Isaiah 5: The 6 Woes

Isaiah 5 gives us a parable which leads into a warning, also known as the 6 woes, to God's people. While these woes have meaning for Isaiah's time, they also have relevance to today.


Isaiah 5 contains a familiar parable. The theme of us as vines producing fruit is found throughout the Bible, but this particular reference is reminiscent of Song of Solomon to me. Considering the parable is about God's love and patience with his people, and Song of Solomon is thought double as a metaphor of Christ's love for the church, it makes sense that they play off of each other. The parable is followed by a series of woes that foretell what would happen as a result of the people's sins. I don't remember the last time we brought up these verses in church, but these warnings are extremely relevant for us today.

Vineyard Parable

Photocredit: Erwin
Chapter 5 begins with a parable about a vineyard. In this parable, a man does all that is in his power to make his vineyard successful. From placing a protective fence around it, to providing it with the best vines and soil, his goal is produce strong, healthy plants which in turn produce plentiful and delicious fruit.

As is the case every time fruit and vineyards are mentioned symbolically, the vineyard is God's people and the person sacrificing to build them up is God. He gives us all that we need to serve Him, yet we still turn up as weeds instead of vines who produce good fruit.

Isaiah uses this metaphor to introduce the coming judgment for rejecting God's help and not allowing Him to shape us into vines who bear good fruit. The next passage call out some of the bad fruits we produce instead.

A Series of Woes

Below we'll step through the woes. A great reference containing parallel verses and examples from the Bible can be found here.[7]

The First Woe

Isaiah 5:8-10 covers the first woe. The picture painted in these verses is that of a packed city or suburb, where greedy landowners pack things in to gain maximum profit. Greed usually comes at the expense of others, so it's not shocking that God would have harsh words for these people.

In Isaiah's Time

The Israelites had been given specific rules about land (most can be found in Numbers). One of the major things about how the land was divided and issued was that land was to stay in the family forever. This is probably a foreign concept to many in the states, where it's perfectly normal to buy and sell land or rent for life. However, in my hometown there is something of a similar tradition. Neighborhoods often consist of only one family. If one family continues to build homes, overtaking the land of the neighbors, they indeed will be alone, as the passage warns. This first woe may have been a warning not to take from the other families or tribes.


What was shocking was how close to today's society this passage really is.

The apartment complex in which I currently reside is a perfect example of this. The builders wanted to fit as many units as possible into the space so they left very little room for a road within the complex and there is no guest parking. As such, people tend to park in the already narrow road, making it difficult and a little dangerous to navigate through the complex.

Another common thread of today is that factory farms are being accused of the same behavior with their livestock. Numerous documentaries have sought to expose the horrible living conditions the owners subject the livestock to in order to make more more money. One example is the practice of cramming too many chickens into tiny cages, so that they can have as many as possible to boost their profits.

In both cases, the person has lost sight of what's important, focusing instead on self and greed. God warns that this method will not prevail. Despite maximizing the land for financial gain, these people will ultimate fail in producing what they desire. God pronounces that the homes will be empty and the fields won't produce crops. Some of these consequences are already being felt. Right now, many of the units in my apartment complex are in fact vacant. Similarly, vegan and vegetarian movements are increasing; these movements—or lifestyles—will soon be putting a major decline in the revenue of meats and diary.[4]

The Second Woe

The second woe is for alcoholics (and possibly substance abusers). The life of this person is dictated by the substance he or she is addicted to, so they wake up seeking it. God goes on to say that they enjoy feasts with music, but never do the Lord's work. Because the language is old, speaking of feasts and harps, it may sound irrelevant to today, but when you think about it, it definitely speaks to today!

Have you ever noticed that substance abuse and alcoholism go hand in hand with partying? When I was in college, the people who drank the most were also the people at every party. Parties are where liquor flowed abundantly and no one judged people for being drunk. However, partying and drinking all night also lead to fatigue and hangovers. This means those people were less likely to show up to church the next day or to the community service event. It's not a secret that addiction can ruin relationships and lives, so it shouldn't be shocking that it can interfere with of duties to God.

One of our duties to God is to study the Word of God. When we are tired, it's hard to study; not to mention most of us kind of hate studying anyway. We'd much rather be out enjoying life than reading and analyzing, but God makes it clear that lack of knowledge is what destroys his people. Both Isaiah 5:13 and Hosea 4:6 confirm this. Remember, knowledge isn't just reading the Bible, it's studying history, current events, and much more. Think about how much Noah must have known to be able to build the ark? Or how much Moses would have known, being educated in the most advanced civilization of his time. God wants us out seeking answers! Without knowledge, everything crumbles, just as God foretells.

