Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Oracle Concerning Moab - Isaiah 15-16
So far as the surrounding nations were concerned, the monarchy of Israel commenced with victory and glory. Saul punished them all severely for their previous offences against Israel (Sa1 14:47), and the Moabites along with the rest. The latter were completely subdued by David (Sa2 8:2). After the division of the kingdom, the northern kingdom took possession of Joab. The Moabites paid tribute from their flocks to Samaria. But when Ahab died, Mesha the king of Moab refused this tribute (Kg2 1:1; Kg2 3:4.). Ahaziah of Israel let this refusal pass. In the meantime, the Moabites formed an alliance with other nations, and invaded Judah. But the allies destroyed one another, and Jehoshaphat celebrated in the valley of Berachah the victory which he had gained without a battle, and which is commemorated in several psalms. And when Jehoram the king of Israel attempted to subjugate Moab again, Jehoshaphat made common cause with him. And the Moabites were defeated; but the fortress, the Moabitish Kir, which was situated upon a steep and lofty chalk rock, remained standing still. The interminable contests of the northern kingdom with the Syrians rendered it quite impossible to maintain either Moab itself, or the land to the east of the Jordan in general. During the reign of Jehu, the latter, in all its length and breadth, even as far south as the Arnon, was taken by the Syrians (Kg2 10:32-33). The tribes that were now no longer tributary to the kingdom of Israel oppressed the Israelitish population, and avenged upon the crippled kingdom the loss of their independence. Jeroboam II, as the prophet Jonah had foretold (Kg2 14:25), was the first to reconquer the territory of Israel from Hamath to the Dead Sea. It is not indeed expressly stated that he subjugated Moab again; but as Moabitish bands had disturbed even the country on this side under his predecessor Joash (Kg2 13:20), it may be supposed that he also attempted to keep Moab within bounds. If the Moabites, as is very probable, had extended their territory northwards beyond the Arnon, the war with Joab was inevitable. Moreover, under Jeroboam II on the one hand, and Uzziah-Jotham on the other, we read nothing about the Moabites rising; but, on the contrary, such notices as those contained in Ch1 5:17 and Ch2 26:10, show that they kept themselves quiet. But the application made by Ahaz to Assyria called up the hostility of Joab and the neighbouring nations again. Tiglath-pileser repeated what the Syrians had done before. He took possession of the northern part of the land on this side, and the whole of the land on the other side, and depopulated them. This furnished an opportunity for the Moabites to re-establish themselves in their original settlements to the north of the Arnon. And this was how it stood at the time when Isaiah prophesied. The calamity which befel them came from the north, and therefore fell chiefly and primarily upon the country to the north of the Arnon, which the Moabites had taken possession of but a short time before, after it had been peopled for a long time by the tribes of Reuben and Gad.
There is no other prophecy in the book of Isaiah in which the heart of the prophet is so painfully affected by what his mind sees, and his mouth is obliged to prophesy. All that he predicts evokes his deepest sympathy, just as if he himself belonged to the unfortunate nation to which he is called to be a messenger of woe. He commences with an utterance of amazement. "Oracle concerning Moab! for in a night 'Ar-Moab is laid waste, destroyed; for in a night Kir-Moab is laid waste, destroyed." The ci (for) is explanatory in both instances, and not simply affirmative, or, as Knobel maintains, recitative, and therefore unmeaning. The prophet justifies the peculiar heading to his prophecy from the horrible vision given him to see, and takes us at once into the very heart of the vision, as in Isa 17:1; Isa 23:1. 'Ar Moab (in which 'Ar is Moabitish for 'Ir; cf., Jer 49:3, where we find 'Ai written instead of 'Ar, which we should naturally expect) is the name of the capital of Moab (Grecized, Areopolis), which was situated to the south of the Arnon, at present a large field of ruins, with a village of the name of Rabba. Kir Moab (in which Kir is the Moabitish for Kiryah) was the chief fortress of Joab, which was situated to the south-east of Ar, the present Kerek, where there is still a town with a fortification upon a rock, which can be seen from Jerusalem with a telescope on a clear day, and forms so thoroughly one mass with the rock, that in 1834, when Ibrahim Pasha resolved to pull it down, he was obliged to relinquish the project. The identity of Kir and Kerek is unquestionable, but that of Ar and Rabba has been disputed; and on the ground of Num 22:36, where it seems to be placed nearer the Arnon, it has been transposed to the ruins on the pasture land at the confluence of the Lejm and Mujib (= "the city that is by the river" in Deu 2:36 and Jos 13:9, Jos 13:16 : see Comm. on Num 21:15) - a conjecture which has this against it, that the name Areopolis, which has been formed from Ar, is attached to the "metropolis civitas Ar," which was called Rabba as the metropolis, and of which Jerome relates (on the passage before us), as an event associated with his own childhood, that it was then destroyed by an earthquake (probably in 342). The two names of the cities are used as masculine here, like Dammesek in Isa 17:1, and Tzor in Isa 23:1, though it cannot therefore be said, as at Mic 5:1, that the city stands for the inhabitants (Ges. Lehrgebude, p. 469). "In a night" (ליל absolute, as in Isa 21:11, not construct, which would give an illogical assertion, as shuddad and nidmâh are almost coincident, so far as the sense is concerned) the two pillars of the strength of Moab are overthrown. In the space of a night, and therefore very suddenly (Isa 17:14), Moab is destroyed. The prophet repeats twice what it would have been quite sufficient to say once, just as if he had been condemned to keep his eye fixed upon the awful spectacle (on the asyndeton, see at Isa 33:9; and on the anadiplosis, Isa 15:8; Isa 8:9; Isa 21:11; Isa 17:12-13). His first sensation is that of horror.
