Proverbs 20:1

Chapter 20 continues the large set of proverbs called the Proverbs of Solomon, which run from chapter 10 through chapter 22. This set of proverbs has two distinct groups. The first is chapters 10-15, which mainly have an antithetical parallel structure. The second is chapters 16-22, which mainly have a synthetic parallel structure. The proverbs in this chapter cover different themes, such as temperance, human authorities, God’s sovereignty, sluggards, business ethics, etc.

Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

– Proverbs 20:1

This proverb introduces the subject of self-control, or temperance, which is a theme in latter proverbs (Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35; 31:4-5). The Bible always condemns drunkenness (Deuteronomy 21:20; Isaiah 5:11-12; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:10). Wisdom warns that drinking to excess leads to poverty (Proverbs 21:17; 23:21), multiplied life and relational problems (Proverbs 23:29-30), and immorality (Romans 13:13). Drunkenness is also often associated with false teaching and idolatrous worship (Isaiah 28:7-8; 56:12; Daniel 5:1-4).

The word for wine refers to fermented drinks made from grapes and such. The word for strong drink refers to fermented drinks made from grains. Wine was typically diluted and not as strong as strong drinks, though both were intoxicating when consumed in excess. The temperate use of such beverages was not forbidden (Deuteronomy 14:22-27), though it was restricted in certain situations (Leviticus 10:8-11; Numbers 6:1-4; Proverbs 31:4). We also have examples of personal choices of abstention, whether temporarily or permanently (Daniel 1:8; 10:2-3; Luke 1:15; Matthew 11:18; 27:34; Romans 14:21).

This proverb focuses on the negative effects of intoxicating drinks when abused. The word for mocker means scoffing, and the word for raging means growling, as in loud and violent. These reflect the actions of those under the influence and are the opposite of the self-control taught by wisdom. The word for deceived means to go astray, or err from the way. To be led astray by wine and strong drink is to be not wise, or a fool.

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