The Deception of Strong Drink

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. Proverbs 20:1

Drunkenness has been a problem of major proportion throughout history. It was a problem in Bible times both in the pagan community and in the church. The first recorded incident of drunkenness involved Noah, who walked with God. Drunkenness abounds in our own society and is a terrible scourge. It is a major contributor to failed marriages, broken homes, ruined lives, and early death. The sin of drunkenness is also a problem in today’s church.

That brings us to the proverb we consider for this meditation. It speaks of a number of things. The proverb speaks of wine and strong drink. It also speaks of drunkenness that leads one to fly into a rage. It speaks of wine and strong drink mocking the drunkard as they deceive him in his drinking. Finally, the text speaks of wisdom. To be deceived by wine and strong drink is not wise but foolish.

As we meditate on these things, we must ask ourselves whether we are wise or foolish with respect to the use of alcohol. We must be instructed to be wise and not fools.

Wine and strong drink!

These are alcoholic beverages made through fermentation. All fruits and grain, if allowed to ferment, will produce alcohol. Wine refers to fermented grapes or other fruits. Strong drink refers to fermented grain, such as beer.

This is to be distinguished from alcohol made by distilling and known as liquor or spirits. The process of distilling was not discovered until after Bible times. Alcoholic drink made by distilling has a higher alcohol content than drink made from fermentation. Wine and beer have at most 15% alcohol level, because this is all that fermentation can produce. But liquor made by distilling has a 20% or higher alcohol level. Much of the alcohol consumed today is much more potent that what was available in Bible times.

Contrary to the thinking of many, alcohol is not condemned in Scripture but considered a good gift of God.

In Titus 1:15 we are taught that to the pure all things are pure; but to them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure. Every creation of God is pure, undefiled with sin. It is a good gift of God. When the pure in Christ use these good gifts to serve and glorify God, they remain pure. However, when the unbeliever who is defiled with sin uses God’s good gifts, he uses it to sin and thereby defiles it.

The same is true with alcohol.

Judges 9:13 speaks of “wine, which cheereth God and man.” Alcohol, when used in moderation, brings cheer to man’s soul. Psalm 104:15 indicates that wine makes the heart of man glad. It also cheered God when it was added to the burnt offering and presented as a drink offering to the Lord. This was a sign of Israel’s gratitude and devotion.

Alcohol also has medicinal qualities. In Bible times, it was used to revive those that were weary (II Sam. 16:2), to dress wounds (Luke 10:34), to alleviate stomach problems (I Tim. 5:23), and to be a sedative and anesthetic. Proverbs 31:6 instructs, “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.” Even today, alcohol is used medicinally. It is an ingredient in many over-the-counter products.

In keeping with all this, wine and strong drink were used daily by young and old in Bible times. This was due in part to the fact that good water was not easily accessible to all. This was also due to the fact that without bottling or freezing (both of which were not available in Bible time) all fruit drink will naturally ferment and have an alcohol content.

But many are deceived!

Wine and strong drink were often abused, so that drunkenness became a problem.

There are numerous instances cited in Scripture of individuals being drunk. This includes Noah (Gen. 9:21), Lot (Gen. 19:33, 35), Nabal (I Sam. 25:36), Uriah (made drunk by David, II Sam. 11:13), Amnon (II Sam. 13:28), Elah (king of Israel, I Kings 16:9), and Benhadad (king of Syria, along with his confederates, I Kings 20:16).

Nor was drunkenness limited to isolated individuals in Bible times. The prophet Amos speaks of the rulers of Samaria “that drink wine in [large] bowls” (Amos 6:6), and the wealthy ladies who press their husbands to join them in drinking (4:1). Isaiah speaks of the same. “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). There was a problem of drunkenness in the church of Corinth. In the context of the Lord’s Supper, Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:21: “For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.” The prevalence of drunkenness in the New Testament church is evident from the list of qualifications for elders and deacons—“not given to much wine.”

The proverb we are considering emphasizes how wine and strong drink deceive us and then mock us.

How easily we can be deceived by alcohol! The word used here has the basic idea of leading astray by deception. Alcohol presents itself as the key to the good life, the key to joy and happiness. It is necessary to have a good time socially, necessary to be included in the fun crowd. It pretends to be the answer to depression and anxiety. You only go around once in life. To make the best of it, you need a certain kind of beer. The claims of alcohol are many.

But those who are convinced of these claims soon find that alcohol brings disaster. As one overindulges in alcohol in pursuit of the good life, the evil passions of the sinful nature soon are uncontrollably inflamed. With inhibitions lowered and judgment skewered, the drinker is lead astray into all sorts of sins. The proverb emphasizes that strong drink brings one to an inner rage so that he becomes an obnoxious, abusive brawler. But there is no sin that is kept from those that are intoxicated. The drunkard kills, commits adultery, steals, lies, profanes God’s name, and does whatever else God’s law forbids. As the drunkard progresses further into his drinking, alcohol becomes his master and brings ruin to every part of his life. How he has been deceived! What presented itself as the key to the good life has become his ruin.

“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…. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder” (Prov. 23:29-32).

And so alcohol also becomes a mocker. Whoever skillfully leads you away to destruction by deception will mock you. He will laugh at how he tricked you. He will snicker at how gullible you are. He will insult you in your ruin. In like manner do wine and strong drink mock those who are deceived into misusing them and are led to the ruin of drunkenness. “How easily I deceived you,” says wine! “How quickly I ruined you! And in your ruin you still live in denial, minimizing the damage I have done in your life and the difficulty of freeing yourself from my clutches!”

Whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise!

We must understand what wisdom is in distinction from folly. Wisdom and folly deal with the practical use of what one knows to be reality. Wisdom is to act in harmony with reality, so that you prosper. Folly is to ignore reality and even act contrary to it, so that you fall into ruin.

It is quite obvious what wisdom and folly are in the use of alcohol.

Folly is to be deceived by wine and strong drink, so that you misuse them and thus fall under their raging powers. Folly is to allow them to take hold of your life and bring you to destruction in this life and, without repentance, to eternal destruction.

Wisdom is, rather, to have a healthy respect for alcohol, especially in our day with high alcohol-content spirits and liquor. Wisdom is to use alcohol only in moderation, so that it becomes a power for good in our lives instead of destruction. Wisdom is complete abstinence for those who have come under alcohol’s power. Wisdom is to set examples for others of moderation, especially our children. Wisdom is to be careful not to become a stumbling block to others who have alcohol problems. Wisdom is to avoid those crowds that abuse alcohol. Wisdom is to listen to those who express concern that you are misusing alcohol and tell you that you need help. If responsible people in your life are expressing concern about your alcohol consumption, you almost certainly have a drinking problem. Wisdom is to help those that have been deceived by alcohol and have fallen into drunkenness. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Finally, wisdom is not to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

This wisdom we have in Jesus Christ.

On account of the Fall, all men are fools. They may have an earthly wisdom that even leads them to use many of God’s good gifts in moderation, so that they can prosper in their earthly life. But in foolishness they never use God’s good gifts in His service. And often they misuse the good gifts of God, so that these gifts become a scourge in their lives. This is the case with many when it comes to alcohol. And in their folly they perish.

But in Jesus Christ there is true wisdom. Jesus Christ died for those whom the Father has given Him in order to deliver them from the bondage of sin’s folly. In the power of His perfect sacrifice, Christ renews them by the Holy Spirit to be new creatures, with wisdom to serve the Lord God and use all of His good gifts for His glory.

Let us in Jesus Christ be wise also in the use of God’s good gift of wine and strong drink.

To our enjoyment.

To God’s glory.