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Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Alcohol abuse in this country is appalling. Recently Ann Landers reported on some statistics put out by The National Council of Alcoholism. They make for disturbing reading.

1. Alcohol is America’s No. 1, drug problem among youth. (In 1985, an estimated 4.6 million adolescents, ages 14 through 17, experienced negative consequences of alcohol —arrest, involvement in an accident, impairment of health or job performance.) 

2. Alcohol is twice as popular among college students as the next leading drug, marijuana, and more than five times as popular as cocaine . . . . 

4. The earlier in life a child starts using any dependence-producing drug, the more likely he or she is to experience health problems, and go on to use other drugs. 

5. About 10,000 young people aged 16 to 24 are killed each year in alcohol-related accidents, including drowning, suicides, violent injuries, homicides and fire injuries. 

6. Alcohol-related highway deaths are the No. 1 killer of 15-to 24-year-olds. 

7. Nearly 100,000 10-and 11-year-olds reported getting drunk at least once a week in 1985. . . . 

10. A child will see alcohol consumed an average of 75,000 times on TV before he or she is of legal drinking age. 

11. Drinking differences between boys and girls are diminishing. (The number of young female drinkers has been increasing more rapidly than the number of young male drinkers. Girls also tend now to experiment with a wider variety of substances . . . .)

Drunkenness is not a modern problem. The Scriptures have a lot to say about it, and it is worth our while to examine some of these Scriptural passages.

Scripture surely makes clear that this sin of drunkenness was common in the church throughout her history. It was not the kind of sin one found exclusively or even primarily in the world. The prophet Amos points to how common the sin was in Israel by castigating the rich women for enticing their husbands to join them in drinking (Amos 4:1), and by condemning the ease and luxury of the people in the prosperous days of Jeroboam II by accusing them, among other things, of drinking wine in bowls (Amos 6:6).

We all know of Noah’s sin of drunkenness, of Nabal’s drunkenness on the night when God killed him (I Sam. 25:36), how David made Uriah drunk (II Sam. 11:13), how drunkenness was common in the palace even during David’s rule (II Sam. 13:28), how drunkenness characterized many of the kings of Israel (I Kings 16:9) and foreign kings (I Kings 20:16), and of how it was common in Israel as a whole (Is. 28:1).

The Scriptures often speak of the effects of drunkenness. Drunken people stagger about (Job 12:25,Ps. 107:27) even sometimes in their own vomit (Is. 19:14). Not a very pretty picture is painted by Isaiah in Isaiah 28:7, 8: “But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clear.”

Scripture often connects adultery and fornication with drunkenness as two sins which often go hand in hand—and experience proves how true this is. Hosea 4:11speaks of God saying to His people: “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.” And in a particularly forceful passage, Solomon says the same thing, while describing the wretchedness of drunkenness: “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” (Prov. 23:29-35). No wonder that Solomon calls wine a mocker and strong drink a raging; and only the fool is deceived by it (Prov. 20:1).

The Scriptures warn repeatedly against this great sin and speak of terrible judgments which come to them who commit it. “Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!” (Is. 5:11). “Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink” (Isaiah 5:22).

The New Testament especially contains such warnings. Jesus, in speaking of the calling of God’s people to watch and pray lest the coming of the Lord take them by surprise, especially mentions drunkenness as a sin which can easily keep us from our calling: “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares” (Luke 21:34).

We have specific injunctions against drunkenness in Scripture. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess” (Eph. 5:18). Paul includes drunkenness with such works of the flesh as adultery, fornication, idolatry, and other terrible sins (Gal. 19-21), and emphatically states that those who are guilty of such sins “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” That ought to give us pause. It is not possible for a drunkard to inherit the kingdom of God. He goes to hell. Paul even tells the Corinthians (I Cor. 5:11) not to have anything to do with one who is called a brother but who is a drunkard: “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”

There are times when Scripture uses drunkenness in a metaphorical sense. It pictures God’s people as being sober, while the world is drunk. The idea is that wickedness is a kind of spiritual drunkenness which makes it impossible for a man to tell what is real and what is illusory. He staggers about falling off the path, goes crashing through the underbrush, stumbles over rocks and finally plunges into hell. But the child of God is sober. He knows what reality is. He knows that this world with all its pleasures will pass away, that Christ is coming again, that he must walk the straight, though narrow, path that leads to glory. He refuses to drink deeply at the cup of this world’s pleasures and refuses to become entangled in the pursuit of earthly riches. His goal is heaven, and sobriety is required to walk the road that leads to his Father’s house. I Thess. 5:6-9 is particularly graphic: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others: but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is an imposing list of texts which deal with the sin of drunkenness. Scripture does not take the matter lightly. It condemns the sin in the strongest possible way. It bars drunkards from the kingdom of heaven. It refuses to allow God’s people to associate with them even if they are called a brother. It compares drunkenness with the spiritual character of the ungodly world which goes to hell. It is, therefore, a sin from which God’s people ought to flee with all the horror that comes from contemplating an eternity under the fierce wrath of God.