Chapter 31

Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Ralph Wardlaw

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Proverbs 31:6,7

"Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more."

The phrase, "who is perishing," is meant to describe a class of persons who are on the brink of some very heavy and ruinous calamity, who are overwhelmed with apprehension and fainting in despondency. Those "who are bitter of heart" are they who are embittered by the severe distresses of extreme poverty and privation along with their attendant evils, or by any affliction that preys upon the mind, oppressing and dispiriting it. To such as these is wine and strong drink here recommended.

I pity the state of that man's mind who can for one moment allow himself to suppose that this passage contains an inspired toleration of excess!--a permission and encouragement to the destitute, afflicted, and disconsolate to drown their cares and ills in the intemperate carousals of social indulgence or in secret and solitary drunkenness!--to seek their relief in the insensibility of intoxication or even to chase away the real sadness of care and mental trouble by the false and temporary excitement and merriment of strong drinks!--to make wine, in its inebriating excesses, the refuge from melancholy!

Would it be fair to set this one passage against the whole Bible, one text against its entire scope and unnumbered positive and pointed and damnatory prohibitions? When men take hold of a passage like this and turn it into an excuse for excessive indulgence, quoting it with a leer while putting the bottle to each other's lips and drinking themselves drunk, they only reveal the bent of their minds and inclinations of their hearts. They know the Bible condemns them; and that while they perversely cite this text over their jovial cups, a thousand others could be thundered in their ears denouncing the vengeance of offended heaven and shutting them out of the kingdom above.

It would even be more consistent to question the canonical authority of the passage than to use it thus. But there is no need for such a resource. The lessons plainly taught are,

1. That while wine and strong drink were not to be used in excess by anyone, and especially by those whose office required constant possession of a clear head and a sound and discriminating judgment, yet they were not without their use.

2. That their use consisted especially in being cordials [stimulating medicine] to the suffering and depressed in spirit, to be used in the manner and for the purposes which a kind and gracious Providence designed them. The same Providence that furnished the corn furnished the wine; and when the one was used for its own purpose, with equal propriety and sinlessness so might the other. Those therefore who were "heavy of heart," from whatever cause, were warranted to use the means in such a way as to revive and cheer them, and to give them power to enjoy the good that remained, to enjoy whatever is fitted to yield enjoyment. But the drinking which the drunkard would gladly find in this passage is drinking which not only drowns suffering but drowns enjoyment too, since nothing can be rightly enjoyed by a reasonable creature when he has deprived himself of his reason. And such is the effect of all drinking to excess.

3. That the lesson is one of benevolence, sympathy, and kindness. Instead of abusing the gifts of Providence in wanton, unbecoming, and criminal self-indulgence, we should make a right use of them for the benefit of others. If bread is intended to "strengthen man's heart" and wine is to "make it glad," it becomes just as much a duty to administer the latter where it is required as to supply the former; to furnish the heavy-hearted with wine as the starving with bread. All depends on its being done on right occasions--in cases of really urgent need. This is the use which Lemuel's mother admonished him to make of his abundance. Give meat where it is needed; give drink where it is needed. Give bread to the starving; give the wine and cordial to the sick-at-heart and despondent.

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Proverbs 31:30,31

"Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates."

The "favor" here spoken of seems to be the favor which is won by mere beauty or personal appearance; and the "beauty" of course is that by which favor is attracted. The one is "deceitful" and the other "vain." In other words, the woman who trusts in the steadfastness of favor, of that which has been obtained by no better qualities than the symmetry of her features, the delicacy of her complexion, or the elegance of her person, will find herself disappointed. The love on which she relied was "eye-love" and not "heart-love." The love that lasts must be obtained by qualities of a higher order.

On the other hand, "beauty is vain." This is the beauty only of feature and of form, not of the mind and heart. The man who is attracted by it and unites himself for life with a woman in whom he has nothing else, will ultimately discover its vanity. It is itself but a fading flower. It cannot always retain its bloom. And circumstances may produce a more rapid fading than that which the ordinary course of nature and time must do. Unless there is something more deeply seated than the blooming tincture of the skin that has drawn his love, all will quickly become insipid enough. He will come to sigh over the vanity of his bewitched fancy and his foolish anticipations. And when he comes to feel that there are other qualities indispensably necessary in a wife and a mother, he will despise himself as a fool for his pains, for having allowed his eye thus to mislead his better judgment.

One quality there is which, in the eye of Lemuel's mother, stood prominently forward as first in the attributes of character entitling to the commendation here bestowed--namely, true religion, "the fear of God." "A woman who fears Yahweh, she shall be praised." This is a quality neither deceitful nor vain. It is the germ of all the excellencies enumerated in verses 10-31. She shall be praised--praised by all who know her and by all who hear of her; yes, and by Yahweh himself. This is God's word, and here is His recorded eulogy. It is His commendation of everyone who bears the character. When "the judgment shall be set, and the books shall be opened," the owner of this character will be praised before the assembled world by the God whom she feared, loved, and served.

It is the duty of all to praise her; and in so doing, to "give her of the fruit of her hands." It is no more than her just due, no more than what she has wrought out and earned for herself. If tongues were silent, her works would speak for her. They "praise her in the gates," praise her publicly to the view and the admiration of all. Let her have the praise, and let the praise be coveted and emulated by women of every degree. Such women are to a great extent the "formers" of the character of a community. They frame the character of the nursery; and the character of the nursery, rising into manhood, becomes the character of the future generation.

Besides, it has become a commonplace remark to what an extent the character of one sex affects that of the other. How powerful is the influence of woman upon man. According to the place which woman holds in social life may the character of the community be estimated for meanness or dignity, hard-heartedness or sensibility, coarseness or refinement, sensuality or intellectual and moral elevation, indifference to religion or seriousness of piety.

Women in such a country as ours are in general little aware of the amount of their obligations to Christianity for their position in society. Oh, but would they pay back to Christianity what they owe to it by embracing its truths, imbibing its spirit, exemplifying its influence, and thus leavening domestic and social life with its holy and happy effects! They have much in their power. Though their immediate influence is in the domestic circle--their proper and legitimate sphere--yet from there it spreads upwards, around, and onward. The whole mass of society becomes permeated by the influence of the wives and mothers of the land. And thus, in the most enlarged acceptation of the words, "their own works praise them in the gates."

Let the children of godly and exemplary mothers think of the obligations under which they lie to providence for such a privilege, and let them beware of the wrong they must do to God and to society if they fail to catch and transfuse the holy influence. Many men, eminent in devotion to God and in usefulness to the generations in which they have lived, have imputed the germ of all their excellence and of all their beneficial working to a mother's instructions and example.

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