Isaiah 15
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. HISTORY or Moan. Zoar was the cradle of the race, the house of the tribal father Lot. While the brother-tribe of Ammon wandered to the pastures of the northeast, Moab remained nearer the original seat. They were confined to a narrower district by the invasion of the Amorites (Numbers 21:26-30; Deuteronomy 2:10, 11). Their long feud with the tribe of Benjamin lasted to the time of Saul. But in the Book of Ruth we have a pleasant glimpse of the intercourse between the people of Moab and those of Judah; and David, by descent from Ruth, had Moabite blood in his veins. Eglaim, a Moabite king, had reigned at Jericho; but a fearful war, the last of David's, had crushed, almost extirpated, Moab (2 Samuel 8.; 1 Chronicles 18.). On the division of the kingdom, Moab fell under the dominion of Israel, and paid its kings an enormous tribute (2 Kings 3:21). On the death of Ahab this tribute was refused, and Moab, in alliance with the Ammonites and others, attacked the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 20.). A fearful disaster followed, and Israel, Judah, and Edom united in an attack upon the Moabites, who, deceived by a stratagem, were overcome with fearful carnage. And then, to crown these horrors, the king Mesha, having retreated to the strong place of Kir-Hareseth, was seen by the host of Israel sacrificing his own son upon the wails, as an extreme measure, with a view to obtain deliverance from the gods of the land. From that time we know little of the fortunes of Moab until the date of this prophecy, about a century and a half later, B.C. 726. She had regained the lost ground, and was settled in the territory north of the Arnon, when this disaster overtook her. Ewald thinks that three prophets were concerned in this prophecy, and that it is preserved in Jeremiah 48, more nearly in its original form.

II. THE PATHOS OF MOAB'S FATE. The whole description is characterized by a tone of deep sympathy. The prophet's heart is torn by sorrow and compassion; it melts with tenderness. The mood is elegiac rather than prophetic. The fragment is unique among the elder prophets; even in Hoses there is nothing quite like it (Ewald). "In a night Ar-Moab is laid waste, destroyed; for in a night Kir-Moab is laid waste, destroyed." Perhaps the ruins of the capital and the fortress may be identified by antiquarians; perhaps not. But what is more important to us to notice is the pathos of ruined cities. What are they but the speaking symbols of man's efforts and man's failures, his soaring ambition, his profound disappointment and humiliation? So the poet in our own time amidst the colossal ruins of Egypt: "I surveyed the generations of man from Rameses the Great and Menmon the beautiful, to the solitary pilgrim whose presence now violated the sanctity of those, gorgeous sepulchers. And I found that the history of my race was but one tale of rapid destruction and gradual decay. And in the anguish of my heart I lifted up my hands to the blue ether, and I said, 'Is there no hope? What is knowledge and what is truth? How shall I gain wisdom?'" (Disraeli). A city is to the passionate fancy of prophet and poet as a living person, a woman glorious in her beauty, and extorting tears from the onlooker in her fall. He sees the people going up to the central temple of the land, not to rejoice, but to weep. Every head is bald, and every beard is torn in sign of mourning for the departed. Figures move about in the market-places, not in holiday attire, but in sackcloth; on the roofs and in the streets universal wailing is heard, and there is beheld as it were a deluge of tears. The hill Heshbon cries, and Elealeh returns a hollow sound, and from far-off Jahaz an echo comes. The heroes' hearts are paralyzed; they cry out with the women in helpless lamentation. The very heart of the land trembles; it is an earthquake of woe. In sudden calamities, the sudden deaths of individuals, the sudden fall of cities, there is an expression of the mystery of destiny which overwhelms the soul. Goethe, after describing the awful earthquake of Lisbon in 1755, which "spread a vast horror over a world already accustomed to peace and rest," speaks of his own feelings as a boy on hearing the details often repeated. "He was no little moved. God the Creator and Upholder of heaven and earth, whom the explanation of the first article of belief represented as so wise and generous, had, in dealing out like destruction to the just and the unjust, by no means acted as a father. In vain his young spirit strove to recover from these impressions; and it was the less possible, because the wise men and the doctors could not agree on the manner in which the phenomenon should be viewed." Without attempting to unravel the tragic enigmas of existence, it may be welt to note how deep is the abyss of thought and passion in our own hearts opened by the tale of such horrors; and thus to learn something of that Divine sympathy which broods over nature and over men, and to be reminded of those tears shed over Jerusalem, already seen by Jesus in the lurid light of its approaching doom.

