God’s Word for You
Proverbs 23:29-35 Who has bloodshot eyes?
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 16, 2019
Proverbs chapter 23 ends with a long passage which is a satire about alcoholics with applications that can be passed along to any addiction or sinful passion.
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Verse 29 peppers the reader with five bewildering questions. By themselves, they might almost be applied to the suffering Christ in the agony of his Passion account, except that they are followed by a sixth question that pops the bewildering bubble and brings us without a doubt into the world of the wino: “Who has bloodshot eyes?” In vino veritas, the saying goes (“in wine there is truth”), but it would be equally correct to say, In vino vanitas (“in wine there is foolishness”).
30 Those who linger long over wine,
those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.
The beauty of the drink is described as if it is poured out into a crystal chalice. How lovely it looks! There are some interesting features in the Hebrew text (“sparkles” is more literally “the cup gives its eye”), but it would be foolish to get lost in such details when a warning is being given. Beware of alcohol! Beware of anything that changes the perceptions of the mind, whether drugs or shortness of breath or any kind of euphoria. Ground yourself in Christ, and if you must have wine, do not let it control you. If you cannot control yourself, let your drink of wine be nothing more than the sip of the Lord’s Supper. If wine is your master, you are lost. If you are able to drink wine or any other alcohol without it becoming your master, then you are blessed indeed. Do not take that blessing for granted.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent,
and stings like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind will imagine perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea,
like one who lies down on the top of a mast.
35 “They struck me, but I didn’t get hurt;
they beat me, but I didn’t feel it.
When will I wake up? I will look for another drink.”
A few people in the Bible abstained from alcohol. Anyone who took a Nazarite vow had to abstain until the time of the vow was completed (Numbers 6:2-4). A few people took personal vows to abstain from alcohol. Jeremiah mentions the Recabites, who chose to abstain (Jeremiah 35:6) and whom our Lutheran Confessions hold up as a condemnation of the priests, monks and nuns “who abound in every delight, but claim to be celibate” (Apol. XXVIII,59), and this is a scandal that only grows worse in our time. Our Confession also remembers those who needlessly condemn the use of alcohol even in the Sacrament, as if God himself only tempted his people to sin by offering them wine to sip (Apol. XXIII,45).
There is no command in the Bible forbidding us from drinking wine or beer, or from using a drug or a medicine that might cure an ailment. But abusing the body with anything is a violation of the Fifth Commandment. Solomon doesn’t need to compare indulging in drunkenness with anything. He simply describes the indulgence itself. It’s like a man who thinks he’s gone to sleep “in the middle (or bottom) of the sea” but finds himself swooning like a man at the top of the mast, a hundred feet in the air. How did I get here? Why am I so dizzy? The drunk thinks, “I don’t get hurt when people hit me,” but when he wakes up, he will be bloody and bruised. Worse, when he wakes up, he’ll only go looking for another drink.
This is the way it is with all sins. But our Lord offers us solace from our guilt, medicine for the wounds of our shame, and true healing. Turn to Christ for forgiveness. Turn to the Holy Spirit for help in resisting temptation and do not despise him when he pricks your conscience. Turn to the Father for his mercy, and know that his love and his mercy endure forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith