“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” So spake the wisest of all mere human beings. Solomon in Proverbs 20:1 warned his son, and all who read the book of Proverbs, against being deceived by wine and strong drinks. And he did so at a time when men did not know of the damage that alcohol does to the brain, liver, and blood vessels. Those few moments of fleshly pleasure that wine and strong drinks give are soon changed into years of suffering of that same flesh and a hastening of the day of death. Such also is the mockery of wine. And although this aspect was not known then, and comes to light through more recent scientific and medical research of the human body, its member’s functions and diseases, Solomon knew that wine mocks and strong drink brings raging.
Solomon also knew that any man deceived by wine and strong drinks is not wise. He knew that it gets man into troubles and shame. He knew that it would make the normally meek and quiet boisterous and noisy. The word raging as used by Solomon has the root meaning of noisy. Alcohol taken internally removes man’s inhibitions and moves him to louder speech not only but raucous laughter. And those who are sober and watch the intoxicated add to the noise with their laughter. Then there are the broken objects, the tables and chairs overturned by the clumsy, staggering walk that add to the din.
Many years after Solomon penned down these words, and in a land far from where he wrote them, a king, whose duty it was to rule the people of his land, was ruled by wine to bring scorn and shame upon himself, yea even contempt. Of this we read in the first chapter of the book of Esther. Ahasuerus, a powerful king who ruled over one hundred and twenty provinces from India to Ethiopia, willingly subjected himself to the power of wine and let himself be ruled by it, and revealed himself as one who is not wise. For he invited the scorn and contempt that followed and opened the door to noisy contempt and wrath among the women throughout his vast domain. He asked for it, and it took some swift drastic action to stem it.
Ahasuerus could hardly be listed as a typical antichrist, even though he ruled a large portion of the world as it was then known. He did definitely, as is true of all unbelievers, have antichristian ambitions. His realm though vast did not include all men of that day. He was, at the very time that the incident recorded in Esther 1 took place, preparing for war against Greece, which did not belong to his realm. He wanted to annex Greece, and in that sense had antichristian ambitions and did want to rule over all nations, tongues, and tribes, as the Antichrist will do for a brief period of time.
For half a year—one hundred and eighty days, or six months of thirty days each—Ahasuerus held feasts. We must not think of one prolonged feast, but rather of a series of feasts that took one hundred and eighty days to complete as planned. We may note that to these feasts were invited all his princes, nobles, and servants, who in Esther 1:3 are called “the power of Persia and Media.” These were the men through whom he ruled those one hundred and twenty-seven provinces. And it would hardly be safe to call them all at one time to Shushan to stay there and feast for half a year! This would invite too much insurrection and revolt in the provinces, where people who were neither Medes nor Persians seethed under their subjection, had passions that were inflamed, and resented being ruled by a “foreigner,” that is, not one of their own men. Much wiser it would be to have these princes come at different times and a few at a time.
At the end the king makes one grand celebration that included all the people in his capital city. Perhaps he was so pleased with the results of his feasts that he was moved to schedule this feast of all feasts in celebration of seeming success. For the purpose of these former feasts is pointed out in Esther 1:4: “. . .he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty.” This indicates, first of all, that these princes and servants either did not know of this riches and honour, or that the king feared that they did not know them. So they must come to Shushan to learn first hand. They must feast with the king to experience it and go home with a good impression of him as a great king! He is, and for four years was, preparing for war with Greece. He needs desperately the co-operation of these princes.
These feasts were then for propaganda purposes. Not only were they designed to create a good impression of the king but also to discourage any ideas that might lead to revolt and insurrection while his armies were occupied with fighting Greece. There must be no domestic warfare while he fights a foreign nation. The princes must give wholehearted support to him and not dare to take advantage of him when his hands are tied in war with Greece. He needed also their co-operation to supply him with men.
The feast at the end of this period of displaying his riches and honour to the princes of the 127 provinces was a lavish one. The decorations were carefully chosen as far as color and material are concerned. Gold, silver, and fine linen were used. Marble with blue and red lines, but also marble with white and black designs in them were chosen for an attractive floor for the beds of gold. Among the drinking vessels there was no monotony. Although all were of gold they were all different patterns. This may reflect the various provinces with their different cultures and art styles. All this would impress the princes of his riches and honour. And by the beds we are to understand reclining couches for eating purposes. Their tables were not as high as ours. There was no sitting on chairs to eat but reclining on the left side. The feet were far from the table and not under it. The head and arms were closest. They took it easy when they ate and drank. In our hustle and bustle of our hectic life-style, meals are not a relaxing moment, but we cater to the fast foods industry and eat our food on the run, as it were. Here they took time and relaxed at the table.
