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Isaiah is the prophet of Salvation. He is also known as the truly "Universalist" prophet, by which is meant that He makes it clear that salvation is extended equally to all nations and not just to Israel. He lived to see the fall of Israel and the deportation of the Israelites to Assyria, and he prophesied of their "return" to God (through repentance). He is truly a "major prophet" whose prophecies greatly influenced the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Category - Bible Commentaries
In Isaiah 15 we see the oracle concerning Moab. Its pride and idolatry was to result in much destruction, and the prophet says, “My heart cries out for Moab” (Isaiah 15:5). Though the troubles of Moab were to be great, the prophet remains sympathetic, especially in chapter 16, which is a separate prophecy about Moab.
The Moabites were descended from Lot’s son, Moab. Moab and Ammon were born through incest through the daughters of Lot after they had escaped the destruction of Sodom. The story is told in Gen. 19:30-38. Moab means “water (i.e., seed) of his father,” named, no doubt, by his mother, the daughter of Lot.
The curse of the law for such an incestuous origin was to last for ten generations (Deut. 23:2). The tenth generation finally saw Ruth the Moabitess break free, and the result was that her eyes were opened to believe in the God of Israel.
In the days of Moses, Moab refused to allow the Israelites to pass through their land along the east coast of the Dead Sea when they were journeying north toward the Jordan River opposite Jericho. God would not allow Israel to attack Moab for this, for we read in Deut. 2:9,
9 Then the Lord said to me, “Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.”
Ar was a city on the south side of Moab. In fact, it means “city” and was mentioned also in Num. 21:15. In Isaiah 15:1 the prophet mentions Ar first in his list of cities to be devastated,
1 The oracle concerning Moab. Surely in a night Ar of Moab is devastated and ruined; surely in a night Kir of Moab is devastated and ruined.
The Israelites made war on Moab’s main enemy to the north, Sihon, whose people had occupied the northern part of Moab as far south as the Arnon River (Num. 21:26). Sihon had been pushed south by a Hittite invasion coming from the north. Sihon’s defeat at the hand of the Israelites allowed Moab to prosper and grow, so that 90 years later, Moab was strong enough to put Israel into its second captivity for 18 years (Judges 3:14).
Two centuries later, King Saul defeated the Moabites (1 Sam. 14:47) but did not occupy their territory or put them into tribute. Some years later, David’s parents were harbored by the king of Moab to protect them from Saul’s persecution (1 Sam. 22:3, 4). The Moabite king had no love for Saul and was willing to help David. Nonetheless, after David became king of all Israel, he put Moab into subjection (2 Sam. 8:2).
After the death of Solomon, when the kingdom was divided, Moab continued to be controlled by Israel until it revolted from Israel’s king Ahab (2 Kings 1:1; 3:4). Years later, Ahab’s son, Jehoram, made an alliance with Judah’s King Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom and these three kings went to war against Moab (2 Kings 3:7). They defeated the Moabites but did not occupy the land nor did they succeed in putting Moab back under tribute (2 Kings 3:27).
Finally, under King Chemosh-nadab, the Moabites were subdued by Sargon II, the Assyrian king who also conquered the Philistine city of Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1). Sargon ruled from 721-705 B.C. and, along with his son Sennacherib, brought judgment upon Moab.
This is the devastation that was prophesied in Isaiah 15 and 16. The prophet sympathized with Moab even as He did with Israel and Judah.
Isaiah 15:1 also mentions the devastation of the city of Kir.
Ar and Kir were the two main fortresses of Moab. While Ar means “city,” Kir means “wall, or fortress.” The prophet says that both were to be “devastated and ruined.”
Isaiah 15:2, 3 continues,
2 They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep. Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba; everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off. 3 In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth; on their housetops and in their squares everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears.
Dibon was King Mesha’s capital city, according to the Mesha Stele (stone inscription) that was discovered in 1868.
The inscription begins:
“I am Mesha, son of Chemosh-gad, king of Moab, the Dibonite.”
No doubt Dibon was the site of the temple to Chemosh, the national god of Moab. Dibon was located east of the Dead Sea on the King’s Highway, the main north-south trade route between Egypt and Syria. Today it is a Jordanian city of 15,000 and is known as Dhiban.
Nebo was the city located at the base of Mount Nebo, where Moses died (Deut. 34:1, 5, 6). Medeba was located a few miles southeast of Nebo on the Plain of Medeba. It was later part of the territory of Reuben (Joshua 13:9), although it appears that the Reubenites had lost control of it by the time they were exiled to Assyria. Hence, Isaiah speaks of it as Moabite territory.
Isaiah 15:2, 3 describes wailing and hair cutting in these cities of Moab on account of the devastation that was to come at the hand of the Assyrians. Cutting one’s hair and beard was a common demonstration of mourning for the dead. Sackcloth was a sign of mourning or repentance.
Isaiah 15:4 says,
4 Heshbon and Elealeh also cry out, their voice is heard all the way to Jahaz; therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud; his soul trembles within him.
Heshbon and Elealeh were cities due north of Medeba on the southern border of Gad (Joshua 13:26). Heshbon was Sihon’s capital city when Moses and the Israelites fought against him (Num. 21:25, 26). It was probably largely destroyed at the time, but it was rebuilt, along with Elealeh, by the tribe of Reuben (Num. 32:37). Heshbon then became a Levitical city for the descendants of Merari (Joshua 21:34, 39). Merari was one of the sons of Levi (Gen. 46:11).
