Don’t Look!

Proverbs 23:31-33 says [NASB®]:

Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things, And your mind will utter perverse things.

This passage is interpreted differently by different kinds of prohibitionists. The “all fermented beverages were always forbidden” prohibitionists interpret 23:31 to prohibit looking at all fermented beverages, while the “wine was always diluted in biblical times” prohibitionists interpret it to only prohibit looking at undiluted fermented beverages. I disagree with both.

I don’t think that Proverbs is in the category of “Law”, but is advice for wise living written in the form of poetry. I would agree that it would be foolish to not follow the advice in Proverbs, and that it is just as valid today as it was when it was written. But it is still poetry, and that can present some challenges.

The passage (in the context of verses 29 through 35 ) is talking about the foolishness of alcohol abuse. “Redness of eyes”, “tarry long”, “they beat me, but I did not feel it”, etc. All refer to a level of drinking that goes way beyond any definition of moderate. The message is a warning against drunkenness and alcoholism.

The Hebrew lexicon available at http://www.blueletterbible.org (see the full entry from Gesenius’s Lexicon) describes the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “look”, and it seems to mean more than simply seeing a thing. It carries the idea of looking at something with great pleasure and longing. And in my opinion, the rest of the verse is not describing actual characteristics of wine, but the perceived attributes of wine as viewed by someone who is intoxicated (e.g., wine does not sparkle or go down smoothly unless you’ve had a few). Therefore, I believe that Proverbs 23:31 is saying, “do not long for, desire, or seek intoxication.” That verse is preceded and followed by examples of what intoxication leads to: woe, sorrow, strife, etc.

The passage warns against drunkenness and does not forbid all consumption of alcoholic beverages.

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