III. THE SYMPATHY OF THE PROPHET. It is expressed in appropriate figures. His heart cries out with passionate yearning towards Mesh. The city of Zoar seems to him as a heifer of three years old, in all the unexhausted fullness of its strength. This is an image of a fair and fertile land, applied also to Egypt and to Babylon (Jeremiah 46:20; Jeremiah 48:34; Jeremiah 50:11; cf. Hosea 4:16; Hosea 10:1). The roads are filled with fugitives, weeping and raising the cries of death and despair. At Nimrim, the "fair waters," the springs have been filled up with rubbish, and will probably be a waste forever. The greenness of the spot has vanished beneath the hand of the conqueror, and the fugitives, with their savings and stores, are seen hurrying across the brook of the willows into the territory of Edom. From south to north, from Eglaim to Beer-Elim, there is wailing, there is wailing! Dimon or Dibon's (perhaps the Arnon) waters are full of blood. And yet a further perspective of evil opens. A lion is to be brought upon the fugitives and the survivors; probably Judah, as this animal was Judah's tribal ensign (Genesis 49:9). But we must be content to leave the passage obscure.

IV. MUSINGS AMONG THE RUINS OF MOAB. The land has been but seldom visited by Europeans, and their descriptions vary; but all agree in stating that the country is covered with an extraordinary number of ruins. Of the language we do not know very much, but the Moabite Stone shows that it was closely akin to Hebrew. Of the religion we know still less. Of what nature was their great god Chemosh, whose worship Sdomon introduced into and Josiah expelled from Judah? Here almost all is conjectural, and imagination has fled course and unchecked play amidst the ruins of Moab. The ruins are symbolic of human greatness, of human diseases and decay.

"All things have their end;
Temples and cities, which have diseases like to man,
Must have like death that we have." The moldering stones sermonize with silent eloquence on the old text, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." They remind us of man's short life and long hopes. He builds for a thousand years, though he may have but as many months to live. Thus, bearing their witness to the aspiration for immortality, the passion to create the beautiful that - hall not die, venerable ruins of remote antiquity have a lofty spiritual expression.

"There is given
Unto the things of earth, which time hath bent,
A spirit's feeling; and where he hath leant
His hand, but broke his scythe, there is a power
And magic in the ruined battlement,
For which the palace of the present hour
Must yield its pomp, and wait till ages are its dower." They remind us, by contrast of that which falls not into ruin - the edifice of God in the human spirit; the shrine not to be found on the mounts of Moab or of Judah; the jiving altar on which the fire goes not out from age to age; the element in life which abides forever, when this world and the lust thereof hath passed away. - J.

In these very vigorous touches we have -

I. A FINE BUT FEARFUL PICTURE OF NATIONAL DISTRESS. We see two of the principal cities attacked, unexpectedly, in the night, taken by assault and ravaged with the merciless cruelties of ancient war (ver. 1); we see the inhabitants flocking to their national temples to weep, "with lamentable voice," over their humiliation; we see them resorting to the last indignities, self-inflicted, in order to express more forcibly than words can do the extremity of their woe (ver. 2); we see them neglecting their daily labor and going up to their house-tops, there to pour forth their loud laments (ver. 3); we see the very army dispossessed of its manliness and weeping like a company of women (ver. 4); we see fugitives hastening into exile with bitter cries, more resembling the lowing of the kine for their calves than the voice of man or woman (ver. 5); we see the land afflicted with drought and white with famine (ver. 6); we see those who had wealth to lose stealing away with their precious things, hoping they may secrete and save them (ver. 7); we see the waters of the land red with the blood of her slaughtered sons and daughters (ver. 9); and in the background, where we might hope to find some break in the blackness of the vision, we see the wild beasts that haunt the depopulated land hungry for their prey (ver. 9).

