The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Against Moab thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Woe unto Nebo! for it is spoiled: Kiriathaim is confounded and taken: Misgab is confounded and dismayed.The History of Moab the History of Mankind
This chapter is full of Moab. We take next to no interest in Moab, the son of Lot; he is not one of the choice figures of history; yet, like many a land little known, there are wonderful surprises for those who will penetrate the history and study its meaning. Moab is a large word: it means not a man only, but a nation—large, haughty, and powerful; and it is in this view that we must now interpret its continual significance. The relations between Moab and Israel had for a long time been of a troubled and uneasy character. Moab had been tributary to Israel under Ahab, but, as we saw in 2 Kings iii., on the death of Ahab, Mesha revolted, and in the war which ensued the Moabites were defeated by the allied forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom. Moab, however, was not to be so easily suppressed. The Moabites repeated their attack (2Kings 13:20), and appear to have occupied the territory of the trans-Jordanic tribes. But Moab was to have no more "praise"; in silence it was to be made silent, and from her little ones a cry as of continual weeping was to be heard. The heath in the wilderness, a stunted, solitary shrub of the desert, is set forth as the type of desolation. Even Chemosh, the national deity of Moab, was to go forth into captivity. The valley which was full of cities was to perish, even the sunken valley of the Jordan, and the plains of Moab. The arms of the Moabites having been broken, there arose a taunting cry, "Give wings unto Moab, that it may flee and get away,"—Moab could strike no longer; its only hope was in flight.
The first charge brought against Moab is self-confidence, self-trust, self-sufficiency: "Because thou hast trusted in thy works and in thy treasures, thou shalt also be taken." This makes us contemporaries of the Moabites. We thought they were an ancient people, but behold how human they are, how English, how like ourselves and our children! They were so pleased with the stone wall they had put up; they measured it, and admired it, and said that it would save them from the high wind and the mighty storm. It was enough—high enough, broad enough, impenetrable, invincible. Now that is the kind of reasoning which God will not allow in human life. He demands that human life be lived in himself, and not in things that our own hands have made. Moab became her own god, and the true God judged her, and burned her with fire. Every man is under the temptation to be self-trustful. The temptation is the more powerful because it comes out of a principle which is right in itself,—namely, the principle of self-preservation, or self-defence. It is by a very fine shading that self-defence passes into self-sufficiency and idolatry, so much so that you can hardly see where the one becomes the other. If money is set up as a wall against providence it may be thrown down, and if intellect is content with its own victories, and will live only within the horizon which reason can see and measure, it shall be perplexed, bewildered, and humbled. We are to be taught distinctly that we do not live in ourselves; that in ourselves we have actually no life; that we have nothing that we have not received, and in that spirit alone we are to hold life and to live. "Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies"; "Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us." It would seem to be easy to put our whole trust in the living God, and yet it is the most difficult of all lessons. We will persist, even in opposition to many theories of our own to the contrary, that we are self-contained, self-consisting, and self-managing; and herein arises God's perpetual controversy with mankind. There is, too, so much to favour the temptation. It looks as if we could do most things; that as we have so much we might easily have more. God says to us in every day's providence, You are here for a purpose; you are here for a little time; you now but begin to be; every lesson you must learn, and every commandment you must keep. It is against that arrangement that we chafe, just as the little child chafes against parental authority and loving restraint. When that child puts back the hand that would do him good, we see a picture of what we ourselves are doing against the great Father. The man who trusts to his own works and his own treasures shall be spoken of with upbraiding and even taunting in the final issue—"Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness"; "Neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it." In proportion as the temptation is direct, and might on some ground be argued as even legitimate, ought the religious appeal to be strong and importunate. "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy."
From the history of Moab we see that even blessings may be perverted, and sacred privileges may be turned into occasions of self-destruction. Read the eleventh verse:—
"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." (Jeremiah 48:11)
When discipline is not endured gradually it is brought to bear upon the life as an overwhelming judgment. This is the burden of the text—"The horn of Moab is cut off, and his arm is broken, saith the Lord." The horn of animals was the symbol of their strength, and in this instance the semblance is extended to men and nations. The broken arm is a figure familiar to Scripture: "Son of man, I have broken the arm of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and, lo, it shall not be bound up to be healed, to put a roller to bind it, to make it strong to hold the sword. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and will break his arms, the strong, and that which was broken; and I will cause the sword to fall out of his hand"; "The arms of the wicked shall be broken"; "The arms of Pharaoh shall fall down"; "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men." It would seem as if every human life required a certain measure of discipline, and must have it, and cannot by any possibility escape it; and if it be not spread over the space of the whole life, it must be condensed and given out in great bursts of judgment. "Moab hath been at ease from his youth,"—that is the opening of the chapter; "The horn of Moab is cut off, and his arm is broken.... Moab shall wallow in his vomit, and he also shall be in derision,"—that is the chapter of his advanced age. Two classes of persons should consider this. First, those who have daily discipline; they should say, Better have discipline a little at a time, as we are able to bear it: "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth"; "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby": these daily chafings and frettings are hard to bear, these daily disappointments are sharp thorns thrust into the very eyes; yet who knows what the judgment would be were it all to come at once? I will rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: no temptation has happened unto me but such as is common to men; by-and-by the explanation will come, and then I shall be able to say, He hath done all things well. Then the lesson should be well considered by those who seem to escape discipline of God. For a long time this was the case with Moab, and during that time Moab misinterpreted all the purposes of providence. It is impossible to deny that some persons seem to have a smooth career, without break or danger or scarcely inconvenience of any kind: all their adventures fructify in large profits; all their schemes are successes immediately they are made known; their health is strong, their sleep is sound, their estates seem to multiply themselves without the necessity of care or anxiety on the part of their owners.
