it is not for kings to drink wine, 2
or for rulers to crave strong drink, 3
31:5 lest they drink and forget what is decreed,
and wine to those who are bitterly distressed; 8
and remember their misery no more.
[31:4] 2 sn This second warning for kings concerns the use of alcohol. If this passage is meant to prohibit any use of alcohol by kings, it would be unheard of in any ancient royal court. What is probably meant is an excessive and unwarranted use of alcohol, or a troubling need for it, so that the meaning is “to drink wine in excess” (cf. NLT “to guzzle wine”; CEV “should not get drunk”). The danger, of course, would be that excessive use of alcohol would cloud the mind and deprive a king of true administrative ability and justice.
[31:4] 3 tn The MT has אֵו (’ev), a Kethib/Qere reading. The Kethib is אוֹ (’o) but the Qere is אֵי (’ey). Some follow the Qere and take the word as a shortened form of וַֹיֵּה, “where?” This would mean the ruler would be always asking for drink (cf. ASV). Others reconstruct to אַוֵּה (’avveh, “to desire; to crave”). In either case, the verse would be saying that a king is not to be wanting/seeking alcohol.
[31:4] tn Here “strong drink” probably refers to barley beer (cf. NIV, NCV “beer”).
[31:6] 8 tn Heb “to the bitter of soul.” The phrase לְמָרֵי נָפֶשׁ (lÿmare nafesh) has been translated “of heavy hearts” (KJV); “in anguish” (NIV); “in misery” (TEV); “in bitter distress” (NRSV); “sorely depressed” (NAB); “in deep depression (NLT); “have lost all hope” (CEV). The word “bitter” (מַר, mar) describes the physical and mental/spiritual suffering as a result of affliction, grief, or suffering – these people are in emotional pain. So the idea of “bitterly distressed” works as well as any other translation.