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God’s Word for You

Proverbs 31:4-7 Someone whose soul is in distress

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, November 8, 2019

The next four verses are not all of what the Bible has to say about beer and wine, but they are as important as any other passage. There are many warnings. Paul says: “Those who live [in drunkenness] will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). And Jesus says: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with hangovers and drunkenness and the worries of this life; that day may catch you unexpectedly. For it will spring like a trap” (Luke 21:34-35). Proverbs 31:4-5 are a warning for leaders of all kinds:

4 It is not for kings, Lemuel—
  it is not for kings to drink wine,
  or for rulers to crave beer,
5 or else they will drink and forget what is decreed,
  and will remove the legal rights of all the oppressed.

Briefly, let’s remember that distilling alcohol into things like whiskey and vodka is a recent invention. In the Bible, the only alcohol was in the fermented forms of wine or beer. We must not imagine that the Scriptures condone over-indulging in certain beverages or drugs simply by not mentioning them.

The warning here is for any leader to be careful about drinking or anything else that might change his ability to think or make decisions. The danger is not for the ruler, but for his people. A drunken king may forget his own laws; so that what is there to protect the people won’t be set aside by a foolish man in power who thinks he is above the law, simply because he doesn’t remember or know what the law is.

6 Give beer to one who is perishing,
  and wine to someone whose soul is in distress;
7 Let them drink and forget their poverty,
  and they will no longer remember their misery.

Just so that a government should not think that it needs to prohibit ordinary people from drinking alcohol, the Holy Spirit explains what God’s design for alcohol is: It is there to help ordinary, Godly men and women relax and be at ease from their troubles and their cares. A man who is dying of some disease, a woman with a heavy heart, a family trying to get by in cruel poverty, and anyone feeling misery or pain, can benefit from the ease that beer or wine can bring in moderation. Abuse of any of God’s creations is never a good thing, but he permits us to use the world we live in, and a little peace and joy falls within his plan and bounds for us.

On the other hand, these verses do not throw down the barriers to gluttony and drunkenness. Repeated abuse of a drink is almost always a sign that something else is wrong in a person’s heart. I don’t think I’m betraying any confidence to say publicly that my grandfather (who is now with the Lord) was an alcoholic, but I’m sure it was brought on by a certain horrific tragedy in his childhood. Until he was married, I don’t know that he had anyone close enough that he could trust with his terrible secret, and by then he was already deep in the brandy bottle. His wife encouraged him to go to church with her for the rest of his life, and he received consolation and forgiveness for a terrible childhood accident. King David said: “Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief” (Psalm 31:9). Sometimes words of comfort, a comforting and safe place, a little wine to soothe the weary body, and even the gospel to ease the aching soul, may not seem like enough. But like certain medicines, sometimes it takes time for the various comforts to build up in the body and in the heart. Do not give up on the gospel just because one paragraph, one passage, or one prayer did not change your mind about all your problems. Keep going back for your regular infusion of God’s grace. And if a little wine or a little beer help to soothe aching muscles and a worried mind, then use them with care and use them with God’s blessing.

Some readers might have the astute perspicacity to read verse 6, “Give wine to someone whose soul is in distress,” and apply it to the Lord’s Supper. This passage is not given in the context of the sacrament, so we would not use it to make a point about the benefits of receiving the Blood of Christ together with the wine, which is proved by many passages (especially “This is my blood,” Mark 14:24). But applied with faith to the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, it is correct: Give wine (and the blood of Christ) to someone whose soul is in distress.” This is precisely what the sacrament is for. It gives more benefit than any other drink, any drug, any platitude. The forgiveness of sins through the body and blood of Christ give comfort to those who grieve because of their many sins, whether the little rebellions of the everyday life, mistakes we make through weakness and the deceptions of the devil, or even from a terrible childhood tragedy—all forgiven by Jesus, paid in full on the cross, in the cup he drank in our place (Matthew 26:42).

Let’s let David give more comfort today:

    Love the LORD, all his saints!
    The LORD preserves the faithful…
    Be strong and take heart,
    all you who hope in the LORD.
(Psalm 31:23-24)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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