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LIFE > Life in the World > Drinkers of Wine > Abuse of Wine > Warnings in the OT


“Wine (yayin) is a mocker; strong drink (shekar) is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). In this Old Testament verse, the wise king, Solomon, issues a concise and clear warning concerning drink. An understanding of several words clarifies the message of the verse:

By the word “mocker” the writer means either that the wine mocks and taunts the one who foolishly succumbs to it or that the wine makes a mocker of one who drinks too much.

The word “brawler (AV translates “brawler” as “raging”) either implies that a fighter is made of the one who takes too much “strong drink” or that the “strong drink” has the power to destroy and drag down; the Hebrew word speaks of that which is “tumultuous” or “boisterous.” Excessive drinking leads to unacceptable behavior, a loud mouth and a foolish fight.

To be “led astray” (AV: “deceived”) speaks of going down the wrong path, of being more and more under the influence of drink, of being overtaken, of being overpowered. Drink never gives what it seemingly promises to the one who is vain and uncontrolled and willing to indulge.

The one who surrenders to its full potential is “not wise,” meaning either that it is not smart to become intoxicated, or that the intoxicated person does not behave properly or wisely.

The trust of this verse seems to be what the wine does to the person who drinks too much; conduct is affected, for the drink allows the baser part of man to rise, as inhibitions are lowered. Improper drink of wine adversely impacts the mind and the actions. Both yayin and shekar can bring one to this state.

“Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” (Prov. 21:17). Pleasure and enjoyment are not evil in themselves, for God “gives us richly all things to enjoy” (II Tim. 66:17). But it is the “love” of pleasure that is improper. To live for good times is wrong. One’s attitude toward life is to be framed by the proper perspective.

“Wine and oil” speak of extravagance and expensive feasting. In the context the words speak of a selfish indulgence. Wine was the drink of feasts, and oil was used in anointing the body. To use wine and oil is acceptable; to love them (live for them) is to have misplaced affection. The love of wine will keep one from being industrious, and in that way it will take a person’s money. It may keep one from doing the necessary things of life.

“Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Prov. 23:20-21; NKJV: “Do not mix with winebibbers”; see: Matt. 24:49). You become like those you are around. This is a warning against keeping company with those who drink or eat too much; it leads to poverty and laziness. The one filled with too much wine or food, or one who is fat and drunk, has no desire to do what needs to be done. The person is characterized by sloth (Prov. 24:30-34). Gratification of the flesh is the only desire for winebibbers and gluttons.

The most dramatic warning in the Old Testament is found in Proverbs 23:29-35:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine (yayin); those who go to try mixed wine (mimsak). Do not look at wine (yayin) when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink” (Prov. 23:29-35).

These verses in chapter twenty-three speak of the dangers of drinking wine without moderation, not only wine, but “mixed wine” (mimsak; word appears twice in the OT and speaks of wine enhanced or mixed with spices). Woe, sorrow, strife, complaints, wounds, redness of eyes, and drunken stupor are the price of overindulgence. That which should be a healthful refreshing drink becomes a drink that bites and stings because the drinker has no discipline.

You must control the use of it, or it will destroy you. God’s gift of wine becomes a curse, not because of God, not because of the wine, but because of the individual and his lack of control in drinking wine. There comes a time when you “do not look,” a time when you must resist the allurement, the “sparkle” and the “smoothness.” There is a time to say: “No”; there is a time to stop. If you can’t stop, don’t start.

God has given much for man to enjoy, and all things should be used properly. Not only wine, but all of God’s gifts are to be used in moderation. In all areas of life there is to be temperance. Be able to deny yourself; be able to exercise control. There is no prohibition against drinking in these verses, just a solemn warning against drinking too much. This passage cannot be taken alone. It must be read and interpreted against the total background of the Biblical teaching regarding wine in the everyday life of the people. Wine could be used, but it was not to be abused. The warning is clear! Evil indeed it is for a person to live only to “seek another drink” (Prov. 23:35).

