Proverbs 23:29 – 35: “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. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. 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. 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.”
On the heels of a warning to beware of transgressions laced with whores and strange women (verses 26-28) the teacher of wise words next warns wisdom-seekers to beware of certain effects and transgressions entwined with wine, e.g., “woe” . . . “sorrow” . . . “contentions” . . . “babbling” . . . the “wounds” of drunken misfortune, or, better yet, the “wounds” of drunken destiny. Oh yeah . . . don’t forget the bleary, “redness of eyes.” Hangover, hello!
These wise words are relevant to our culture. The United States is haunted by alcohol. Why? Because of sinful, inordinate alcohol consumption. This haunting goes back to our origins, e.g., Alexander Hamilton in 1790 voiced his concerns regarding inordinate consumption: “The consumption of ardent spirits particularly, no doubt very much on account of their cheapness, is carried to an extreme . . .” He proposed what we now refer to as the “Whiskey Tax”, and it ticked off a bunch of folks. Ever heard of the Whiskey Rebellion? Fast-forward a 120 years: Amendment XVIII made it illegal to produce/sell alcoholic beverages. Fast-forward another 15 years: Amendment XXI repealed Amendment XVIII.
We are a Nation haunted by spirits.
Contrary to the Temperance Movement and her card-carrying teetotalers, the above proverb is not a proof-text for alcoholic abstinence. Not in the least. The warning in verse 30 is against those who “tarry long” at the wine! This proverb, therefore, assumes the wise will tarry with wine–tarry means “to wait or stay temporarily.”
Drinking wine or beer or whiskey or whatever weird mixed drink concoction meets your fancy is not ethically problematic. What is ethically problematic, according to this proverb, is if one tarries at wine for a long time. As the author(s) of the study notes of the Reformation Heritage Study Bible point out, the phrase “tarry long” in verse 30 means to “Stay, loiter, implying drinking over a period of time resulting in drunkenness.” Thus, the warning is clearly against certain effects of wine-seeking, not wine-seeking in itself.
On the one hand, there is a wise, moderate way to drink wine, and it will always be sober and righteous, but, on the other hand, there is a foolish, immoderate way to drink wine–the unrighteous fog of buzzedrunkenness induced halation.
The wisdom-teacher warns that the fool who drinks excessively and immoderately may fall into grave transgressions: drunken, inordinate desire may reign over ones eyes and heart. And here the wisdom-teacher shows that there is a parallel and oftentimes a link between this proverb and the prior proverb–so be warned! The man prone to tarrying long with wine will not be able to exercise the faculties of wisdom or discernment, and his discipline will relax and his eyes may behold a strange woman. Entwined with wine, he may fall into transgressions laced with whores and strange women.
Reality again and again proves the warning true. Fornication, adultery, porn, or bizarre virtual-sex-stuff are often a bedfellow of sin soaked, wine soaked stupor.
God doesn’t merely warn us to not tarry long at wine. God positively instructs all Christians through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” If you drink wine (or whatever alcoholic drink meets your fancy), you have to ask yourself, “Self, have I tarried too long with wine? Self, am I suffering from the woe, the contention, the babbling, and the wounds of drunkenness? Self, have I obeyed God’s warnings here regarding wine consumption, found in the Book of Proverbs, in the figurative Book of Wise Words about Wine, written by the author who is the God of Wine?”
If you have been playing the part of the drunk, then confess your sin and knock it off. Push the bottle away when it ought and needs-be pushed away. Lean into God’s grace; lean into and learn from God’s Word and exercise some Spirit-worked self control and obey God’s command.
Yet, it isn’t enough to drink and not get drunk. Anything you drink, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, you must drink to the glory of God, as Paul commanded the Corinthians. So, perhaps you personally don’t have a problem with the sin of drunkenness, but you may still be struggling with sin– it may be that you merely drink, but you do so with total disregard for the glory of God. You drink without gratitude; you drink merely to quench your thirst, and in your carelessness you make your heart more and more parched. If that’s the case, then confess that glory-robbing sin, and knock it off. Cultivate gratitude, irrigate your heart and soul one sip at a time.
How to learn to do that? It’s easy! Listen to Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, week-to-week, corporately disciples believers to eat and drink for the glory of God. At the Lord’s Table week-to-week we are trained together to drink wine for God’s glory. Eucharist — meaning “thanksgiving”– is a type of elementary grammar. “Thanksgiving” is our grammar, the basic building blocks for daily Christian belief and life. Spirit-worked drinking at the Lord’s Table for God’s Glory strengthens and supports us. Empowered by the Spirit, then we can go home, or to other people’s homes, or into the eateries and brewpubs of [whatever town or city you hail from], and drink tasty, nutritious and delicious drinks to the Glory of the God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, who just so happens to also be the Lord of wine, the Lord of beer, the Lord of chocolate milk, and the Lord of us.
But just remember what Christ said: “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19). Even if you drink moderately for the glory of God, a dour, glory-forsaker may castigate you. But don’t just roll your eyes. If timely and compelling, consider what they have to say. Turn the accusation — the warning, the argument — over in your mind . . . Is your conscience clear? Did it reaffirm that you drink in moderation for God’s glory? If so, then don’t let it deter you from the glass and glory to be ascribed to God that is at hand.
Postscript: Everything liquid tastes better from a Tervis Tumbler.