The preceding verses in this chapter (:4-5) spoke negatively about beer and wine for kings, so it seems a bit strange that it would be recommended for others. In fact, this verse has troubled guys at our Helping Up Mission zero-tolerance drug and alcohol recovery program.
These ancient words from King Lemuel’s mother (:1-2) suggested the only analgesic they knew to offer one who was dying (“perishing” and the parallel phrase “in anguish”). It would hopefully give them some relief at the end – that they could “forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”
Of course, anyone who ever drank to excess knows they don’t really help us “forget” and “remember…no more” our difficulties. They are still there – maybe even worse now(!) – and we will still have to face them. That is unless we are dying – this is hospice end-of-life pain management.
Chemically, alcohol is a depressant. It depresses or inhibits the central nervous system – offering a temporary sedative effect. That is exactly what this verse suggests. It can only provide temporary relief to those in great suffering, but nothing of lasting value.
This verse is not about someone “drowning their sorrows.” Based on the preceding verses and many others in Proverbs (20:1; 23:29-35), the king’s mother suggests the only real value for these intoxicants was as ancient pain management to the dying. It appears to be the only good momma could see for this stuff!