The six woes, and Yom Kippurim

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rotten fruitIt is almost Yom Kippurim, the most solemn day of the year. A day of atonement, a day of introspection and repentance. I am sure we have all been searching ourselves, to find the areas where we fall short. I always ask YHVH to reveal these areas to me, and He is faithful. It is never pleasant, but good for growth and profitable in becoming who He wants us to be. So, how does this relate to the six woes and rotten fruit, you may wonder.

I was reading in the book of Isaiah and came across this passage about the six woes and felt really convicted. It starts off with a parable about a vineyard and how the owner cared for it and waited for good grapes, yet he was disappointed for it produced only worthless fruit. He then tells what he will do with it because of this and proceeds by giving the explanation of the parable. When we read the rest of the passage, we learn more about this worthless fruit in the form of the six woes. When I read this, I realized just how profound this is, especially just before Yom Kippurim.

We shall start off with the parable for background.

Isaiah 5:1–7
1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. 4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? 5 “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 “I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” 7 For the vineyard of YHVH of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

What is described here is how Israel acted unfaithfully against YHVH, by not being obedient to His commandments, producing bad fruit. We, as believers in the only living Elohim, are part of His nation Israel. We are children of YHVH, adopted by Him when we became believers and He regards adopted children the same as natural children. If you want to read more about this, you can read the article Who is Israel and why you would want to be a part of Israel . YHVH, our Heavenly Father requires obedience from His children. You can read more about this in the article What does YHVH require of us?

Every one of us misses the target, we all sin. Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). We are, therefore, all guilty and need to repent and start producing good fruit, not the worthless fruit as described in this passage.

Let us now look at this worthless fruit as explained in the six woes and search ourselves to see if we are guilty in order to repent and to start producing fruit pleasing to our Father.

We first need to understand what the word “woe” means.

What does “woe” mean?

2098 הוֹי (hôy): inj.; ≡ Str 1945; TWOT 485—1. LN 22.9 Woe!, Oye!, Ah!, Oh!, Alas!, i.e., a signal expressing woe (1Ki 13:30); 2. LN 84.16–84.28 Come!, i.e., a marker of an extension toward a goal, implying movement toward the subject making the invitation or encouragement2

485 הוֹי (hôy) ah! alas! ho! O! woe! (ASV and RSV similar.)

An interjection, usually of lamentation. It occurs fifty times in the prophets and once elsewhere. Six usages refer to mourning for the dead (as I Kgs 13:30), and forty involve negative warnings or threats of God’s physical chastisement. But in Isa 55:1 it introduces a positive invitation to come and buy good things without money or price (cf. Zech 2:6–7).3

This is indeed a very interesting word, with both a negative and a positive meaning. In this passage in Isaiah, it seems to be meant as negative, however, there is a nuance of lamentation in this. It is as if YHVH is expressing His sadness or pity about this situation and warning them to repent and return to Him. He also tells them what will happen if they don’t. It expresses His great mercy. He could, if He wanted to, just punish, but he first warns His people through His prophets.

Another definition of “woe” expresses the emotion behind the word very well, in my opinion.


wəʊ/noun literary

1. great sorrow or distress (often used hyperbolically).
the Everton tale of woe continued

synonyms: misery, sorrow, distress, wretchedness, sadness, unhappiness, heartache, heartbreak,
despondency, desolation, despair, dejection, depression, gloom, melancholy4

This word “woe” also means “come,” as it is used in Isaiah 55, as an invitation to return to YHVH.

Isaiah 55:1–7
1 “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of YHVH your Elohim, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6 “Seek YHVH while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to YHVH, that he may have compassion on him, and to our Elohim, for he will abundantly pardon. (ESV)

When we put all these together, we get a glimpse of how merciful YHVH is. However, He is just too, so we are not to mistake this for weakness.

