If you have allergies like me, you probably know it is spring. Ironically, my hay fever gave me a great exegetical insight into the Scriptures this week.
Part of my study this week involved a word study on the term “woe.” As this word is used at least 6 times in this chapter, I thought I ought to check my sources to see if there was anything significant about it. So the first thing I did was look at the original language. And the word we have translated “Woe” is the Hebrew word “Hoy.” I can honestly say, that my books didn’t provide a lot of new insight from there out. Basically the word has to do with feelings of extreme distress. Of course, you didn’t need a Bible scholar to tell you that. You could glean that by yourself simply by reading the passage.
But then, as I was about to give up on this in-depth word study, I got hit with a violent sneezing spell. It was one of those where you sneeze a couple of times in a row and you can’t really catch your breath in between sneezes. And you know how much force is involved with a single sneeze. It makes your whole body lurch. I once was reading about sneezing and it said that a sneeze was a “convulsive explosion”! That’s quite an apt description. But when you have a whole bunch of convulsive explosions in a row, it is even more wrenching.
Well, as soon as this fit of convulsive explosions subsided I gasped for air. And because my body had convulsed so much I let out a groan from the physical duress of it all. The sound that was made as I heaved this sigh of agony went like this: “hoy!”
Suddenly I had a deeper understanding of the term’s meaning and origin! It is onomatopoeia. That is, it is a word that sounds like what it is. Kind of like spit. When you spit you make a spppt noise. When you are in extreme pain like when you get hit in the gut you grunt or moan. And as you mutter that noise it comes out as hoi.
And in our passage this morning we recognize that God is saying you are going to get hit, and you will be hit hard. In a real sense he is saying, “I’m going to make you “hoi!” because you will experience the full brunt of my wrath.”
Hopefully that will give you some background into what a woe is. And hopefully it will make you want to avoid experiencing this woe. To that end, let’s examine who experiences this woe.
I. To whom does the woe come? [11-12]
If you look at verses 11-12 you can see that it is applied to those who indulge in various forms of sensuality. Two types of sensuality are mentioned here. Verse 11 mentions those who run after strong drink in order to get drunk. Then verse 12 mentions musical instruments.
Now we know that there is nothing wrong with alcohol as such, so long as it is used in moderation. The same is true for music. There is nothing inherently wrong with a guitar or any particular form of music. These are all part of God’s good creation. What is condemned here is the excessive use of these things. There is no moderation. These people’s lives are lived solely for the pursuit of pleasure.
You might say that these people live by the motto, “Party on, dude.” They live for the feasts where the drinking and music is prolific. They can’t wait for the next party. They can’t wait for work to be over so that they can crank up the stereo and hit the dance floor. Then again, they won’t even wait for work to be over. The passage says in verse 13 that their honored men go hungry and the multitude is parched with thirst. That may indicate that they are neglecting their work for the partying. They are taking an excessive amount of days off so that they can get out there and go carousing. As a result of not working, they are finding themselves short of food.
Of course, we shouldn’t limit the passages’ scope to these two forms of sensuality alone. By implication and extension we can easily expand this notion though to include many other forms of sensuality. For instance, what typically is associated with a drinking party? Usually these things are co-ed, right? We might include here the idea of sexual promiscuity. We could also throw in there the use of vulgar language as that is part and parcel with those whose lives are sensual. The idea is that these people are completely debauched with a fun-loving, pleasure seeking spirit.
Calvin puts it well. He says that Isaiah limits himself to two particular examples because there would be no end to the vices that could be listed in this category of pleasure seeking.
Hopefully you recognize though that this well characterizes the age in which we live. We live in a very sensual time. As a matter of fact, the whole notion of higher education is often thought of in terms of a sensualistic extravaganza. What is said here is descriptive of many college campus. The college years, for many, are known to be the biggest and most expensive party ever.
Why is it that these colleges and universities have this reputation? It is because we live in a time where Christ does not reign supreme. Our culture is debauched and it is only logical that these kids who have no accountability will manifest the strongest symptoms of sensuality.
This is all sort of a side though. What is most important to notice though is that this mindset can (and has) infiltrated the church. You might not be out carousing at the local pub, but your life may be characterized by sensuality. You’ll notice that the end of verse 12 says, “They do not regard the deeds of the Lord or see the work of his hands.”
In other words, they are so caught up in their pleasure seeking that they do not take time to reflect on what God is doing and has done. These people are not going to hear God’s word on the Lord’s Day. They are not taking it up on their own in their homes. There is no room for God in their lives because they are too busy with their pleasures.
Today we might not have the drinking parties. But we do have people who are too busy with their fun to think about the Lord. They are out there hitting the malls, surfing the net, or indulging in whatever else may please their carnal passions.
So, for all practical purposes, many people who claim to be Christians are nothing more than atheists at heart. They are living for the moment. They are tending to every fleshly notion. Sure there are the extreme ones who will justify their lewdness. But there are many others who are involved in subtler forms of pleasure. But those are just as deadly. For their physical yearnings not only take precedence over the things of the Lord, but they completely negate them.
And these are the people who need to wake up. Because these are the people to whom the woe comes. But what is the woe that they experience?
II. What is the woe that they experience? [13-15]
The woe that comes upon them is threefold. And we have already mentioned one of them. It is that of deprivation. The passage says in verse 13 that the people are hungry and thirsty. To put it another way, they are being deprived of some of the most basic provisions.
