What does Proverbs 23:31 mean?
ESV: Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.
NIV: Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!
NASB: Do not look at wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly;
CSB: Don’t gaze at wine because it is red, because it gleams in the cup and goes down smoothly.
NLT: Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
KJV: Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
NKJV: Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly;
Verse Commentary:
This continues the Bible's most detailed warning about the dangers of drunkenness. Prior verses detailed how excessive drinking leads to problems (Proverbs 23:29–30). Other Scriptures contain warnings and cautionary tales about those who become drunk (Proverbs 20:1; Genesis 19:30–38; Judges 16:25–30; Ephesians 5:18). Wine and other intoxicants are alluring, but this passage advises a person to avoid being tempted by them.

To avoid those harms, Solomon uses the symbolism of the eyes, telling the reader to not even look at such substances. Both in metaphor and reality, the "eyes" indicate where a person focuses their attention. Many references in the Bible to "looking" at something are more about choosing to consider something, or dwelling on it, and not about merely perceiving an image (Genesis 31:12; Joshua 24:15; Proverbs 23:26). Many biblical references to sin and temptation begin with someone "seeing" something—these references are not merely about vision, but where that person chose to place their attention. Eve sinned after she "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise" (Genesis 3:6). Samson sinned after he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines and told his parents to get her for him as his wife (Judges 14:1–2). David sinned after "he saw from the roof a woman bathing" (2 Samuel 11:2).
Verse Context:
Proverbs 23:26–35 contains a portion of thirty wise sayings endorsed by Solomon (Proverbs 22:17–21). In verse 26, he again pleads for his words to be heard. The warnings given here are more extensive than most others in this book. The first sounds an alarm about sexual temptation, comparing it to a trap or an ambush. The second goes to great lengths discouraging drunkenness, because of its effects and the danger of addiction.
Chapter Summary:
This portion of wise sayings (Proverbs 22:17–21) starts with the sixth of thirty mentioned in chapter 22. These include advice on presenting oneself well to a host, while not being unduly influenced by such hospitality. The passage also speaks on the right time to share wisdom, ethics, discipline, and the joys associated with godly children. Also included are warnings about relationships and those who lack self-control. The chapter ends with the Bible's most strident warning about the dangers of alcohol abuse; this is the eighteenth of the thirty promised teachings.
Chapter Context:
This chapter continues Solomon's collection of the sayings of wise men (Proverbs 22:17–21). These lessons continue through Proverbs 24:34. Here, Solomon addresses his "son," perhaps meaning a student, with warnings about money, gluttony, speaking in the company of a fool, dishonesty, withholding discipline from a child, keeping company with drunkards, and the abuse of alcohol. The description of alcohol's risks is the most extensive such caution given in Scripture.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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