It is not for kings, O Lemuel – not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Proverbs 31, verses 4-5.
Moderation in all things; I think that’s the underlying message of this verse. If you stop at the end of the first section, you’d think it was saying that rulers shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. We can debate the merits of that idea – and there are some – but that isn’t what the verse is saying. It is speaking against intoxication. “Crave,” “drink and forget,” and “deprive all” speak to the idea of a king being under the influence of something. Not only is unbecoming: it could be dangerous. For someone to be under the influence means they lose control and act in ways they might not normally act. Moderation in all things, especially with intoxicants, is therefore good advice for everyone but especially for leaders because leaders’ actions affect much more than those of ordinary people.
Naturally I don’t want to leave it at that.
How about people drunk on power? Hmm. How about a rather subjective list: Joe Stalin. Bill Clinton. Newt Gingrich. Barack Obama (and his big sister, Pelosi). Richard Nixon. Fort Worth Jim Wright. Huey Long. Adolf Hitler. Bill Maher. George Soros. David Rockefeller. My fourth grade teacher. The config lead I worked for in Rhode Island. The minister at the church where my kids attended school a dozen years ago. My last manager at Perot Systems. Give people in charge a little bit of power and it doesn’t take much for them to get the big head about it. If you give a leader too much power, or if they aren’t mature enough to use it, they can deprive others of their rights or more. In the case of some, at the very least, they can be abusive. I mean, you never saw my fourth grade teacher take anyone out, but he did yell quite a lot. And you didn’t see that config lead exile anyone to a gulag (although if she had that power, I’m sure she would have used it). Even people in small roles of leadership can misuse their power if they aren’t well-grounded in how to wield it. If you’re Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley or any other celebrity who died of overdose, you saw first-hand what power out of control when intoxicated can do.
How about people drunk on affection? Here’s another list: Marilyn Monroe. Brangelina/Braniston. Monica Lewinsky. Me. If you are hungry for affection, you’re liable to overdo it, and that’s easy to do. It doesn’t take much for someone to go over the line and get into the land of using your craving for affection to control over affect others. Doing that deprives others of their rights. Everyone just wants to love and be loved, but this isn’t loving. This is insecurity coupled with lust (pardon the pun). Some people get so drunk on affection – on love, affection, sex, you name it – that they lose control of themselves and hurt other people.
How about people drunk on doing something? Don’t you know people who just can’t seem to relax? Are they control freaks, or are they afraid of intimacy or getting close? We each know people who can’t seem to sit down, who always have to be on the go. I have family members like that; it’s exhausting. You could even say that I’ve been one of those kind of people myself. Folks who don’t relax like that are drunk on doing, and they don’t realize that it affects the people around them. Whatever they’re doing, their hard at work doing it. I used to visit a field site in England where the commander was a workaholic; we called him Skeletor because he looked like the cartoon villain. Anyway, this man was at his desk at 0600 and still there at work at 2100 (9 PM for you civilians) every day. When someone is in command over you, you are pressured to perform at their level, to be there when they are. Anyone seen “Horrible Bosses?” I think you get the drift.
The better way is to heed the verse and follow God’s example. In creation, at the end of every day He concluded His day’s work. At the end of the week, God rested. When He came as a man, He didn’t misuse his power, and he didn’t get drunk on power, action, lust, work, control, or anything else. Christ taught diligence and 100% commitment but not on letting anything intoxicate us. He wanted a full heart and full devotion, not full avoidance of problems (that, in itself, also causes further problems).