II. AN INTIMATION OF COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY. It cannot be doubted that this fearful fate was a judgment from Heaven, otherwise it would not have been thus foretold by the mouth of God's prophet. Moab was to be brought low, to be wasted, to be terribly afflicted because it was guilty, because the nation had incurred the condemnation of God. In the first instance, individual souls are responsible for their thoughts, words, lives. But responsibility does not end here; it extends to the family, to the Church, to the society, to the island population, to the great kingdom or empire. For the action which it takes, for the influence it exerts, for the principles on which it is shaping its course and living its life, God holds it responsible, and he will reward or punish it some day according to his judgment concerning it. There is no community too small to be disregarded by him; none too large to be beyond the exercise of his righteous government.

III. AN INFERENCE AS TO PRIVILEGE AND GUILT. Moab stood outside the circle of sacred privilege. God had not been speaking daily, weekly, monthly, annually, by priest and rite, by prophet and prophecy, to her. Yet was she held responsible for her sin and punished for her transgressions. If the unprivileged Moab was thus accountable, how much more the people to whom were committed the oracles of God, and in the midst of whom dwelt the Most High himself? And how much more yet those peoples of the earth to whom has been vouchsafed the gospel of the Son of God? "For if the word spoken by angels," etc. (Hebrews 2:2, 3); and "if he that despised Moses' Law," etc. (Hebrews 10:28, 29). Moab "sinned without Law" and perished (Romans 2:12). Israel "sinned in the Law" and "was judged by the Law," and was condemned (Romans 2:12). If England sins under the gospel, she will be judged by the righteous principle, that "from them to whom much is given men expect the more," and from them God requires the more. It must be that the brighter the light of privilege and opportunity, the deeper the shadow of disobedience and condemnation.

1. Realize the responsibility that devolves upon citizenship, upon membership of a society or of the Church, and use all the power that can be exercised upon the community to preserve it from wrong courses, to incite it to wise and worthy measures.

2. Remember that the larger and also the smaller communities rest upon the basis of the family and, ultimately, the individual Let every man see that God is honored in his own home and in his own heart, and then will the rectitude and thus the prosperity of the whole Church, of the entire kingdom, be assured. - C.

Of late years attention has been directed to Moab, through the discovery of what is known as the Moabite Stone, which contains the earliest inscription we have wholly in alphabetical characters. This stone was found at Diban, about three miles north of the central part of the Arnon. Its inscription remarkably confirms the Scripture record. The original territory of Moab seems to have been divided into three portions:

1. What was known as the "land of Moab"-the open rolling country north of the Arnon, opposite Jericho, reaching to Gilead on the north.

2. The "field of Moab" - upland undulating plains, extending from the precipitous mountains overlooking the Arabah and the Dead Sea on the west, to the Arabian desert on the east; from the deep chasm of the Arnon on the north, to Edom on the south.

3. The "Arboth-Moab," or dry tropical regions in the Arabah on the east of the Jordan. The peculiarity of Moab, so far as indicated, seems to have been that for many years it had been undisturbed and prosperous, not affected by invasions or famines; and so, lacking experiences of calamity and suffering, social and moral evils had so grown that at last terrible and almost overwhelming Divine chastisements seemed necessary; and these would cause unusual grief and distress. The Prophet Jeremiah indicates the special characteristic of Moab in a very striking passage (Jeremiah 48:11): "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed." A contrast is suggested between the national experiences of Israel and of Moab. Israel had known no easy restful periods in her history; she had been "shaken loose or unsettled every few years by some great change or adversity - by a state of slavery in Egypt, by a forty years' roving and fighting in the wilderness, by a time of dreadful anarchy under the judges, by a revolt and separation of the kingdom, and then by a captivity. Moab had been at ease from the first, shaken by no great overturnings or defeats, humbled and broken by no captivities, ventilated by no surprising changes or adversities. He has lived on, from age to age, in comparative security, settled on his lees; and therefore he has made no improvement" (Bushnell). Moab is thus a type of those nations that have long periods of peace and prosperity, and of those families and individuals who have for years few experiences of trouble. From Moab, as a type, we may learn such lessons as these.

I. GOD IS IN OUR TIMES OF RESTFULNESS AND EASE. It is a fact of common human experience that our relations with God are recognized in our times of trouble, but lost sight of in our times of prosperity. It is woe to us when all men speak well of us, and it is woe to us when all things go well with us. Nothing so easily hides God from our view as success attending our own self-endeavors. And yet God is in our times of prosperity, as truly sending them, presiding over them, and working his purpose through them, as he is sending and using times of suffering. No truth needs more constant and varied reassertion than this - God is in prosperity and success.

