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Richard Clifford: Verses 1–9 are skillfully composed. The first section (vv. 3–5, 26 words) is an admonition against the imprudent use of sex and alcohol (“wine,” “strong drink”) lest the luxury-loving king forget the poor. The second section (vv. 6–9, 28 words) is an exhortation to the prudent use of alcohol (“strong drink,” “wine”) in order that the miserable poor can forget their poverty. Verses 8–9 are positive as v. 3 is negative; the verses urge the king to open his mouth not to drink but to speak for the voiceless and poor. The underlying subject of the poem is a king’s duty to effect justice for the poor. How easy it is for a king to squander the authority God has given him to protect the weak! . . .

The Proverbs passage is a well-crafted exhortation from the queen mother to her royal son. The author transforms traditional warnings to rulers against the abuse of sex and liquor into an exhortation to practice justice. Use the wine for the poor, the queen mother urges, and use your mouth to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. “To judge the poor” in biblical idiom is to intervene on their side, to become their champion. The poem’s wit and light touch might render benevolent a king who would otherwise be offended by criticism. The piece is an admirable example of mûsār, “discipline; warning,” which is etymologically related to the verb yāsar, “reprove,” in v. 1. In its biblical context, the exhortation is applicable to all who are tempted to turn authority into privilege.

Paul Koptak: A mother’s lesson to her son reminds the ruler to serve all the people, especially the poor.

Lindsay Wilson: The first section of this final chapter sets out an oracle to King Lemuel from his mother.  They are words of warning, correction and encouragement for him in his duties as a king.  Lemuel was not a king in Israel or Judea, so this “foreign” material has been incorporated into this wisdom book because its truths need hearing.  The inclusion of this “overheard oracle” implies that it is relevant to more than King Lemuel alone.  The attribution of the oracle to his mother also reminds us of the role of women in the wisdom tradition, and their significant contribution to training up the next generation. . .

While these words are addressed to a king by his mother, they are included in this book because they have a wider application.  If kings can distort justice by drink-affected decisions, so can other officials and leaders, and they will need to take notice of the same warning.  The underlying principle is that we need to use our influence or power for the benefit of others, not for our own self-indulgence, but to promote justice.  The section ends with a reminder that it is not enough to refrain from unhelpful actions, since se also need to speak out for what is right and builds up the entire community.

Tremper Longman: With the majority of scholars, I treat these two poems (:1-9; :10-31) as separate rather than intentionally linked.  In other words, I do not think that the picture of the noble woman is intended to provide an alternative choice to the women to whom the king might inappropriately give his strength (v. 3).



A.  (:1) Source of the Oracle

  1. Immediate Source

The words of King Lemuel,

Allen Ross: Jewish legend identifies Lemuel as Solomon and the advice as from Bathsheba from a time when Solomon indulged in magic with his Egyptian wife and delayed the morning sacrifices (see Greenstone, 329). But there is no evidence for these assumptions.

Charles Bridges: Both Agur and Lemuel have been identified with Solomon, although there is no historical evidence.  It seems unlikely that Solomon, having given his own name more than once in this book (1:1; 10:1), should give two mystical names at the end, without any distinct personal application.

  1. Originating Source

the oracle which his mother taught him.

Richard Clifford: A mother and father could be a source of instruction in Proverbs (1:8; 6:20). The mother of a king in the Canaanite world played a major role in the palace. Because of her longevity, knowledge of palace politics, and undoubted loyalty to her son, she was in a good position to offer him reliable counsel.  The Aramaisms and the place name show the non-Israelite origin of the piece.

Tremper Longman: We have already noted and commented on the fact that in Hebrew proverbs, as opposed to other ancient Near Eastern proverbs, mothers are mentioned as those engaged in the instruction of their children.  However, this is the only place where we actually hear the voice of the mother independently of that of the father.  The topic of her conversation is something that a wise mother, especially the wise mother of a leader, would want to drive home to her child: women and drink are two large temptations to a man with power and money.

Caleb Nelson: Wisdom’s last word goes to mom. The structure of the book tells us in no uncertain terms that the greatest reward the wise son can find is a wise and valiant, God-fearing wife who will be a wise mother and speak wisdom to her children.

B.  (:2) Supplication of the Mother

What, O my son?

And what, O son of my womb?

And what, O son of my vows?

George Mylne: When this venerable lady was instructing her son, her heart was overflowing with inexpressible tenderness of affection to him. . .  This fond mother considered and pondered in her mind what way she should express her tender regard, and she could find no better way of showing it than by teaching him the wisdom which befits his station; for what greater testimony of love can any mother give to the son of her womb?

