The Seven Woes of Matthew 23


Woe in these verses is an exclamation of despair or grief or sorrow or dismay or disappointment. It might be used somewhat like saying “Alas” denoting a bad situation.


(Mat 23 NIV)  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: {2} "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Acknowledging their position {3} So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. {4} They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk {5} "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; {6} they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; {7} they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.' {8} "But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. {9} And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. {10} Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. In their minds it really was all about them {11} The greatest among you will be your servant. {12} For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. With us it really should be all about serving others and trusting in the Lord.

{13} "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. {14}  Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Not in the best manuscripts. Thus seven not eight “Woes.”

{15} "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. Much effort is expended in the chase but for little purpose other than to propagate errors.

{16} "Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' {17} You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? {18} You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' {19} You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? {20} Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. {21} And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. {22} And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it. Clearly they had lost understanding of what is important and what is not so important. Wealth and worth became synonymous in their minds but without recognition of what makes any of it truly valuable!

{23} "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. {24} You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. They were so focused on the letter of the law that they missed entirely the spirit of the law.

{25} "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Here we see more of the self-serving shallowness typical of the Pharisees being addressed. {26} Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

{27} "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. {28} In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. And so our Lord continues to make the point, these people care more for approval of man than approval of God. Do they actually believe God? If so how can they act as they do? Are they deceivers of self?

{29} "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. {30} And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' {31} So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. {32} Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers! {33} "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? {34} Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; It has been said the Jews didn’t crucify people. Yet the Lord said they would! I believe the Lord here is equating responsibility with the action itself. others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. I suspect we all like to think we would have been different too. Yet are we really that different or that righteous? Aren’t the righteous among us often the most demeaned? {35} And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. {36} I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.

{37} "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. {38} Look, your house is left to you desolate. {39} For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"


So what is the message? To me the message is simple. We need to practice what we preach. Six of the seven woes contain the phrase, “You hypocrites.” What is a hypocrite if not a person that doesn’t practice what he preaches? If we take a close hard look at ourselves will we find we are always true to what we say? Do we always keep a promise? Do we never profess one thing yet by our actions profess another? Strength of character is important being a character is not. Let us hope and pray that the Lord will come into our lives and stay there. That he will help us to be true to His word and that His word will be made manifest in us. And, that when people look at us they see God at work in us and that we never have these words applied to us, “Woe to you, you hypocrite!