He Rules Over the Nations

1 Thus says the Lord:

“For three transgressions of Moab,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because he burned to lime
    the bones of the king of Edom.
So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. Amos 2:1-3 ESV

The nation of Moab shared more than a border with Ammon and Israel. Located along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, this Semitic nation held close genealogical as well as geographic ties to the people of Israel. As the story in Genesis reveals, the Moabites were the result of an incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). In Hebrew, the name Moab sounds similar to the word that means “from father.” Moab’s very name seemed to celebrate the fact he was the son of his mother’s father – a child born from immorality.

The Bible provides virtually no information regarding the destiny of Lot’s son, Moab. And the Scriptures provide scant record regarding the fate of his descendants. They originally settled in the plain of Zoar at the southern tip of the Dead Sea. From there they expanded their borders north and south, gradually claiming all the territory east of the Dead Sea. One of the most detailed accounts we have of the Moabites is found in 2 Kings 3. In this chapter, the kings of Israel and Judah join forces with the king of Edom to do battle with the Moabites. This conflict was precipitated by the king of Moab’s decision to stop paying tribute to the king of Israel.

King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But after Ahab’s death, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. – 2 Kings 3:4-5 NLT

Jehoram had inherited the crown of Israel after the death of his father, Ahab. King Mesha of Moab seems to have viewed the change in Israel’s leadership as an official termination of the agreement he had made with Ahab. His refusal to send any more tribute payments to Samaria infuriated Jehoram and led him to declare war on Moab.

The ensuing battle did not fare well for King Mesha. Even though Jehoram “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 3:2 ESV), God promised to give him victory over the Moabites. Elisha, the prophet of Yahweh, delivered the good news:

“…he [God] will make you victorious over the army of Moab! You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.” – 2 Kings 3:18-19 NLT

And the prophecy of Elisha proved to be true. God gave the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom a great victory over the Moabites. And, in a last-ditch effort to sway the battle in his favor, King Mesha resorted to offering his own son as a sacrifice to the god Chemosh.

When the king of Moab saw that he was losing the battle, he led 700 of his swordsmen in a desperate attempt to break through the enemy lines near the king of Edom, but they failed. Then the king of Moab took his oldest son, who would have been the next king, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the wall. So there was great anger against Israel, and the Israelites withdrew and returned to their own land. – 2 Kings 3:26-27 NLT

This story is significant because it has been used to explain the indictment delivered by God against the Moabites as found in the Amos 2 passage. Amos’ mention of the Moabites having “burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom” (Amos 2:1 NLT) has been linked to the human sacrifice described in the 2 Kings passage. There are those who believe that when the author of 2 Kings states that “he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall” (2 Kings 3:27 ESV), it is a reference to the son of the king of Edom. In other words, King Mesha captured and sacrificed the son of the king of Edom, who would have been the successor to his throne. But there is little evidence to support this conclusion. It makes much more sense that Mesha, a worshiper of the god, Chemosh, used his own son as a human sacrifice, in a last desperate attempt to garner divine intervention.

The fact is, we don’t know when the Moabites burned the bones of the king of Edom. It could have taken place sometime after the battle, an act of revenge against the Edomites for their role in Moab’s defeat. It seems likely that the Moabites desecrated the grave of a former Edomite king, disinterring and burning the bones. It could be that the king of Edom died in the battle described in 2 Kings 3, and that the Moabites later came and dug up his bones, burning them as a sign of disrespect and as payback for their defeat. 

Amos provides no explanation or elaboration concerning Moab’s transgression. He simply states that God will pay them back. By desecrating the grave and the body of the king of Edom, the Moabites were thumbing their noses in the face of God Almighty. They were refusing to admit that their defeat had been His doing. God had given Israel, Judah, and Edom a decisive victory over the Moabites. And just as King Mesha had refused to pay tribute to King Jehoram, the Moabites refused to pay tribute to Yahweh. These descendants of Lot stood opposed to the God of Abraham, and they would pay dearly for their stubborn resistance to His will.

“So I will send a fire upon Moab,
    and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth,
and Moab shall die amid uproar,
    amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
I will cut off the ruler from its midst,
    and will kill all its princes with him,”
says the Lord. – Amos 2:2-3 NLT

The prophet Isaiah provides further insight into the coming destruction of Moab.

This message came to me concerning Moab:

In one night the town of Ar will be leveled,
    and the city of Kir will be destroyed.
Your people will go to their temple in Dibon to mourn.
    They will go to their sacred shrines to weep.
They will wail for the fate of Nebo and Medeba,
    shaving their heads in sorrow and cutting off their beards.
They will wear burlap as they wander the streets.
    From every home and public square will come the sound of wailing.
The people of Heshbon and Elealeh will cry out;
    their voices will be heard as far away as Jahaz!
The bravest warriors of Moab will cry out in utter terror.
    They will be helpless with fear. – Isaiah 15:1-4 NLT

At the root of Moab’s rebellion lie the sin of pride. They were an arrogant and self-possessed people who refused to acknowledge the sovereignty and superiority of Yahweh. And Isaiah makes this point painfully clear.

We have heard about proud Moab—
    about its pride and arrogance and rage.
    But all that boasting has disappeared. – Isaiah 16:6 NLT

Despite their defeat, the Moabites would remain deluded by their visions of grandeur, and committed to their false gods to restore their good fortunes. But Isaiah reveals that their aspirations of corporate revitalization are ill-founded.

The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines,
    but it will do them no good.
They will cry to the gods in their temples,
    but no one will be able to save them. – Isaiah 16:12 NLT

It was only a matter of time before the God of Israel paid back the Moabites for their many transgressions. Like all the rest of the nations outlined in these opening chapters of Amos, the Moabites stood condemned before God and would face His righteous indignation. Their pride would be broken. Their false gods would be exposed as unreliable. And their days of glory would come to an abrupt and decisive end.

But now the Lord says, “Within three years, counting each day, the glory of Moab will be ended. From its great population, only a feeble few will be left alive.” – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

In 598 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar would invade the land of Canaan and bring the nation of Moab to its knees, fulfilling the word of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.

Because you have trusted in your wealth and skill,
    you will be taken captive.
Your god Chemosh, with his priests and officials,
    will be hauled off to distant lands! – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT

The Moabites would experience the judgment of God. Their pride, arrogance, independence, and stubborn resistance to the will of God would eventually catch up with them. All the nations of the world will one day answer for their actions because “kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28 ESV).

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