Richard Clifford: “Son of my vow” refers to a vow the mother promised if God were to give her a son. A notable biblical example is Hannah in 1 Sam. 1:11: “O Yahweh of Hosts, if you will only regard the misery of your servant and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will bring him to you as a nazirite until the day of his death.” After such a vow, the royal son was born to the queen.

Tremper Longman: Besides three vocatives that indicate the mother’s intimacy with her son and therefore her right to speak to him in an authoritative manner, as few could address the king, the three cola all simply begin with “What?”  Perhaps it is an incredulous “
What!” short for “What are you doing!” that leads her to comment on women and drink.  In any case, this opening salvo leads to these two subjects in that order.

Matthew Henry: I must reprove thee, and reprove thee sharply, and thou must take it well, for,

“Thou art descended from me; thou art the son of my womb, and therefore what I say comes from the authority and affection of a parent and cannot be suspected to come from any ill-will. Thou art a piece of myself. I bore thee with sorrow, and I expect no other return for all the pains I have taken with thee, and undergone for thee, than this, Be wise and good, and then I am well paid.”

“Thou art devoted to my God; thou art the son of my vows, the son I prayed to God to give me and promised to give back to God, and did so” (thus Samuel was the son of Hannah’s vows); “Thou art the son I have often prayed to God to give his grace to (Ps. 72:1), and shall a child of so many prayers miscarry?”


A.  Prohibition

Do not give your strength to women,

Caleb Nelson: Lemuel’s mother warns him first against living for sexual pleasure. Women destroy kings. Now, she knows because she’s a king’s mother. That almost certainly implies that she has lived most of her life in a royal court and seen more than her share of kings brought down by women. Just as I know a lot of pastors because I’m a pastor, so kings generally know a number of kings because they are kings. And so on. Well, the point here is not that women are a problem, but rather that the abuse of women is a problem. If you live for sexual pleasure and give your strength to women (plural), you have handed yourself over to something that destroys kings. What does Lemuel’s mom mean by this statement? She means that living for sexual pleasure destroys kings. Wanting to enjoy more than one woman is bad enough. Actually doing it saps a man’s moral fiber, first of all. It uses up his time that should be spent on ruling and caring for his children, teaching them the way of wisdom. Look at David — lots of sons, most of them a total loss because dad spent his days f**king around instead of disciplining his children. Look at Solomon — lots of wives, but only one son, and that one a fool.

Let me just say it as clearly as Lemuel’s mother did: Giving your manliness, symbolized by your man-parts, into the hands of more than one woman will suck your strength and blight your rule. You ain’t man enough to take care of more than one. I don’t care how impressed you are with yourself, and your mom doesn’t either. Give your strength to woman, to a single one for a lifetime, and you will be repaid with the joys of the Prov. 31 woman, joys Lemuel’s mom is about to discuss. But give your strength to multiple women, and you will be a hollow shell, a sorry excuse for a man. This includes porn. This includes lingerie ads. This includes groping, flirting, and every other form of cheating from fornication to adultery and beyond. The man who is spending his time seeking women is not spending his time seeking holiness, or righteous rule. So if you want to be fitted to reign with Christ, keep yourself to one and only one woman.

B.  Rationale

Or your ways to that which destroys kings.

Paul Koptak: The concern over the distractions of harems and drinking and the resulting impaired judgment were common throughout the literature of the ancient Near East, including that of Israel.

Lindsay Wilson: “Strength” (hayil) commonly means “power” or “strength”, but can also mean “wealth” or “substance” (Ge. 34:29; Deut. 8:18).  Later in this chapter (v. 10) it refers to a woman of “ability” or an excellent woman (also 12:4).  It can have a wide range of meanings covering all that a person has physically, financially and morally.  The force here is “do not expend all your energies and resources” on sexual self-indulgence, seeking to win the favours of the court women (Murphy 1998: 241 suggests “the intrigues that are often associated with a harem”).  The reason given is that they can destroy kings, probably by creating factions and divisions, or giving birth to rival heirs.  Apart from these actions being self-focused, they are also a massive distraction to his real task as king.  Power is to be used to serve others, not yourself.

Tremper Longman: It would be a tremendous temptation for a king to use his power to amass a number of wives, concubines, and other women.  But women can get even a king into trouble.  Solomon is an example of that, with his multitudinous wives, who ultimately led him astray.  This is also illustrated by David, whose pursuit of Bathsheba was responsible for many of the palace intrigues that plagued his later years and succession.  In any case, the sages surely would argue that even the king had the same responsibility to act with integrity in sexual relationships as their teaching required for other young men (see chaps. 5-7).  In light of the parallelism, the “ways” that wipe out kings certainly refers to the wrong way of relating to women.

