29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. 31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! 32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. 34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 35 “They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” (Prov. 23:29-35 NIV)
I was just reading in The Times this morning about the death of a world champion darts player. He last appeared in competition in 2018. He warned his fans about the danger of overindulging in alcohol. He said he feared his death because the damage he had done to his body was not reversable.
The Teacher sets his advice in the form of a riddle, with six short questions. The problem with the abuse of wine begins with a sense of personal sorrow and woe. I was involved in the review of a drug addict’s case as I was part of the chaplaincy team in prison. The man had abused his body for so long that he had lost considerable weight and was so undernourished that he had to be placed on a diet of high protein drinks. His sense of loss and personal sorrow had led him to attempt to take his life. He overdosed on drugs and drank a bottle of spirits and attempted to take his life in a playground. A passer-by managed to take him down and the police and ambulance were called. The police took possession of a large quantity of drugs, and he was placed in prison. He was due to be let out of prison on the Friday and was due in court on the Monday following, when he felt sure he would be sent back to prison again. He pleaded in the case review not to be let out of prison. He owed money to the dealers for the drugs the police had taken, and he feared he would be killed. His indulgence had moved from personal sorrow and woe to strife with others. He had been involved in quarrels and fights and bloodshot eyes was only one of the physical markers of how he had abused his body. Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to the same problems. Those who linger over wine and sample bowls of mixed wine do this because they desire something more potent.
The Teacher warns about looking longingly at wine. It entices as it sparkles and is at first pleasant to consume. The Teacher has often warned about controlling what the eye gazes at. In the end the effects of overindulgence bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. What had begun well ends badly.
The Teacher has advocated discipline and control. There is a distinct loss of control as the eyes imagine they see strange things and there is loss of control of the tongue as it expresses perverse things. There can be a loss of inhibitions and you can say things that you might not otherwise say, or do things that you might not otherwise do.
V34 refers to the danger that a drunk person might subject themselves to. They lose the sense of danger and may even lie down in the middle of the sea or balance precariously on the top of a mast. The main idea is that the person exposes themselves to pointless danger.
Many people under the influence of alcohol, perhaps because of abusive things they have said, become an easy target for someone to beat them up. He is beaten but is totally unaware of the blows and he doesn’t feel the pain. When he awakens from his drunken stupor, his concern is not over the wounds that he has received but rather is over where can he get his next drink.
Lord help us to be aware of the dangers that overindulgence in food, alcohol or drugs can cause. Help us always to be able to control what we say and what we do because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.