Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Proverbs 23:29-32
Whenever you watch how alcoholic beverages are marketed in our culture, it is often shown to be glamorous, tasteful, image enhancing, and critical for having a good time. Whenever anything is marketed, the downside is left out.
Therein lies the danger of the potential lie that the father is trying to teach his son in this text. He stated early, “let not thine heart envy sinners”. This is a danger we might face as we watch how alcohol is marketed to us. One may think, “They look cool. They look like they are having fun!” Yet here, the writer of Proverbs helps us to understand the downside. The questions come in list-like fashion in verse 29. Those who are deceived by alcohol deal with:
Dangerous and undesirable consequences or calamities. How many horrible situations have been borne out of situations where alcohol was involved?
This can include discouragement and even depression.
This speaks of fighting and disagreement. Drinking often leads to fighting and harms relationships.
The inability to express yourself. This speaks to the stupor created by drunkenness.
- Wounds without cause.
This is a description of the person who has been so inebriated that they somehow injure themselves but do not remember it happening.
- Redness of Eyes.
This is an apt description of one of the most basic effects of drunkenness. As I read this it also lead me to think about the overall disposition of the drunk person as not put together, and reeling from the physical effects of the drug.
Who has these problems? Those that “tarry long” and “seek mixed wine.” These speak to the person who has an addiction to alcohol. Now don’t let that minimize the danger to everyone. The line that is raised here for addiction is not that high.
When you read through a description like this it can sound like a typical weekend at your local club or bar. Now this doesn’t mean that everyone that drinks will experience all of these consequences every time they take a sip of alcohol. It is more that these consequences are the potential of what could and often does happen in people’s lives when they include alcohol consumption as a part of their lifestyle.
Verse 31 states not to even look at wine when it is red. This speaks to when it is the most intoxicating. In that day there was new wine which was either fresh and unfermented, or contained minuscule amounts of alcohol. Then there was wine that was mixed with spices, honey and other ingredients to enhance its’ intoxicating power. The admonition here is “don’t even look at it!”
Verse 32 gives the end of looking at, seeking for, and lingering long at strong drink. An Adder is a very poisonous snake. This verse could be speaking of the effects of a hangover, the overall danger of drunkenness and impairment, or both.
So much of the Bible’s discourse about alcohol consumption is argued over. “How far is too far?” is the question that is always asked. For sure, drunkenness is a line that everyone that reads the scripture and takes it seriously agrees on as being sinful. I would argue that “drunkenness” is impairment of any kind, and that line is easily stepped over. We also believe that “alcohol” was used medicinally in ancient times and was not prohibited to be used in this way. “Strong drink”, or alcohol meant for consumption that could create drunkenness is always condemned in scripture.
Here is a better question than “How far is too far?” “What is the wise thing to do?” This is a much better question. Why do you need to invite even the potential of the things listed above into your life? We may think that we can handle it. This is what everyone who has ever dealt with these problems has thought. Even if you can, your public testimony can tempt others to participate and then endure these consequences over time.
Takes Proverbs advice here. Don’t even look at it! Stop seeking it! Wisdom would make the appeal to find another way to quench your thirst and have a good time.
• What is your relationship with alcohol? Is it wise?
• What do you teach your kids about alcohol? Is it informed by scripture?