Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
But just because this lion is Judah and its government, the summons goes forth to the Moabites, who have fled to Edom, and even to Sela, i.e., Petra (Wady Musa), near Mount Hor in Arabia Petraea, to which it gave its name, to turn for protection to Jerusalem. "Send a land-ruler's tribute of lambs from Sela desert-wards to the mountain of the daughter of Zion." This v. is like a long-drawn trumpet-blast. The prophecy against Moab takes the same turn here as in Isa 14:32; Isa 18:7; Isa 19:16., Isa 23:18. The judgment first of all produces slavish fear; and this is afterwards refined into loving attachment. Submission to the house of David is Moab's only deliverance. This is what the prophet, weeping with those that weep, calls out to them in such long-drawn, vehement, and urgent tones, even into the farthest hiding-place in which they have concealed themselves, viz., the rocky city of the Edomites. The tribute of lambs which was due to the ruling prince is called briefly car mōshēl-'eretz. This tribute, which the holders of the pasture-land so rich in flocks have hitherto sent to Samaria (Kg2 3:4), they are now to send to Jerusalem, the "mountain of the daughter of Zion" (as in Isa 10:32, compared with Isa 18:7), the way to which lay through "the desert," i.e., first of all in a diagonal direction through the Arabah, which stretched downwards to Aelath.
The advice does not remain without effect, but they embrace it eagerly."And the daughters of Moab will be like birds fluttering about, a scared nest, at the fords of the Arnon." "The daughters of Moab," like "the daughters of Judah," for example, in Psa 48:12, are the inhabitants of the cities and villages of the land of Moab. They were already like birds soaring about (Pro 27:8), because of their flight from their own land; but here, as we may see from the expression תהיינה ... והיה, the simile is intended to depict the condition into which they would be thrown by the prophet's advice. The figure (cf., Isa 10:14) as well as the expression (cf., Isa 17:2) is thoroughly Isaiah's. It is a state of anxious and timid indecision, resembling the fluttering to and fro of birds, that have been driven away from their nest, and wheel anxiously round and round, without daring to return to their old home. In this way the daughters of Moab, coming out of their hiding-places, whether nearer or more remote, show themselves at the fords of the Arnon, that is to say, on the very soil of their old home, which was situated between the Arnon and Wady el-Ahsa, and which was now devastated by the hand of a foe. לארנון מעברות we should regard as in apposition to benoth Moab (the daughters of Moab), if ma‛bâroth signifies the coast-lands (like ‛ebrē in Isa 7:20), and not, as it invariably does, the fords. It is locative in its meaning, and is so accentuated.
There they show themselves, on the spot to which their land once reached before it passed into the possession of Israel - there, on its farthest boundary in the direction towards Judah, which was seated above; and taking heart, address the following petitions to Zion, or to the Davidic court, on the other side. "Give counsel, form a decision, make thy shadow like night in the midst of noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the wanderers. Let mine outcasts tarry in thee, Moab; be a covert to it from before the spoiler." In their extremity they appeal to Zion for counsel, and the once proud but now thoroughly humbled Moabites place the decision of their fate in the hands of the men of Judah (so according to the Keri), and stand before Zion praying most earnestly for shelter and protection. Their fear of the enemy is so great, that in the light of the noon-day sun they desire to be covered with the protecting shade of Zion as with the blackness of night, that they may not be seen by the foe. The short-sentences correspond to the anxious urgency of the prayer (cf., Isa 33:8). Pelilâh (cf., peililyyâh, Isa 28:7) is the decision of a judge (pâlil); just as in Isa 15:5 sheilshiyyâh is the age and standing of three years. The figure of the shadow is the same as in Isa 30:2-3; Isa 32:2, etc.; nōdēd is the same as in Isa 21:14; niddâchai as in Isa 11:12; sēther as in Isa 32:2, and other passages; shōdēd as in Isa 33:1; mippenē as in Isa 21:15. The whole is word for word Isaiah's. There is no necessity to read nidchē instead of niddâc Mo'âb in Isa 16:4; still less is ay a collective termination, as in Isa 20:4. Nor are the words to be rendered "my outcasts ... of Moab," and the expression to be taken as a syntaxis ornata (cf., Isa 17:6). On the contrary, such an expression is absolutely impossible here, where the speaker is alluding to himself. It is better to abide by the punctuation as we have it, with niddâchai (zakeph) closing the first clause of Isa 16:4, and Moab (tebir, which is subordinate to the following tiphchah, and with this to athnach) opening the second as an absolute noun. This is the way in which we have rendered it above: "Moab ... be a shield to it ... " (though without taking lâmō as equivalent to lō).
