There is a growing amount of discussion about the use of alcohol in Christian circles these days. I was asked to explain the following passage for a person and felt that my personal answer to them might be of help to others as well.

These comments don’t bring in many other issues which can be discussed such as the danger of encouraging a person to drink who has a weakness in being tempted to get drunk and of course the need of every action we take to be motivated by love, aiming at self-control, and the purpose of glorifying God. My comments focus on this one passage but I think can help us to muse about this topic.

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, 5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted. 6 Give strong drink to him who is perishing, And wine to him whose life is bitter. 7 Let him drink and forget his poverty And remember his trouble no more. [Pro 31:4-7 NASB]

What is clear is that those who are rulers of the state, the church, or the family need to be in sober mind when they reign for if are not sober they may abuse their power and afflict those they are called by duty to protect, serve, and provide care.

The command here is to those who see people in either a time near death or great depression to provide hospitality and love. Now this would have included the use of alcohol (wine and strong drink) in a Jewish culture. In the context it would be the “afflicted” whose rights will be violated with a ruler who used alcohol in excess. The contrast is that there can be a proper use of alcohol in a medical or social context to relieve the pain and pressure of dying or depressed souls. This is administered not by the person themselves but by a person who has come to be of comfort and care to the one in such sad conditions. There is a social context to this drinking.

If we look at more scriptures on strong drink we find that those who were in charge of the worship of the Lord and set apart to the service of the Lord were discouraged from the use of strong drink. Part of the “rejoicing tithe” during the national celebrations and feasts of Israel was to be used on strong drink as a way to experience the blessing of God. Yet to become intoxicated by this drink is not the way of wisdom. To develop a lifestyle where the use of wine and strong drink becomes a normal way of dealing with the struggles and responsibilities of existence is to come under the curse (Woe) of God. Focus is found in the prophets, that those in leadership and spiritual service should be very cautious and moderate in their use of wine and strong drink. [1] Drunkenness is not endorsed or encouraged in the broader context of the Hebrew scriptures. (I list some key passsages at the end of this articile.)

Perhaps one of the best ways for us to look at this would be through a teaching of the Messiah Jesus.

“12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” [Luk 14:12-14 NASB]

In a Jewish culture when one had a celebration and gathered friends there normally was wine and strong drink. However, there was also a culture that had a taboo against drunkenness. The level of alcohol in many of these drinks would have been far less than today because of the improvement in modern distilling methods. However, the point is that here we see an application of Proverbs 31:6,7 in which an outreach to the needy is really at the heart of the teaching. To provide a practical and social support for those hurting from the illness, handicap, and poverty of living “East of Eden”.

We know that Jesus used such social occasions to preach the gospel and lead people to forgiveness, repentance, and faith. So the focus of such “redemptive parties” would be to help people understand the love and grace of God. That God is generous and gracious would be the theme of such gatherings. So such events should be seen as “gospel parties.” These “gospel parties” would have dangers in them and we see that Jesus’ practice of such social events did not go without criticism.

18 “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” [Mat 11:18-19 NASB]

It should be noted that John the Baptist was called to a ministry in which there was no use of alcohol and Jesus the Messiah particapated in social events as part of his ministry in which drinking occurred. Both served God faithfully and Messiah Jesus has only the strongest praise for John. We therefore, must allow freedom but one that is aimed as seeking first the kingdom of God and righteousness (Matthew 6:33)

In conclusion, my thinking would be that in modern culture we now have medications that handle a number of these physical and emotional states more effectively than alcohol. Hospice has drugs that can deaden pain for the dying better than alcohol and anti-depressants are more effective than strong drink in dealing with hopelessness of heart. This passage would clearly support the use of such drugs for the help of the hurting in both cases.

In order to not have scripture contradict scripture or even proverbs to contradict proverbs we cannot understand these passages as promoting drunkenness or the abuse of alcohol in excess. So while the proverbs, which are poetic at this point in describing the affect of alcohol on the poor might lead us to think that we are being called to give drink to hurting people until they pass out, this type of interpretation would seem to be out of the line with the larger tone of scripture and Jewish culture.

The key to the passage is that the afflicted are to be loved, protected, comforted, and supported. They are not to drink themselves into oblivion, but to be invited to the hospitality of the homes of those who are at the moment in a better state than they are and given drink and food in the context of respect and love. By doing this we live out the gospel in which we have been invited into God’s gospel feast at no cost. This was a call to practical social compassion to the hurting not an encouragement for a lawless use of strong drink to get drunk.

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(1) 9 “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die–it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations– [Lev 10:9 NASB]

3 he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. [Num 6:3 NASB]

26 “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. [Deu 14:26 NASB]

1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise. [Pro 20:1 NASB]

11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! … 22 Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink, [Isa 5:11, 22 NASB]

7 And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, They are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; They reel while having visions, They totter when rendering judgment. [Isa 28:7 NASB]