But just as horror, when once it begins to reflect, is dissolved in tears, the thunder-claps in Isa 15:1 are followed by universal weeping and lamentation. "They go up to the temple-house and Dibon, up to the heights to weep: upon Nebo and upon Medebah of Moab there is weeping: on all heads baldness, every beard is mutilated. In the markets of Moab they gird themselves with sackcloth; on the roofs of the land, and in its streets, everything wails, melting into tears. Heshbon cries, and 'Elle; even to Jahaz they hear their howling; even the armed men of Moab break out into mourning thereat; its soul trembles within it." The people (the subject to עלה) ascend the mountain with the temple of Chemosh, the central sanctuary of the land. This temple is called hab-baith, though not that there was a Moabitish town or village with some such name as Bth-Diblathaim (Jer 48:22), as Knobel supposes. Dibon, which lay above the Arnon (Wady Mujib), like all the places mentioned in Isa 15:2-4, at present a heap of ruins, a short hour to the north of the central Arnon, in the splendid plain of el-Chura, had consecrated heights in the neighbourhood (cf., Jos 13:17; Num 22:41), and therefore would turn to them. Moab mourns upon Nebo and Medebah; ייליל, for which we find יהיליל in Isa 52:5, is written intentionally for a double preformative, instead of ייליל (compare the similar forms in Job 24:21; Psa 138:6, and Ges. 70, Anm.). על is to be taken in a local sense, as Hendewerk, Drechsler, and Knobel have rendered it. For Nebo was probably a place situated upon a height on the mountain of that name, towards the south-east of Heshbon (the ruins of Nabo, Nabau, mentioned in the Onom.); and Medebah (still a heap of ruins bearing the same name) stood upon a round hill about two hours to the south-east of Heshbon. According to Jerome, there was an image of Chemosh in Nebo; and among the ruins of Madeba, Seetzen discovered the foundations of a strange temple. There follows here a description of the expressions of pain. Instead of the usual ראשיו, we read ראשיו here. And instead of gedu‛âh (abscissae), Jeremiah (Jer 48:37) has, according to his usual style, geru'âh (decurtatae), with the simple alteration of a single letter.
(Note: At the same time, the Masora on this passage before us is for geru‛ah with Resh, and we also find this reading in Nissel, Clodius, Jablonsky, and in earlier editions; whilst Sonc. 1486, Ven. 1521, and others, have gedu‛ah, with Daleth.)
All runs down with weeping (culloh, written as in Isa 16:7; in Isa 9:8, Isa 9:16, we have cullo instead). In other cases it is the eyes that are said to run down in tears, streams, or water-brooks; but here, by a still bolder metonymy, the whole man is said to flow down to the ground, as if melting in a stream of tears. Heshbon and Elale are still visible in their ruins, which lie only half an hour apart upon their separate hills and are still called by the names Husban and el-Al. They were both situated upon hills which commanded an extensive prospect. And there the cry of woe created an echo which was audible as far as Jahaz (Jahza), the city where the king of Heshbon offered battle to Israel in the time of Moses (Deu 2:32). The general mourning was so great, that even the armed men, i.e., the heroes (Jer 48:41) of Moab, were seized with despair, and cried out in their anguish (the same figure as in Isa 33:7). על־כן(, thereat, namely on account of this universal lamentation. Thus the lamentation was universal, without exception. Naphsho (his soul) refers to Moab as a whole nation. The soul of Moab trembles in all the limbs of the national body; ירעה (forming a play upon the sound with יריעוּ), an Arabic word, and in יריעה a Hebrew word also, signifies tremere, huc illuc agitari - an explanation which we prefer, with Rosenmller and Gesenius, to the idea that ירע is a secondary verb to רעע, fut. ירע. לו is an ethical dative (as in Psa 120:6 and Psa 123:4), throwing the action or the pathos inwardly (see Psychology, p. 152). The heart of the prophet participates in this pain with which Moab is agitated throughout; for, as Rashi observes, it is just in this that the prophets of Israel were distinguished from heathen prophets, such as Balaam for example, viz., that the calamities which they announced to the nations went to their own heart (compare Isa 21:3-4, with Isa 22:4).
