Proverbs 20:1
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
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(1) Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging—i.e., producing these effects in those who subject themselves to their power.



Proverbs 20:1 - Proverbs 20:7

The connection between the verses of this passage is only in their common purpose to set forth some details of a righteous life, and to brand the opposite vices. A slight affinity may be doubtfully traced in one or two adjacent proverbs, but that is all.

First comes temperance, enforced by the picture of a drunkard. Wine and strong drink are, as it were, personified, and their effects on men are painted as their own characters. And an ugly picture it is, which should hang in the gallery of every young man and woman. ‘Wine is a mocker.’ Intemperance delights in scoffing at all pure, lofty, sacred things. It is the ally of wild profanity, which sends up its tipsy and clumsy ridicule against Heaven itself. If a man wants to lose his sense of reverence, his susceptibility for what is noble, let him take to drink, and the thing is done. If he would fain keep these fresh and quick, let him eschew what is sure to deaden them. Of course there are other roads to the same end, but there is no other end to this road. Nobody ever knew a drunkard who did not scoff at things that should be reverenced, and that because he knew that he was acting in defiance of them.

‘A brawler,’ or, as Delitzsch renders it, ‘boisterous’-look into a liquor-store if you want to verify that, or listen to a drunken party coming back from an excursion and making night hideous with their bellowings, or go to any police court on a Monday morning. We in England are familiar with the combination on police charge-sheets, ‘drunk and disorderly.’ So does the old proverb-maker seem to have been. Drink takes off the brake, and every impulse has its own way, and makes as much noise as it can.

The word rendered in Authorised Version ‘is deceived,’ and in Revised Version ‘erreth,’ is literally ‘staggers’ or ‘reels,’ and it is more graphic to keep that meaning. There is a world of quiet irony in the unexpectedly gentle close of the sentence, ‘is not wise.’ How much stronger the assertion might have been! Look at the drunkard as he staggers along, scoffing at everything purer and higher than himself, and ready to fight with his own shadow, and incapable of self-control. He has made himself the ugly spectacle you see. Will anybody call him wise?

The next proverb applies directly to a state of things which most nations have outgrown. Kings who can give full scope to their anger, and who inspire mainly terror, are anomalies in civilised countries now. The proverb warns that it is no trifle to rouse the lion from his lair, and that when he begins to growl there is danger. The man who stirs him ‘forfeits his own life,’ or, at all events, imperils it.

The word rendered ‘sins’ has for its original meaning ‘misses,’ and seems to be so used here, as also in Proverbs 8:36. ‘Against’ is a supplement. The maxim inculcates the wisdom of avoiding conduct which might rouse an anger so sure to destroy its object. And that is a good maxim for ordinary times in all lands, monarchies or republics. For there is in constitutional kingdoms and in republics an uncrowned monarch, to the full as irresponsible, as easily provoked, and as relentless in hunting its opponents to destruction, as any old-world tyrant. Its name is Public Opinion. It is not well to provoke it. If a man does, let him well understand that he takes his life, or what is sometimes dearer than life, in his hand. Not only self-preservation, which the proverb and Scripture recognise as a legitimate motive, but higher considerations, dictate compliance with the ruling forces of our times, as far as may be. Conscience only has the right to limit this precept, and to say, ‘Let the brute roar, and never mind if you do forfeit your life. It is your duty to say “No,” though all the world should be saying “Yes.”‘

A slight thread of connection may be established between the second and third proverbs. The latter, like the former, commends peacefulness and condemns pugnacity. Men talk of ‘glory’ as the warrior’s meed, and the so-called Christian world has not got beyond the semi-barbarous stage which regards ‘honour’ as mainly secured by fighting. But this ancient proverb-maker had learned a better conception of what ‘honour’ or ‘glory’ was, and where it grew.

‘Peace hath her victories

No less renowned than war,’

said Milton. But our proverb goes farther than ‘no less,’ and gives greater glory to the man who never takes up arms, or who lays them down. The saying is true, not only about warfare, but in all regions of life. Fighting is generally wasted time. Controversialists of all sorts, porcupine-like people, who go through the world all sharp quills sticking out to pierce, are less to be admired than peace-loving souls. Any fool can ‘show his teeth,’ as the word for ‘quarrelling’ means. But it takes a wise man, and a man whose spirit has been made meek by dwelling near God in Christ, to withhold the angry word, the quick retort. It is generally best to let the glove flung down lie where it is. There are better things to do than to squabble.