When you indulge your appetites, you will find that your appetites will eventually get the best of you. That is to say, the party spirit (or the sensual spirit) cannot be sustained. It ends up coming back on you. And again, like we saw last week, your carnal desires will end up becoming your own little hell as they are not satisfied.
But not only do you have deprivation, you also have degradation. Verse 15 says that they will be “brought low.” That is to say they will be publicly humiliated or degraded. Part and parcel with a party, free living spirit is the idea of pomp and pageantry. You know, you have all the fancy clothes that you put on so that you can parade around. There is the splendor of the gala or the fanfare associated with the party. Well, all that is taken away. Instead of flying high on life, they are abased.
John Gill says that the Scribes and the Pharisees are a good example of this. They enjoyed the high society life. They liked to boast and the applause of men. But eventually, they were brought low. Christ stripped them of their conceit, and eventually they were degraded completely by the Romans army that crushed them in 70 AD.
What a good example of how sensual people are humiliated.
Then, on top of the deprivation and degradation, there is damnation. Look at verse 14. It is so descriptive. It says, “Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure.” And then it says that the people go down into this seemingly bottomless pit.
Sheol is the Hebrew way of talking about the grave. It represents the realm of the dead. And this verse is saying that everyone who practices this kind of sensual lifestyle will find themselves losing their lives. The only thing they have to look forward to is death.
I hope that you see the play on words here. It is quite good. Their mouths were opened wide to drink. Their appetites that were left unchecked grew and grew. But now the grave opens wide its mouth. Its appetite cannot be quenched. It only devours more and more souls with an insatiable hunger.
The point is that those who were sensual, and cared only for their bodies’ desires, will find that their bodies will be deprived of everything that makes for physical pleasure.
This of course is pointing to the greatest physical pleasure that one can ever experience: the resurrection. Sure, they will be resurrected on the day that Christ comes. But it will be a resurrection to judgment and condemnation. They will not experience the renewal of their flesh. Nor will they be permitted the opportunity to enjoy all the delights that are stored up for the righteous in heaven.
Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t tell us much about the resurrection of the wicked. The Scriptures are eerily silent on the matter. But one thing we do know: These people will not be renewed and purged of these sensual desires. Only the redeemed will because of the renewal that comes through glorification. As a result, the yearnings and desires that the wicked had during this life will remain. Perhaps they will even be inflamed all the more. And so, for their eternal torment, they will be eaten by their own sensual appetites.
Those are the consequences of sensuality though. If you follow the desires of the flesh and seek not God, then you will be deprived, degraded and damned.
Now, I want you to pay particular attention to verses 16-17. That’s because these verses tell us why this woe comes upon them.
III. Why does this woe come upon them? [16-17]
If you look at verses 16-17 it makes it clear that this woe is for the glory of God. It says, “The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.”
We’ve talked about this before, but since it is so prevalent in our day, we should talk about it again. We live in an age where people cannot stand the idea of judgment. God is a God of love, they say. So how can he subject people to eternal ruin? But this verse reminds us that God loves his own honor and glory first and foremost. And we should never compromise this doctrine of the future judgment because the judgment of sinners will be for his eternal praise.
Again, a lot of people have a real problem with this. But it is common to any human court. When a judge delivers a sentence upon a flagrant criminal, no one in their right mind looks upon him with disgust. Of course not. Everyone holds him in high esteem. He did what was right. He did what was best for their welfare. He is praised because his decision was in accord with justice.
In Romans 9 the Apostle Paul deals with this subject, and he says basically the same thing. He points us back to Pharaoh and says that Pharaoh was raised up for this very purpose. All the woe came upon Pharaoh and his land was to the praise and glory of God. The Israelites were made to rejoice in God because of it. If you don’t believe me, then just think about what happened after the Red Sea collapsed on the Egyptian army after the Israelites had gone through. What did Israel do? They began to worship God. They sang songs and danced. “The horse and rider were thrown into the sea.” God was praised because in his judgment of the ungodly.
The bottom line is that in judgment God displays his holiness and righteousness in a fuller and more public way. And in putting these attributes on display he gives his people all the more cause for exaltation.
I might add that this is what makes the cross of Jesus Christ so great. For it is there that the woe is meted out for those of us who believe. We know that Christ went to the cross to die for our sins. However, that was the secondary purpose. Christ went to the cross primarily for the glory of God. It was so that God might be glorified in judgment. And the wounds that Christ continues to bear in his flesh are indications that we have reason for praise. For all eternity they will be reminders that God never once compromised his holiness and justice. He glorified himself by exacting the punishment that was due to us for sin.
Yes, that is where this passage comes to its ultimate fulfillment. It ought to drive us to Christ. For it is in him that we are able to have all the sensual pleasures that are associated with the resurrection to life. Christ went to the cross. And there He experienced the “hoy” on behalf of sinners like us. He was deprived, degraded, and damned. And it is through faith in him that we may be set free from the woe.
Moreover, through him we can be released from the sensuality that enslaves us. Paul urges us to “put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That is to say, the way you get rid of sensuality is by putting your faith in him and allowing him to take over in your life.
When your life is wrapped up in drug abuse, immorality, or any other form of sensuality, you know you can’t get free from it on your own. Just something as small as cleaning up your language is seemingly impossible. Sensuality is enslaving. But Christ overcame the flesh. He was not led by a sensual life. And so he is able to free those who are enslaved to it.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.