In Chapter 16 Isaiah continues his prophecy concerning Moab, begun in Chapter 15. Because of wickedness Moab is condemned and her people will sorrow. Although steeped in wickedness Moab acknowledges that Messiah will sit on David’s throne, seeking judgment and hastening righteousness.
In verses 1 through 5 Isaiah foretells Moab’s appeal to Jerusalem for refuge from the Assyrian plunderers. Verses 6 through 8 foretell Jerusalem’s rejection of the appeal; in verses 9 through 11 Isaiah mourns the fate of Moab. In verses 12 through 14 Isaiah explains that despite Moab’s earnest prayers the Lord will not hear because of her wickedness; within three years Moab would be overthrown and her great multitude destroyed, leaving a small and feeble remnant.
In the first five verses Isaiah foretells that Moab would appeal to Jerusalem for refuge from the marauding Assyrian armies. In verse 1, Moab would send a sacrificial lamb as a gift to Jerusalem: “Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion.” Sela was the southernmost city in Moab,1 and “the mount of the daughter of Zion” refers to Judah’s capital city, Jerusalem.2
Verse 2 alludes to the distress suffered by Moab, resulting in her appeal to Judah: “For it shall be, that, as a wandering bird cast out of the nest, so the daughters of Moab shall be at the fords of Arnon.”3 Like a frightened bird fleeing from her nest, the daughters of Moab would seek refuge beyond the fords of Arnon. Arnon is a brook in Moab that drains into the Dead Sea from the highlands on the east, which denotes the northern limit of the inhabited part of Moab.4 Those at the brook of Arnon would be fleeing an invader advancing from the south.
Verses 3 and 4 foretell the words of the Moabite appeal before the king of Judah. Verse 3 begins: “Take counsel, execute judgment, make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the noonday,” meaning hide us in your ample shadow; “hide the outcasts; bewray [betray] not him that wandereth.” “Judgment” means “judge us fairly.”5
Verse 4 continues: “Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, [pleads] Moab; be thou [Judah] a covert to them from the face of the spoiler,” until such time as “the extortioner is at an end, the spoiler ceaseth,” and “the oppressors are consumed out of the land.”6 Moab’s emissaries realize that the invaders would stay only a short time, since their interest would be plunder and murder.
In verse 5 the Moabite emissaries acknowledge that Messiah will sit upon the throne of David: “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he [the Messiah] shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.” “Judgment,” in this instance, means “fairness” or “justice.”7 Although the Moabites were not of the Hebrew religion, they acknowledge its fundamental beliefs. Their reasoning would be that since Messiah would rule in Jerusalem at some future time, Jerusalem would be a secure place for the foreseeable future and able to offer protection.
In verses 6 through 8, Isaiah foretells Jerusalem’s rejection of the Moabite appeal. The response begins in verse 6: “We have heard of the pride of Moab; he is very proud: even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath: but his lies shall not be so.” The ending phrase means “but his lies shall not be affirmed.” The Jews foresee the lies and pride of Moab as her downfall. In our day, lies play an important role in the corruption and downfall of nations.8
Verse 7 delivers Judah’s stinging rejection: “Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab, every one shall howl: for the foundations of Kir-hareseth shall ye mourn; surely they are stricken.” They will be left unto themselves in their suffering. Kir-hareseth was a prominent Moabite city, probably its capital.9
In verse 8, Isaiah continues the prophecy: “For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah: the lords of the heathen have broken down the principal plants thereof, they are come even unto Jazer, they wandered through the wilderness.” Place names familiar to Isaiah continue the personal tone of the prophecy. “Broken down” means the invaders would trample the vineyards, destroying Moab’s main crop. “Her branches are stretched out, they are gone over the sea” refers to the renown of ancient Moab’s wine industry and the extent of her exports.10
In verses 9 through 11 Isaiah mourns the fate of Moab; despite his ominous prophecy he bears only sorrow. Verse 9 begins: “Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen.”11 Productive agriculture would cease after the devastating attack. Ancient Moab’s wine industry would be devastated by the marauding Assyrians.
Verse 10 continues: “And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease.”12 Sorrow will reign; the joy of the harvest will not be heard. Few will remain to harvest the vineyards and press the wine.
In verse 11, Isaiah describes his anguish: “Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kir-haresh.” Reference to “bowels” as a seat of emotion within the body is common in the scriptures.13
In verses 12 and 13 Isaiah explains that despite Moab’s earnest prayers the Lord will not hear because of the people’s wickedness. Verse 12 states: “And it shall come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary on the high place, that he shall come to his sanctuary to pray; but he shall not prevail.”14 The “high place” means a place of idolatrous worship; Moab’s turning to the Lord for help would not be heard.
Verse 13 continues: “This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning Moab since that time.” Isaiah summarizes, attesting that the information came to him from the Lord. “Since that time” may refer to an earlier prophecy concerning the destruction of Moab, by Isaiah or some earlier prophet.15
In verse 14 the words of the Lord are given: “Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant shall be very small and feeble.” Moab as a nation would be destroyed along with the great multitude of its people, leaving only a small, weak remnant. “Glory,” as used here, means military strength.16 A hireling is a hired soldier, or mercenary. Typically mercenaries are hired for a set period of time.
1. See Bible Map 1.
2. See 2 Kings 19:21, 31; Psalms 9:14; 51:18; Isaiah 10:32; 37:22; 52:2; 62:11.
3. Verses 1 and 2 contain a chiasm: From Sela to the wilderness/daughter of Zion/wandering bird/cast out of the nest/daughters of Moab/at the fords of Arnon.
4. See Bible Map 10.
5. See Isaiah 1:17; 5:7; 42:4; 59:15.
6. Verse 4 contains a chiasm: Let mine outcasts dwell with thee/face of the spoiler/extortioner is at an end/spoiler ceaseth/oppressors/out of the land.
7. For references to other meanings of “justice,” see verse 3.
8. See Isaiah 9:15; 28:15, 17; 59:3-4 and pertinent commentary.
9. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 192-194.
10. Donald W. Parry, Jay A. Parry and Tina M. Peterson, Understanding Isaiah: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1998, p. 164.
11. Verses 8 and 9 contain a chiasm: The fields of Heshbon languish/vine of Sibmah/Jazer/branches are stretched out/gone over the sea/Jazer/vine of Sibmah/shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen.
12. Verse 10 contains a chiasm: Gladness is taken away/vineyards/there shall be no singing/neither shall there be shouting/no wine in their presses/vintage shouting to cease.
13. For example, see Genesis 43:30; 1 Kings 3:26; Isaiah 63:15; Jeremiah 4:19; 1 John 3:17; Mosiah 15:9; Alma 7:12; 3 Nephi 17:6-7.
14. Verses 7 through 12 contain a chiasm: Moab/Kir-haresh/Heshbon/Sibmah/Jazer/Jazer/ Sibmah/Heshbon/Kir-haresh/Moab. In Donald W. Parry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 2001, p. 259.
15. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet: Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 196-197.
16. See Isaiah 8:7; 10:18; 17:3-4; 20:5; 21:16-17; 22:18; 66:12.