The oracle against Moab in Isaiah 15 is similar to what Jeremiah prophesied a century later in Jeremiah 48. What is perhaps most significant is that both prophets weep and wail for Moab. They do not gloat or rejoice over Moab’s destruction and captivity in spite of their idolatry. In fact, their tears reflect the heart of God, for there is no doubt that, like Jesus, the prophets spoke only what they heard their heavenly Father speak and wept when they heard Him weep (Rom. 12:15).
Isaiah 15:5 says,
5 My heart cries out for Moab, his fugitives are as far as Zoar and Eglath-shelishiyah, for they go up the ascent of Luhith weeping; surely on the road to Horonaim they raise a cry of distress over their fate.
Jeremiah 48:31, 32, 36 says,
31 Therefore I will wail for Moab, even for all Moab will I cry out; I will moan for the men of Kir-heres. 32 More than the weeping for Jazer I will weep for you, O vine of Sibmah!... 36 Therefore My heart wails for Moab like flutes…
Jeremiah mentions many of the same cities written about in Isaiah 15. It appears that Moab was not fully destroyed and exiled with Israel but rather a century later in the time of Jeremiah. King Nebuchadnezzar took Moab along with Judah, Ammon, and other surrounding nations.
Perhaps the most significant prophecy of Jeremiah that is not found in Isaiah 15 is that these nations, along with Judah, were to be restored in the future. So Jer. 48:47 says,
47 “Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days,” declares the Lord. Thus far the judgment on Moab.
Likewise, of Moab’s brother Ammon, we read in Jer. 49:6,
6 “But afterward I will restore the fortunes of the sons of Ammon,” declares the Lord.
The same is said in the prophecy against Elam (Jer. 49:39). These prophecies, I believe, indicate that these nations will be part of the Kingdom of God in the future, when many nations recognize Jesus Christ as the King of Kings. John tells us in Rev. 21:23, 24,
23 And the city [New Jerusalem] has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
This is part of the restoration of the nations, when they are turned from their idolatry to recognize the right of Jesus Christ to rule the earth. The prophets therefore weep with compassion over these idolatrous nations, seeing them as God sees them—future believers. Those who see Moab and Ammon and other nations through the eyes of God are able to share His love and concern for them and to give these nations hope for the future.
Isaiah 15:5 mentions Zoar, which was the first town where Lot and his family found refuge after escaping the destruction of Sodom. It was located on the southeast side of the Dead Sea and was just a small town. But Lot did not remain there, for he was afraid it too would be destroyed (Gen. 19:30).
Some called the town Bela (Gen. 14:2), a word that means “devoured, swallowed up,” for it was destroyed by the fire of God. Afterward, a town was reestablished on its location, and was known as Zoar, “insignificant, small.” We might call it Littleton or Smallville. It still existed in the time of Isaiah (Isaiah 15:5) and Jeremiah (Jer. 48:34).
Isaiah 15:5 also mentions Eglath-shelishiyah, which the KJV renders “heifer of three years old.” The NASB restores its proper name as a town. Eglah or Eglath means “heifer,” a word that Samson used in Judges 14:18 when his Philistine friends guessed his riddle: “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have found out my riddle.” He was referring to their threats against his bride’s family if she did not help them discover the secret of the riddle.
In my novel, Power of the Flame, I gave the name Eglah, “heifer,” to Samson’s bride, as the biblical text suggests. After all, Isaiah 15;5 shows that it was indeed the name of a city, so there is no reason that Eglah could not have been the name of a woman as well.
The word shelishiyah is used again in 2 Kings 4:42, “a man came from Baal-shalishah.” Shalishah is from shalash, “three or thirds or three parts.” Hence, Baal-shalishah means “thrice-great lord,” and Eglath-shelishiyah means “heifer of three years old.” Scripture does not tell us the local story of how this town received its name.
From the standpoint of prophecy and how names tend to prophesy, we may turn to Gen. 15:8, 9, which tells us about God’s covenant with Abraham:
8 He said, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?” 9 So He said to him, “bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove and a young pigeon.”
Hence, we see that the promise of God was sealed by blood from five different animals. Five is the number of grace. There were two birds and three animals, each three years old, including a three-year-old heifer. All of these birds and animals represented Jesus Christ Himself, for they were killed in order to seal the promise with a blood covenant. The animals had to be fully mature, and this also suggests a three-year time of Jesus’ ministry in order to bring His work to maturity before dying on the cross to ratify the covenant.
The name of the Moabite town, then, suggests that the Abrahamic covenant applied to Moab when God told Abraham in Gen. 12:3, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Isaiah 15:5 and Jer. 48:5 also mention “the ascent of Luhith.” Luhith was a town not far from Zoar on the Moabite plain above the Dead Sea. Luhith means “tablets” (stone), or “boards” (wood) or “plates” (metal). If this name also suggests a prophecy, no doubt it would be a reference to Moses’ ascent to receive the tablets of the law. This would indicate that the restoration of Moab, as part of the Abrahamic covenant, would also write the law in their hearts in order to conform Moab’s nature to that of Christ Himself.