Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.
Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper. You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. And you will say, “They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?” (NLT)
I love the clarity in the NLT translation of this passage. The reference to a sailor tossed at sea does not infer that sailors are always drunk, although the word ‘jolly’ in the nickname ‘Jolly Jack Tar’ could suggest that seafarers may take a drink or two more than they should. It is unfortunate that while alcohol can provide a temporary lift and induce happy feelings in the short term, it can often produce other less desirable effects.
Using Jack Tar as an example I can recall several unpleasant fights from my seafaring days in which alcohol played a part, some of which resulted in the hospitalization of at least one of the individuals involved. I can remember drinking games in the ships’ bars and ashore. On my first ship we sailed from Mobile, Alabama without any of the three watch-keeping engineers, all of whom were in police custody ashore after drinking too much. On my fifth trip as cadet the chief officer had such a problem with alcohol that the captain insisted he always had a cadet on watch with him. When sailing with a pilot through the Norwegian fjords the pilot asked me to call the captain as we came to a difficult area. As I went to pick up the telephone the pilot looked across at the chief officer and said to me; “hadn’t you better wake that up first?” One again the chief officer was drunk and had fallen asleep – in the pilot’s chair!
The message in this passage is not ‘don’t have a beer with a friend or a glass of wine with a meal’, but don’t drink to excess. The very clear warnings about the results of alcohol abuse shout louder than a swaying drunk as he staggers from one bar to the next. Once again the message is one of wisdom. If you can’t be a wise drinker then do not drink at all.