Proverbs 20:4 is a parable as well as a proverb. If a man sits by the fireside because the north wind is blowing, when he ought to be out in the field holding the plough with frost-nipped fingers, he will beg {or, perhaps, seek for a crop} in harvest, and will find nothing, when others are rejoicing in the slow result of winter showers and of their toilsome hours. So, in all life, if the fitting moments for preparation are neglected, late repentance avails nothing. The student who dawdles when he should be working, will be sure to fail when the examination comes on. It is useless to begin ploughing when your neighbours are driving their reaping machines into the fields. ‘There is a time to sow, and a time to reap.’ The law is inexorable for this life, and not less certainly so for the life to come. The virgins who cried in vain, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ and were answered, ‘Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now!’ are sisters of the man who was hindered from ploughing because it was cold, and asked in vain for bread when harvest time had come. ‘To-day, if ye will to hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’

The next proverb is a piece of shrewd common sense. It sets before us two men, one reticent, and the other skilful in worming out designs which he wishes to penetrate. The former is like a deep draw-well; the latter is like a man who lets down a bucket into it, and winds it up full. ‘Still waters are deep.’ The faculty of reading men may be abused to bad ends, but is worth cultivating, and may be allied to high aims, and serve to help in accomplishing these. It may aid good men in detecting evil, in knowing how to present God’s truth to hearts that need it, in pouring comfort into closely shut spirits. Not only astute business men or politicians need it, but all who would help their fellows to love God and serve Him-preachers, teachers, and the like. And there would be more happy homes if parents and children tried to understand one another. We seldom dislike a man when we come to know him thoroughly. We cannot help him till we do.

The proverb in Proverbs 20:6 is susceptible of different renderings in the first clause. Delitzsch and others would translate, ‘Almost every man meets a man who is gracious to him.’ The contrast will then be between partial ‘grace’ or kindness, and thoroughgoing reliableness or trustworthiness. The rendering of the Authorised and Revised Versions, on the other hand, makes the contrast between talk and reality, professions of goodwill and acts which come up to these. In either case, the saying is the bitter fruit of experience. Even charity, which ‘believeth all things,’ cannot but admit that soft words are more abundant than deeds which verify them. It is no breach of the law of love to open one’s eyes to facts, and so to save oneself from taking paper money for gold, except at a heavy discount. Perhaps the reticence, noted in the previous proverb, led to the thought of a loose-tongued profession of kindliness as a contrast. Neither the one nor the other is admirable. The practical conclusion from the facts in this proverb is double-do not take much heed of men’s eulogiums on their own benevolence; do not trumpet your own praises. Caution and modesty are parts of Christian perfection.

The last saying points to the hereditary goodness which sometimes, for our comfort, we do see, as well as to the halo from a saintly parent which often surrounds his children. Note that there may be more than mere succession in time conveyed by the expression ‘after him.’ It may mean following in his footsteps. Such children are blessed, both in men’s benedictions and in their own peaceful hearts. Weighty responsibilities lie upon the children of parents who have transmitted to them a revered name. A Christian’s children are doubly bound to continue the parental tradition, and are doubly criminal if they depart from it. There is no sadder sight than that of a godly father wailing over an ungodly son, unless it be that of the ungodly son who makes him wail. Absalom hanging by his curls in the oak-tree, and David groaning, ‘My son, my son!’ touch all hearts. Alas that the tragedy should be so often repeated in our homes to-day!

Proverbs 20:1. Wine is a mocker — Wine immoderately drank makes men mockers or scoffers at God and men: see Hosea 7:5. Or, is a mocker to the sinner himself, makes a mock of him, deprives him of his understanding, and causes him to speak and act like a fool, and thereby renders him ridiculous, and exposes him to shame, contempt, and insult. Strong drink is raging — Excites unruly passions in men’s minds, and makes them full of rage and fury. “When wine is in,” says one, “wit is out,” and then the man, according as his natural temper is, either mocks like a fool, or rages like a madman. The word המה, here rendered raging, says Bishop Patrick, signifies “that discomposed, unquiet, and restless state of mind which expresses itself in wild and tumultuous motions.” Whosoever is deceived thereby — Namely, by wine or strong drink; is not wise — Is a fool or a madman, because he deprives himself of the use of his reason. Thus, “the first precept in this chapter is against drunkenness, as an enemy to wisdom, even in common things; much more in those of everlasting consequence: for it commonly expels out of men’s minds all reverence, both to God and others, inclining them to take the license to say or do any thing without restraint or discretion.” Therefore, though it pretends to be a sociable thing, it renders men unfit for society, making them abusive with their tongues, and outrageous in their passions.

20:1 It seems hard to believe that men of the greatest abilities, as well as the ignorant, should render themselves fools and madmen, merely for the taste or excitement produced by strong liquors. 2. How formidable kings are to those who provoke them! how much more foolish then is it to provoke the King of kings! 3. To engage in quarrels is the greatest folly that can be. Yield, and even give up just demands, for peace' sake. 4. He who labours and endures hardship in his seed-time for eternity, will be properly diligent as to his earthly business."Wine" and "strong drink" are personified as themselves doing what they make men do. The latter (see Leviticus 10:9 note) is here, probably, the "palm-wine" of Syria. CHAPTER 20

Pr 20:1-30.

1. mocker—scorner. Such men are made by wine.

strong drink—made by spicing wine (compare Isa 5:11, 22); and it may include wine.

raging—or boisterous as a drunkard.

deceived—literally, "erring," or reeling. Wine is a mocker; wine immoderately drunk makes men mockers or scoffers at God and men. Compare Hosea 7:5.

