Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Drinking a Paycheck (Proverbs 23:21)

Who will come to poverty according to Proverbs 23:21? The drunkard and the glutton.

Proverbs 23:19-21 is an earnest appeal from father to son (Proverbs 23:19) admonishing not to associate with drunkards and gluttons (Proverbs 23:20). The father’s rationale is quite practical:

For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags. (Proverbs 23:21 NASB)
Midrash argues that a drunkard will eventually sell all of her possessions in the pursuit of wine (Leviticus Rabbah 12:1). This counsel stands in stark contrast to the opinion held by many that excessive comfort food and/or adult beverage relieve stress and lead to happiness.

While the motivation for abstinence or moderation here is pragmatic, elsewhere in Proverbs, drunkenness and gluttony are rejected on moral grounds. Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) notes:

Drunkenness and gluttony are here castigated. Elsewhere the rationale for criticizing getting drunk has to do with clouding one’s ability to think and make decisions. In other words, it disrupts one’s wisdom. The same can apply to overeating, which would lead to lethargic behavior, not the kind of diligent work so frequently encouraged in the book. However, the explicit motive given here against overdrinking and eating is that such overindulgence would lead to poverty. Spending too much money on too much food and too much drink would be foolish, not wise. For other teaching against overdrinking, see Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35, 31:1-9. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 428)
This utilitarian argument for abstaining from excess fits the book’s perspective on poverty. Timothy Keller (b. 1950) acknowledges:
Another cause of poverty, according to the Bible, is what we would call “personal moral failures,” such as indolence (Proverbs 6:6-7) and other problems with self-discipline (Proverbs 23:21). The book of Proverbs is particularly forceful in its insistence that hard work can lead to economic prosperity (Proverbs 12:11, 14:23, 20:13), though there are exceptions (Proverbs 13:23) (Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just), 34)
Kathleen A. Farmer (b. 1943) summarizes:
The fourteenth “saying” (Proverbs 23:19-21) sees a relationship between overindulgences and poverty, as did several of the Solomonic sentences (e.g. Proverbs 20:12, 21:17). The drunkard, the glutton, and the chronically drowsy will all be clothed in rags, warns the sage. (Farmer, Who Knows What is Good?: A Commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (International Theological Commentary), 111)
Here, extravagant drinking and eating are to be interpreted as a collective representing the epitome of overindulgence. The father’s message is that leading an extravagant lifestyle will eventually lead to poverty.

The Bible does not discourage drinking any more than eating. It is the excess that is frowned upon and this excess was a serious offense. The same words for “heavy drinker” and “glutton” are found in the Law characterizing a rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If found guilty, the stubborn child was to be executed (Deuteronomy 21:21)! Passages like these underscore how heavy a charge opponents levied on Jesus in deeming him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34 NASB).

Given this aggregate interpretation, the proverb is reminding that time, energy, money and opportunity are often wasted in the pursuit of indulgence . Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) conclude:

Overindulgence will prevent a person from making a living, and poverty will be the result. The author needs to warn the reader that self-control in all things is a prerequisite for those wishing to counsel those in power. Lose control and you lose your power and your job. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 228)
What did your parents teach you about alcohol and gluttony? What is the connection between excess and poverty? Has this proverb been proven true? Who can you think of whose extravagant lifestyle resulted in destitution? Have you ever known someone who gave up a vice for financial reasons? Is alcohol consumption more a moral or economic issue? Why does gluttony receive so little press relative to drinking?

Though the verse makes no distinction between gluttony and drunkenness, Proverbs does what most modern readers do when reading about drunkards and gluttons - it abandons gluttony and follows with a discourse on the dangers of excessive drinking (Proverbs 23:29-35).

Duane A. Garrett admits (b. 1953):

Those who live like Shakespeare’s Falstaff soon exhaust their resources. Christians should note that both drunkenness and gluttony are condemned. We often eschew the former and practice the latter. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 196)
Many of the arguments against excessive drinking also apply to gluttony. Max Anders (b. 1947) deduces:
Modern Christians often focus on alcohol, forgetting verses like these that speak against gluttons who lack self-control and gorge themselves on meat. In each case, the problem is the urge to indulge too much!...Either problem leads to the same result. The alcoholic pours all his resources into his drinking habit and eventually lands in poverty. The laziness and drowsiness that accompany such behavior lead inevitably to financial embarrassment. (Anders, Proverbs (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 198-99)
For all practical purposes, most do not perceive gluttony to be a sin. A gluttonous preacher railing against the depravity of inebriation is commonplace. This has not always been the case. In fact, gluttony was one of the seven deadly sins.

Perhaps the Enlightenment’s emphasis on intellect led to a modern docetism in which we accept things that harm the body more readily than those that affect the mind. Francine Prose (b. 1947) recounts:

As the Renaissance and later the Industrial Revolution and eighteenth-century rationalism refocused the popular imagination from heaven to earth and adjusted the goals of labor to include the rewards of this world as well as those of the next, gluttony lost some of its stigma and eventually became almost a badge of pride. Substance, weight, and the ability to afford the most lavish pleasures of the table became visible signs of vitality, prosperity, and of the worldly success to which both the captains and the humble foot soldiers of industry were encouraged to aspire. (Prose, Gluttony (The Seven Deadly Sins), 3)
Culture’s perception of gluttony has clearly changed. Has God’s?

Do you feel gluttony is a sin? If you had to presume a hierarchy of sin, which is worse, drunkenness or gluttony? Why? What are other sins associated with drinking and gluttony? What is the connection between the body and soul?

“Our fear of hypocrisy is forcing us to live in a world where gluttons are fine, so long as they champion gluttony.” - Jonah Goldberg (b. 1969), “Booking Bennet”, May 5, 2003

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