Proverbs 23:31

Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.


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Wine is very good (Gen 1:31). God created it to cheer the heart (Pr 31:6-7; Ps 104:14-15); God taught men to ferment it (Is 28:23-29); Moses commended it for family worship (Deut 14:26); Jesus drank it often and made it for a wedding (Luke 7:33-35; John 2:1-11); faithful ministers defend its moderate use (Ps 119:128; I Tim 3:8; 5:23; Tit 2:3).

But unguarded or excessive affection for wine is condemned. Any thoughts toward drunkenness are sin (Pr 24:9; Eph 5:18), and only fools drink without sober regard for the danger and results of drunkenness (Pr 20:1; 23:29-30). Wine can be dangerous, if it is not kept in its proper place and used for its designed purpose, just like God’s other creations.

After the warning about wine, two other lessons may be learned – how Pharisees pervert God’s word, and how to rightly divide it. Solomon wrote, “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red.” Pharisees are literalists – they cannot see a figure of speech, even if it were in neon. They condemn even looking at red wine from a Bible verse like this.

Assume their perversion of the verse is correct. If so, you may freely drink red wine as long as you do not look at it. By using a blindfold, you are welcome to drink it. You may both look at and drink white wine. Bring out the white zinfandel! The chardonnay! The sauvignon blanc! The Riesling! Their perversion of scripture is obvious to thinking men.

If you literally apply this clause to looking at red wine, you condemn God, Moses, Jesus, Paul, and faithful ministers. The literalists are wrong. Solomon did not condemn looking at red wine. He condemned unguarded or excessive affection for any wine, but he used the color of the basic wine of Israel, which was very red, like blood (Deut 32:14; Is 63:2). There is a figure of speech here, whether you see an ellipsis or a metonym of the adjunct.

Job said about marriage, “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” (Job 31:1). Did Job never think about his maids? Could he think about a maid when hiring her? Could he bless her on her birthday? Could he think about giving her a raise? Of course! The condemnation of thinking there is to be understood sexually. Job’s covenant of marriage did not allow sexual thoughts or fantasies about a maid.

Jesus said about mental adultery, “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman – hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt 5:28). He did not condemn simply looking at another woman, for that is approved and necessary in ordinary society. But He did condemn looking at another woman “to lust after her.” And it is this meaning that is the proper and true sense of the proverb here. Let God be true!

Wine in Solomon’s day had attractive features – red color, and depth, reflection, and shades of color in a good cup, and bubbles moving to the surface. These same features make wine visually attractive today, especially in a beautiful wine glass with appropriate sunshine, room lighting, or candlelight to enhance it. He admitted a strange woman may be beautiful (Pr 6:25); he admitted wine has an appeal you must soberly guard against.

This proverb is in the middle of a passage where Solomon condemned drunkenness (Pr 23:29-35). He did not condemn moderate drinking, which God and the Bible approve and commend; he condemned those who “tarry long at the wine” (Pr 23:30) and those who have the symptoms of severe drunkenness (Pr 23:29,34-35). If a man’s religion is based on the Bible, he knows God commends moderate drinking, but condemns drunkenness.

The Bible does not recognize alcoholism – is there such a thing? Alcoholics are properly called drunkards in the Bible. Drunkenness is drinking past reason until your senses no longer rightly recognize good and evil. Your imagination and speech are degraded to folly and sin (Pr 23:33) – the opposite goal of this book of wisdom. Because drunkenness is deceiving, it is often only others who can rightly perceive your drunkenness.

Wine is a good thing. It is beautiful in a goblet. Its ability to relax your central nervous system and cheer you is very pleasant. But Solomon taught wisdom in Proverbs, and wise men will guard against excessive infatuation with wine; they will drink it only with prudent discipline. Abuse of wine can make a wise man a fool, quickly. Since wine or strong drink can deceive men into folly, it is their wisdom to drink it very carefully.

The lesson of this proverb applies indirectly to all creations and their abuse also. Pasta or pizza is just as dangerous as wine, in that gluttony is as much a sin as drunkenness. Infatuation with food or intemperate eating must also be avoided, for a person preoccupied with eating, or often eating more than he needs, will sin with this blessing. Godliness is moderation and temperance in all things (Eph 5:18; Phil 4:5; I Cor 9:24-27).