Strong Drink, a Major Cause of Grief


     A number of years ago America ostensibly declared war on drugs. New and more punitive measures for the violation of these drug laws, as a consequence, were put in place. Today, a significant percentage of prisoners are incarcerated because of breaking drug laws. However, the most dangerous, devastating, and ignored drug ever known to man continues to be whitewashed. I am referring to the drug alcohol. Alcohol continues to be the drug of choice of many. We are told that alcohol abuse amounts to more human and property waste than all other drug abuse combined. Many religionists insist that alcohol when not taken to the excess is acceptable (Eph. 5: 18, see addendum for additional information). In this material, we shall study one of the most powerful biblical texts that addresses strong drink, Proverbs 23: 29-35. The passage reads as follows:

     "29: Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? 30: They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 31: Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. 32: At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.  33: Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. 34: Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. 35: They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again."

     Let us now carefully examine the passage to determine the teaching and necessary application. However, just a cursory reading should have informed one of the grief and shame associated with strong drink.

     A brief exegesis of verse twenty-nine. The Wise Man asked a series of probing questions to ascertain the correct position relative to strong drink. The first inquiry is, "Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow?" The Hebrew lemi oi and lemi aboi (hath woe and sorrow) involves two interjections of pain and grief. God does not want man to be unhappy. To the converse, God desires that we be fulfilled and happy (Jn. 13: 17, I Pet. 3: 10, 11, Prov. 23: 21-23). The way of transgressors is hard, wrote the Wise Man (Prov. 13: 15). Man's happiness, however, is conditional (I Pet. 3: 10, 11).

     The writer then asks, "Who hath contentions?" Beloved, it is an indisputable fact that "wine" (see addendum) often leads to contentions and strife (see Prov. 20: 1). Many murders and assaults have been precipitated by alcohol. Keep in mind that our beer is about the equivalent of the strong drink of the Bible. He continues by asking, "Who hath babbling?" The idea of the Hebrew "siach" seems to be "thoughts of regret." The drinker often complains about his lot in life. Often, the whining of the drunk is repulsive. "Who hath wounds without cause?," he then probes. These wounds are not necessary and, doubtless, would have not been experienced, had it not been for the influence of alcohol. Perhaps these wounds are the result and product of the referenced "contentions." Last of all, he asks, "Who hath redness of eyes?" The King James Version understands the Hebrew (chakliluth) to refer to bloodshot eyes. The Hebrew is also capable of meaning "darkness or dimness of sight." Regardless of the understanding of chakliluth, the reference is to visual physical results when the stimulant reaches and influences the brain.

     An examination of verse thirty. Verse thirty contains the answer to the question raised in verse twenty-nine. "They that tarry long at the wine, they that seek mixed wine," is the answer to those experiencing sorrow, contentions, babbling, wounds, and redness of the eyes. The Septuagint Version has, "Those who hunt out where carousals are taking place" (cp. I Pet. 4: 3). Some use this verse in an effort to prove that the Bible does not condemn a controlled social use, but that it only prohibits the abuse or drunkenness (see next verse).

     A closer look at verse thirty-one. The Pulpit Commentary observes: "The wine of Palestine was chiefly 'red,' though what we call white wine was not unknown" (Vol. 9, pg. 445). Verse thirty-one contains the remedy for all the ills of alcohol. It is a practical and feasible solution, one that anyone can practice. When I was a small boy my mother took me to the local jail. I visited a prisoner who was being held for attempted murder. He was a nice young man who did not seem to possess any tendency at all toward violence. He told me, "Don, stay away from alcohol, I did not and it has ruined my life!" Here is the solution offered by inspiration: "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright." Liquor often involves a culture or atmosphere that appeals to our senses. There is the general atmosphere, the appearance of the substance, and the taste, all of these sensations are alluring and enticing to those who will be mislead by strong drink.

     The teaching and remedy is do not even place yourself in the position of coming in visual contact with strong drink (total abstinence, as far as the matter being discussed).

     An examination of verse Thirty-two. Wine helps the consumer "forget his problems" and experience an euphoric state of mind. Strong drink often temporarily replaces sadness with "gladness" However, wine is a deceiver: "At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stringeth like an adder." Wine, in other words, is deceitful (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). In stead of being visually moved by the appearance of liquor, one should see liquor as the deadly venom of the adder or poisonous snake.

     An exposition of verse thirty-three. Another product of strong drink is, "Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things." Man's judgement and sense of right and wrong are blurred when under the influence. As a result of strong drink, adultery and a corrupt heart often are experienced (I Cor. 6: 9, 10, Prov. 4: 23). Some translate the Hebrew with the neuter; hence, the rendering "Thine eyes shall behold strange things…." However, many scholars prefer, in view of the general tenor of the teachings and phraseology of Proverbs, "strange or unlawful women." The Septuagint reads: "When thou eyes shall see a strange woman, then thy mouth shall speak perverse things."

     Alcohol has probably been the cause of more marital infidelity than all other influences combined. Many children have ended up facing a broken home or subjected to violence and terrible insecurity because of wine.

     The teaching of verse thirty-four. The language, "Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast" is describing the real dangers that surround the person under the influence. Strong drink offers a false state of security and safety, even in the presence of actual life-threatening dangers (cp. I Cor. 10: 12). Hence, the drinker does not think he has a problem and needs to make changes.

     The final verse, verse thirty-five. A better rendering of the original is, "They have strickened…and I was not hurt" (ASV). The warnings of pain are silenced due to the dulling affects of alcohol. The expression, "I will seek it again" is indicative of the determination of the drinker to return to the bottle, even though he knows the bottle will only bring complication, shame, and misery.

     Beloved, other than the careful medicinal use of alcohol, there is no good associated with strong drink (see I Tim. 5: 23). The warning of the text is: Do not even come in visual contact with the substance! (vs. 31). Countless lives are ruined everyday because of alcohol and children needlessly suffer the consequences of strong drink, often before they are even born. It is the height of hypocrisy that we condemn other drugs and the worse drug of all is ignored. Also, in view of the plain teaching of Proverbs 23: 29-35, it is unbelievable how some insist that Jesus turned water into strong drink (instead of juice from the grape) and thus provided a drunken orgy (Jn. 2: 1-11, 10, click on, "Jesus' First Miracle" to read more).

     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). 

     Regarding shakar in Deuteronomy 14: 26, many translations do translate shakar "strong drink."  However, some have "similar drink" (see the New King James). There is obviously an intended distinction being made between the "wine" and "shakar." The question is, what is the distinction. Is God not only allowing intoxicating drink but actually telling them to go buy it when God considers strong drink something concerning which man is to totally avoid (Prov. 23: 31)?

     I believe the harmonious answer to the distinction between "wine" and "shakar" in Deuteronomy 14: 26 is seen in the celebrated scholar Patton's work, Bible Wines, pg.. 62: "Shakar (sometimes written shechar, shekar) signifies sweet drink expressed from fruits other than the grape and drunk in an unfermented or fermented state. It occurs in the Old Testament
twenty-three times...."  Since God prohibited the unnatural fermentation of juices for simple human intoxication, I must understand shakar in Deuteronomy 14: 26 to simply mean unfermented or sweet juices other than juice from the grape. Deuteronomy 14 26, then, would be a case of shakar being used for sweet juice other than juice from the grape ("similar drink," NKJV).

     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.