Wine was used in abundance, and to excess. The only law concerning wine was that every man should do according to his own pleasure. There were no scheduled toasts as in the previous feasts during the 180 day period. There were not set times when the wine vessels would be refilled. A man had merely to wave his empty vessel and servants would come swiftly to fill it. Or else officers kept an eye on the vessels, and as soon as a vessel was seen to be half empty it would be refilled. Wine flowed freely. And it was good wine. It was royal wine, or, if you will, wine fit for a king. The same word royal we find in verses 7-11 which speaks of the royal house and royal crown. It was wine that men did not get the opportunity to drink every day. It was superior to the average lot of wine and usual grade of it. One would be tempted to want his cup refilled and to take full advantage of this treat which soon enough would come to an end.
The king also indulged beyond what his capacity for wine was. And we read that his heart was merry with wine. In other words the king had an artificial sensation of well-being. It was one that came out of a drinking vessel, not one beating within a joyful confident heart. He was not merry because of good health and a soul free from troubles. He was, as Solomon suggests, deceived by wine to feel good when he had no good reason for such a sense of well-being. He had reason to be weary of all the celebrating and to be bored by it all. After all that eating and drinking, his psychological as well as physical condition was not what a man who eats and drinks in moderation would know. Of his physical condition and all the cares and anxieties of so vast and varied a domain he lost sight momentarily because of his imbibing of too much wine. You may be sure that the officers saw to it that his drinking vessel never got even half empty.
He was by wine deceived into believing that he had made a better impression on the princes than was warranted. He, with all the affairs of the State resting heavily on his shoulders, could feel merry! And verse 10 says it was due to wine. It declares that when his heart was merry with wine, when the wine began to take its effect, he began to be merry. Plainly the meaning is that before this his heart was not merry. And plain from the statement is also that it was wine that made the change.
Up to this moment that king had wisely kept the men and the women separate. We read in verse 9 that Vashti the queen made a separate feast for the women. Up to that time he was strictly business and with men who did his business. It was his riches as king and his honour as ruler of such a vast domain that had occupied his thoughts and his time. But the more wine he drank the further all his business as king flowed away on a sea of alcohol.
And now his thoughts center on himself and his own personal life. He begins to think of his own private riches consisting in the unusually beautiful wife that he had obtained. He wished to display her before the princes and to all the people of the city. And to make sure that all get the point that he is making, she must come with the royal crown. This will associate her with him and make it clear that this is his property and his riches. He wants all to be sure that this honour is also conferred upon him.
Instead by wine he was deceived, for it moved him to set the stage for all the good impressions that he had made with the princes and nobles to vanish in a matter of a few moments. He who wanted all to know how well he could rule showed that he could not rule his own wife! He was not as big a man as he wanted others to believe. He was not as rich as he tried to display. His own wife did not honour him, and what he thought was a rich possession was shown to be that on which he did not have a firm grip and had slipped away from him. He had shown his strong points, and wine moved him to behave in such a way that his weak points stood out in bold relief.
No, he was not stone drunk. He had not lost control of his members to stumble and fall off his seat and throne. Outwardly he appeared to be sober. He could handle that wine. But his thinking processes were not only slowed down, they were affected to give warped judgment. A man intoxicated to the point of what we call drunkenness is beyond what the king was. He became furious in his anger. We read that he was “very wroth, and his anger burned in him” (Esther 1:12). This a fully drunken man cannot do. This ought to warn us, and we had better be on our guard that wine does not deceive us into thinking otherwise, that long before one begins to stagger and slur one’s words, it warps one’s judgment, slows down one’s reflexes, impairs one’s judgment, AND WE ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL long before we are completely overpowered by it. You do not have to be drunk to be under the influence of alcohol. It deceives also in this respect that it leads a man to think that he still has control of himself. It already controls that portion of the brain that would otherwise warn us that all is not well.
Let us beware of false joys and of seeking joy artificially out of a bottle or cup. Instead look to that of which wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper speaks, for true, lasting joy, that has no aftertaste, no hangover and no let-down. Look to the cross and the return of Him Who died thereon for our sins. There is no mockery or raging there for those who look to Him Who died there for our sins. He who seeks comfort in the cross is wise. His cup of joy will always be full, With David he will say in the New Jerusalem, “My cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5). Christ, Who in His first miracle changed water into wine, will keep the believer’s cup full. For in Lamentations 3:22, 23 we read, “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”