II. SUCH TIMES OF RESTFULNESS AND EASE ARE SEARCHING TESTS OF CHARACTER. The common sentiment is that troubles alone test us. The truth is, that removal of trouble tests; that holding off of trouble tests; and that bestowments and benedictions test. These, indeed, become most searching tests, under which many of us utterly fail after coming well through our times of tribulation. What is thought of as the inequality of life - the disproportionate allotment of joy and sorrow, success and failure - finds a partial explanation, if we apprehend that a man's success and case are his moral testings, and that, before God, thousands more fail under life's prosperities than fail under life's adversities. Man, looking at Israel and at Moab, would at once say that Moab, in his quietness, was the best off. The issue plainly shows that the lot of Israel was the more desirable.

III. SUCH TIMES OF RESTFULNESS AND EASE DEVELOP PARTICULAR FORMS OF EVIL. Not the same forms that are developed by adversities, but more subtle and more vital evils. All those which come out of centering thought on self - involving heart-separation from God; self-conceit; contempt of others; over-estimate of the material and temporal; luxury of self-indulgence; and those aggravated and degrading forms of immorality which attend unchecked civilization and over-swift development of wealth. We know the moral evils of war-times; we fail to estimate the more pervading moral evils of peace-times.

IV. SUCH EVILS, SOONER OR LATER, BRING ON SPECIAL DIVINE JUDGMENTS. As with Moab. When the judgment comes, it needs to be so severe as to seem a gathering up of all the testing sufferings of years. And though it is still only chastisement, it takes a form that looks like overwhelming judgment. In this chapter the prophet seems to be amazed at the terrible character of the Divine judgment on Moab when it did fall. - R.T.

The particular trouble causing such extreme grief was the destruction of the two chief cities of Moab, Ar and Kit. To destroy the capital of a kingdom is to strike the nation at its very heart. Conquerors can dictate peace when the chief city lies at their mercy. Illustrate from the recent German siege of Paris. This chapter vigorously pictures the distress throughout the land when Ar was taken, the rush of people to the border districts, the alarm of those whose property was imperiled, the wail of those who had lost their friends in the strife. Howling, weeping, plucking off the hair, covering with sackcloth, and other signs of despairing grief, were found everywhere; and the cries were all the more bitter because for so many generations Moab had dwelt secure. Here one kind of national distress brings before us that general subject, and sets upon considering -

II. ITS BEARING ON THE POOR. They are always the first to suffer from political or international conditions which affect manufacture, trade, or agriculture. Living upon daily wage, and, when thrifty, only able to provide in limited degrees for depressed times, the poor are most dependent on the preservation of peace, security, order, and mutual confidence. Demagogues urge the poor to a disturbance of social relations, with the promise of material advantage. In the interests of the poor themselves we plead that war, disturbance, revolutionary change, never even temporarily serve their interest. So grievous is the effect of political convulsions on the poor, that no class of the community should more intensely demand the knitting of laud to land by commerce and brotherhood, and the correction of social and political evils by processes which do not disturb the sense of national security. Of the poor the words may well be used, "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength."

II. ITS BEARING ON THE RICH. They are always the aim of attack in lawless times, whether the evil come through aggressive enemies outside the nation, or through turbulent people inside the nation. The one wants "booty," and the other wants excuse for robbery. The rich need national security

(1) for the retention of what they have;

(2) for the increase of what they have;

(3) and for the enjoyment of what they have.

National distress becomes especially afflictive to the rich, because by training and association they are unfitted for self-help when their riches are taken away.

III. ITS MISSION AS SENT BY GOD. It is often that which we find illustrated in the case of Moab. National distress, circumstances that unite the whole land in a common grief, and in a common sense of helplessness, is the Divine corrective of the evils which attend prolonged peace, security, and luxury. Those evils may be traced:

1. In the sphere of men's thought. The material is exaggerated, the unseen and spiritual are at disadvantage, and cannot hold their due place and proportion.

2. In the sphere of social life. In prolonged times of peace and prosperity, the separations between classes of society are grievously widened, and there grows up a painful contrast between the few who are unduly rich and the many who are miserably poor. National distress brings rich and poor together, in mutual dependence and service.

