The word “woe” appears 21 times in the book of Isaiah. The word “woe” is an interjection of sorrow or grief. It is sometimes used as a warning. We have considered six of these “woes,” which occur in Isaiah 5, in a previous article. Let us now consider more “woes” which occur in this book.
1. “Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortunes, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people that the widow may be their prey, and they may rob the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:1-2).
Judah was filled with self-interested, corrupt leadership (e.g. Isaiah 1:21-23; 5:22-23; 9:13-14; 10:1-2; 56:9-12). They served their own interest, and not the people’s. They perverted justice. They legislated and adjudicated in such a way as to legalize robbery.
Many believe that if it is legal, it is right. However, this is not how God looked at it. He desired justice (e.g. Exodus 23:3; Deuteronomy 16:18-19; Psalm 82).
Question: How are we using our position in life? Are we treating others as God would have us? (Matthew 7:12; Colossians 4:1).
2. “Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower…” (Isaiah 28:1).
This was addressed to Israel, and not Judah. They had a prideful and arrogant heart (cf. Isaiah 9:9-10). They trusted in themselves and not God. Wayne Jackson commented, “Even though the northern kingdom had already suffered some destruction from the hands of the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29), they had not repented. In fact, they viewed the matter rather lightly and simply vowed to rebuild” (Wayne Jackson, The Prophets, p. 22 – Commentary on Isaiah 9:8-12). Again, “Though, the nation gloated over its economic prosperity (‘crown of pride’), it actually was a fading flower – a condition precipitated by the godless debauchery of the people (Amos 4:1; 6:6)” (ibid, p. 47).
Let us remember, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). May we “walk humbly with… God” (Micah 6:8).
3. “Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, the city where David dwelt! Add year to year; let feasts come around” (Isaiah 29:1).
“Ariel” refers to Jerusalem. It is translated “altar” (KJV) or “altar hearth” (NKJV) in Ezekiel 43:15. People came to Jerusalem to worship year after year.
However, God was not pleased with their worship. Worship without holiness does not please Him (Isaiah 1:11-15). They needed to repent (Isaiah 1:16-23). Moreover, worship without heart devotion and truth does not please Him (Isaiah 29:13).
How does God view our worship? Are we seeking to live holy lives? Are we worshipping in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)?
4. “Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in darkness; They say, ‘Who sees us?’ and ‘Who knows us?’” (Isaiah 29:15).
The context seems to refer to their seeking help from Egypt. Wayne Jackson suggests, “Isaiah now exposes the secret plans of the Jews – their plot to form an alliance with Egypt for protection from Judah” (ibid, p. 50). This seems to fit (cf. Isaiah 30:1-2, 6-7; 31:1).
May we never forget that it is impossible to hide anything from God. Consider: Psalm 139; Proverbs 15:3; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Mark 12:36; Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24-25; Romans 2:16.
5. “‘Woe to the rebellious children’ says the Lord, ‘Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My spirit that they may add sin to sin; who walk down to Egypt, and have not asked My advice” (Isaiah 30:1-2).
They did not want God’s advice. Why not? Was it because they lacked faith in God? Could it be that they wanted protection without repentance (cf. Isaiah 30:8-11)? Notice the words “that they may add sin to sin.” Does this denote the cause of them seeking help from Egypt? Or, does this denote the effect (cf. Jeremiah 2:13)? I am inclined to believe that they went to Egypt because they wanted protection without repentance (cf. Isaiah 30:8-11). Here are a few questions. Where do we turn for counsel? Do we want to hear what He says on a matter? Do we trust His word?
6. “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy one of Israel, nor seek the LORD!” (Isaiah 31:1).
Egypt would not be able to help them (cf. Isaiah 19:4; 20:3-6). They were placing their trust in the wrong place.
Where do we place our trust? David said, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).
7. “Woe to you who plunder though you have not been plundered; and you who deal treacherously, though they have not dealt treacherously with you!” (Isaiah 33:1).
This message was for Assyria. Though God used Assyria, He was not pleased with this kingdom (Isaiah 10:5-7, 12-14; Jeremiah 5:18).
There is a great lesson in this. One’s success in life is not necessarily an indication that one is pleasing to God. Assyria appeared to be prospering. However, Assyria was not pleasing to God.
Another lesson is that one should not ruthlessly oppress and run over others. God cares how we treat others. We are to pursue peace (Hebrews 12:14; Romans 12:18).
8. “Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherd of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall the handiwork say ‘He has no hands?’” (Isaiah 45:9). “Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to the woman ‘What have you brought forth?’” (Isaiah 45:10).
The complaint seems to be about Israel/Judah’s future. Tyler Young commented, “Perhaps Isaiah is anticipating Israel objecting to God’s use of a pagan ruler to secure their release or a potential complaint against God for promising deliverance rather than preventing captivity” (editor David Brown, Isaiah Vol. 2, Houston College of Bible Lectureship, pp. 119-120).
One should be humble before God. He is sovereign. Frank Chesser has written, “Can a piece of clay argue with the potter who made it, or does a child have a right to demand from his parents the reason for his birth? (Isaiah 45:9-10). If one desires knowledge of His work in the world, let him discard his arguments and complaints and make inquiry of God in humbleness of mind (Isaiah 45:11).
The truth is: God had reason for doing things the way that he did. The prophecy about Cyrus was designed to build faith (cf. Isaiah 45:3-6, 20-21; 44:6-8, 24-28; 46:8-11).
Let us be humble and trust in God. He is wise. He is sovereign.