Proverbs: Liquor for the Poor?

I would like to write more about Proverbs. I’m not trying to teach, just relaying what I’ve been learning, mainly from commentators.

Proverbs 31:6-7 NLT
Alcohol is for the dying,
and wine for those in bitter distress.
Let them drink to forget their poverty
and remember their troubles no more.

It seems there is a literal part to this passage in that some mixture of alcohol was given to those who are dying, similar I suppose to very high doses of morphine to those who are in great pain because of cancer or some other grave illness.

But these two verses are a continuation of what Lemuel’s mother is instructing him in Proverbs 31:4-5:

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine.
Rulers should not crave alcohol.
5 For if they drink, they may forget the law
and not give justice to the oppressed.

Spurgeon explains this well, although not all commentators agree that the king should open his cellars for the poor. Commenting on verses 6-7:

These somewhat singular sentences were spoken by the mother of Lemuel to her son, who was probably Solomon. She had already said to him, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.” But such a king as Solomon was must have had an abundant store of wine of all kinds, so his mother urged him to give it to the sick and the sad and the poor who needed it more then he did. The Jews were in the habit of giving a cup of strong drink, usually with some potent drug in it, to stupefy those who were about to be executed. Perhaps that is the meaning of the words, “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish.” We know too how persons who have been very weak and ill, on the very borders of the grave, have often been medicinally relieved by wine given to them which they could not possibly purchase for themselves. I believe this is the literal meaning of the text, and that if any man should be wicked enough to draw from it the inference that he would be able to forget his misery and poverty by drinking, he would soon find himself woefully mistaken; for if he had one misery before he would have ten miseries afterwards; and if he was previously poor he would be in still greater poverty afterwards. Those who fly to the bottle for consolation might as soon fly to hell to find a heaven; and instead of helping them to forget their poverty, drunkenness would only sink them still more deeply in the mire.

Bruce Waltke believes this is sarcasm to show that it’s not for kings to desire intoxicants. If anything it would be for the poor dull their senses and “forget their troubles”, which would obviously be no help at all as Spurgeon explains. Waltke says “its anesthetic effects merely deepen the drinker’s inability to face his problems.”

Waltke asserts in his commentary on Proverbs that this is a command to deliver the poor from their miserable material poverty and even goes so far as to say that this sarcastic command shouldn’t be taken literally at all and would be “completely out of harmony with wisdom”, even if using intoxicants for one who is dying (as was offered to Jesus).

Do you think there should be any literal component to this?

2 Responses to “Proverbs: Liquor for the Poor?”


  1. 1 Stan McCullars

    Yes. I would lean more literal. I think giving liquor to the poor is fine. I’m not sure about it being sarcasm.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    I wish he would have explained the sarcasm bit, but it’s already an 1100 page commentary. If it is, it seems like the mother would be making fun of the poor.

    I believe the literal only for those who are dying, as was the custom. There is a verse in Eccl I need to find related to that. I don’t even want to try to paraphrase it.
    Jeff

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