Proverbs 23:29-31

Who Hath Woe?


1. The final verses of Proverbs 23 deal with the dangers of alcohol.

2. This was a problem in Solomon’s day and has been ever since.

3. Actually, the Bible mentions the abuse of wine ever since the days of Noah and probably much before.

4. Verses 29-35 are counted as the 18th wise saying in this section.

5. This section is WISDOM warning his readers against using alcohol.

The Rhetorical Questions (vs.29)

Six rhetorical questions are asked and they all have the same answer. In every case, the answer is they that tarry long at the wine. (vs.30)

1. Who hath woe?

a. Woe: This is a passionate cry of grief or despair; it speaks of intense hardship and distress;

b. What kind of a person will end up crying out in grief and despair? The one who uses alcohol.

c. What kind of person will end up living a life of intense hardship and despair? The one who uses alcohol.

d. With these three words (who hath woe) we have been given sufficient warning to stay away from alcohol.

e. This warning is coming from God’s book of wisdom.

f. The warning is clear and unambiguous.

g. The response is up to us. We can take heed to God’s words of wisdom OR we can ignore it or reject it and decide to experiment with alcohol.

h. Why would a believer try to do that? To prove God wrong? To prove how strong you are? To prove that while others may fall victim to alcohol, it will never happen to me?

i. When the Bible warns us that the use of a product results in grief, despair, hardship, and distress, clearly that is a warning to stay away and NOT to experiment with it.

2. Who hath sorrow?

a. Sorrow: Like the word “woe,” this is also an exclamation: it is an exclamation of pain or anxiety; sadness; remorse;

b. It is not a common word for sorrow. The term is used only here in the Bible.

c. So the question is asked: who will experience pain, anxiety, sadness and remorse?

d. You guessed it—the one who is tricked by alcohol.

e. Prov. 20:1 – Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

f. Wine truly is a mocker. It promises happiness, (just watch how happy the people are on the Budweiser commercials) but in the end it produces sorrow and woe. (You never see that on the commercials.)

g. Note that the first two questions (woe and sorrow) deal with emotional problems related to alcohol.

3. Who hath contentions?

a. Contentions: Strife; arguing; quarreling; disputes; fights;

b. Who ends up leading a life of strife, arguing, and fighting? The one who tarries at the wine.

c. God’s wisdom warns us that drinking leads to arguments and fights.

d. This is a multiple choice question: Where do you think you are more likely to hear of a brawl occurring? (a) the supermarket; (b) the local barroom; (c) the library?

e. Children who grew up in a home where their parents abused alcohol know all about arguing and fighting. They had to endure 18 years or so of arguing and fighting. It is the environment in which they lived. They probably grow up thinking it is normal.

f. How many marriages have been destroyed because of alcohol? How many families broken up? How many kids have had their youth ruined because of alcoholic parents?

g. How many MORE will there be?

h. Why would a Christian drink something that he KNOWS leads to arguing and fighting?

i. We’ve been warned.

4. Who hath babbling?

a. Babbling: Complaint; lament; foolish talk; empty-talk; i.e., speech which makes no sense.

b. It is not certain which meaning is intended here. Both fit the context.

c. It may mean complaining or lamenting. Those who are full of alcohol do a fair amount of complaining. That is what often leads to the arguments and the fights.

d. It may mean foolish talk, empty talk, or speech that makes no sense. Certainly this is true.

e. People who are under the influence of alcohol say very foolish things. They ramble on and often make no sense.

f. They can be quite obnoxious.

g. As believers, we are to be extra careful about our speech. Every idle word we speak will be judged one day.

h. Why would a Christian drink something that he KNOWS will cause him to say foolish things… senseless things?

i. Very often the foolish things that a drunkard says are vulgar, immoral, and indecent.

j. Such talk has resulted in fights too—in which a drunk doesn’t fare very well.

k. The first two questions dealt with emotional problems created by alcohol.

l. The next two questions (contentions and babbling) have to do with social problems… interpersonal relationships that are ruined as a result of drinking.

