As we stated yesterday, substance abuse isn’t limited to sleazy back alleys; you can find addiction almost anywhere. The penthouse suite owned by the high roller, nice homes where small children play, efficient offices where business is regularly transacted, military barracks where boredom reigns, professional sports teams where competition is fierce and money is plentiful—the problem knows no economic or social boundaries. This, however, isn’t a recent phenomenon. Centuries ago, Solomon spoke to the issue. Despite his privileged position among the politically powerful and intellectually gifted, his writings reflect firsthand exposure. Solomon apparently either suffered addiction personally at some level, or he witnessed the condition in those close to him.
He personified alcohol as an abusive thug:
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise. (20:1)
While at first Solomon appeared to target the substance, a closer look shows that he, in fact, took aim at addiction. Neither wine nor strong drink is inherently evil. In fact, wine was a necessary part of daily life in ancient times. This fermented grape juice contained alcohol, which kills harmful bacteria. Poured over a wound, it prevented infection. Mixed with water, it destroyed parasites. Consumed with a meal, it reduced the likelihood of food poisoning. For these reasons, Paul urged Timothy to consume wine in moderation for the sake of his health (1 Timothy 5:23). Up until the 1800s, when municipal water supplies first became safe to drink, everyone in the family—children included—drank wine . . . in moderation. Responsibly!
“Strong drink,” however, was different. Also called “sweet wine,” this beverage contained substantially more alcohol than what many cultures called “table wine.” The makers of strong drink learned that mixing grapes with dried dates or pomegranates before fermentation yielded a drink that packs a bigger mind-altering punch. The same process worked for brewing strong beer, fermented from barley and then mixed with high-sugar fruit to produce higher alcohol content.
The key term in this proverb is the Hebrew word rendered “intoxicated,” which may not be the best translation. The original verb means “to go astray, to err, to fail.” The primary emphasis is to sin inadvertently, either through ignorance or by accident. In this context, wine and strong drink seduce their victim as a harlot entices a lover (Proverbs 5:20, 23). Moreover, this proverb implies that the sin is not merely one instance of drunkenness, but a downward direction in lifestyle. “Wine” and “strong drink” stand for addiction or compulsion. Therefore, the intoxication may not be merely the effects of alcohol on the brain but the influence of addiction on one’s life.
From Living the Proverbs by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired., an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.