Woe: an exclamation of grief, distress, or lamentation.
It is this definition that we see so frequently in the Book of Isaiah; the prophet was lamenting what he saw and experienced in his day.
Isaiah 1:4 Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
Isaiah 3:9 The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.
Isaiah 5:11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.
Isaiah 5:18 Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes,
Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Isaiah 5:21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.
But “woe” is not a word that you will hear very frequently in modern conversation or writing. And I don’t think that there is a modern equivalent that we could find in common usage that carries the same feeling of grief and lamentation. You may hear people lament the state of the world and pine for the “good old days”. You may hear someone state that things were different “in my day”. But I don’t think I have ever heard someone say “Woe to those…”, or “Woe to me…”
Perhaps it is time for us to bring the word “woe” back from the brink of obscurity and into the common vernacular. Perhaps it is time for we Christians to stand up and shout (as did Isaiah) that things are NOT as God would desire and we are going to pay a terrible price for our rebellion. Perhaps it is time to shake people out of their lethargy and call for greater obedience and righteousness. Perhaps it’s time.
Isaiah 6:5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”