The question then arises, By what means has Zion awakened such reverence and confidence on the part of Moab? This question is answered in Isa 16:4, Isa 16:5 : "For the extortioner is at an end, desolation has disappeared, treaders down are away from the land. And a throne is established by grace, and there sits thereon in truth in the tent of David one judging, and zealous for right, and practised in righteousness." The imperial world-power, which pressed out both marrow and blood (mētz, a noun of the same form as lētz, like mı̄tz in Pro 30:33, pressure), and devastated and trod down everything (Isa 29:20; Isa 10:6; Isa 33:1, cf., Isa 16:8), is swept away from the land on this side of the Jordan; Jerusalem is not subject to it now, but has come forth more gloriously out of all her oppressions than ever she did before. And the throne of the kingdom of Judah has not fallen down, but by the manifestation of Jehovah's grace has been newly established. There no longer sits thereon a king who dishonours Him, and endangers His kingdom; but the tent-roof of the fallen and now re-erected hut of David (Amo 9:11) is spread over a King in whom the truth of the promise of Jehovah is verified, inasmuch as justice and righteousness are realized through all that He does. The Messianic times must therefore have dawned (so the Targum understands it), since grace and truth (chesed ve'emeth) and "justice and righteousness" (mishpât ūtzedâkâh) are the divino-human signs of those times, and as it were their kindred genii; and who can here fail to recall to mind the words of Isa 9:6 (cf., Isa 33:5-6)? The king depicted here is the same as "the lion out of Judah," threatened against Moab in Isa 15:9. Only by thus submitting to Him and imploring His grace will it escape the judgment.
But if Moab does this, and the law of the history of Israel, which is that "a remnant shall return," is thus reflected in the history of Moab; Isa 16:6 cannot possibly contain the answer which Moab receives from Zion, as the more modern commentators assume according to an error that has almost become traditional. On the contrary, the prophecy enters here upon a new stage, commencing with Moab's sin, and depicting the fate of Moab in still more elegiac strains. "We have heard of the pride of Moab, the very haughty (pride), his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath, the falsehood of his speech." The future self-humiliation of Moab, which would be the fruit of its sufferings, is here contrasted with the previous self-exaltation, of which these sufferings were the fruit. "We have heard," says the prophet, identifying himself with his people. Boasting pompousness has hitherto been the distinguishing characteristic of Moab in relation to the latter (see Isa 25:11). The heaping up of words of the same verbal stem (cf., Isa 3:1) is here intended to indicate how thoroughly haughty was their haughtiness (cf., Rom 7:13, "that sin might become exceeding sinful"), and how completely it had taken possession of Moab. It boasted and was full of rage towards Israel, to which, so far as it retained its consciousness of the truth of Jehovah, the talk of Moab (בדיו from בדד = בדא, בטא, to talk at random) must necessarily appear as לא־כן, not-right, i.e., at variance with fact. These expressions of opinion had been heard by the people of God, and, as Jeremiah adds in Jer 48:29-30, by Israel's God as well.
Therefore the delightful land is miserably laid waste. "Therefore will Moab wail for Moab, everything will wail: for the grape-cakes of Kir-hareseth will ye whine, utterly crushed. For the fruit-fields of Heshbon have faded away: the vine of Sibmah, lords of the nations its branches smote down; they reached to Ja'zer, trailed through the desert: its branches spread themselves out wide, crossed over the sea." The Lamed in l'Moab is the same as in Isa 15:5, and in la'ashishē, which follows here. Kir-hareseth (written Kir-heres in Isa 16:11, and by Jeremiah; compare Kg2 3:25, where the vowel-pointing is apparently false): Heres or Hareseth may possibly refer to the glazed tiles or grooved stones. As this was the principal fortress of Moab, and according to Isa 15:1 it had already been destroyed, ‛ashishē appears to mean the "strong foundations," - namely, as laid bare; in other words, the "ruins" (cf., Jer 50:15, and mōsedē in Isa 58:12). But in every other passage in which the word occurs it signifies a kind of cake; and as the devastation of the vines of Moab is made the subject of mourning afterwards, it has the same meaning here as in Hos 3:1, namely raisin-cakes, or raisins pressed into the form of cakes. Such cakes as these may have been a special article of the export trade of Kir. Jeremiah has altered 'ashishē into 'anshē (Jer 48:31), and thus made men out of the grapes. Hâgâh is to be understood in accordance with Isa 38:14; Isa 59:11 (viz., of the cooing of the dove); 'ac (in good texts it is written with mercha, not with makkeph) according to Deu 16:15. On the construction of the pluralet. shadmoth, compare Hab 3:17. We have rendered the clause commencing with baalē goyim (lords of the nations) with the same amphibolism as we find in the Hebrew. It might mean either "lords of the nations (domini gentium) smote down its branches" (viz., those of the vine of Sibmah;
(Note: In MSS Shibmah is written with gaya, in order that the two labials may be distinctly expressed.)