Circumstances of this kind are apt to be misjudged by those who merely look on. They have driven many a good man into perplexity and have caused his feet well nigh to slip. Let the ease-loving consider well the monitions of religious history. The volcano is a long time in gathering all its fiery energy, but the outburst is momentary, and who can measure the destruction which follows? Christ may well say, "What I say unto one, I say unto all, Watch,"—even those who have apparently least necessity to watch should not relax their vigils for a moment. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." See how frightful is the humiliation to which God can bring a man or a people. Look at the picture of Moab—horn cut off, the arm broken, the man drunk but not with wine, and reeling in helplessness, the proud one wallowing in his vomit and laughed to derision! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Truly this has been described as "A dry drunkenness with the fierce wrath of God." Israel shall see its derider overthrown. When Israel was carried away captive by Shalmaneser, Moab made himself merry in the misery of Israel, and turned the tragedy into food for foolish laughter. Moab skipped for joy, and delighted in the evil which befell Israel. But the mocker has a short day, and his laughter is turned against himself: "Neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress. Thou shouldest not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity." The pride of Moab was humbled; his loftiness and his arrogancy and his pride and the haughtiness of his heart were trodden down. Let boasters now and evermore beware! "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down.... The day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low." "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
We cannot, however, rest here: for the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever. Mercy triumphs over judgment. In one verse (Jeremiah 48:42) we read, "And Moab shall be destroyed from being a people, because he hath magnified himself against the Lord." The destruction, therefore, was not arbitrary, but moral, being based upon an assigned reason. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." We should say, therefore, that this verse was the concluding verse in the whole history of Moab. What can there be after destruction? With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. The chapter does not end with the forty-second verse, but with the forty-seventh, and this is how it reads: "Yet will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days, saith the Lord." One would fain construe these words into a hopeful omen. Out of what extremities cannot God deliver mankind? Let the most desponding rekindle their hope, and the most distant prodigal hear his father's voice. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Can we be worse than Moab? Can we present fewer elements of hopefulness? Are we nearer ruin? Impossible! It is in the very extremity of our condition that God's grace is magnified. "They shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a Saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them.... And the Lord shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them." Who can set bounds to the mercy of God? Yet must there be no trifling, even with a gospel of hope. He who says he may continue to the end in the service of the devil and in the enjoyment of his own passions, and at the last God will be merciful to him, is guilty of blasphemy against the mercy to which he appeals. "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." To all ruined men we would utter this gracious testimony. Remember the horn of Moab was cut off, and his arm was broken, and he became the contempt of the whole earth; and remember also that at the last his captivity was turned or brought again. Destruction alone can complete despair; but where there is life there should be hope, and where there is hope it should be fixed steadfastly and exclusively on the Son of God.
Almighty God, thou dost always astonish us by the wonders of thy power, and thy wisdom, and thy love. Our amazement heightens as we gaze upon thy way; it is full of wonder, full of light, and we bless thee that it is a continual challenge to our imagination and to our adoring love. Thou art not to be known by us in all the fulness of thy being and purpose. We cannot find out the Almighty unto perfection. All these things that we see are but parts of his way, whisperings in the air; but the thunder of his power who can understand? Thou dost give power to the faint; and to them that have no might thou dost increase strength. These are the uses of thy power; these are the condescensions of almightiness. Here we begin to wonder with a great thankfulness that thou shouldst remember the son of man and visit the children of dust. Come to us now, we humbly pray thee, as we need thee most; in darkness bring light with thee; in trouble set before us the larger truth, which involves healing and immortality, and we shall scorn the trouble that would slay us; in perplexity show us the right way; carrying heavy burdens, if thou wilt not lessen the weight thou wilt increase the strength to bear. So we fall into thine hands; it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men. Specially do we fall into the hands of the redeeming God, revealed in Christ Jesus. This Man receiveth sinners; his blood cleanseth from all sin. In his wisdom is an answer to every doubt; in his righteousness an answer to every accusation; in his atonement a triumphant vindication of the law. We have all things in Christ; we can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us. Amen.