The difficult words in which the prophet expresses this sympathy we render as follows: "My heart, towards Moab it crieth out; its bolts reached to Zoar, the three-year-old heifer." The Lamed in l'Moab is the same both here and in Isa 16:11 as in Isa 14:8-9, viz., "turned toward Moab." Moab, which was masculine in Isa 15:4, is feminine here. We may infer from this that עד־צער בריחה is a statement which concerns Moab as a land. Now, berichim signifies the bolts in every other passage in which it occurs; and it is possible to speak of the bolts of a land with just as much propriety as in Lam 2:9 and Jer 51:30 (cf., Jon 2:7) of the bolts of a city. And the statement that the bolts of this land went to Zoar is also a very appropriate one, for Kir Moab and Zoar formed the southern fortified girdle of the land; and Zoar, on the south-western tongue of land which runs into the Dead Sea, was the uttermost fortress of Moab, looking over towards Judah; and in its depressed situation below the level of the sea it formed, as it were, the opposite pole of Kir Moab, the highest point in the high land itself. Hence we agree with Jerome, who adopts the rendering vectes ejus usque ad Segor, whereas all the modern translators have taken the word in the sense of fugitives. ‛Eglath sheilshiyyâh, which Rosenmller, Knobel, Drechsler, Meier, and others have taken quite unnecessarily as a proper name, is either in apposition to Zoar or to Moab. In the former case it is a distinguishing epithet. An ox of the three years, or more literally of the third year (cf., meshullesheth, Gen 15:9), i.e., a three-year-old ox, is one that is still in all the freshness and fulness of its strength, and that has not yet been exhausted by the length of time that it has worn the yoke. The application of the term to the Moabitish nation is favoured by Jer 46:20, where Egypt is called "a very fair heifer" (‛eglâh yephēh-phiyyâh), whilst Babylon is called the same in Jer 50:11 (cf., Hos 4:16; Hos 10:11). And in the same way, according to the lxx, Vulg., Targum, and Gesenius, Moab is called juvenca tertii anni, h. e. indomita jugoque non assueta, as a nation that was still in the vigour of youth, and if it had hitherto borne the yoke, had always shaken it off again. But the application of it to Zoar is favoured (1.) by Jer 48:34, where this epithet is applied to another Moabitish city; (2.) by the accentuation; and (3.) by the fact that in the other case we should expect berı̄châh (the three-year-old heifer, i.e., Moab, is a fugitive to Zoar: vid., Luzzatto). Thus Zoar, the fine, strong, and hitherto unconquered city, is now the destination of the wildest flight before the foe that is coming from the north. A blow has fallen upon Joab, that is more terrible than any that has preceded it.
In a few co-ordinate clauses the prophet now sets before us the several scenes of mourning and desolation. "for the mountain slope of Luhith they ascend with weeping; for on the road to Horonayim they lift up a cry of despair. For the waters of Nimrim are waste places from this time forth: for the grass is dried up, the vegetation wasteth away, the green is gone." The road to Luhith (according to the Onom. between Ar-Moab and Zoar, and therefore in the centre of Moabitis proper) led up a height, and the road to Horonayim (according to Jer 48:5) down a slope. Weeping, they ran up to the mountain city to hide themselves there (bo, as in Psa 24:3; in Jer 48:5 it is written incorrectly בּכי). Raising loud cries of despair, they stand in front of Horonayim, which lay below, and was more exposed to the enemy. יעערוּ is softened from יערערוּ (possibly to increase the resemblance to an echo), like כּוכב from כּבכּב. The Septuagint renders it very well, κραυγὴν συντριμμοῦ ἐξαναγεροῦσιν - an unaccustomed expression of intense and ever renewed cries at the threatening danger of utter destruction, and with the hope of procuring relief and assistance (sheber, as in Isa 1:28; Isa 30:26). From the farthest south the scene would suddenly be transferred to the extreme north of the territory of Moab, if Nimrim were the Nimra (Beth-Nimra, Talm. nimrin) which was situated near to the Jordan in Gilead, and therefore farther north than any of the places previously mentioned, and the ruins of which lie a little to the south of Salt, and are still called Nimrin. But the name itself, which is derived from the vicinity of fresh water (Arab. nemir, nemı̄r, clear, pure, sound), is one of frequent occurrence; and even to the south of Moabitis proper there is a Wadi Numere, and a brook called Moyet Numere (two diminutives: "dear little stream of Nimra"), which flows through stony tracks, and which formerly watered the country (Burckhardt, Seetzen, and De Saulcy). In all probability the ruins of Numere by the side of this wady are the Nimrim referred to here, and the waters of the brook the "waters of Nimrim" (me Nimrim). The waters that flowed fresh from the spring had been filled up with rubbish by the enemy, and would now probably lie waste for ever (a similar expression to that in Isa 17:2). He had gone through the land scorching and burning, so that all the vegetation had vanished. On the miniature-like short sentences, see Isa 29:20; Isa 33:8-9; Isa 32:10; and on היה לא ("it is not in existence," or "it has become not," i.e., annihilated), vid., Eze 21:32.
