Chapter 20: Beneath the Surface

20:1 Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

      Wine in the ancient Near East was usually made from the juice of grapes, although pomegranate and date wine were also known. Beer would have been the other drink mentioned in this verse (sometimes translated as "strong drink"). Beer production was universally known in the ancient world. As today, it was made from grain, probably barley in antiquity.
      Both beer and wine were productive means of preserving the caloric value of fruit and grain for future use. The buzz was an additional by-product which they did not have to experience – both drinks could have been diluted with water – but was obviously desired!

20:14 "It's no good, it's no good!" says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.

      The verse speaks of ancient commerce, as does verses 10 and 23 of this chapter. I think we can assume that ancient Middle Eastern markets were similar to what they are today – with lots of very expressive folks buying and selling. There was probably lots of haggling and bargaining going on, as well – just like what happens in those markets today.
      The Old Testament regularly places a city's market around the city gate. It may have been inside the city gate or outside the gate (or between the double gates often found in archaeology). Parts of the city market may have also been within the gatehouse, itself, located within one or more of the multiple gate chambers that flanked the gate passageway. Either way, the market was probably a series of small kiosks where a variety of locally produced goods were sold.
      Most of the buying and selling in these markets was done by neighbors. No one wants to be ripped off by his neighbor and no one should delight in ripping off his neighbor, either!

20:18 Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance.

      Waging war in the Holy Land of the Old Testament world was rather predictable. Armies did not even try to march during their winter months of November, December, January, February and March. It was their "rainy season."
      Ancient roads were nothing more than dirt paths and it was extremely nonproductive to try and cross mountains, rivers or valleys at this time of the year. In addition, the rainy winter season was the time of year that each family had to plow, plant and even harvest grain crops to survive another year. Then they could march to war. But, generally, it was essential that they would be returning home to handle their fields and crops the next year.
      Soldiers would not have been paid in these armies and their survival would be the result of eating what they could forage as they traveled, as well as what might be taken in battle or after the siege of a city.
      Of course, world powers in Egypt or Mesopotamia had greater means to do differently. Taxing a city – or if nothing was forthcoming – attacking it as they moved from region to region was essentially how they provided for their troops, as well. If away from home, besieging a city through the winter season was probably a good idea.