5. Who hath wounds without a cause?

a. This too speaks of the danger of alcohol… only this speaks of physical problems that result from wine and strong drink.

b. Wounds without a cause: this is a bodily wound or bruise that is in vain… without a purpose… pointless.

c. In other words, the drunkard also ends up getting hurt physically… for no good reason.

d. There are lots of ways a drunk gets hurt:
• He can’t walk right and often falls.
• They fall down stairs… and off cliffs.
• They are impaired and cannot drive—though they think they can. They often get in auto accidents which result in physically to themselves and others.
• They have a big mouth and get in fights—and rarely win the fight. They end up severely bruised.
• Drunks think they can do things that they are unable to do. Alcohol gives a false sense of bravery—which results in pointless injury: they think the thin ice will hold them up; they think that they can fight a guy much bigger than they are; they think that they operate machinery.
e. Because they were drunk, they don’t feel the pain until they wake up the next day.

f. Because they were drunk they often don’t even remember how they got hurt.

g. This is a terrible way to live. We have been warned.

6. Who hath redness of eyes?

a. This speaks of the typical bloodshot eyes of a drunk.

b. He cannot see well and he cannot walk well.

c. He is an accident waiting to happen.

d. These last two questions dealt with the issue of physical suffering related to the use of alcohol.

e. Alcohol results in emotional problems (woe and sorrow); interpersonal relationship problems (contention and babbling); and physical problems (wounds and bloodshot eyes).

One Answer: (vs.30)

Solomon lists six rhetorical questions and there is but one answer to them all: the drunkard—that’s who! The drunkard is described in two ways here.

1. “They that tarry long at the wine.”

a. Tarry long: (one word in Hebrew) To delay; remain; slow down; linger.

b. This speaks of a person who lingers at the spot where the alcohol is served.

c. Prov. 23:20 – Earlier in this chapter Solomon warned his readers (his son) not even to associate with winebibbers. Don’t hang around with them… don’t linger with them.

2. “They that go to seek mixed wine.”

a. Seek: Seek for; search out; explore in order to discover or find something.

b. The English words “mixed wine” are a translation of one Hebrew word. That word means wine that is mixed with something else… usually water. (Although sometimes they also added spices to give it more flavor.)

c. Here Solomon speaks of the person who actively seeks out mixed wine… alcohol.

d. Perhaps Solomon used this term for wine to highlight the fact that in ancient times, the Jews did not drink wine straight. That was forbidden.

e. The Jews mixed between 3-10 parts water to one part wine. Thus, the wine they drank had a negligible amount of alcohol in it.

f. Thus, the wine in the Bible was NOT the same as wine that is drunk today. Today people drink it unmixed. That is what the Bible writers called “strong drink.”

g. This is another term easily misunderstood by the modern reader today. In the Bible, “strong drink” does not refer to what WE call strong drink: whiskey or bourbon. Distilled alcohol had not yet been invented!

h. Strong drink in the Bible was unmixed wine and was forbidden.

i. The only way to get drunk drinking wine mixed with 3-10 parts of water would be to “tarry long” at the wine… to linger where it was served.

j. Thus, the person who tarried long at the wine WANTED to become intoxicated.

k. The Bible did not forbid drinking alcohol altogether, because in those days the water was stagnant and needed to be purified.

l. Adding acidic wine to their alkaline water neutralized the water and prevented them from getting sick – with stomach problems.

m. Thus, they HAD to use wine in those days to purify their water.

n. Hence, all the WARNINGS in the Bible associated with wine.

o. They had to USE wine to purify their water, but they were warned not to LINGER at it. Be careful.

p. It results in emotional problems (distress, grief and sorrow), interpersonal relationship problems (arguments; fights; divorce; ruined homes) and physical problems (wounds; red eye… not to mention cirrhosis of the liver, auto accidents; etc.)

q. The rest of this chapter gives us more reason to beware of the danger of alcohol.