As Moabitis has thus become a great scene of conflagration, the Moabites cross the border and fly to Idumaea. The reason for this is given in sentences which the prophet again links on to one another with the particle ci (for). "Therefore what has been spared, what has been gained, and their provision, they carry it over the willow-brook. For the scream has gone the round in the territory of Moab; the wailing of Joab resounds to Eglayim, and his wailing to Beeer-Elim. For the waters of Dimon are full of blood: for I suspend over Dimon a new calamity, over the escaped of Moab a lion, and over the remnant of the land." Yithrâh is what is superfluous or exceeds the present need, and pekuddâh (lit. a laying up, depositio) that which has been carefully stored; whilst ‛âsâh, as the derivative passage, Jer 48:36, clearly shows (although the accusative in the whole of Isa 15:7 is founded upon a different view: see Rashi), is an attributive clause (what has been made, worked out, or gained). All these things they carry across nachal hâ‛arâbim, i.e., not the desert-stream, as Hitzig, Maurer, Ewald, and Knobel suppose, since the plural of ‛arâbâh is ‛arâboth, but either the Arab stream (lxx, Saad.), or the willow-stream, torrens salicum (Vulg.). The latter is more suitable to the connection; and among the rivers which flow to the south of the Arnon from the mountains of the Moabitish highlands down to the Dead Sea, there is one which is called Wadi Sufsaf, i.e., willow-brook (Tzaphtzphh is the name of a brook in Hebrew also), viz., the northern arm of the Seil el-Kerek. This is what we suppose to be intended here, and not the Wadi el-Ahsa, although the latter (probably the biblical Zered
(Note: Hence the Targ. II renders nachal zered "the brook of the willows." See Buxtorf, Lex. chald. s.v. Zerad.))
is the boundary river on the extreme south, and separates Moab from Edom (Kerek from Gebal: see Ritter, Erdk. xv 1223-4). Wading through the willow-brook, they carry their possessions across, and hurry off to the land of Edom, for their own land has become the prey of the foe throughout its whole extent, and within its boundaries the cry of wailing passes from Eglayim, on the south-west of Ar, and therefore not far from the southern extremity of the Dead Sea (Eze 47:10), as far as Beer-elim, in the north-east of the land towards the desert (Num 21:16-18; עד must be supplied: Ewald, 351, a), that is to say, if we draw a diagonal through the land, from one end to the other. Even the waters of Dibon, which are called Dimon here to produce a greater resemblance in sound to dâm, blood, and by which we are probably to understand the Arnon, as this was only a short distance off (just as in Jdg 5:19 the "waters of Megiddo" are the Kishon), are full of blood,
(Note: דם מלאוּ, with munach (which also represents the metheg) at the first syllable of the verb (compare Isa 15:4, לּו ירעה, with mercha), according to Vened. 1521, and other good editions. This is also grammatically correct.)
so that the enemy must have penetrated into the very heart of the land in his course of devastation and slaughter. But what drives them across the willow-brook is not this alone; it is as if they forebode that what has hitherto occurred is not the worst or the last. Jehovah suspends (shith, as in Hos 6:11) over Dibon, whose waters are already reddened with blood, nōsâphōth, something to be added, i.e., a still further judgment, namely a lion. The measure of Moab's misfortunes is not yet full: after the northern enemy, a lion will come upon those that have escaped by flight or have been spared at home (on the expression itself, compare Isa 10:20; Isa 37:32, and other passages). This lion is no other than the basilisk of the prophecy against Philistia, but with this difference, that the basilisk represents one particular Davidic king, whilst the lion is Judah generally, whose emblem was the lion from the time of Jacob's blessing, in Gen 49:9.