hâlam being used as in Isa 41:7), or "its branches smote down (i.e., intoxicated) lords of the nations" (dominos gentium; hâlam having the same meaning as in the undisputed prophecy of Isaiah in Isa 28:1). As the prophet enlarges here upon the excellence of the Moabitish wine, the latter is probably intended. The wine of Sibmah was so good, that it was placed upon the tables of monarchs, and so strong that it smote down, i.e., inevitably intoxicated, even those who were accustomed to good wines. This Sibmah wine was cultivated, as the prophet says, far and wide in Moab - northwards as far as Ja'zer (between Ramoth, i.e., Salt, and Heshbon, now a heap of ruins), eastwards into the desert, and southwards across the Dead Sea - a hyperbolical expression for close up to its shores. Jeremiah defines yâm (the sea) more closely as yam Ja‛zer (the sea of Jazer; vid., Jer 48:32), so that the hyperbole vanishes. But what sea can the sea of Jazer be? Probably some celebrated large pool, like the pools of Heshbon, in which the waters of the Wady (Nahr) Sir, which takes its rise close by, were collected. Seetzen found some pools still there. The "sea" (yâm) in Solomon's temple shows clearly enough that the term sea was also commonly applied to artificial basins of a large size; and in Damascus the marble basins of flowing water in the halls of houses are still called baharât; and the same term is applied to the public reservoirs in all the streets of the city, which are fed by a network of aqueducts from the river Baradâ. The expression "break through the desert" (tâ‛u midbâr) is also a bold one, probably pointing to the fact that, like the red wines of Hungary at the present time, they were trailing vines, which did not require to be staked, but ran along the ground.
The beauties of nature and fruitfulness of the land, which come into the possession of any nation, are gifts from the riches of divine goodness, remnants of the paradisaical commencement of the history of man, and types of its paradisaical close; and for this very reason they are not matters of indifference to the spirit of prophecy. And for the same reason, it is not unworthy of a prophet, who predicts the renovation of nature and the perfecting of it into the beauty of paradise, to weep over such a devastation as that of the Moabitish vineyards which was now passing before his mind (cf., Isa 32:12-13). "Therefore I bemoan the vines of Sibmah with the weeping of Jazer; I flood thee with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh, that Hdad hath fallen upon thy fruit-harvest and upon thy vintage." A tetrastich, the Hebrew equivalent, in measure and movement, of a sapphic strophe. The circumstantiality of the vision is here swallowed up again by the sympathy of the prophet; and the prophecy, which is throughout as truly human as it is divine, becomes soft and flowing like an elegy. The prophet mingles his tears with the tears of Jazer. Just as the latter weeps for the devastated vines of Sibmah, so does he also weep. The form אריּוך, transposed from ארוּיך = ארוּך (cf., Ewald, 253, a, where it is explained as being a rare "voluntative" formation), corresponds to the elegiac tone of the whole strophe. Heshbon and Elealeh, those closely connected cities, with their luxuriant fields (shedemoth, Isa 16:8), are now lying in ruins; and the prophet waters them with tears, because hedad has fallen upon the fruit-harvest and vintage of both the sister cities. In other instances the term kâtzı̄r is applied to the wheat-harvest; but here it is used in the same sense as bâtzı̄r, to which it is preferred on account of Isaiah's favourite alliteration, viz., with kaytz (compare, for example, the alliteration of mistor with sēther in Isa 4:6). That it does not refer to the wheat-harvest here, but to the vintage, which was nearly coincident with the fruit-harvest (which is called kaytz, as in Isa 28:4), is evident from the figure suggested in the word hēdâd, which was the shout raised by the pressers of the grapes, to give the time for moving their feet when treading out the wine (Isa 16:10; Jer 25:30). A hēdâd of this kind had fallen upon the rich floors of Heshbon-Elealeh, inasmuch as they had been trodden down by enemies - a Hedad, and yet no Hedad, as Jeremiah gives it in a beautiful oxymoron (Jer 48:33), i.e., no joyous shout of actual grape-treaders.
