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Lowell Brueckner

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Moab… Sin, Pride and Salvation


17. An expository study of Isaiah, chapters 15 and 16

A little history of Moab

A close study of this map will show you most of the places mentioned in Isaiah 15 and 16.
Click for close-up
Moab was born to Lot’s oldest daughter as a direct result of the influence of Sodom and Gomorrah over his family. Moab was conceived shortly after they escaped from the judgment of God upon those cities. They fled to a small town in the valley, Zoar, but at a distance from the fire and brimstone, and then, for some reason, went to live in a cave in the mountains. The mother was killed, when she looked back at all they were leaving behind, and the two daughters were left.

There is a great, but disturbing, lesson to be learned from this account: You cannot choose to live in the middle of perversion without having it affect your life. Not only was homosexuality an acceptable sexual alternative in Sodom, but we can be sure, because of its presence, that there were many other perversions, as well. Perhaps as Lot’s daughters mixed and mingled with the Sodomite girls, they heard many stories of incestuous relationships. We can then understand the source of their evil plan to make their father drunk and then each conceive a child by him. We might also see why Lot allowed himself to drink, but in his stupor, he was not aware of having a part in incest (Ge.19:17-38).

This was the background of the Moabites. The clan grew and multiplied and became an idolatrous nation on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, which is today, Jordan. Edom (from the offspring of Esau) was to the south and to the north was the territory of the descendants of Moab’s younger brother, Ammon. Sharing the northern border on the west was the Israelite tribe of Reuben.

It was the king of Moab, who hired Balaam to curse the children of Israel (Numbers, chapters 22-25) and there is where Moses overlooked the Promised Land and then died (Dt.34:5). The Moabites were enemies of Israel and they were refused entrance among the congregation of Israel forever (Dt.23:3). Yet a Moabite woman, Ruth, became the great-grandmother of King David, a wonderful story of love, acceptance and the grace of God.

Chapter 15

Moabite lament

Click for large view. Notice places visible from Nebo.
Isaiah, aware of all this history, brings to us the oracle concerning Moab. The oracle, remember, is a burden, a heavy prophecy concerning its sad future, which Isaiah sees in his vision as already having taken place. Both the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires play a part in its ruin. The names mentioned were major cities, holy places and mountains. Ar is the capital city and Kir is another large city (v.1). All the other cities, Dibon, Medebah, Heshbon, Jahaz and Elealeh were taken over by the 2 ½ tribes of Israel that stayed on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Apparently now they were back in Moab’s hands, but perhaps they are especially mentioned to show that all their conquests over Israel were to no avail. Nebo is the high mountain, from which Moses surveyed the Promised Land, before he died (v.2-4).

The peculiar sound of lament was a howl… a prolonged, unnatural shriek. In the manner of mourning of the ancient middle-east, with head and beard shaved and clothed in sackcloth, the cries could be heard from the high places, even from Mt. Nebo, in the surrounding towns. The beard of the ancient men was a matter of great pride, and so the depth of grief was shown especially by shaving the beard (see, for instance 2 Sam.10:5). Nebo was the site, where the Moabites worshipped their principal god, Chemosh. “Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh” (Jer.48:13; see all of Jeremiah 48, as a parallel account of the destruction of Moab.) They wept, then, because their religion had failed them and their spirit, as well as their heads and faces, had become bare. Everywhere, the entire population grieved; Moab had been devastated.  

Isaiah cries

The prophecy is a burden and the prophet cries, as he watches the people, young and old, fleeing on the highways, leaving all that they know, their homeland and their homes behind. When judgment falls, even when it falls on an enemy, it causes no joy to the one, who lives close enough to the heart of God to hear His voice (v.5; Jeremiah also grieves for Moab… Jer.48:31). The fugitives are running far to the south to Zoar, on the southern border, where Lot fled from Sodom and Gommorah. Finding no safety there, they climb onto the mountains (As Lot? Horoniam is near caves.).

The attack came from the north and the only escape was to the south. Either by the effects of war or by natural causes, farther north there was a dearth covering the landscape (v.6), and the people abandoned it, carrying with them all that they were able (v.7). So from this area of Nimrim, the people also fled to the south to the Valley of Willows or the Arabian Valley. Earlier we read of northern cities, but now Eglaim was south of the capital of Ar and Beer-elim is on the eastern border: “The cry of distress has gone around the territory of Moab” (v.8), from north to south, entering into every part of this mountainous land. Beer-elim may have been the well that Israel sang to (Num.21:14-18).

The Arnon River carried the blood of multiplied Moabite warriors, slain in battle. God will add to the calamities of war in His judgment upon Moab. We read in the Old Testament of wild animals, which abounded in the Middle East in those times and were one of the great causes for fear among the people. Now, those who left the cities, targeted by the invaders, to find refuge in the country, were attacked by beasts (v.9).

