Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 13: Isaiah, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah Chapter 15:1-9
1. The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence; because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence:
1. Onus Moab. Quoniam in nocte vastata est Ar-Moab, in silentium redacta est; certe in nocte vastata est Kir-Moab, in silentium redacta.
2. He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.
2. Ascendet in domum, et Dibon ad excelsa, ad fletum super Nebo, et super Medba Moab, ululabit. Super omne caput ejus calvitium, et omnis barba detonsa.
3. In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.
3. In compitis ejus accincti erunt sacco; super tecta ejus et in vicis ejus omnis ululabit, descendet ad fletum.
4. And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh; their voice shall be heard even unto Jahaz: therefore the armed soldiers of Moab shall cry out; his life shall be grievous unto him.
4. Vociferabitur Hesbon et Eleale; usque ad Iahaz audietur vox eorum; propterea expediti Moab ululabunt; anima cujusque ululabit sibi.
5. My heart shall cry out for Moab; his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old: for by the mounting up of Luhith with weeping shall they go it up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction.
5. Cor meum propter Moab vociferabitur; fugitivi ejus ad Zoar, vitulam triennem per ascensum Luhith cum fletu ascendent: per viam Horonaim clamorem contritionis excitabunt.
6. For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing.
6. Aquae Nimrim exinanitae sunt; aruit gramen, defecit herba, olus non superfuit.
7. Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows.
7. Itaque quod residuum quisque fecit, et opes suas deferent ad torrentem salicum, (vel, Arabes.)
8. For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beer-elim.
8. Circuivit clamor terminos Moab, usque in Eglaim ulutatus ejus, et usque in Beer-Elim ululatus ejus.
9. For the waters of Dimon shall be full of blood: for I will bring more upon Dimon, lions upon him that escapeth of Moab, and upon the remnant of the land.
9. Quia aquae Dimon implebuntur sanguine; quoniam ponam super Dimon additiones iis qui evaserint de Moab leones, et reliquiis terrae.
1. The burden of Moab. Here the Prophet prophesies against the Moabites, who were neighbors to the Jews and related to them by blood; for we know that the Moabites were descended from Lot, who was Abraham’s nephew. (Gen. 11:31, Gen. 19:37.) Those nations being so closely related, humanity at least demanded that they should maintain some friendly intercourse with each other. But no relationship prevented the Moabites from cherishing hostility towards the Jews, or even from harassing them whenever it was in their power; which is an evidence of a savage and barbarous disposition. To them also, on account of their cruelty towards the people of God, to whom they ought to have conducted themselves with brotherly love, the Prophet therefore threatens destruction.
We ought to remember the design of these predictions. It cannot be believed that they were of any advantage to the Moabites, even though they had heard from the mouth of the Prophet himself the words which we read; but he neither addressed them with his voice, nor sent to them a written communication. It was therefore to believers, rather than to them, that the Prophet looked, and for two reasons. The first reason was, that when they saw so many changes taking place, cities overturned, kingdoms destroyed and succeeding one another, they might not think that this world is governed by the blind violence of fortune, but might acknowledge the providence of God. If nothing had been foretold, the minds of men, having a strong tendency to foolishness, and being strangely blind to the works of God, might have been disposed to attribute all this to chance; but when they had been forewarned by the Prophets, they beheld the judgments of God as from a lofty watch-tower. To us also in the present day Isaiah has, as it were, pointed out with the finger what was then hidden. In his predictions we behold God sitting on his judgment-seat, and regulating everything according to his pleasure; and although the wicked in various ways vented their mad rage, still the Lord made use of their agency to execute his judgments. The second design which the prophets had in view was, that while the whole world was shaken, the Jews might know that God took care of their safety, and that he testified the warmth of his affection for the Church, by taking vengeance on her enemies by whom she had been barbarously treated.
Ar-Moab. The Hebrew word ער (Ar) means a city; as קיר (kir) means a wall; but as ער מואב (Ar-Moab) was one of the chief cities of the Moabites, it is supposed to be here a proper name. We might indeed explain both words as appellatives, to convey a threatening of the overthrow of the fortified towns of which the Moabites are proud; but I rather adopt the ordinary interpretation. Here therefore Isaiah has given a description, that we may behold in it the overthrow of the Moabites, when their chief cities are destroyed.