Now that we have a better understanding of the word “woe,” let us continue and look at each of these woes to see what we can learn. When we read these six woes, we may want to think that the “wicked” is addressed here, but if we consider that YHVH is speaking to Israel and what is said here, we will find that it is applicable to us. We may be guilty of some of these same things. So, we are not just to dismiss this passage, but search ourselves to see if we are indeed guilty of this and repent and return to YHVH. It is not too late…

The first woe is addressed to the materialists…

Woe to materialists

Isaiah 5:8–10
8 Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, Until there is no more room, So that you have to live alone in the midst of the land! 9 In my ears YHVH of hosts has sworn, “Surely, many houses shall become desolate, Even great and fine ones, without occupants. 10 “For ten acres of vineyard will yield only one bath of wine, And a homer of seed will yield but an ephah of grain.”

The prophet Micah lived at the same time as Isaiah and also wrote about this.

Micah 2:1–2
1 Woe to those who scheme iniquity, Who work out evil on their beds! When morning comes, they do it, For it is in the power of their hands. 2 They covet fields and then seize them, And houses, and take them away. They rob a man and his house, A man and his inheritance.

From this, it would seem that coveting is involved here as well as dishonest means. Here is what is written about this woe in the Bible Knowledge Commentary. The author gives us a bit of historical background.

a. Woe to materialists (5:8–10)

5:8–10. Each of the six indictments is introduced by Woe (hôy; see comments on 3:9). Some people were acquiring much land at the expense of their fellow countrymen (cf. Micah 2:1–2). Selling houses permanently in a walled city was allowed under the Law, but selling houses in unwalled cities and fields was allowed only until the Year of Jubilee when the houses would revert back to their former owners. Because God had given the people the land they were not to get rich at others’ expense. Because of this sin the big houses and mansions the people once enjoyed would be empty, for many people would be killed and, as noted in the Mosaic Covenant (Deut. 28:20–24), their crops would fail. Normally a large vineyard would produce many gallons of wine, but here the amount would be a mere six gallons (a bath). And six bushels (a homer) of seed would normally yield scores of bushels of grain, but ironically the grain would be only one-half a bushel (an ephah), just 1/12 the amount of seed sown!5

So, how is this relevant to us? Focusing on material things will lead us away from YHVH and may lead us to sin. Also, YHVH commanded us not to covet (EX 20:17). We have written a previous article about how coveting is a form of idolatry Always wanting more…Covetousness is idolatry. We are to be content with, and thankful for what we have.

Woe to pleasure seekers

The next woe is addressed to the pleasure seekers…

Isaiah 5:11–12
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! 12 Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of YHVH, Nor do they consider the work of His hands.

When you read this passage, you may think that only people who pursue strong drink are addressed here, however, wine and strong drink are sometimes used as a metaphor for pleasure in the Bible (Deut 14:26). This can therefor, in my opinion also apply to pleasure seekers. The mention of banquets and music confirms this. A pleasure seeker’s whole life revolves around him- or herself. He or she is not concerned with other people or with YHVH. They live only for themselves and do whatever pleases them.

Woe to the doubters of Elohim

The next woe is addressed to the doubters of Elohim

Isaiah 5:18–19
18 Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes; 19 Who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; And let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near And come to pass, that we may know it!”

What does the first part of this verse mean?

The Targum interprets it of such that begin with lesser sins, and increase to more ungodliness; paraphrasing it thus,

woe to them that begin to sin a little, and they go on and increase until that they are strong, and “their” sins “are” as a cart rope;” 6

The Bible knowledge commentary calls those addressed here “doubters of Elohim.” Why are they called “doubters” of Elohim? These people sin and then, scornfully, declares that YHVH must make speed, and hasten His work that they may see it and that His purpose must draw near so they may know it.

Here is what is written in the Bible Knowledges commentary on this.

d. Woe to the doubters of God (5:18–19)

5:18–19. Perhaps Isaiah referred here to people who were genuinely questioning whether God was in control of the nation. Though attached to sin and wickedness by cords and ropes (i.e., deeply involved in sin) they wondered if God could save their nation. Apparently they wanted God to deliver them even though they did not want to give up their sinful practices. They wanted to see God act (let Him hasten His work) without any spiritual change on their part. However, deliverance, both personal and national, does not work that way. A spiritual change must be made before God will save His people from destruction.5

We cannot expect YHVH to act on our behalf if we are involved in sin. When we are in need of help from YHVH, we are to first return to Him by repenting of our sin; not continue in sin and scornfully challenge Him to act.