Isaiah speaks of those who have wine in their feasts but “do not regard the work of the Lord”; they “rise early in morning that they may follow intoxicating drink (shekar)” and “continue until night, till wine (yayin) inflames them” (5:11-12). Their thirst and pursuit of drink results in drunkenness; they are inflamed. The feasting and revelry become all consuming. No consideration is given to the deeds of the Lord. It is possible for drink to take away one’s heart from the things of God (see: 22:12-14). To live for drink is to be addicted; to follow it day and night is for wine to become a curse. There is no control because there is no fear of the Lord.

Also a “woe” is pronounced on men who are “mighty at drinking wine (yayin)” and “valiant for mixing intoxicating (shekar)” but “justify the wicked for a bribe and take away justice from the righteous man” (5:22-23). Some are more devoted to indulgence than to doing and defending what is right. Excessive drinking makes one more susceptible to bribery and the obstruction of justice. Wine can cloud one’s thinking and actions (see: Hos. 4:11, where “enslave” literally means “to take away” the ability to think properly).

Isaiah describes the effect of wine on the body when he speaks of the “drunkards of Ephraim” and says that their “glorious beauty is a fading flower”; this happens to those who are “overcome with wine (yayin)” (28:1, 3-4). That which was “glorious” is transformed by drink into something “fading.” It makes no difference that Ephraim is “at the head of the verdant valley” (v. 4). God can and does turn that which is appealing into that which is repulsive.

Through Habakkuk, God issues a “woe” to the one “who gives drink to his neighbor,” pressing him to the bottle, “even to make him drunk” in order to be able to “look on his nakedness” (2:15). Such a one is “filled with shame instead of glory” (v. 16). It is a disgrace to do such a thing, and the perpetrator will be similarly judged. God says: “You also—drink! And be exposed as uncircumcised!” (v. 16). To the one who gives his neighbor drink in order to expose his nakedness, God will give that one drink and expose his uncircumcision. The one who maliciously gives his neighbor drink will experience God’s anger, for “the cup of the Lord’s right hand will be turned against you” (v. 16). In the context the Chaldeans are being described and warned, but the words are to be considered by everyone.

Incidents of drunkenness are recorded in the Old Testament: Noah (Gen. 9:21-24), Lot (Gen. 19:31-38), Nabal (I Sam. 25:36), Elah (I Ki. 16:8-9), Benhadad (I Ki. 20:16), and Ephraim (Isa. 28:1, 3).

Incidents of probable drunkenness are mentioned in the Old Testament: Ammnon (II Sam. 13:28), Ahasuerus (Esther 1:10-11), Belshazzar (Dan. 5:1; also his lords, wives, and concubines, vs. 2-4, 23), and the Babylonians (Hab. 2:5).

Note on the Rechabites – The refusal of the Rechabites to drink was based upon their desire to live a nomadic life, not upon their perception of its evil potential if abused. To drink wine implied a settled lifestyle, the building of houses and the planting of vineyards—a commitment to the land. Drinking wine necessitated that one be a permanent resident of the land. Their days were to be spent in tents, not houses. They had been commanded by Jonadab:

You shall drink no wine (yayin), you nor your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners (Jer. 35:6-7).

To Jeremiah the Rechabites said: “Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab . . . to drink no wine (yayin) all our days . . . nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed. But we have dwelt in tents” (vs. 8-10). The Rechabites were obedient to the commands of their fathers. For this obedience God commends them.

The obedience of the Rechabites was in sharp contrast to Israel who did not obey God even though He had sent His servants, the prophets, warning and exhorting them.

Wine has been the ruin of many . . .
Bitterness to the soul is much drinking of wine . . .
Drunkenness increases the anger of a foolish man to his injury.
Ecclesiasticus 31:25, 29, 30

More are drowned in the wine-cup than in the ocean.
German Proverb

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