Strong drink is raging; makes men full of rage and passion.

Is not wise; is a fool, or a madman, because he depriveth himself of the use of his reason.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging,.... Wine deceives a man; it not only overcomes him before he is aware, but it promises him a pleasure which it does not give; but, on the contrary, excessive drinking gives him pain, and so mocks him; yea, it exposes him to reproach and disgrace, and to the mockery and derision of others; as well as it sets him to scoff at his companions, and even to mock at religion, and all that is good and serious; see Hosea 7:5; and strong drink not only disturbs the brain, and puts the spirits in a ferment, so that a man rages within, but it sets him a raving and quarrelling with his company, and everybody he meets with; such generally get into broils and contentions, and get woe, sorrow, and wounds, Proverbs 23:29. Aben Ezra gives this as the sense of the words,

"a man of wine''

(that is, one that is given to wine, a wine bibber), so Ben Melech,

"is a mocker, and he cries out for strong drink, that it may be given him;''

which is not a bad sense of the words.

and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise; whosoever gives himself to it, is not on his guard against it, but is overcome by it, does not act a wise but an unwise part: wine besots as well as deceives men. This may be applied to the wine of fornication, or to the false doctrine and superstition of the church of Rome; with which the nations of the earth are deceived and made drunk, and which puts them upon blaspheming God, deriding his people, and using cruelty to them, Revelation 17:2.

{a} Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whoever is deceived by it is not wise.

(a) By wine here is meant him that is given to wine, and so by strong drink.

1. a mocker] Rather a scorner, Proverbs 1:22, note.

raging] Rather, a brawler, R.V. In each case the thing is personified in its victim. The drunkard in his cups becomes impious towards God and quarrelsome towards his neighbour.

is deceived] erreth, R.V., reeleth, R.V. marg.

Verse 1. - Wine is a mocker; or, scorner, the word (luts) being taken up from the last chapter. The liquor is, as it were, personified, as doing what men do under its influence. Thus inebriated persons scoff at what is holy, reject reproof, ridicule all that is serious. Septuagint, Ἀκόλαστον οϊνος, "Wine is an undisciplined thing;" Vulgate, Luxuriosa res, vinum. Strong drink is raging; a brawler, Revised Version. Shekar, σίκερα (Luke 1:15), is most frequently employed of any intoxicating drink not made from grapes, e.g. palm wine, mead, etc. The inordinate use of this renders men noisy and boisterous, no longer masters of themselves or restrained by the laws of morality or decency. Septuagint, Υβιστικὸν μέθη, "Drunkenness is insolent." Theognis has some sensible lines on this matter ('Parch.,' 479) -

Ος δ α}ν ὑπερβάλλῃ πόσιος μὲτρον οὐκέτι
Τῆς αὐτοῦ γλώσσης καρτερὸς οὐδὲ νόου
Μυθεῖται δ ἀπάλαμνα τὰ νήφοσι γίγνεται αἰσχρά
Αἰδεῖται δ ἕρδων οὐδὲν ὅταν μεθύῃ
Τὸ πρὶν ἐὼν σώφρων τότε νήπιος Whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. No one who reels under the influence of, is overpowered by, wine is wise (Isaiah 28:7). Septuagint, "Every fool is involved in such." Says a Latin adage -

"Ense cadunt multi, perimit sed crapula plures." More are drowned in the wine cup than in the ocean, say the Germans (comp. Proverbs 23:29, etc.; Ephesians 5:18). Proverbs 20:1This proverb warns against the debauchery with which free-thinking is intimately associated.

Wine is a mocker, mead boisterous;

And no one who is overtaken thereby is wise.

The article stands with יין. Ewald maintains that in 10:1-22:6 the article occurs only here and at Proverbs 21:31, and that it is here, as the lxx shows, not original. Both statements are incorrect. The article is found, e.g., at Proverbs 19:6; Proverbs 18:18, Proverbs 18:17, and here the personification of "wine" requires it; but that it is wanting to שׁכר shows how little poetry delights in it; it stands once for twice. The effects of wine and mead (שׁכר from שׁכר, to stop, obstruct, become stupid) are attributed to these liquors themselves as their property. Wine is a mocker, because he who is intoxicated with it readily scoffs at that which is holy; mead is boisterous (cf. הומיּה, Proverbs 7:11), because he who is inebriated in his dissolute madness breaks through the limits of morality and propriety. He is unwise who, through wine and the like, i.e., overpowered by it (cf. 2 Samuel 13:28), staggers, i.e., he gives himself up to wine to such a degree that he is no longer master of himself. At Proverbs 5:19 we read, שׁגה ב, of the intoxication of love; here, as at Isaiah 28:7, of the intoxication of wine, i.e., of the passionate slavish desire of wine or for wine. The word "Erpicht" [avidissimus], i.e., being indissolubly bound to a thing, corresponds at least in some degree to the idea. Fleischer compares the French: tre fou de quelque chose. Isaiah 28:7, however, shows that one has to think on actual staggering, being overtaken in wine.

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