Woe to those calling evil good

This is also very prevalent in our day. Babies are daily murdered calling it choice and planning, adultery is not only committed but promoted by making it look glamorous in films and television programs. These are but two examples, but I am sure we could add many more to the list.

Isaiah 5:20
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

e. Woe to those calling evil good (5:20)

5:20. Some people lead others astray by their perverted values. Evil-for example, adultery, idolatry, materialism, murder, and many other sins forbidden in the Scriptures-is often held up as being good. Those who say such things are under the threat (woe) of God’s judgment.5

We may not be doing this, but when we condone it and don’t speak out against it, we give our silent approval, in my opinion.

Woe to the conceited ones

The next woe is about being wise in our own eyes and clever in our own sight.

Isaiah 5:21
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!

What does it mean to be wise in our own eyes and clever in our own sight? It means we think we know how to solve any problem and prepare for everything. We have it all figured out. We can fix it. How often don’t we do this, instead of trusting in YHVH for help and guidance? When we face a problem or challenge, we are first to stop and go to YHVH, not rush off with our own solution. This is also an issue of pride and although it may seem the lesser of the woes, it may be the worst. YHVH hates pride! He calls everyone who is proud in heart an abomination…

Proverbs 11:2
2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.

Proverbs 16:5
5 Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to YHVH; Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.

Proverbs 16:18
18 Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before stumbling.

The next woe again deals with drunkenness and taking of bribes.

Woe to the drunken bribe takers

Isaiah 5:22–23
22 Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!

The sixth woe seems at first sight a repetition of the second. But there is this difference, that the drinkers in the present verse do not succumb to their liquor, or remain at the banquet all day, but proceed to the business of their lives, attend courts and judge causes, but with brain obfuscated and moral vision bedimmed, so that they are easily induced to pervert justice on receipt of a bribe. The sixth woe may be considered to be pronounced rather upon their corruption than upon their drinking, and so to be really quite distinct from the second (comp. Proverbs 31:4, 5). 7

Proverbs 31:4–5
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, 5 For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.

May I share my view on this. The drunken bribe takers are people in positions of authority who are so fixated on promoting themselves, and their ideologies, that they are like these heroes in drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink. Their brain is obfuscated and moral vision bedimmed. They are willfully ambiguous, wanting to mislead people. They don’t listen or study the alternative, they only want to promote only their own view and don’t care who is affected by it.

Isaiah 10:1–2
1 Woe to those who enact evil statutes And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, 2 So as to deprive the needy of justice And rob the poor of My people of their rights, So that widows may be their spoil And that they may plunder the orphans.


This is not a history lesson, as each of these worthless fruits is very prevalent in our time. The other important thing to remember is that YHVH is speaking to Israel here, to us, not to unbelievers. We cannot just read through this and dismiss it as something other people do. If we are really honest with ourselves, we will recognize ourselves and our behaviour in this. However, it is not too late to change, we can acknowledge our guilt and return to YHVH. He sent His Salvation, Y’shua and through Him receive forgiveness and life. Repentance means to turn around and not continue in our wicked ways. So, after having been forgiven, we are to make changes. It is our choice! YHVH wants us to be set apart people for Him and this is the fruit.

Galatians 5:22–25
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Messiah Y’shua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

YHVH will lead us in His ways by His Set Apart Spirit, if we let Him. Once again, the choice is ours! We can choose to let go of all this and choose freedom in Him! YHVH loves us so much, I don’t think we can ever understand the extent of His love for us.

Romans 8:37–39
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of Elohim, which is in Messiah Y’shua our Master.


  1. All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD, and Y’shua for Jesus.
  2. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  3. Weber, C. P. (1999). 485 הוֹי. (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke, Eds.)Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.
  5. Martin, J. A. (1985). Isaiah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1042). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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