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First Quarter 2015 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON PROVERBS
Week 13: March 21–27
COMMENTARY ON WOMEN AND WINE
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week's lesson looks at Proverbs 31 and draws two conclusions: people should never drink, and they should be wise like a woman who cares and provides for her family.
First, it is impossible to arrive at the conclusion that drinking wine is forbidden in Scripture. The lesson goes to significant lengths to explain why it makes no sense to give wine to those who are depressed, as suggested in verses 6-7, but they miss the figure of speech the author is using. Here is Proverbs 31:1-9:
[31:1] The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:  What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows?  Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.  It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink,  lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.  Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;  let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.  Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:1-9).
In context the writer is expressing the need for kings and those in charge of other people’s welfare to be clear-headed, to be able and ready to defend the rights and needs of the afflicted and needy. The figure of speech used here is saying, essentially, that those who are suffering and impoverished might excuse drinking as a way to find some relief from their troubles, but the real solution for the needy is a ruler who is aware of them and is advocating for them. This passage is a contrast, not a command. It is a literary device used to show the difference in expectation between those who have nothing and no hope and those who are in charge of public policies. A good king with a clear and just mind, in other words, will be able to address the needs of the poor in his kingdom. He is the one who can effect solutions for those who are being treated unjustly and are in need. A good king is, indeed, a better solution to their suffering than is wine that will merely dull their pain.
Moreover, other places in Scripture clearly indicate it is permissible to drink wine; what is forbidden in drunkenness:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21).
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless (1 Timothy 3:2-10).
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:21-25).
These passages clearly show that wine is not forbidden; drunkenness is. It is true that a great many people use the biblical permission to drink wine as their personal permission to drink, and they often use wine as self-medication or as means of softening the pain and stress of life. These uses are not endorsed in Scripture, but each person must submit his or her use of alcohol to the Lord Jesus and ask Him to give them His wisdom in dealing with this subject. If one drinks or abstains only in submission to Jesus, he will approach the experience differently than if he simply creates an intellectual argument that uses Scripture to permit whatever it is he desires.
The last part of Proverbs 31 describes the legendary woman of wisdom who cares for her household. In many ways this woman can be seen to be the personification of wisdom, but we would be careless to read it as having no direct bearing on the sort of woman a wife and mother should be.
Proverbs 31: 10-31meshes well with the New Testament admonitions to women. Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22-24), and Peter calls wives to a standard of submission that is compelling:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:1-7).
In other words, women are called to trust God. Even in their relationships with their husbands, their respect and submission to them are not conditioned upon the husbands’ good behavior but upon the commands of the Lord Jesus whose word is our final rule of faith and practice. We can KNOW we must accept His words to us because His word cannot fail.
If God commands us to do or not do something that is natural for us to do, it is because He Himself is faithful to keep His promises and to never leave us, to be our wisdom, our Comfort, our life, our security, our Father, the One who says His power is made perfect in weakness. If we trust Him and submit to Him in obedience to His word, He keeps His word to us.
Proverbs 31, nevertheless, complements the commands to women to submit and trust God. This passage describes the sorts of things Godly wives will do and by which their husbands and children will be enriched and blessed. A godly woman will be wise and make money with the resources at hand. She will provide food and clothing for her entire household, not indulging herself in leisure or self-pity, but she will use her time to do the things she is uniquely able to do. Even if she has household help, as Jewish women did in Old Testament times, they provided for their “help”. They provided an environment in which their husbands could be nurtured and cared for, where their husbands were respected, and godly wives made it possible for their husbands to do what Jewish men did. He behind-the-scenes provision and support (which was underpinned by her husbands’ property and increase) made it possible former husband to be free to interact with men in their businesses and to be respected. She didn’t make his life hard; she isn’t a complaining woman. She values what God has given her and cares for both her property and her family. A godly wife will have a sound head for business, for the value of money and property, and she will use her own strength and resources to care for those things. She will see to it that her children are warm and clothed, that her servants are well-fed and clothed, and she will make decisions and bless her family.
Proverbs 31 describes a bright, talented woman who has wisdom from God, and this sort of woman understands how to respect and submit to her husband. She understands how to trust God to work with her husband while she trusts God enough to respect and submit to the man she married. This trust in God will give her a quiet spirit and will enable her to love her husband for God, being present before God so He can care for and to love her husband through her.
Adventism with its internal, ceaseless quarrels about women’s ordination and women’s rights is actually a subculture where men and women are in a constant, below-the-surface struggle for equality. Adventist women tend to be “in control” and directive, while Adventist men tend to be somewhat passive before their wives—unless they are raging. The biblical counsel (which, it must be restated) is NOT given to non-born-again believers but is intended for those who believe God and accept His provision through Jesus for forgiveness and life, will give men and women their proper places. There should be no competition between men and women; in Christ, they are equal before God. Nevertheless, they have been given different roles.
We can each trust God to glorify Himself as we trust Him to live within the roles He has given us.