3. In the spheres of religion. Like the voyager, men can easily dismiss the thought of God when, for long times together, seas are calm and heavens are clear; but when the skies are black, and the wild waves shake the frail ship, and fear whitens every face, the soul begins to cry for a sight of God and a touch of his protecting hand. We are with God as our little children are with their mothers. They run about and play, taking little heed of her, until the head aches, and the pulse is high, and pain wearies; and then there is nobody in all the world will do but their mother. National distress brings nations back to the thought and love of God. The atheist, the agnostic, and the secularist have their chance when the sun shines; nobody wants such vain helpers when the tempests rage. Then nobody will do but the God of our fathers.

IV. ITS SHAME, IF CAUSED BY MAN'S WILFULNESS OR MAN'S NEGLECT. And these are too often the immediate causes of national distress. War is almost always the issue of somebody's willfulness or masterfulness. Nobody would need to go to war if they did not hanker after something to which they had no right, or were not compelled to resist these envious, masterful folk. And such distresses as come by prevailing disease are usually traceable to men's neglectings of social and family and household duty. God makes even man's errors and sins serve his purpose, but he never ceases to declare woe unto him by whom the offence cometh. - R.T.

The point which arrests attention here is that Moab, being so largely a sheep-feeding country, was dependent on its pastures, and these were dependent on the dews, and rains, and fountains, and streams. To a grazing country no greater calamity, no more precisely adapted calamity, could come than is described in this verse: "The waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing." Possibly the mischief was wrought in part by the malicious act of the invaders in stopping the wells and defiling the streams. If one thing more than another is impressed on devout minds by a review of life, it is the marvelous way in which Divine wisdom has found the best, most adapted forms for judgment and chastisement to take. Chastisement sent by the Divine Father is always precisely corrective of the evil which has called for it, and always precisely corrective to the individual and to the particular nation. This general subject may be opened out thus -

I. DIVINE JUDGMENTS HAVE PRECISE AIMS. The aim expressed in general terms is - humiliation with a view to exaltation.

II. DIVINE JUDGMENTS ARE DIRECTED TO SECURE THOSE AIMS. And this decides the form and the degree of the humiliation that is found to be necessary.

III. DIVINE JUDGMENTS ARE ADAPTED IN WAYS THAT MAY ESCAPE PRESENT NOTICE. And this occasions some of the gravest perplexities, and sternest struggles of life.

IV. THE ADAPTATION OF ALL DIVINE JUDGMENTS, TO THE SECURING OF THEIR PRECISE AIMS, WILL BE THE DELIGHTFUL DISCOVERY OF THE FUTURE. It will be our reading of our own history, and. of the world's history, when we have learned how to read aright. - R.T.

The picture is a striking one. In the national fright, the people are seen picking up what they can of their treasures, and escaping for life to the border districts; learning the lesson that "riches take to themselves wings, and flee away." The word "abundance," in the text, should be replaced by the word "remainder;" and the most probable meaning of the verse is that the Moabites shall carry what they can save of their possessions into the land of Edom. The picture suggests two topics.


(1) in land;

(2) in money;

(3) in houses;

(4) in goods.

How dependent he is on a thousand things for the retention and use of all! The lesson of Job is that no form of earthly possession can possibly be secure. Land is unlet; money cannot be profitably exchanged; houses get out of repair, and eat up rentals; and goods deteriorate in the warehouses. When ordinary forces leave our property alone, the heavens can send fire; the earth can heave and quake; and by mysterious influences we can be made to learn our lesson, that "this is not our rest."

II. THE SECURITY OF THE MAN WHO IS RICH IN WHAT HE IS. No human and no supernatural forces, here or hereafter, can deprive a man of his possessions in what he is. Character, piety, are beyond reach of moth, or worm, or rust, or storm, or earthquake, or death. It is said of knowledge that a man "only possesses what he understands." It might be said of a man's wealth that he "only has what he is." When calamities come, the man of character never has to gather his treasures hurriedly together and make off for the border-land. Wherever he is, he has his riches with him. Stripped of all his so-called wealth, he is not deprived of one grain. He holds it all, and his riches none can take away. The Lord Jesus men called poor. He was the only truly and perfectly rich man that ever lived; and such as he was we would desire to be. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Isaiah 14
Top of Page
Top of Page