1 An oracle concerning Moab.
Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone.
2 He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
On every head is baldness;
every beard is shorn;
3 in the streets they wear sackcloth;
on the housetops and in the squares
everyone wails and melts in tears.
4 Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
his soul trembles.
5 My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
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 vegetation fails,
the greenery is no more.
7 Therefore the abundance they have gained
and what they have laid up
they carry away
over the Brook of the Willows.
8 For a cry has gone
around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
9 For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
for the remnant of the land. – Isaiah 15:1-9 ESV
Now, God turns His attention to the land of Moab. Slowly and systematically, God is addressing all the people groups that have had anything to do with Israel and Judah. In the first two oracles, He dealt with Assyrian and Philistia, two nations located outside the borders of Canaan, that would both pose a threat to the people of God. The Moabites, while a relatively small nation, and one that had proven to be particularly hostile to the people of God, would hear from God as well. Located to the east of the Dead Sea, the Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son born to Lot and his oldest daughter. This incestuous relationship is recorded in the book of Genesis and took place immediately after Lot and his family had been rescued from Sodom just before the city’s destruction by God.
When the people of Israel had begun their conquest of the land promised to them by God, the Moabites had become concerned over their sheer numbers and their relatively easy defeat of the neighboring Ammorites.
And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was in great dread of the people, because they were many. Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. – Numbers 22:2-3 ESV
King Balak ended up sending for a well-known diviner named Balaam, whom he offered a fee if he would curse the Israelites.
“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Numbers 22:5-6 ESV
But God would not allow Balaam to do as the king had requested. He was prevented from cursing Israel. So, instead, he came up with an alternative and ingenuous plan to defeat the people of God. He recommended to King Balak that the Moabite women entice the Israelite men into having immoral relationships with them. And his plan worked.
While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people. – Numbers 25:1-3 NLT
God ended up sending a plague on the people of Israel, resulting in 24,000 deaths. But this oracle makes it clear that God would deal with the Moabites as well. Their role in Israel’s moral and spiritual adultery would be avenged. And the prophet, Zephaniah, reiterates God’s plans for the people of Moab.
“Now, as surely as I live,”
says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel,
“Moab and Ammon will be destroyed—
destroyed as completely as Sodom and Gomorrah.
Their land will become a place of stinging nettles,
salt pits, and eternal desolation.
The remnant of my people will plunder them
and take their land.” – Zephaniah 2:9 NLT
Isaiah warns of Moab’s pending fall. Its two main cities, Ar and Kir, would end up destroyed, “laid waste in a night.” In other words, their destruction would be quick and complete. Isaiah pictures the people weeping in Dibon, where the temple to Chemosh, the Moabite god was located. But rather than praying to their false god for aid, they are shown crying over the fall of their cities. Chemosh has proven ineffectual and impotent against God Almighty.
As a sign of mourning, everyone has shaved their heads and beards. They are wearing sackcloth and crying out in sorrow over their great loss. Even the soldiers join in the dirge over the loss of their cities, lands, and people. It is a scene of abject destruction and unrelenting sorrow.
It is impossible to know exactly when this prophecy was fulfilled. Some believe it took place in 718 BC when Sargon and the Assyrians moved across the land. Others have speculated that the fall of Moab happened under Tiglath-pilesar 732 BC or even Sennacherib in 701 BC. But the important point is that Moab did fall, just as God said that it would.
One of the important things to remember is that this oracle, like all the others, was aimed at the people of Judah. It was intended to remind them that their God was in complete control. The nations of the earth were under His divine authority, including Assyrian, Philistia, and Moab. They had no reason to fear these nations unless they failed to fear God – which they had. They had no business putting their trust in these nations, rather than trusting God – but they had. The sins of Judah were many. They were guilty of idolatry and immorality. They had placed their hope and trust in false gods and pagan nations. When warned of God’s pending judgment, rather than repent, they had sought aid from others. Faced with news of the coming wrath of God, they always seemed to have one more trick up their sleeve, an alternative source of rescue.
But God wanted them to know that everyone, from the powerful Assyrians and Babylonians to the relatively helpless Moabites, would prove to be no match for Him. And God makes it clear that, even after all the mourning and weeping in Moab, He will not yet be done.
“I will bring upon Dibon even more…” – Isaiah 15:9 ESV
Dibon, the home of the Moabite’s false god, Chemosh, would experience additional destruction. The gods of the nations would prove no match for God Almighty. The armies of the pagan nations would be powerless in the face of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah of the greatness of their God.
The following proverb reminds us that the fear of man is dangerous because it illustrates our lack of faith in God.
Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety. – Proverbs 29:25 NLT
And Jesus Himself provided a much-needed reminder of our need to trust God rather than fearing man
“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28 NLT
Judah had lost its fear of God. In the face of all the turmoil surrounding them, the people of God had taken their eyes off of Him and had started trusting in human kings and man-made gods to protect them. But as God has made perfectly clear, there is no one or nothing that can provide protection from His judgment. Human kings fail. Mighty nations fall. And man-made idols prove to be false forms of salvation.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.