Chapter 16

Salvation is offered

God gave His word and it went out and spread over the lands. Is there a God-fearing soul in Moab like Ruth or as in Jericho, is there one, who trembles at the word of the Lord? Then let that one flee the land of destruction to the God of Israel for salvation. Following the eye of the prophet, they can escape the worst of the devastation and know in what direction they can proceed. He is merciful and mighty to save. He has exalted His mercy over all His works.

This word came to the Moabite refugees, who had arrived south of their land into Edom (v.1 This also is part of modern-day Jordan.). To this day, the word of salvation reaches to those in this condition, far from their familiar settings and people, abandoned by their idols. The Moabites had come near to the influence of the Hebrews and the God of Creation. He is the God, who is approached by a sacrificial lamb.  They were to send their tribute lamb from Sela or Petra, the amazing fortress carved out of rock, founded by the Edomites, at the southern end of the valley of the Dead Sea. It was re-discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer.

Sela or Petra... city carved from the rock.
Here, the surviving Moabites had found shelter in the rock and from here they were to take the next step; they are to reach out to the God, who is worshipped by the Jews on Mount Zion (v.2). What a wonderful book is this “Gospel” of Isaiah! The Moabites were invited to be grafted into the trunk of the prophets and patriarchs, in order to find continued protection and help in their time of exile. They were to obey the Word and escape the judgments written in the book!

Here we get a different picture from the mourning populace of the last chapter. In this one, we hear a desperate cry for help. You have probably observed the little bird, which has fallen from its nest. It is an object of compassion in its defenseless, flightless state. It seems hopeless; some predator will surely find and kill it. “The daughters of Moab will be at the fords of the Arnon. Give us advice, make a decision; cast your shadow like night at high noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive” (v.2, 3). This is what we now see and hear. They are ready to cross the river and are begging for counsel. “We need a hiding place; please, do not turn your back on us. We are ready to listen; show us the way of salvation!”

There can be no doubt now that Isaiah has transferred us again into the reign of Messiah, using the Moabites in their plight, as examples of those, who fly to Christ for salvation.  Like Ruth, they cry for a new country and a new allegiance to the throne of lovingkindness! (v.4-5)  They submit to the faithful Judge from David’s tent who brings a millennium of justice and righteousness.

Pride prevents salvation

The narrow passageway to Petra
Ah, but on the other hand, we see stubborn pride, which will not submit in humble recognition of need. They will not change even at the cost of their lives and their nation. No one and nothing can break their arrogant independence. They choose destruction over salvation and if the destruction is eternal, then so is their pride. This, my friend, is the cause of the world’s woes and the reason behind destruction and condemnation. Salvation is at their right hand. The Rock is there to hide in and the sacrifice can be applied, but not without a humble submission to the King (v.6). “Therefore let Moab wail for Moab” and we are taken back to chapter 15 to watch more of the same wailing and grief (v.7). It is now on a higher level, because we have seen the escape, and know that all the mourning could be averted.

Now, Isaiah takes us to observe the lost produce of the land. Here is a land that, under the right stewardship, could be productive and enjoyable, but as we have now seen, pride is the great obstacle to that enjoyment. Lost opportunity in the face of great potential is a sad consequence for a proud refusal to bow, trust and partake. The vines are gone and so are the grapes and raisins that they produce (v.8).

Isaiah weeps and the heart of their Creator breaks (v.9). Oh tears, come freely and bathe our faces for the lost, who have strayed far from hope and home! See their pride, see their suffering, see their loss, and weep! What else can we do? Let Isaiah describe it: “Gladness and joy are taken away from the fruitful field; in the vineyards also there will be no cries of joy or jubilant shouting. No treader treads out wine in the presses, for I have made the shouting to cease” (v.10).

The jubilant shout of harvest fades and the mournful harp expresses the sadness of the heart of the prophet (v.11). No, there was no help for Moab in the proud state in which he presented himself, although he tarried long in prayer. There are two reasons for which he will not prevail: 1) He is coming to an idol that he has formed. He is worshipping his own god in his own way and that will not catch the ear of Him, who is worshipped in Spirit and in truth. 2) His devotion is only the reflection of a stubborn will that cannot be broken (v.12).

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God… Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (Jam.4:3-10).  

God fixed a short time before his prophetic word would come to pass. The Assyrian invader was at the door. It was time for him to come down upon northern Israel and Samaria. He would make an attempt against Judah without success, but Moab was doomed to all that was prophesied in these two chapters. Its glory would depart and its population would be depleted until a small, insignificant, weak nation would remain (v.14).  The JFB commentary states: “The ruins of Elealeh, Heshbon, Medeba, Dibon, etc., still exist to confirm the inspiration of Scripture. The accurate particularity of specification of the places three thousand years ago, confirmed by modern research, is a strong testimony to the truth of prophecy.”


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