Perhaps the most familiar text concerning wine in the Old Testament, at least in the Wisdom literature, is Proverbs 23.29-35. Following is the entire passage in the NASB: >>>
"29Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? 30Those who linger long over wine [yayin], Those who go to taste mixed wine [mimsak].
31Do not look on the wine [yayin] when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly;
32At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper.
33Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things.
34And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast.
35"They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it When shall I awake? I will seek another drink."
The passage here is easily scored into three parts.
First, the Preacher offers a description of both the internal and external effects of drinking habits. This is especially notable in the series of rhetorical questions which possesses an expected answer: he who possesses woe, experiences sorrow and is ever caught in a contentious, disagreeable spirit. And who might that be, Solomon inquires? Who is this person who chronically complains, feels wounds but cannot recall the cause, who's eyes reflect that which his heart desires?
Solomon is not shy in speaking this poor soul's name. He is the one who lingers at the yayin. Lees translates this literally as those "tarrying (staying behind) at the wine". The idea is one who enjoys wine's company, who cannot seem to leave wine's presence. Thus, he stays behind to be alone with friend.
Note also, there is no sense whatsoever at this juncture of drinking until intoxicated. Nor is the idea present that the problem this lover possesses is that he is immoderate. To the contrary, he is only in love.
The problem is, the yayin for which his romance is stayed cannot satisfy his thirst. He neither lays in a drunken stupor nor wastes away in a pitiful mindset. Rather, he rises and seeks out another lover. A lover whose promise will be to offer him more than he ever dreamed. He, then, goes on a journey, a quest for mixed wine, mimsak.
This term translated "mixed wine" is used only twice in the Old Testament (the other, Isaiah 65.11-12). Sometimes "mixed wines" are not necessarily intoxicating in nature (Proverbs 9.1-6). Here, however, there is no mistake.
The Hebrew literally reads "to those going to search out mixture." What it was that was sought is not stated. Presumably, it was drugs that made yayin even more potent than it already had become.
Thus, we are introduced by Solomon to the internal struggles of one who is in love with yayin and the external, visible signs of his affair.
Solomon is not finished with the picture he wishes to draw for the unwary victim. Fast forwarding to verse 33, we find the man after he's found that for which he searched, the love for which he longed--mimsak--yayin mixed with other potencies. The result at last--"Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things." Deception awaits. Direction lost. Morals depleted. One thing he has on his mind. It is not God. It is not hope. It is not purpose. It only is another drink.
Sandwiched between the internal and external signs of a man in love with yayin and the consequents of that love, is Solomon's description of the deceiver, elsewhere he terms a "mocker" and "brawler"--that which the very wisdom of God says do not partake (20.1); yayin! which is forbidden to Kings, lest their sense of judgment vanishes (31.4-5); yayin! which, in stark irony, is offered only to those who lives mean nothing, whose hope is gone; yayin! the poison of snakes; yayin! the stings of adders (v32).
It is this yayin, Solomon says, without the least hesitation...without doubt...without embarrassment whatsoever, it is this yayin whose presence only the fool would offer a glance. He plainly offers this bit of Inspired Wisdom--"Do not look on the wine [yayin]." Is that hard to understand? Is there special knowledge needed to grasp? "Do not look on the yayin."
There is no mention of moderately looking at the wine. There is no mention here of drinking but not being drunk on the wine. There is no mention here of drinking a single glass of wine and no more. There is no mention here of quantity. Solomon's solution? Do not look on the yayin.
There is surely some mystery about this wine on which we are not to look. "When it is red" is taken by some scholars to mean its deep color due to its age. "When it sparkles in the cup" or literally, "when it gives in the vessel its eye". This very well could refer to its fizz as fermentation is at its height. Or, the bubble when the carbonic acid is produced.
"When it goes down smoothly" is troublesome but may best be seen as the ripples in the glass, again indicative of heightened fermentation. Whatever these particulars are, we are certain of one thing. The yayin about which Solomon warns is potent, dangerous, deadly and ends in destruction--that is, the bite of a cobra.
From my understanding of this passage, there is little hope, apart from denying its reality, that Solomon meant to portray that it is perfectly O.K. to drink this wine he describes in small portions. To do so would be irresponsibly playing with a cobra whose one single bite is the bite of death.
With that, I am...