Isaiah Chapter 16
PROPHECY OF MOAB’S DEVASTATION
Isaiah 16:1-5 NAS:
1 Send the tribute lamb to the ruler of the land, From Sela by way of the wilderness to the mountain of the daughter of Zion.
2 Then, like fleeing birds or scattered nestlings, The daughters of Moab will be at the fords of the Arnon.
3 “Give us advice, make a decision; Cast your shadow like night at high noon; Hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive.
4 “Let the outcasts of Moab stay with you; Be a hiding place to them from the destroyer.” For the extortioner has come to an end, destruction has ceased, Oppressors have completely disappeared from the land.
5 A throne will even be established in lovingkindness, And a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; Moreover, he will seek justice And be prompt in righteousness.
Chapter 16 presents a story related to the devastation of Moab in chapter 15 but focuses on the coming flight of Moabite refugees to strongholds in Edom such as Sela, the capital of Edom about 50 miles south of Moab’s southern border. The nation of Edom was an ally of Moab. From their shelter in Edom the Moabites are told to seek refuge with the people of God in Jerusalem, for Jehovah God is their only sure refuge. In verses 3 and 4 Isaiah makes an appeal to the people of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah to maintain a godly attitude and show compassion to the Moabite refugees.[fn]
The Moabites had now fled all the way south to escape the Assyrians who were entering Moab from the North. If they really wanted to be safe they should have joined themselves to Jerusalem. Isaiah could suggest this because he had already prophesied that Jerusalem would be spared from destruction by Assyria. The one place the Assyrians could not conquer was Jerusalem ((Isaiah 10:24-34). Though the Assyrian army entered the kingdom of Judah and did a great deal of damage to the land, it could not capture Jerusalem (Isaiah 36–37). However, instead of fleeing to Mt. Zion, the Moabite fugitives fled south to the fords of the Arnon River and the “rock city” of Sela in Edom. Frustrated like fleeing birds, the women of Moab were begging for protection and help.
From Sela, the fugitives sent an appeal to the king of Judah to give them asylum from the enemy. But Isaiah warned them that it would take more than a request: They would need to submit to the king of Judah, which meant acknowledging the God of Judah. In that day, sending animals to a ruler was a form of paying tribute (2 Kings 3:4). Moab begged the leaders of Judah to give them refuge from the enemy, like a protecting rock on a hot day.
Isaiah was not impressed with the appeals of the Moabites. He called the Moabites extortioners and oppressors because they wanted Judah’s help, but they did not want Judah’s God. But Moab would not submit; they wanted deliverance on their own terms.[fn] Isn’t that a lot like people today? We want freedom from oppression, violence, and addictions, but we also want it on our own terms.
Rather than submit to the all-wise, all-knowing, and all-powerful God who loves us, rather than obey Him totally, we want God to do things our way. We want Him to wink at our sin and bless us anyway. We forget or deny who God really is.
Verse 5 is definitely a messianic promise, pointing to the day when Messiah will reign in righteousness and mercy on David’s throne. God in His love will see that the One from the house of David, the Messiah, will sit on David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:16) and judge the world fairly in justice and righteousness, a frequent topic in Isaiah’s book (Isaiah 9:7; 11:4; 28:6; 32:16; 33:5; 42:1, 3-4; 51:5).
Isaiah 16:6-12 NAS:
6 We have heard of the pride of Moab, an excessive pride; Even of his arrogance, pride, and fury; His idle boasts are false.
7 Therefore Moab will wail; everyone of Moab will wail. You will moan for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth as those who are utterly stricken.
8 For the fields of Heshbon have withered, the vines of Sibmah as well; The lords of the nations have trampled down its choice clusters which reached as far as Jazer and wandered to the deserts; its tendrils spread themselves out and passed over the sea.
9 Therefore I will weep bitterly for Jazer, for the vine of Sibmah; I will drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; for the shouting over your summer fruits and your harvest has fallen away.
10 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.
11 Therefore my heart intones like a harp for Moab And my inward feelings for Kir-hareseth.
12 So it will come about when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself upon his high place and comes to his sanctuary to pray, that he will not prevail.
Isaiah exposed the pride and conceit of Moab. The people of Moab should have realized their helplessness before the Assyrians and turned to God through their neighbor Judah, but they refused to do so. Because of their pride and confidence that they did not need God, the fruitfulness and productivity of their land would be stopped.
Their harvest was destroyed: grapes, various fruits, and other things they normally harvested at the end of summer. The invading Assyrian army would wipe out Moab’s chances for survival. Isaiah displayed genuine emotion over the destruction of so rich an agricultural resource. Isaiah felt deeply for Moab; his heart responded to her calamities as the strings of a harp respond when played. Moab’s religious ritual of sacrificing at her high place and praying at her shrine would not help alleviate God’s judgment.[fn]
Like many other people with whom God has pleaded through His prophets, virtually begging them to turn from their evil ways and submit to His authority, the leaders of Moab also refused. A preliminary judgment is predicted in the last two verses.
Isaiah 16:13,14 NAS:
13 This is the word which the Lord spoke earlier concerning Moab.
14 But now the Lord speaks, saying, “Within three years, as a hired man would count them, the glory of Moab will be degraded along with all his great population, and his remnant will be very small and impotent.”
Now the prophet announced that all this destruction would occur within three years. This is similar to chapter 7 in which Isaiah told Ahaz that the Aram-Israel alliance would break up in a few years. Possibly this oracle against Moab was written about the same time, picturing Tiglath-Pileser’s coming invasion of Moab in 732 (after he invaded Aram). Or perhaps Isaiah was saying that Moab would be attacked in three years (701) by Sennacherib, in the year he invaded Judah.
The people of Isaiah’s time could have watched current events to see if the Lord really was prophesying through him. When they saw that his words came true, they could be assured that his message of salvation for Judah (Isaiah 16:5) would also come true.[fn]
[fn] Pfeiffer, C. F. 1962. The Wycliffe Bible commentary : Old Testament . Moody Press: Chicago.
[fn] Wiersbe, W. W. 1996, c1992. Be comforted. An Old Testament study. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.
[fn] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures . Victor Books: Wheaton, IL