Proverbs 20:1

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

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Here is a wise warning about alcohol. Only fools treat this substance or this proverb lightly. Much damage has been done in every part of life, society, and religion by the abuse of alcohol. While this does not prohibit its proper use, it does raise warning flags.

How does wine mock? How does strong drink rage? How do wine and strong drink deceive men? They cause people to do things they would otherwise not do. Solomon used these powerful figures of speech to warn against excessive drinking and drunkenness.

Wine is good. God made it to cheer man (Ps 104:14-15; Jdgs 9:13; Zec 9:17). God’s great men like Noah, Melchisedec, and David did not have vineyards for raisins. A simple, quick test of a person’s knowledge of God and the Bible is his opinion of wine.

But to avoid being a deceived fool, you must reject ever drinking too much. Just as eating too much is the sin of gluttony, drinking too much is the sin of drunkenness (Pr 23:21). You must understand and fear alcohol’s danger and be disciplined anytime you use it.

To be wise, you must be careful with anything that can shame you or enflame passions. If you arrogantly presume you can handle alcohol without discipline or limits, you are a fool. Kings, prophets, and preachers are extra careful (Pr 31:4-5; Is 28:7-8; I Tim 5:23).

Does this proverb condemn moderate use of wine or strong drink? God forbid! He made both for your pleasure (Deut 14:26; Pr 31:6-7; Eccl 9:7). The Bible’s beverage of choice is wine (Gen 14:18; II Sam 6:19; Ecc 10:19; John 2:1-11), but it was not to be used to the excess of drunkenness (Eph 5:18; Luke 21:34). Jesus often drank wine (Luke 7:33-35).

The proverb has two key metonyms. Metonymy is a figure of speech that substitutes one thing for another. It adds beauty and force to language. The Bible is full of metonymy and other figures, so that superficial readings and primary definitions are often ludicrous, especially of proverbs (Pr 1:6). Fully grasp these common examples of metonyms:

1. “Step on the gas” substitutes gas for the accelerator pedal. No one is expected to step in a puddle of gasoline. The meaning is only for the driver to speed up the car.

2. “He really used his head” substitutes the location of thinking for the brain. No one thinks he banged his skull. The intent is only that he intelligently solved a problem.

3. “The White House announced” substitutes the place where he lives for the President. No one believes his residence actually spoke, for it is a permanently inanimate object. The meaning is only that the President gave new information to the public.

Examine the first clause, “Wine is a mocker.” Wine is the fermented, alcoholic juice of the grape, and to mock someone is to ridicule or make a fool of him. Wine will stay in a bottle or glass very quietly. It does not do anything rude by itself. It can remain in a wine cellar for many years without ridiculing or shaming anyone. How is wine a mocker?

Wine is not a mocker itself. Wine is a metonym for drunkenness. The figure of speech substitutes a cause for the effect. The Bible says the tongue is a world of iniquity (Jas 3:6). How so? A tongue is only a muscle in your mouth. But the wrongful use of the tongue is sinful. Again, as in this category of metonymy, a cause is put for the effect.

Wine will mock you, if you drink too much of it (Pr 23:29-35). Excessive drinking can make you drunk, losing moral inhibitions, personal self-control, or even basic motor skills. Then you will make a fool of yourself. Though having the best of intentions for wisdom, you will make a joke of your own reputation. Consider what it did to Noah (Gen 9:21), Lot (Gen 19:31-36), Nabal (I Sam 25:36-38), and Elah (I Kgs 16:8-10).

God and Solomon want you to be great. Wine is a wonderful relaxer that cheers and gladdens, but too much can temporarily impair your abilities and potentially harm your reputation. You must set limits to drinking so that you always maintain noble control of yourself. Rules for wine are no different than rules for things like food, sex, sleep, etc.

Examine the second clause, “Strong drink is raging.” Strong drink is a beverage from the fermentation or distillation of various substances, and rage is an outburst of violent anger. Happily for grocers and restaurant owners, beer and whiskey will stay in bottles without fighting, even for years, even on the same shelf. How does strong drink rage?

Strong drink does not rage itself. Strong drink is a metonym for drunkenness. The figure of speech substitutes cause for effect. The Bible says the rod gives wisdom (Pr 29:15). How? A rod is a stick. It will not move from where you leave it; it knows nothing; it cannot teach. How does it give wisdom? Prudently used for corporal punishment a rod can and will teach. Again, in this category of metonymy, a cause is put for the effect.

Strong drink can lead to rage, if you drink too much. Excessive drinking will make you drunk, and you may fight for no reason. The loss of inhibitions can cause you to lose your temper and ignore consequences of yelling or fighting. The tongue is loosened first, then the anger, and then the fists. Stories of barroom brawls are Legion. The proverb is true.

If you drink without sober fear for these dangers of alcohol, you are a fool. Drunkenness can creep up on you and relax you into its warm folly before you realize. No wise man will drink without definite limits and conscious care to avoid drunkenness. He is committed to prudent conduct, which does not allow for even small amounts of folly (Eccl 10:1), so he will not risk his reputation by even getting close to drunkenness.

Be wise! The solution is not the lie of the Temperance Movement – total abstinence and Amendment XVIII to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Thankfully, that amendment was repealed in 1933 with the XXI, so Christians could again enjoy God’s gift. If prohibition is wise, then donuts and pizza should be despised and outlawed for their roles in gluttony.

Temperance is not abstinence; temperance is self-discipline, a key rule of the Christian’s life (I Cor 9:24-27; Phil 4:5). It is a shame to hear ignorant Christians haughtily condemn beer and wine, while glutting themselves to obesity at a cheap buffet. Solomon’s Proverbs will teach wisdom to those that will humble their hearts and minds to scripture.

A man committed to living a holy and virtuous life for the glory of God will be careful and fearful with wine and strong drink, just as he will with food, and just as he will with sex, sleep, speech, and moods. He does not want to sin in any area of life. Leaders and rulers are to exemplify this conservative regard for holiness, so God gave them stricter rules for wine due to their need for wise judgment (Pr 31:4-5; I Tim 3:3,8; Tit 1:7).

Jesus was called a winebibber, or a drunkard, by his enemies (Luke 7:33-35), but He was never drunk. He often drank wine, and He even made much wine for a wedding, but He was always moderate and temperate in its use. He was the epitome of righteous sobriety. He always did those things that pleased His Father, and drunkenness does not please God (John 8:29; Gal 5:16-21). Remember, there are no drunkards in heaven (I Cor 6:9-10).

Do you know this perfect man, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim 2:5)? He is Lord of heaven and earth, and He is coming again soon to judge the world. He will destroy all the wicked that have rejected Him and His gospel (II Thess 1:1-9). At the same time He will come to gather His elect to Himself, and they will greatly admire and glorify Him (II Thes 1:10).

Rather than rely only on wine for its gladdening effect, Jesus found His greatest joy and pleasure in walking with God through the Holy Spirit. Paul taught you to seek the same balance, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). What will such men do? Rather than the songs of the drunkard, they will have a melody in their hearts for singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).