At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.
What bites like a serpent and stings like an adder? Too much wine or other form of alcohol (Pr 23:30)! Drunkenness bites and stings those who drink too much. The consequences of drunkenness are painful, and a rule of wisdom is to never get drunk.
This short proverb is in the middle of Solomon’s warning against drunkenness (Pr 23:29-35). God created wine to calm and cheer man (Pr 31:4-7; Ps 104:14-15). But when it is foolishly drunk to excess, wine will bite and sting those drinkers with numerous wounds.
For those who love truth, it is very important to know that Solomon did not condemn the moderate use of wine or strong drink (Pr 3:10; 9:2,5; 31:4-7; Eccl 9:7; 10:19; Song 1:2,4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:9; 8:2). In agreement with Solomon, Old Testament saints and the Lord Jesus Christ drank wine (Gen 14:18; Deut 14:26; II Sam 6:19; Luke 7:33-34; John 2:1-11).
Solomon, confirming the rest of the Bible, condemned drunkenness, which is drinking to excess and losing self-control (Pr 20:1; 23:21; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:18; I Cor 6:10). The context of the proverb is clearly the abuse of wine causing drunkenness (Pr 23:29-35). But the moderate use of wine is as holy and noble as the moderate use of bread or oil (Ps 104:14-15). Abusing wine is a sin called drunkenness; abusing bread and oil is gluttony.
Bible readers ignorant of context or proverbial language think this proverb condemns all wine and strong drink. They assume the bite and sting are the tingling of champagne’s carbonation, the after-taste of dry wine, or the burning sensation of straight whiskey. But the proverb describes the consequences of drunkenness, not the taste of alcoholic drinks.
The bite and sting are results of drunkenness – “At the last,” as the proverb declares. Wine appears very pleasant in the glass (Pr 23:31), but its abuse can bring pain and trouble (Pr 23:29-35). In this sense it is as dangerous as the bite of a poisonous snake or sting of a venomous viper, which is the simile here. You should not play with either.
Consider the bite and sting of drunkenness. You will ruin your reputation with unplanned folly, like Noah and Lot (Pr 20:1; 23:33; 31:4-5; Gen 9:20-22; 19:30-38; Eccl 10:1). You will be reduced to poverty, like the prodigal (Pr 21:17; 23:21; Luke 15:13-14). You will have immediate sickness and eventual liver damage and death (Pr 23:29,34-35; Is 19:14).
The proverb applies to the abuse of any mood-altering chemical. Christians are told to reject the mood alterations of drunkenness and to instead choose the filling of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18-19). There is no bite or sting in the Holy Ghost: there is joy and peace in believing: there is singing from a melody in your heart (Rom 14:17; 15:13; Eph 5:19).