Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The following prophecy concerning the Moabites is supposed to have had its accomplishment during the long siege of Tyre in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. The whole of this chapter is poetry of the first order. The distress of the cities of Moab, with which it opens, is finely described. The cries of one ruined city resound to those of another, Jer 48:1-3. The doleful helpless cry of the children is heard, Jer 48:4; the highways, on either hand, resound with the voice of weeping, Jer 48:5; and the few that remain resemble a blasted tree in the wide howling waste, Jer 48:6. Chemosh, the chief god of the Moabites, and the capital figure in the triumph, is represented as carried off in chains, with all his trumpery of priests and officers, Jer 48:7. The desolation of the country shall be so general and sudden that, by a strong figure, it is intimated that there shall be no possibility of escape, except it be in the speediest flight, Jer 48:8, Jer 48:9. And some idea may be formed of the dreadful wickedness of this people from the consideration that the prophet, under the immediate inspiration of the Almighty, pronounces a curse on those who do the work of the Lord negligently, in not proceeding to their utter extermination, Jer 48:10. The subject is then diversified by an elegant and well-supported comparison, importing that the Moabites increased in insolence and pride in proportion to the duration of their prosperity, Jer 48:11; but this prosperity is declared to be nearly at an end; the destroyer is already commissioned against Moab, and his neighbors called to sing the usual lamentation at his funeral, Jer 48:13-18. The prophet then represents some of the women of Aroer and Ammon, (the extreme borders of Moab), standing in the highways, and asking the fugitives of Moab, What intelligence? They inform him of the complete discomfiture of Moab, Jer 48:19-24, and of the total annihilation of its political existence, Jer 48:25. The Divine judgments about to fall upon Moab are farther represented under the expressive metaphor of a cup of intoxicating liquor, by which he should become an object of derision because of his intolerable pride, his magnifying himself against Jehovah, and his great contempt for the children of Israel in the day of their calamity, Jer 48:26, Jer 48:27. The prophet then points out the great distress of Moab by a variety of striking figures, viz., by the failure of the customary rejoicings at the end of harvest, by the mournful sort of music used at funerals, by the signs which were expressive among the ancients of deep mourning, as shaving the head, clipping the beard, cutting the flesh, and wearing sackcloth; and by the methods of catching wild beasts in toils, and by the terror and pitfall, vv. 28-46. In the close of the chapter it is intimated that a remnant shall be preserved from this general calamity whose descendants shall be prosperous in the latter days, Jer 48:47.
Against Moab - This was delivered some time after the destruction of Jerusalem. The Moabites were in the neighborhood of the Ammonites, and whatever evils fell on the one would naturally involve the other. See Isa 15:1-9 and Isa 16:1-14 on this same subject.
Wo unto Nebo! for it is spoiled - This was a city in the tribe of Reuben, afterwards possessed by the Moabites. It probably had its name from Nebo, one of the principal idols of the Moabites.
Kiriathaim - Another city of the Moabites.
Misgab is confounded - There is no place of this name known, and therefore several learned men translate המשגב hammisgab, literally, The high tower, or fortress, which may apply to Kiriathaim, or any other high and well-fortified place.
No more praise of Moab - "The glory of Moab, that it had never been conquered," (Dahler), is now at an end. Dr. Blayney translates: -
"Moab shall have no more glorying in Heshbon; They have devised evil against her (saying.)"
And this most certainly is the best translation of the original. He has marked also a double paronomasia in this and the next verse, a figure in which the prophets delight; בחשבון חשבו becheshbon chashebu "in Cheshbon they have devised," and מדמן תדמי madmen tiddommi, "Madmena, thou shalt be dumb."
Horonaim - Another city of Moab, near to Luhith. At this latter place the hill country of Moab commenced. "It is a place," says Dahler, "situated upon a height between Areopolis and Zoar."
Flee, save your lives - The enemy is in full pursuit of you.
Be like the heath - כערוער caaroer, "like Aroer;" which some take for a city, others for a blasted or withered tree. It is supposed that a place of this name lay towards the north, in the land of the Ammonites, on a branch of the river Jabbok; surrounded by deserts. Save yourselves by getting into the wilderness, where the pursuing foe will scarcely think it worth his while to follow you, as the wilderness itself must soon destroy you.
Chemosh shall go forth into captivity - The grand national idol of the Moabites, Num 21:29; Jdg 11:24. Ancient idolaters used to take their gods with them to the field of battle. This was probably in imitation of the Israelites, who took the ark with them in such cases.
Give wings unto Moab - There is no hope in resistance, and to escape requires the speediest flight. I cannot conceive how Dahler came to translate thus: Tirez Moab par les chevaux, "Drag Moab away by the hair of the head."
Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully - Moab is doomed to destruction, and the Lord pronounces a curse on their enemies if they do not proceed to utter extirpation. God is the Author of life, and has a sovereign right to dispose of it as he pleases; and these had forfeited theirs long ago by their idolatry and other crimes.
Moab hath been at ease - The metaphor here is taken from the mode of preserving wines. They let them rest upon their lees for a considerable time, as this improves them both in strength and flavour; and when this is sufficiently done, they rack, or pour them off into other vessels. Moab had been very little molested by war since he was a nation; he had never gone out of his own land. Though some had been carried away by Shalmaneser forty years before this, he has had neither wars nor captivity.
Therefore his taste remained in him - Still carrying on the allusion to the curing of wines; by resting long upon the lees, the taste and smell are both improved. See the note on Isa 25:6.
I will send unto him wanderers that shall cause him to wander - Dr. Blayney renders צעים tsaim, tilters; those who elevate one end of the wine cask when nearly run out that the remains of the liquor may be the more effectually drawn off at the cock. And this seems to be well supported by the following words, -
And shall empty his vessels - I will send such as will carry the whole nation into captivity.
Beth-el their confidence - Alluding to the golden calves which Jeroboam had there set up, and commanded all the Israelites to worship.
How is the strong staff broken - The scepter. The sovereignty of Moab is destroyed.
That dost inhabit Dibon - This was anciently a city of the Reubenites, afterwards inhabited by the Moabites, about two leagues north of the river Arnon, and about six to the east of the Dead Sea. - Dahler.
O inhabitant of Aroer - See the note on Jer 48:6 (note). This place, being at a greater distance, is counselled to watch for its own safety, and inquire of every passenger, What is done? that it may know when to pack up and be gone.
Tell ye it in Arnon - Apprize the inhabitants there that the territories of Moab are invaded, and the country about to be destroyed, that they may provide for their own safety.
Upon Holon, etc. - All these were cities of the Moabites, but several of them are mentioned in no other place.
The horn of Moab is cut off, and his arm is broken - His political and physical powers are no more.
Was not Israel a derision unto thee? - Didst thou not mock my people, and say their God was no better than the gods of other nations? See Eze 25:8.
Was he found among thieves? - Did the Israelites come to rob and plunder you? Why then mock them, and rejoice at their desolation, when their enemies prevailed over them? This the Lord particularly resents.
Dwell in the rock - Go to the most inaccessible places in the mountains.
The hole's mouth - And into the most secret eaves and holes of the earth.
The pride of Moab - See on Isa 16:1 (note).
O vine of Sibmah - See on Isa 16:8 (note).
As a heifer of three years old - Which runs lowing from place to place in search of her calf, which is lost or taken from her.
For every head shall be bald - These, as we have seen before, were signs of the deepest distress and desolation.
He shall fly as an eagle - The enemy will pounce upon him, carry him off, and tear him to pieces.
Moab shall be destroyed from being a people - They shall not have a king or civil governor: and I doubt whether there be any evidence that they were ever reinstated in their national character. They were captivated by the Chaldeans; and probably many returned with the Jews on the edict of Cyrus: but as to their being an independent nation after this, where is the positive proof?
Fear, and the pit, and the snare - See the note on Isa 24:17, Isa 24:18.
They that fled stood under the shadow of Heshbon - Heshbon being a fortified place, they who were worsted in the fight fled to it, and rallied under its walls; but, instead of safety, they found themselves disappointed, betrayed, and ruined. See Jer 48:2 (note), and the note there.
But a fire shall come forth out of Heshbon - Jeremiah has borrowed this part of his discourse from an ancient poet quoted by Moses, Num 21:28 (note); where see the notes.
The crown of the head - The choicest persons of the whole nation.
The people of Chemosh - The Moabites, who worshipped Chemosh as their supreme god.
Will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days - I have already expressed doubts (see Jer 48:42) whether the Moabites were ever restored to their national distinction. The expressions in this chapter, relative to their total destruction as a people, are so strong and so frequent, that they leave little room for a limited interpretation. That many of them returned on the edict of Cyrus by virtue of which the Jews were restored, I doubt not; but neither the Ammonites, Moabites, Philistines, nor even the Jews themselves were ever restored to their national consequence. Perhaps the restoration spoken of here which was to take place in the latter days, may mean the conversion of these people, in their existing remnants, to the faith of the Gospel. Several judicious interpreters are of this opinion. The Moabites were partially restored; but never, as far as I have been able to learn, to their national consequence. Their conversion to the Christian faith must be the main end designed by this prophecy.