In the night. By the night he means a sudden and unexpected occurrence, which the Moabites did not dread. Night being appropriated to rest, if anything happen at that time, it is viewed as sudden and unlooked for, and therefore excites violent alarm. Besides, he intended to rebuke the Moabites for being free from anxiety, considering themselves to be fortified by defences on every hand, and placed beyond the reach of all danger.
Is brought to silence. That is, is destroyed, and hence also Silence sometimes means Death. Others disregard the metaphor, and choose to render it, She is cut off; but I leave that point undecided. What Isaiah declares as to the Moabites, Scripture pronounces as to the reprobate, that destruction is at hand, and, when they are looking for nothing of that kind, will fearfully overwhelm them. (Jer. 23:19, 1 Thess. 5:2, 3.)
2. He shall go up into the house. 236 So far as relates to the words, some pass by the Hebrew noun בית, (baith;) but as it signifies a house and a temple, it is probable that it was the word commonly used for a temple, as in many other passages the house of God means the temple 237 (Exod. 23:19, Exod. 34:26, Deut. 23:18, Josh. 9:23.) By representing the Moabites as bowing down before their idols, he at the same time condemns their superstition in worshipping their idol Chemosh, as may easily be inferred from 1Ki 11:7, Jer. 48:7, 13. “The Moabites,” says Isaiah, “shall betake themselves to their god when matters are so desperate, but to no purpose; for they shall find in him no assistance.”
And to Dibon to the high places. This makes it still more evident that he is speaking of the Temple; and it is beyond a doubt that the Moabites had a fortress remarkable and celebrated above the rest, in which they had built high places in honor of their idol. Being ignorant of the true God, to whom they might betake themselves in adversity, we need not wonder that they betake themselves to an idol, in conformity to their ordinary custom. By doing this they increased their misery, and brought upon themselves an accumulation of all distresses; for they inflamed the wrath of God still more by those very means which they considered to be fitted for appeasing his wrath. He therefore wished to state more plainly the condition of the ungodly, who have no refuge in adversity; for as to those remedies which they think will be adapted to their diseases, nothing can be more destructive to them, since they excite more and more the Lord’s indignation.
Moab shall howl over Nebo and over Medeba. Nebo also was one of the cities of the Moabites. The Prophet has already named two of them, Ar and Kir; he now adds a third, Nebo; and lastly he mentions a fourth, Medeba; as if he had said that this destruction would not only seize the extremities of that country, but would reach its inmost recesses, so that not one corner could be exempted.
On every head. Every nation has its peculiar ceremonies to denote mourning or joy. The Italians and other western nations allowed the hair and beard to grow when they were in mourning; and hence arose the phrase, to lengthen the beard. On the other hand, the eastern nations shaved the head and beard, which they reckoned to be ornamental; and when they reversed their ordinary custom, that was a token of mourning. 238 Nothing else therefore is meant than that the condition of the whole kingdom will be so mournful, that the indications of mirth will be laid aside, and all will wear the tokens of grief and lamentation.
3. In his streets. 239 He proceeds with the same subject, describing more fully the tokens of mourning, in which the eastern nations abound more than others; for, having quicker understandings and keener feelings, they express their emotions by outward signs more than others do, who, being slower in apprehension, are likewise slower in movement and gesture. It was no doubt faulty in them that they indulged in so many ceremonies and gesticulations; but the Prophet spoke of them as what was known and common, only for the purpose of describing the grief which would follow the desolation of that country.
Every one shall howl and descend to weeping. 240 It was with good reason that he added this description; for we are never moved by predictions, unless the Lord place them, as it were, before our eyes. Lest the Jews should think that these matters might be lightly passed by, when he described that destruction, he determined to mention also mourning, weeping, and howling, that they might see almost with their own eyes those events which appear to be incredible, for the Moabites were at that time in a state of profound peace, and believers had the more need of being confirmed, that they might not call this prophecy in question. By the same means he points out the despair to which unbelievers are liable in adversity, for the support on which they rely is insecure.
4. And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh. Here he names other cities; for his design is to bind up, as it were, in a bundle all the cities of that country, that they may be involved in the general destruction; as if he had said, that none at all shall be exempted.
