On Tuesdays, I’ll try to provide a bit of background on a biblical word using William Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Today’s word: woe.
In the Old Testament, “woe” (Hebrew hoy) expresses personal pain and anguish because of the dread of a situation. Woe is also used to express anxiety about future troubles, used by the Writing Prophets in the later parts of the Old Testament. (see Isaiah 5:8, 11, 18, for example)
In the New Testament, “woe” (Greek ouai) is an injection at the beginning of a sentence or phrase to suggest pain. Mounce calls “woe” an “onomatopoeic” word where a sound of the word often reveals its meaning. A well-known use of “woe” in the NT is in Matthew 23 where Jesus gives “Seven woes” against his lived-in opponents.
There are also a few references where “woe” is used figuratively. Paul uses the term “woe” in 1 Cor. 9:16 to describe how he’d feel if he did not preach the gospel.
Woe is not a word that we use much anymore. We’ve probably subbed it out for related terms. I find it comforting that the Bible gives us room to feel raw emotion. It might even be sacred to have such a raw expression.