The Third Woe

The third woe is a little harder to make out. Isaiah 5:18 tells us that people addressed in this passage are struggling with iniquity because of their vanity. This means that they live in sin because they live for themselves. Vanity has allowed them to push God out of the picture and rely on their own judgement of right or wrong. The root of this is doubt, which is further explained in Isaiah 5:19. The people who struggle with this problem mock God by demanding He work on their time. This only occurs when we have doubts in God's abilities or authority.

The Fourth Woe

I find myself quoting this fourth woe often; it's about those who confuse good and evil. As I've grown in my relationship with Christ, I've learned that the media we consume causes us to question good and evil all the time. In and of itself, I think questioning what man tells you is good vs. evil is wise. We have to be careful though. For instance, every apocalyptic movie I've seen shows an invading force come to destroy the world as evil and the remaining humans as the heroes. The Word tells us otherwise; God will be that "invading" force and He will be coming to execute judgment on a our sinful world. Similarly, we watch movies like Maleficent which are designed to prompt empathy for the enemy. If we allow ourselves to consume these ideas blindly, we will soon be on the devil's side believing he his misunderstood like the Disney villains we saw on TV. That's exactly was the devil wants, because then you cast doubt on God's judgment. So as Isaiah said, woe to those who call good evil and evil good.

The Fifth Woe

Isaiah 5:20 calls out people who think they know everything. I touched on this very topic in a previous post.[1] In Proverbs 3:5, Solomon already warned us not to lean on our own understanding. For everything, we should seek guidance and wisdom from the Holy Spirit first. Our own ideas are colored with our perception which is not always accurate.

The Sixth Woe

The final woe is for men of power. These men drink and accept rewards or bribes from the wicked. The juxtaposition leads me to believe that the drinking may occur while they are to execute fair judgements, leading them to make poor decisions. Nevertheless, our country is quite familiar with bribery. If you watch the Netflix docu-series Dirty Money, you'll find a slew of people who were able to get away with horrible crimes because of their wealth. Those in charge feared what would happen if they jailed people of such wealth, so they merely slapped fines on them. In the same vein, politicians are known to work for and promote the issues of those who donate the most during their campaign. They aren't concerned with righteousness vs. wickedness, just what will get them elected and keep them in power. This woe is especially for them.

That doesn't mean the rest of us little folk are in the clear, however. We have decisions to make each day too. As parents, friends, neighbors, employees, etc., we make decisions that effect those around us but also in attempt to reach our definition of success. Our rewards and the consequences of our decisions may seem insignificant compared to those in positions of power, but this principle still applies to us. We should not be making decision based on reward, but based on the Holy Spirit's guidance (right and wrong).

Interesting Fact

The Hebrew word for woe represents both a threat and a lament. When we read these passages, it's easy to read them aggressively and see only the coming judgment, but even in English, woe is meant to express pain.[5][6] It is not just the people who are being judged who must endure pain, however. God is pained to see us behave this way and it grieves Him to have to punish us.

Anger and Judgment

Isaiah 5:24-30 explains God's anger and judgment toward the people who have been warned. It's possible that this judgment is just for the final woe, but it seems most likely that this judgment is for everyone called out during the sequence of woes. God says that fire will destroy their fields, rottenness will overtake their crops, hills (or mountains) will tremble, and carcasses would be torn in the middle of the street. If we assume God is being literal, this passage tells us that their food supply will be destroyed, earthquakes will shake the land, and death will plague them.

Either way, this kind of reminds me of California, home of Hollywood and probably the most liberal state in the country. Sin is not only rampant in Hollywood, but it's accepted. The whole state, however, is known for it's extremely liberal outlook on the world. California is also always on fire,[2] awaiting the big earthquake that might separate them from the continent,[3] and celebrities, who revel in all this debauchery, often die of overdoses or suicide at terribly young ages. Is this a manifestation of the Isaiah's prophecy?

God promises to allow a nation that is at it's full strength to attack and destroy the people who have turned away from Him. Isaiah leaves us with the imagery of darkness, the exact opposite of God, being all that is left.


  1. Ree Hughes. The Best Worst Advice". PSALMS to God. March 1, 2018
  2. Vanessa Martinez. "Here are the 5 largest California wildfires". LA Times. December 22, 2017
  3. Richard Aster. "California overdue for a major earthquake". CBS News. January 30, 2018
  4. "Welsh farmers raise concerns over rise in veganism". BBC. October 23, 2017
  5. "Strong's 1945. hoy". Bible Hub; visited March 2018
  6. Jay Mack. "The Six Woes of Isaiah 5:8-25". The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack; visited March 2018
  7. Paul Apple. " Woes Declared Against Six Perversions — Isaiah 5:8-23". Bible Outlines. February 11, 2013

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