Who scream? Who shriek?
Who have strife? Who have anxiety?
Who have wounds for nothing?
Who have black eyes?
The language draws us in – who is in such distress?
The answer was not what I expected: “Those who linger long over wine, those who engage in trials of blended wine.”
Not that the ancient Hebrews were teetotalers – but they recognized that some people get caught up in the snares of drinking constantly and to excess. This longer lesson within the book of Proverbs includes a description of the experience of being drunk:
“Your eyes behold strange sights,
and your heart utters disordered thoughts;
You are like one now lying in the depths of the sea,
now sprawled at the top of the mast.”
They recognized the combination of effects – not only the changes to perception, but also the impact on the thoughts of one’s heart. Their understanding of the human body placed wisdom, understanding, choice and will in the heart;disordered thoughts from the heart would not be mere confusion or dullness. When the heart utters disordered thoughts, a person could spend all his resources, walk away from her family, act in ways that would go against all they believe in most deeply.
While Proverbs contains many warnings about wine, none are included in this small section. It is offered as an unattractive portrait: this is what the life of a drunk is like. All those who have experienced serious drunkenness will recognize themselves – and perhaps be moved to consider a different path.
The ancient writer recognized, too, how difficult it is to change the path of alcoholism, ending with an image of the cycle that leads from the drunken stupor to the next drink:
They struck me, butit pained me not;
they beat me, but I felt it not;
When shall I awake
to seek wine once again?”