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Woe Worth the Day

Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day!, Ezekiel 30:2.

As we sat reading our bibles in a motel room, my wife looked up from her morning reading and asked, "What does woe worth the day mean?". I mumbled a few things based on the context and then realized that I had never stopped to consider the phrase. In its context there can be no doubt that it's telling you that the day in question will be a terrible day of woe. But, now that I stopped and considered the phrase, "woe worth the day", it intrigued me. The word "worth" was used differently here than anywhere else in the bible.

A young person today who is taught to read a King James Bible is in reality given a portal into time. He can read the past, he can see the future and he can better understand the present. He is immersed in a dialog between God and man prepared over 400 years ago. He can gain a feel for other times as he savours wording that in some instances has escaped our current culture, and at other times such as "skin of my teeth", he can partake in the timelessness of the language.

Woe worth was once a well understood phrase amongst the English public. A popular Scottish folk song began with that phrase:

Woe worth the tyme and eik the place

That shee wes to me knowne,

For sine I did behold her face,

My hart wes never my owne,

my owne jo my owne,

My hart wes never my owne.

English Poet Stephen Hawes used the phrase liberally:

Woe worth sin without repentance!

Woe worth bondage without release!

Woe worth man without good governance!

Woe worth infinal pain and distress!

Woe worth vice put far in press!

Woe worth sovereignty having disdain!

Woe worth pity that doth refrain!

There are many dictionaries online which understand the phrase. The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say when looking up "worth" as a verb:

Obsolete except in woe worth (a person or thing); a. intransitive. To come to be, come to pass, come about, happen, take place.

Being linked to a history and a culture bigger than our present reality is a good thing. I was once babysat by a woman who was born in 1872. When inspecting us, she would grab our ears and exclaim, "there's enough dirt in there to grow potatoes". Who grabbed her ears when she was a child and said that same thing? Was it someone born in the 1700s?

I read the phrase "woe worth the day" for over 40 years without even thinking about it. Its meaning was obvious in context. I missed something there. I missed a link to being part of a continuous culture stretching back for centuries. How rich to teach our children this timeless heritage!

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Vanessa Epperson
Vanessa Epperson
09 ก.ค. 2566

So interesting that I would read Ezekiel 30:2 this morning and wonder the same thing as your wife only to find someone else had wondered the same thing. I love that I found your comments and Thank You for sharing your thoughts and history of “Howl ye, Woe worth the day!”


01 ต.ค. 2565

"How rich to teach our children this timeless heritage!"

Yes! Amen!

For a bit more info:

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