Allen Ross: the point of the verse is that while it would be easy for a king to spend his time and energy enjoying women, doing so would be unwise.


A.  (:4-5) Negative Warning Regarding Alcohol –

Kings Must Not Drink and Forget

  1. (:4)  Prohibition

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine,

Or for rulers to desire strong drink,

Lindsay Wilson: A particular temptation for kings seems to be the excessive consumption of alcohol, presumably paired with a self-indulgent party lifestyle.  The rationalizations would be easy:

  • I can afford it;
  • I would enjoy it;
  • perhaps even, I deserve it.

Caleb Nelson: If you are going to reign with Christ, you need to be very careful in your use of alcohol. And the more responsible your position is, the more careful you need to be with it. Jesus drank wine and gave it to others. The words of Lemuel’s mother should not be taken as a total ban on the stuff. But she is adamant that if you drink enough to forget what the law is, you are in sin. If you drink enough that you can’t exercise all the functions of your office, making decisions and tough calls, then you are in sin.

  1. (:5)  Rationale

Lest they drink and forget what is decreed,

And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

Lindsay Wilson: A king’s power should be used to promote justice and the rights of the powerless, but a king who drinks and parties can change or pervert justice for the marginalized or afflicted.  A self-focused party lifestyle impedes a ruler’s commitment to the needs of his community.

Tremper Longman: The Bible as a whole is not at all opposed to alcohol . . . but heavy drinking is frowned upon.  It is very important for a king to know what he is doing as he makes decisions, because his decisions have important ramifications for many people.

That Lemuel’s mother commends the use of alcohol to the poor may be seen in part as a strategy to discourage her royal son.  In other words, she may be saying the equivalent of “Don’t act like those derelicts who drink to forget their hardships.  Act like the king you are.”  The king is the human representative of God, who protects the rights of those who lack power (the needy and the destitute).

B.  (:6-7) Positive Purpose of Alcohol –

The Afflicted Should Drink and Forget

  1. (:6)  Target of God’s Gift of Alcohol

Give strong drink to him who is perishing,

And wine to him whose life is bitter.

Charles Bridges: Yet the abuse of God’s blessing does not destroy its use.  Wine is the gift of God.  It makes a man’s heart glad.  It restores and refreshes.  Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish.  The Samaritan did just this to the wounded traveler, and Paul prescribed it for the illness of his beloved son in the faith (1 Timothy 5:23).  The rule, therefore, of love and self-denial is as follows: Instead of wasting beer and wine on yourself and merely indulging your own appetite, share your luxuries with those who really need them, such as the perishing and those who are in anguish.

  1. (:7)   Therapeutic Value of God’s Gift of Alcohol

Let him drink and forget his poverty,

And remember his trouble no more.

Matthew Henry: We must deny ourselves in the gratifications of sense, that we may have to spare for the relief of the miseries of others, and be glad to see our superfluities and dainties better bestowed upon those whom they will be a real kindness to than upon ourselves whom they will be a real injury to. Let those that are ready to perish drink soberly, and it will be a means so to revive their drooping spirits that they will forget their poverty for the time and remember their misery no more, and so they will be the better able to bear it.


A.  (:8) Advocate Verbally for the Vulnerable

Open your mouth for the dumb,

For the rights of all the unfortunate.

Paul Koptak: Above all, wise speech is speech that advocates for the rights of the poor. Kings are to make this part of their job description (e.g., 29:4, 14; cf. 16:13; 20:28; 25:5); note that in previous chapters this responsibility belongs to everyone. The Hebrew of verse 8 reads, “for the mute,” that is, those “who cannot speak for themselves” and be heard. Then, as now, the rich and powerful had the voices that counted.

B.  (:9) Actively Defend the Vulnerable

Open your mouth, judge righteously,

And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Paul Koptak: Rather than deprive the poor of their rights (31:5), those who speak rightly will defend them. More than giving drink to cover over the misery of the poor (31:7), those who speak rightly work to remove the source of that misery.

Lindsay Wilson: It is the king’s role to judge righteously or with fairness (sedeq, v. 9a; 16:12; 20:28), and to act positively for (defend) those who are variously described as poor, needy (v. 9b) and “those whom fortune has passed by” (destitute, most EVV, but the verb means to “pass on, by, away”, v. 8b).  This is not simply a call to “do no harm”, but rather a rallying cry to “do good”.