Therefore the light-armed soldiers of Moab shall howl. Though על כן (gnal ken) literally signifies therefore, yet some think that a reason is not here assigned; but that is of little importance. The Prophet shows that there will be none that does not howl; for he declares that the bold and courageous shall mourn. Next he adds, the soul of every one shall howl to him. 241 Every one shall be so engrossed with his own grief, that he will not think of his neighbors.
5. My heart shall cry out for Moab. At length he assumes the character of a mourner. But it may be thought to be strange and inconsistent in him to bewail the calamity of the Moabites; for he ought rather to have lamented the destruction of the Church, and to have rejoiced at the ruin of her enemies. It is customary with the prophets, however, to assume in this manner the character of those whose calamities they foretell, and thus to exhibit their condition, as it were, on a stage; by which means they produce a stronger impression than if they delivered their instruction in a direct form. Yet there can be no doubt that the prophets shuddered at the judgments of God, even against the wicked; though the meaning which I have stated is simpler and more appropriate, and may easily be inferred from frequent usage.
His fugitives to Zoar, 242 a heifer of three years old. He calls them fugitives who shall escape from it; for he means that those who shall escape from Moab will come even to Zoar 243 Now, he compares Zoar to a heifer of three years old, which is in full vigor, and has not felt the pangs of birth, or toil, or the yoke, but revels in the buoyancy of mirth and wantonness. When men are hard pressed by an invading army, they flee to cities which have not been attacked, and which appear to be the farthest removed from danger. Such was Zoar, for it had never been attacked by enemies. Yet, if it be thought better to view it as applying to the whole country, I have no objection; for Jeremiah appears to speak in general terms, though he borrows many statements from Isaiah. (Jer 48:34.) But perhaps in that passage also he names both Zoar and Horonaim, or rather the whole of the country between them.
If you extend it to the whole nation, the meaning will be, “The Moabites have enjoyed the highest luxury, and every kind of abundance, and hitherto have suffered no distress. Hence has arisen their stubbornness, and, in order to subdue them, they must be banished and driven even to Zoar.” Now Zoar was a town very far removed from the Moabites; and, therefore, he means that they cannot provide for their safety but by fleeing to a distance. Here all with whom the Lord deals tenderly are taught not to exalt themselves, or to provoke God by their wantonness, but to be modest even amidst the highest prosperity, and likewise to be prepared for every change, when the Lord shall be pleased to throw them down from their prosperity.
By the going up of Luhith. He describes other parts of the country of Moab, and delineates the flight and mourning of that nature which should spread throughout the whole land.
By the way of Horonaim they shall raise the cry of sorrow. The words which we have translated, they shall raise up a cry, some render, they shall bruise or break themselves by crying, and think there is a transposition of the letters, and that ע (ain) is doubled; and thus the root of the verb would be רעה, (ragnah.) But as it made little difference in the meaning of the passage, I have adhered to the commonly received opinion, that יעערו (yegnogneru) is derived from the verb עור, (gnur.) If it be thought better to make the verb signify break, the meaning will be, “There shall be a shaking, and, as it were, a breaking of the members of the body, when arm is dashed against arm.”
6. The waters of Nimrim. By an exaggerated form of expression he gives a more enlarged view of this desolation. He says that the grass is withered, which takes place when God leaves any soil destitute of all nourishment. The waters will be taken away, which probably were highly necessary for that dry and parched country; for soils of that kind produce nothing without irrigation. Though the style is exaggerated, yet nothing is stated but what is strictly true; for the Prophet did not go beyond proper bounds, but found it necessary to use bold expressions to suit the ignorance of the people, in order to inform them that a land which is deprived of the blessing of God will be like a desert without any beauty.
7. Therefore what every one hath left. 244 This corresponds to the ordinary expression, (Ce qu’il aura espargne,) Whatever he shall have spared. He means the riches that are laid up, and describes what usually happens in countries which are invaded by an enemy. All the inhabitants are wont to convey their riches elsewhere, and to lay them up in some safe place, that they may afterwards bring them back when peace has been restored.
