Isaiah Chapter 15
PROPHECY AGAINST MOAB
Do you have any enemies? I hope not. But if you did, how would you feel if somehow they were completely done away with? If someone came in and overcame them so that you no longer had to fear their attack? Or, as a nation, how would we all react if suddenly the terrorists were no more? If some great power wiped them all off the face of the earth and we could live in safety and with peace of mind?
Judah had great enemies and in this section of the book of Isaiah we are finding out what will happen to those enemies. Today’s scriptures look at the fate of two of them: Moab and Damascus.
Whereas, the Assyrians that we learned about last week invaded Israel and carried them off into captivity, Damascus and Moab posed different kinds of threats to God’s people. Damascus (Syria) had formed an alliance with Israel to defeat Judah. Moab, early on had tried to overtake the children of Israel by seduction. They sent their beautiful young women into the camp to intermarry with Jewish young men during Moses’ time (Numbers 25:1-9). Later Moab was often a place that Jews fled to in order to save their lives, whether from famine or from persecutors (1 Sam. 22:3, 4; Ruth). We will learn in Isaiah 16 that the primary sin that brought Moab’s destruction, aside from idolatry, was the sin of pride.
So we see that the people of Judah, as well as people today, face enemies that come in various forms. They may be outright attacks from enemy armies. Attacks may also come in the form of temptations to satisfy our desires, or they may be temptations to make alliances with the wrong kind of thinking or individuals. We’ve been learning in our Sunday evening studies about the spiritual warfare that each Christian is engaged in and you can see here that the onslaughts are similar. Sometimes we are attacked directly. At those times it is easier to recognize the enemy and realize what is happening.
But sometimes we are seduced and taken in by something that seems to make sense, but actually is designed to draw us away from trusting in God. Those attacks are more subtle and can draw us into alliances that in the long run will damage our relationship with God.
With that in mind, let’s now take a look at the prophecies in Isaiah.
1 An oracle concerning Moab. Because Ar is laid waste in a night, Moab is undone; because Kir is laid waste in a night, Moab is undone.
2 Dibon has gone up to the temple, to the high places to weep; over Nebo and over Medeba, Moab wails. On every head is baldness, every beard is shorn;
3 in the streets they bind on sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares everyone wails and melts in tears.
4 Heshbon and Elealeh cry out, their voices are heard as far as Jahaz; therefore the loins of Moab quiver; his soul trembles.
5 My heart cries out for Moab; his fugitives flee to Zoar, to Eglath-shelishiyah. For at the ascent of Luhith they go up weeping; on the road to Horonaim they raise a cry of destruction;
6 the waters of Nimrim are a desolation; the grass is withered, the new growth fails, the verdure[fn] is no more.
7 Therefore the abundance they have gained and what they have laid up they carry away over the Wadi of the Willows.
8 For a cry has gone around the land of Moab; the wailing reaches to Eglaim, the wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
9 For the waters of Dibon are full of blood; yet I will bring upon Dibon even more— a lion for those of Moab who escape, for the remnant of the land.
Thus far in the book of Isaiah we have seen oracles, that is the word of God spoken through Isaiah, against several nations, as well as against God’s own people of Israel and Judah. In Isaiah 13:1-14:23, we saw the oracle against the nation of Babylon. In Isaiah 14:29-32, we saw the judgment against the nation of Philistia. In the next two chapters we’ll discuss the judgment against Moab.
But first, let’s get just a little better understanding of the nation of Moab. As Israel prepared to cross the Jordan on their way to the Promised Land, they camped in the ‘plains of Moab’ (Numbers 22:1; Joshua 3:1) and were seduced by Moabite and Midianite women to participate in idolatrous practices (Numbers 25; Hosea 9:10).
In the days of the Judges, Eglon, king of Moab, invaded Israelite lands as far as Jericho and oppressed Israel for 18 years. Elimelech of Bethlehem migrated to Moab and his sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Ruth later married Boaz and became the grandmother of David (Ruth 4:18–22; Matthew 1:5–16). Saul warred with the Moabites (1 Samuel 14:47) and David lodged his parents there while he was a fugitive (1 Samuel 22:3–4). Later David subdued Moab and set apart many Moabites for death (2 Samuel 8:2, 12; 1 Chronicles 18:2, 11). In the year of Elisha’s death, bands of Moabites raided Israel (2 Kings13:20). For the most part the Moabites were the enemies of Israel and Judah. During the latter part of the 8th century, where we pick up the story, Moab was subdued by Assyria and compelled to pay tribute to them (Isaiah 15–16),[fn]
Moab lay just to the east of Israel and Judah across the Dead Sea. You might picture the layout to be similar to the state of Michigan being just west of Wisconsin across Lake Michigan. Edom was just to the south of Moab just as Indiana is south of Michigan. So it might help those who are not familiar with the geography of the Middle East to imagine Wisconsin as Israel and Judah, Michigan as Moab, and Indiana as Edom. The Moabites were descendants of Moab, the son of Lot and his oldest daughter by an incestuous relationship (Genesis 19:31-38). In the beginning Moab was friendly toward Israel but eventually they became enemies.
Here again was a lesson for Israel. The demise of Moab should have taught Israel not to depend on foreign nations but rather that they should depend on God alone. Ar and Kir were the two major cities of Moab.
I don’t believe a lot of detail on this chapter will add much to our study of the entire book of Isaiah, so let me just surf through a few interesting bits of information. Dibon was the city where the temple of the Moabite god was located. Also in verse 2, shaving heads and beards was a sign of humiliation and sorrow. Heshbon, Elealeh, and Jahaz are references to cities in Moab. In verse 5 we see that this prophecy expresses much greater sympathy for Moab than for other nations to be judged, even allowing for a surviving remnant to be saved.
Nimrim is a dried up body of water or wadi (the bed or valley of a stream) picturing widespread devastation. Brook of the willows is a river the Moabites had to cross to escape their invaders. Eglaim and Beer Elim is a reference indicating that the shouts of the fugitives reached all the way from the northern part of Moab to the southern part. Lions in verse 9 probably suggests that the flight from invading armies would not bring them security, but rather new dangers from the beasts they would find in the wilderness.
So basically this chapter is telling us that Moab is swiftly overthrown. The people mourn and weep over what has happened to their major cities. They cry out to their gods, who of course are no help to them. There is the sound of wailing in the streets and even the land is so desolate that the grass has all died. The bloodshed has been extensive.
[fn] Greenness of growing vegetation.
[fn] Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. 1996. New Bible dictionary (3rd ed. /) . InterVarsity Press: Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.