Proverbs 20.1 — Drinking

“Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” It’s obviously talking about drunkenness, and not just drinking. Drinking alcohol is never prohibited in the Bible, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice in a culture like ours. But since we’re doing a Bible study, here we go.

The ancient Israelites proudly drank beer, and lots of it. Men, women, and even children of all social classes drank it. Its consumption in ancient Israel was encouraged, sanctioned, and intimately linked with their religion. People who were sad were advised to drink beer to temporarily erase their troubles (Prov. 31.6). Yet the Biblical authors also called for moderation. Several passages condemn those who consumed too much beer (Isa. 5.11; 28.7; Prov. 20.1; 31.4). The absence of beer defines a melancholy situation (Isa. 24.9).

Beer was a staple in the Israelite diet, just as it was throughout the ancient Near East. It was in many ways a super-food. But producing and drinking beer, one could dramatically multiply the calories in harvested grains while consuming the needed vitamins; the alcohol was also effective at killing bacteria found in tainted water supplies. Given the difficulty of producing food in the ancient world, beer gave you a lot of nutritional bang for your buck.

Barley, one of the more popular grains for making beer in the ancient world, was (and is) the main ingredient. The Hebrew Bible records barley as one of the most abundant crops in ancient Israel. It is one of the seven species of plants with which the Promised Land is blessed (Dt. 8.8). It was so common that it price was approximately half that of wheat (2 Ki. 7.1, 16, 18; cf. Rev. 6.6). There is no doubt that ancient Israel, like its neighbors, planted, harvested, and consumed mass quantities of barley.

The Bible in numerous places certainly condemns drinking too much, or drinking abusively. Wine must be consumed in moderation and only at certain times. Later in Proverbs (31.4-7), as well as in Ecclesiastes (10.16-17), it is especially leaders who are warned against the use of alcohol since it clouds their judgment. After all, leaders’ judgments affect more than their own well-being. The reason behind it is that you are not in control of yourself, and God is not in control of you when you are under the influence of alcohol. In this particular text, drinking too much makes you mockable, and you brawl when you are out of control. You are not acting like yourself. We should always live in such a way that we do not place ourselves out of the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5.18).

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