To the brook of the willows. He means that they will have no storehouse, no fortress in which they can lay them up with safety; so that they will be compelled to hide them among the willows. This certainly is the lowest wretchedness, when the enemy is attacking us, and we can find no storehouse for laying up those things which we have collected with great industry. These willows were probably situated in some remote and sequestered place. Others explain it as referring to enemies, that they will bring the fruits of their robbery to the brook, to divide among themselves the general plunder.
8. The cry is gone round about the borders of Moab. 245 כי, (ki,) for, is added for the sake of ornament. He means that every part of that country all around shall be full of crying and howling; because that destruction reaches from one extremity to another. Besides the crying he twice mentions the howling, to denote the excess of grief, as men who are in despair surrender themselves entirely to lamentation.
9. For the waters of Dimon shall be filled with blood. 246 Here he describes not only grief and howling, flight or trembling, or the covetousness of enemies in plundering their wealth, but the slaughter of men. How great must this have been, when large and magnificent rivers, such as Dimon was, are filled with blood!
For I will lay upon Dimon additions. 247 By additions he means that the Lord, in whose name he speaks, will multiply the murders; so that the dead bodies shall be heaped up, and there shall be no end to cruelty and slaying. Now, though the Assyrians were cruel in this slaughter, yet the Lord was not cruel; for he justly punished the barbarity of the Moabites which they basely exercised towards the Jews, on whom they ought to have had compassion. It was right that they should suffer the same punishment which they had inflicted on others.
To those who have escaped of Moab lions. These also are the additions of which he spake, or, at least, a part of them. This may be regarded as the copestone of that calamity; so that if any detachments of the enemy attempted to escape, and to rescue themselves from the slaughter, they had to encounter lions 248 and wild beasts, by which they were devoured. “They will, indeed,” says he, “rescue themselves from the slaughter, but they will not on that account be safe, nor will they escape the hand of God.” And this is the true meaning of the Prophet, if we carefully examine the scope of the whole passage; for he intended to deepen the picture of that distressing calamity by adding, that even the small remnant which shall be rescued from the slaughter will fall into the jaws of lions. The hand of the Lord pursues the wicked in such a manner that they cannot in any way escape; for if they avoid one danger, they immediately meet with another. Let us remember that these things are spoken by the Prophet for the consolation of the godly, that they may fortify their minds by some promise against the cruelty of their enemies, who shall at length be destroyed, and shall nowhere find a refuge either in their gods, or in fortresses, or in lurking-places, or in flight.
He is gone up to Bajith. — Eng. Ver.
FT228 He is gone up to Moab into the house. — Jarchi. Breithaupt remarks that the Hebrew word הבית (habbaith) is sometimes viewed as a proper name, and that in the version of Junius and Tremellius it is rendered Bajith. — Ed
FT229 “Shaving the head and face are the eastern tokens of mourning for the dead. (Isa 3:24; Jer 41:5; Mic 1:16.)” — Rosenmuller
FT230 In their streets. — Eng. Ver.
FT231 Weeping abundantly. (Heb. descending into weeping, or, coming down with weeping.) — Eng. Ver.
FT232 His life shall be grievous unto him. — Eng. Ver.
FT233 His fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old, (or, to the borders thereof, even as an heifer.) — Eng. Ver.
FT234 “Jonathan translates the word בריחה, (berechahh,) as if it had been written בורחים (borachim,) that is, those who flee; so that the meaning will be, ‘Some of them shall flee, in order to preserve themselves, even to Zoar, as Lot, their father, once did, (Ge 19:23,) who fled to Zoar.’” — Jarchi
FT235 Therefore the abundance they have gotten. — Eng. Ver. Therefore the substance which they have saved. — Stock The riches which they have gained. — Lowth
FT236 For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab. — Eng. Ver.
FT237 “Alluding to the name Dimon, which signifies Bloodtown.” — Rosenmuller
FT238 For I will bring more (Heb. additions) upon Dimon. — Eng. Ver.
FT239 “This I take to be the plague of lions, recorded in 2Ki 17:25, which afflicted the new inhabitants of the land of Israel, and the remnant of the Moabites, suffered to continue there by Shalmanezer. Other interpretations are proposed; but it is best, in obscure local prophecies, to adhere to the little light afforded by the records of the times.” — Stock