“Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”
Chris Jordan did an excellent job of dealing with 31:4 and 5. With wisdom and tact he expressed both sides of the alcohol debate, ultimately showing that “under the new covenant of grace, all things may be lawful for us, but not all things are beneficial.”
My Baptist upbringing was one that left little room for debate on this subject. It was only after a lengthy (before computers) study of the word “wine” as used in the Bible did I begin to realize that there may be more to the debate than a simple black-and-white, drink-or-not-drink argument. Even king Lemuel’s mother understood there were times when alcohol could be useful (and not just in cough syrup).
Just today, not more than a few hours before writing this, I stood beside the hospital bed of a man in pain, a man dying. Cancer had taken over his body, his breathing and heart rate were rapid, and his mouth was dry. Family were standing around crying as they waited for the inevitable.
As I stood beside him, a nurse came in with a sponge on a little stick and placed it in some ice water, then put it in the man’s mouth. At that moment one family member said, “What he really wants is a milkshake.” Then the man’s sister said, “He should get whatever he wants.” Had he wanted a shot of Jack Daniels, they should have given it to him! He will be dead long before you, the reader, read this.
If alcohol was a sin (not just the consumption of it), then it would have been wrong for Lemuel’s mother to suggest giving strong drink to him that is “perishing.” But the king’s wise mother understood that when a man is at the end of his life, or even the ends of his ropes, something that will ease his pain, or lift his spirit, is perfectly appropriate in moderation. But is to be used as a temporary remedy, one that can help one deal with his situation, not completely hide from it.
A Giving King
But there is even a deeper message in all this. What kind of king keeps hoards his wealth when his subjects are suffering? What kind of leader draws comfort from his cellars, while the poor search in vain for relief from their heavy hearts?
“Look at all you have,” Lemuel’s mother might say. “You have more than you need, and you don’t even need what you have. Therefore, open up your wine cellar; give to those who are perishing; lift the spirits of those who are discouraged; and lead your kingdom with clarity and compassion.”
Wouldn’t it be great if more kings, queens, presidents, and politicians would think less about what makes them happy, less about their own ambitions, and more about the needs of others? Most are drunk with the wine of power, forgetting the law and perverting judgment, while the powerless suffer.