The prophet, to whose favourite words and favourite figures Carmel belongs, both as the name of a place and as the name of a thing, now proceeds with his picture, and is plunged still more deeply into mourning. "And joy is taken away, and the rejoicing of the garden-land; and there is no exulting, no shouting in the vineyards: the treader treads out no wine in the presses; I put an end to the Hedad. Therefore my bowels sound for Moab like a harp, and my inside for Kir-heres." It is Jehovah who says "I put an end;" and consequently the words, "My bowels sound like a harp," or, as Jeremiah expresses it (Jer 48:36), like flutes, might appear to be expressive of the feelings of Jehovah. And the Scriptures do not hesitate to attribute mē‛ayim (viscera) to God (e.g., Isa 63:15; Jer 31:20). But as the prophet is the sympathizing subject throughout the whole of the prophecy, it is better, for the sake of unity, to take the words in this instance also as expressing the prophet's feelings. Just as the hand or plectrum touches the strings of the harp, so that they vibrate with sound; so did the terrible things that he had heard Jehovah say concerning Moab touch the strings of his inward parts, and cause them to resound with notes of pain. By the bowels, or rather entrails (viscera), the heart, liver, and kidneys are intended - the highest organs of the Psyche, and the sounding-board, as it were, of those "hidden sounds" which exist in every man. God conversed with the prophet "in the spirit;" but what passed there took the form of individual impressions in the domain of the soul, in which impressions the bodily organs of the psychical life sympathetically shared. Thus the prophet saw in the spirit the purpose of God concerning Moab, in which he could not and would not make any change; but it threw his soul into all the restlessness of pain.
The ultimate reason for this restlessness is, that Moab does not know the living God. "And it will come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary with weeping upon the mountain height, and enters into its sanctuary to pray, it will not gain anything." נלאה נראה, a pictorial assonance, such as Isaiah delights in. נראה .ni st is transferred from the Israelitish worship (appearance before God in His temple) to the heathen; syntactically, si apparuerit, etc., with Vav before the apodosis. It would be with the Moabites as with the priests of Baal in the time of Elijah (Kg1 18:26.).
The massa is now brought to a close, and there follows an epilogue which fixes the term of the fulfilment of what is not predicted now for the first time, from the standpoint of the anticipated history. "This is the word which Jehovah spake long ago concerning Moab. And now Jehovah speaketh thus: In three years, like years of a hireling, the glory of Moab is disgraced, together with all the multitude of the great; a remnant is left, contemptibly small, not great at all." The time fixed is the same as in Isa 20:3. Of working time the hirer remits nothing, and the labourer gives nothing in. The statement as to the time, therefore, is intended to be taken exactly: three years, not more, rather under than over. Then will the old saying of God concerning Moab be fulfilled. Only a remnant, a contemptible remnant, will be left (וּשׁאר, cf., וּמשׂושׂ, Isa 8:6, in sense equivalent to ושׁאר); for every history of the nations is but the shadow of the history of Israel.
