ONLINE CHURCH BULLETIN
WHEN GOD SAYS “WOE”
A psychiatry professor was teaching the introductory lesson on emotional extremes to his college class. Starting with the basics, the professor asked a student from Arkansas, "What is the opposite of joy?" and the student immediately replied, "Sadness." The teacher moved on to a young lady from Oklahoma and asked, "And the opposite of depression?" to which she responded, "Elation." Then, turning to a young man from Texas, the professor said, "And you, friend, what is the opposite of woe?" In the blink of an eye the young Texan replied, "Sir, I believe that would be `giddy up." Humorous though it is, this little story challenges us to think seriously about a neglected Bible word. Millions of people seem to have forgotten the Bible word "woe" and its definition. In the New King James Version of the Bible, "woe" occurs 71 times in 69 verses in the Old Testament, most of them in the prophets. The New Testament chimes in with the word 40 times in 33 verses, and in 32 of those 40 times it comes from the lips of Jesus! While we don't have space to treat it fully here, a careful study of the Bible meaning of "woe," reveals that the word was used to express grief and lamentation and was associated with the grief of death. Ancient Israelites used the word to mourn the death of friends or loved ones. God used it to threaten judgment.
A good passage to read to better understand the Bible's use of the word "woe" is Isaiah 5 in the Old Testament (where it occurs 7 times) and Matthew 23 in the New (where it occurs on the lips of Jesus 8 times). Study these chapters and you discover that the word was used by Isaiah and Jesus in their respective times and places to express God's displeasure and grief over sin and eroding moral and spiritual values. Isaiah warns in 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!" And Jesus threatens the practitioners of shallow and corrupt religion of His day, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence" (Matthew 23:25). In these passages the word woe, at least in one sense, does mean the opposite of "giddy up!" Bible preachers used the word woe to try and put the brakes on people and cultures in a full gallop away from God and His word! What would God say to modern 21st century American culture where evil has become good, darkness has become light, bitter has become sweet, religion has become shallow, and people are in an all-out "giddy up" as they gallop into sin? To such people God's word still says "woe. "
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