Strong Drink, a Major Cause of Grief


     Introduction:  There is no disputing the fact that the most dangerous, devastating, and whitewashed drug in the world continues to be alcohol. It is a marked reflection on our society that we will declare war on other drugs but the drug of choice, alcohol, is basically ignored and defended. Many religious people have no problem with strong drink, providing it is not used to excess. In this study, we shall examine one of the most powerful biblical texts relative to strong drink: Proverbs 23: 29-35. (See addendum for additional information regarding Bible "wine.")

I. An exposition of Proverbs 23: 29-35.

1.Verse 29.

  A. "Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow?"

    a. The Hebrew lemi oi, lemi aboi involves two interjections of pain and grief (oi, also translated "oh" and aboi, "sorrow").

    b. God wants man to be happy (blessed): Jn. 13: 17, I Pet. 3: 10, 11 (notice man's happiness is conditional), Prov. 13: 15, cp. Prov. 23: 21-23.

  B. "Who hath contentions?"

    a. Strong drink often leads to strife (Prov. 20: 1, keep in mind our common beer is about as strong as the "strong drink" of the Bible).

  C. "Who hath babbling?"

    a. The idea of the Hebrew (siach) seems to be "thoughts of regret." The drinker often complains about his lot in life that is a product of his decision to drink.

  D. "Who hath wounds without cause?"

    a. These wounds are not necessary and, doubtless, would have not occurred, had it not been for the influence of alcohol (revisit "contentions").

  E. "Who hath redness of eyes?"

    a. The Authorized Version understands the Hebrew (chakliluth) to refer to bloodshot eyes. The Hebrew is also capable of meaning "darkness or dimness of sight." The reference is to the visual physical results when the stimulant reaches the brain.

2. Verse 30.

  A. "They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine."

    a. Verse thirty contains the answer to the question raised in verse thirty-nine.

    b. The Septuagint Version has: "Those who hunt out where carousals are taking place" (cp. I Pet. 4: 3).

3. Verse 31.

  A. "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red…."

    a. The Pulpit Commentary observes: "The wine of Palestine was chiefly 'red,' though what we call white wine was not unknown" (Vol. 9, pg. 445). Liquor often involves a culture. There is the general atmosphere, the appearance of the substance, and the taste. All of these combined features offer allurement and often "addiction." The teaching is: do not even come in visual contact of strong drink!

4. Verse 32.

  A. "At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stringeth like an adder."

    a. Wine (intoxicating drink, see addendum) is deceiving (cp. Heb. 3: 12-14, 11: 25). The idea of "stringeth like an adder" seems to suggest puncturing or making a wound (cp. Ps. 140: 3). Hence, strong drink is compared to the deadly venom of the adder or poisonous snake.

5. Verse 33.

  A. "Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things."

    a. The results of the stimulant are here mentioned. The main result is intemperance (cp. 2 Pet. 1: 5-11, I Cor. 9: 27). Right and wrong are blurred under the influence, adultery and a corrupt heart often result (I Cor. 6: 9, Prov. 4: 23). Some translate the Hebrew with the neuter; hence, "strange things." However, many scholars prefer "strange women." In the case of "strange things," the images produced on the brain due to alcohol would be meant. The Septuagint reads: "When thou eyes shall see a strange woman, then thy mouth shall speak perverse things."

6. Verse 34.

  A. "Yea, thou shalt be as…."

    a. This verse describes the unperceived dangers that really surround the person under the influence. While self-content, he is actually exposed to dangers of all kinds (cp. I Cor. 10: 12).

7. Verse 35.

  A. "They have stricken me…I will seek it again."

    a. A better rendering of the original is, "They have strickened me…and I was not hurt" (ASV). The warnings of pain are silenced due to alcohol. Even though strong drink has nothing but complication, shame, and misery, there is little doubt but what the person will return to its momentary vices.

     Conclusion: This inspired text that so vividly addresses the matter of strong drink does not offer any encouragement for a justified social use of the substance. The warning is: Do not even come in visual contact with the substance! In view of this plain teaching, it is unbelievable how some insist that Jesus turned water into strong drink (instead of juice from the grape) and thus produced a drunken orgy (Jn. 2: 1-11, 10).

     Addendum:  There is no little amount of confusion about Bible wines because there is often too little study of the subject. There are basically three Hebrew words of interest that are translated wine.Tirosh is found 38 times in the Hebrew scriptures. Tirosh is translated "wine" 26 times, "new wine" 11 times and "sweet wine" once. Tirosh is used of grapes (natural state, cluster, Judges 9: 13, Isa. 65: 8) and apparently of fermented drink (Hosea 4: 11, Zech. 9: 17). Yayin is found about 135 times in the Hebrew text. It is defined as, "Yayin stands for the expressed juice of the grape, the context sometimes indicating whether the juice had undergone or not the process of fermentation" (Bible Commentary, Appendix B, pg. 412). Yayin is used of fermented drink or state (Gen. 9: 21-24) and the unfermented state (Ps. 104: 15). Shakar is found about 21 times. Shakar is translated "strong drink" in the King James. Shakar is used of the fermented state (Isa. 29: 9) and the natural or unfermented condition (Deut. 14: 26). Oinos is the Greek word that is used for wine in the New Testament. Oinos is found 33 times in the Greek New Testament. Oinos is used of intoxicating drink (Eph. 5: 18) and of unfermented juice (Jn. 2: 3).

     As you can see, these four words translated wine in the Bible have both a generic and specific meaning capability, unlike our word wine.

     As to the preservation of grape juice, some have erroneously thought that since they did not have refrigeration, they could not preserve the juice in its natural state. For this reason, some have exaggerated the use of fermented drink. They make drinking fermented juice seem common in Bible days, even though there was (is) an express prohibition against the use of "strong drink" (Prov. 23: 29-35). The truth of the matter is, the Orientals had a number of ways of preserving
grape juice. One book that I have found to be very accurate is, "Bible Wines," by William Patton. Patton lists and documents four methods of preservation used by people in Bible days. There was boiling (pg. 26-29), filtration (pg. 34), subsidence (pg. 36) and fumigation (pg. 41 ff).

     If you are interested, Bible Wines has been reproduced by the Star Bible and Tract Company. They are located at: P.O. 13125, Fort Worth, Texas 76118. You can probably order this book (in paper back) at: Religious Supply Center, 1800 626-5348 or Guardian Book Store, 1 800 428-0121.