This chapter, together with Chapter 16, deals with the destruction of Moab which would be laid waste by the invading Assyrian army. The survivors of her people would howl and weep and would continue to be pursued by the plunderers. Moab, which was situated east of the Dead Sea, was invaded and plundered by the Assyrians around 730-727 B.C.1 and was destroyed around 587 B.C.,2 near the same time as the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Moabites were distant kin to the Israelites and spoke a language similar to Hebrew. However, there was constant warfare between Israel and Moab. They did not share the same religious beliefs; furthermore, Moab was frequently the source of wicked practices that spread among the Israelites.3 Moab was spared by the Israelites when they first entered the Promised Land because Ar had been promised to Lot, the nephew of Abraham;4 the nation of Moab was Lot’s posterity. Following the destruction foretold in this chapter, Moab ceased to be a nation. This destruction may be typical of destruction yet in the future—in the latter days—that will afflict the same geographic area.5
Verse 1 begins: “The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence; because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence.” A burden is a prophetic message of doom lifted up against a nation. Some of the place names mentioned in this verse and in verses 2, 4, and 5 are identified on Map 10 in the Bible.6 The places named are most likely the larger or better-known communities. Isaiah’s knowledge of specific places in Moab lends a more personal tone to this prophecy.
In verse 2, the sentence begun in verse 1 continues: “He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.” “He” in the first phrase refers to “Moab,” mentioned in the second phrase, meaning the survivors of the foretold destruction. Shaving of heads and beards would be done in mourning over the destruction.
Verses 3 and 4 describe more mourning:
In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.
And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh: their voice shall be heard even unto Jahaz: therefore the armed soldiers of Moab shall cry out; his life shall be grievous unto him.
“His life shall be grievous unto him” means the soul of each will lament within him.
In verse 5, the prophet mourns: “My heart shall cry out for Moab; his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old: For by the mounting up of Luhith with weeping shall they go it up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction.” Zoar was a city near the south end of the Dead Sea; its description as a young heifer indicates that it was young and vigorous. From Zoar, on the southern plains of the Dead Sea at an elevation of 1,212 feet below sea level, it was an arduous climb to Luhith and Horonaim in the highlands farther east. This climb was made in mourning by Moab’s survivors, witnessing the effects of the destruction as they went.
Verse 6 describes drought conditions: “For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing.” In addition to the ravages of war, Moab would be afflicted with drought. Could this be typical of a spiritual drought as well?
Verse 7 characterizes the invaders: “Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows.”7 This verse describes marauders carrying away the spoils of conquest following the destruction. “The brook of the willows” is probably the border between Moab and Edom to the south.8 Following Moab being rendered weak by the marauders, others including the Arabs would take possession of the land.
Verse 8 finalizes the description of pervasive mourning: “For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beer-elim.” The cry went all around the country of Moab and its limits, indicating the extent of the destruction and mourning.
Verse 9 describes more horrors for the survivors: “For the waters of Dimon shall be full of blood: for I will bring more upon Dimon, lions upon him that escapeth of Moab, and upon the remnant of the land.” Following the devastations of war and drought, worse evils yet would be brought upon Dimon. “Lions” in the final phrase could mean continuing harassment by marauding bands of invaders, in addition to literal lions.
1. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 192.
2. See Bible Dictionary—Chronology.
3. See Numbers Chapters 22-25.
4. See Deuteronomy 2:9.
5. See Isaiah 63:1-3.
6. See Bible Map 10.
7. Verses 6 and 7 contain a chiasm: Waters of Nimrim/withered away/grass faileth/there is no green thing/shall they carry away/brook of the willows.
8. See Isaiah 15:7, footnote 7a.