We are about to read one of the most amazing sections of Proverbs that there is. These next seven verses are one of the most poignent commentaries on alcohol and drinking that there is in Scripture. It is also one of the most plain statements against getting drunk. I am not one who states that the Biblical view is complete abstinence from alcohol - simply because Scripture itself does not state that. The Bible teaches us to steer clear from getting drunk. It also warns against lingering long over wine - and I would also argue that the Bible militates against the whole "party culture" that exists in our society today. My own personal stance is complete abstinence from alcohol. The reason for this is because I've led at least two men to Christ who were alcoholics. If I were to drink - and they were to follow my example - there is good reason to be concerned that they would be ruined by my abuse of my freedom in Christ. Therefore, rather than make my brothers stumble, I will renounce my freedom to have anything to do with alcohol.
This passage though is about abuse of alcohol. It asks a series of questions that are all rhetorical in nature. They are this way because they have to do with the consequences of alcohol in someone's life who is abusing it. Who has woe? The answer is the alcohol abuser. Woe means to have a horrific distress. Take a close look at the drunkard and you will find plenty of woe and sorrow in his life. There are so many ways that this happens - through broken relationships - through wasted lives - through the regret and horror of the aftermath of a drunken driving accident or arrest. There is so much sorrow from the immediate consequences - as well as the long term ones that come out of drinking and drunkenness. But too often men want to make it look as if these are rare consequences rather than the norm of alcohol abuse.
The next set of two questions here deal with the issue of contentions and complaining. Unfortunately, before I came to Christ, I was often in parties where the abuse of alcohol was frequent. I can tell you from experience that the contentions and complaining are very much true. Guys would break out into fights and would have major altercations when they were drunk. I remember one friend who not only had a fight, but was beaten bloody and shot before the night was over. He survived, but the gunshot wound is still in his body to this day as a monument to his stupidity and drunken lack of sense. The complaining usually comes from those who have to deal with the drunk. Their wives complain of their actions. Their children complain of their actions. Their employer complains of their alcohol abuse. They all feel the effects of the lack of self-control - and in some cases the anger that comes with a drunk stumbling into the home. It is a sad but true fact that many men return home to beat their wives and children in their drunken state. Their complaining is testimony to a man who has lost all self-control and who is slowly ruining his life.
The next couplet here has to do with questions about wounds and redness of eyes. The wounds come from stumbling around drunk - running into things and injuring oneself. They may come from fights and their aftermath. The redness of eyes comes in the morning when the drunk gets up and faces the difficulty of recovering from the previous evening's activities. Not only is there redness of eyes - but there is also a pounding headache - and at times a stomach that is sick from the alcohol of the previous night.
These things are all said of those who "linger long over wine." This speaks of someone who drinks - and stays at a place where they serve them. These are the men who stay at bars well into the night. They may start at happy hour and not finish his drinking until after midnight. The drunk may have 5 to 10 drinks as he pours out the problems he has with the bar tender. He lingers long over a beer or a hard drink - and has another when he is done. The passage here also says that there are those who go to taste "mixed wine." Mixed wine refers to ways that men would mix wine with other things to make it better - and often to make it more intoxicating. It would in some ways refer to the way that men mix drinks in bars today.
We are going to get a pretty good picture of the drunk over the next several days. We are going to see his actions as well as the consequences of them. We are going to hear warnings against the things that he does. We will hear warnings about alcohol and the way that it can lure someone into its trap. We will hear about how alcohol promises one thing, yet delivers something quite different. We will also see that when we give ourselves over to this habit and this abuse, we will find that it is a trap that shuts over us and does much to bring great destruction in our lives. The wise man knows that wine and strong drink are deadly and deceptive. That is why he stays away from them.