The massa in Isaiah 15:1-16:12 was a word that had already gone forth from Jehovah "long ago." This statement may be understood in three different senses. In the first place, Isaiah may mean that older prophecies had already foretold essentially the same concerning Moab. But what prophecies? We may get an answer to this question from the prophecies of Jeremiah concerning Moab in Jer 48. Jeremiah there reproduces the massa Moab of the book of Isaiah, but interweaves with it reminiscences (1.) out of the mâshal on Moab in Num 21:27-30; (2.) out of Balaam's prophecy concerning Moab in Num 24:17; (3.) out of the prophecy of Amos concerning Moab (Amo 2:1-3). And it might be to these earlier words of prophecy that Isaiah here refers (Hvernick, Drechsler, and others). But this is very improbable, as there is no ring of these earlier passages in the massa, such as we should expect if Isaiah had had them in his mind. Secondly, Isaiah might mean that Isa 15:1. contained the prophecy of an older prophet, which he merely brought to remembrance in order to connect therewith the precise tenor of its fulfilment which had been revealed to him. This is at present the prevailing view. Hitzig, in a special work on the subject (1831), as well as in his Commentary, has endeavoured to prove, on the ground of Kg2 14:25, that in all probability Jonah was the author of the oracle which Isaiah here resumes. And Knobel, Maurer, Gustav Baur, and Thenius agree with him in this; whilst De Wette, Ewald, and Umbreit regard it as, at any rate, decidedly non-Messianic. If the conjecture that Jonah was the author could but be better sustained, we should heartily rejoice in this addition to the history of the literature of the Old Testament. But all that we know of Jonah is at variance with such a conjecture. He was a prophet of the type of Elijah and Elisha, in whom the eloquence of a prophet's words was thrown altogether into the shade by the energy of a prophet's deeds. His prophecy concerning the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to its old boundaries, which was fulfilled by the victories of Jeroboam II, we cannot therefore imagine to have been so pictorial or highly poetical as the massa Moab (which would only be one part of that prophecy) really is; and the fact that he was angry at the sparing of Nineveh harmonizes very badly with its elegiac softness and its flood of tears. Moreover, it is never intimated that the conquerors to whom Moab was to succumb would belong to the kingdom of Israel; and the hypothesis is completely overthrown by the summons addressed to Moab to send tribute to Jerusalem. But the conclusion itself, that the oracle must have originated with any older prophet whatever, is drawn from very insufficient premises. No doubt it is a thing altogether unparalleled even in Isaiah, that a prophecy should assume so thoroughly the form of a kinah, or lamentation; still there are tendencies to this in Isa 22:4 (cf., Isa 21:3-4), and Isaiah was an inexhaustible master of language of every character and colour. It is true we do light upon many expressions which cannot be pointed out anywhere else in the book of Isaiah, such as baalē goyim, hedâd, yelâlâh, yâra‛, yithrâh, mâhir, mētz, nosâphoth, pekuddâh (provision, possession); and there is something peculiar in the circular movement of the prophecy, which is carried out to such an extent in the indication of reason and consequence, as well as in the perpetually returning, monotonous connection of the sentences by ci (for) and ‛al-cēn (lâcēn, therefore), the former of which is repeated twice in Isa 15:1, three times in Isa 15:8-9, and four times in succession in Isa 15:5-6. But there is probably no prophecy, especially in chapters 13-23, which does not contain expressions that the prophet uses nowhere else; and so far as the conjunctions ci and a‛ l-cēn (lâcēn), are concerned, Isaiah crowds them together in other passages as well, and here almost to monotony, as a natural consequence of the prevailing elegiac tone. Besides, even Ewald can detect the characteristics of Isaiah in Isa 16:1-6; and you have only to dissect the whole rhetorically, syntactically, and philologically, with the carefulness of a Caspari, to hear throughout the ring of Isaiah's style. And whoever has retained the impression which he brought with him from the oracle against Philistia, will be constrained to say, that not only the stamp and outward form, but also the spirit and ideas, are thoroughly Isaiah's. Hence the third possible conjecture must be the correct one. Thirdly, then, Isaiah may mean that the fate of Moab, which he has just proclaimed, was revealed to him long ago; and the addition made now is, that it will be fulfilled in exactly three years. מאז does not necessarily point to a time antecedent to that of Isaiah himself (compare Isa 44:8; Isa 48:3, Isa 48:5, Isa 48:7, with Sa2 15:34). If we assume that what Isaiah predicts down to Isa 16:12 was revealed to him in the year that Ahaz died, and that the epilogue reckons from the third or tenth year of Hezekiah, in either case the interval is long enough for the mê'âz (from of old). And we decide in favour of this. Unfortunately, we know nothing certain as to the time at which the three years commence. The question whether it was Shalmanassar, Sargon, or Sennacherib who treated the Moabites so harshly, is one that we cannot answer. In Herodotus (ii. 141), Sennacherib is called "king of the Arabians and Assyrians;" and Moab might be included in the Arabians. In any case, after the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy in the Assyrian times, there was still a portion left, the fulfilment of which, according to Jer 48, was reserved for the Chaldeans.