’s will and listen to his instruction if we are convicted by Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
Second, with thanksgiving. For people who choose to drink, they should receive wine as a blessing from the Lord and take special care not to abuse it. We should desire to enjoy his good gifts to bring honor to Him, and to learn to revere him as the source of every good thing (Dt. 14).
Third, with sensitivity to our brothers. For those who do drink, we must always be ready to forgo our rights for the love of our brothers (Rom. 14:13). We should not despise them or look down on them (14:1). For those who abstain, we must not judge our brothers who do (Rom. 14:2). Who are we to judge another man’s servant?
Fourth, whatever we do, we should do for the Lord (Rom. 14:5-8, Zech. 7:4-6)