“You need a stiff drink”

Now I wanted to return to a statement I made facetiously earlier “we probably shouldn’t get drunk, right? Or should we?”

Let’s look at Proverbs 31:1-9

The Words of King Lemuel

The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
    and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, [some translations: “who is ready to perish/die”]
    and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
    and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Kings (let’s read that presidents, governors, kings, leaders) shouldn’t drink while holding court, or exercising leadership. I don’t know if I would interpret a complete prohibition, although that reading is fair. My reason for this is that the text gives a reason – don’t drink in case it makes you forget the law, and make bad judgements (Prov 31:5)! In that context, I’d read a strong restraint on kings drinking even at feasts, in public settings, with possibly less strictness in private, where ‘leadership’ and legal/governing judgements are not being exercised. I’d suggest habitual and over-drinking are also in mind here, in the context of the next verses.

In contrast to being warned of the dangers of drinking, Lemuel is admonished to provide wine and strong drink to those who are dying, wants to die, is ready to die (depending on translational preference), and wine those whose hearts are bitter, in anguish, distressed, or whose life is bitter (again, depending on translational preference). Lemuel is to provide this alcohol so that they may forget their poverty and misery – I read drunk enough to forget, but I may be argued with there.

Could this be because alcohol has been given by God, partly to because of its effect on us, to make us happier? Make merry, glad, cheer are three words used (see Jdgs 9:13; Ps 104:14-15; Eccl 10:19).

-so maybe, and I say this hesitantly – that drunk at the bar who just lost his job, house, and had his wife die/leave him may not be as “evil and sinful” as he “drinks away his sorrows” as we may initially think?

The first pushback I’ll get is “those who are perishing” – and that’s a good one; if you’re not dying, maybe this isn’t directed at you. My response would be to both agree, and to point out that “those who are perishing” might not just mean physical death, but feelings such as “my life is over” or “my life is crashing down around me” – and that there is an important “and” there, with “those who are bitter of heart” – which makes me read the passage as generally referring to great distress or pain. Not that getting plastered at every setback, bad day, or tragedy is a healthy or good thing, but sometimes, could it be? Could to “drink and forget” on occasion, be a God-given use or ‘enjoyment of alcohol?

To reiterate, I’m not advocating drunkenness as a habit, or even necessarily ever. I’m searching through the Bible to see what it says.  We’ll revisit the idea when we look at Cana, and the tenses of the New Testament passages regarding drunkenness, namely that Jesus gave people wine who were drunk, or on their way there, so that they could get further inebriated, and the tense of Paul’s “do not be drunk” is continuous, indicating constancy or regularity. Conversely, Paul also says all things are permissible but not all things are helpful or good, so many issues, we see a continuum without the clear yes always and no never that we fallen legalists prefer.

I’d love some feedback on this, but the passage seems to imply to me that in moments of great distress, grabbing a bottle of whiskey or a case of beer and knocking the better part of it back, may not be the worst thing in the world? You’d certainly want friends to safeguard you doing things you would regret later, but maybe this verse is in there because God indeed has provided us with alcohol as a blessing, and in dire circumstances an overindulgence may be medicinal? That the phrase “you need a drink” in response to tragedy might not be terrible, if the next morning is met soberly and the excess consumption does not become habitual?


Let me know your thoughts 🙂











I have to mention – Lemuel’s mother might warn him away from alcohol, but in the same chapter she praises a wife who buys land and plants a vineyard. So she certainly can’t be totally against drinking.


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