Isaiah’s Six Woes – 2 Nephi 15:8-23

After sharing a discouraging parable about an unresponsive vineyard, Isaiah delivered six warnings to his readers, each beginning with the word “wo.” He must have observed these imprudent behaviors among his own people, but they are just as relevant in our day. Here are the six warnings:

  1. Don’t prioritize things over people (2 Nephi 15:8-10). “Wo unto them join house to house, till there can be no place.” Isaiah warns that wealth is a hollow prize when there’s no one to enjoy it with. Ten acres of vineyard will only produce one bath (about 6 gallons) of output if you have to cultivate it alone! Accumulation of wealth at the expense of relationships and community is a Pyrrhic victory.
  2. Don’t waste your time on frivolous activities (2 Nephi 15:11-17). “Wo unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, that continue until night, and wine inflame them!” Isaiah describes people who start drinking first thing in the morning, and then party all day long. They never stop to ask difficult questions, and they have no interest in self-reflection or in turning their hearts to God. These people will lose their freedom “because they have no knowledge.” These heavy drinkers are, ironically, “dried up with thirst,” spiritually and intellectually malnourished because of their own negligence.
  3. Don’t use your doubts to justify your sins (2 Nephi 15:18-19). “Wo unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope…” Isaiah paints a vivid picture: people pulling around heavy carts (representing their sins) like a beast of burden, all the while complaining that God hasn’t sent more definitive signs. Surely the burden they bear is reason enough to repent, without requiring any additional evidence! The reality is that they are stuck in a cycle of sinful behavior, and they can’t credibly blame God for their own lack of motivation to change.
  4. Don’t mislead people (2 Nephi 15:20). “Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah warns us against calling “evil good and good evil.” Are we ever guilty of that? Any time we are tempted to bend or ignore facts in order to make a point or influence a decision, we are falling into this trap. We ought to value the truth and prioritize it above our own agenda and above our own ego.
  5. Beware of hubris (2 Nephi 15:21). “Wo unto the wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight!” As the prophet Jacob warned, when we gain some knowledge, we have a tendency to overestimate how much we really know and to ignore guidance from others, including God (2 Nephi 9:28). Therefore, we need to watch our thoughts and question our self-assessments to keep them from becoming unreasonably rosy.
  6. Don’t let power corrupt you (2 Nephi 15:22-23). “Wo unto the mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink…” This warning is directed to people who are powerful for all the wrong reasons. The phrase “mighty to drink wine” appears in some Bible translations as “heroes at drinking wine”—not necessarily something to brag about. And these dubious heroes make the wrong use of their worldly authority: they “justify the wicked for a reward” at the expense of the righteous. How reprehensible it is to use your position of authority for personal gain!

Today, I will remember Isaiah’s warnings. I will strive to overcome my pride and to avoid these sins, recognizing that they all will bring unpleasant consequences.

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