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Isaiah 16

Chapter Sixteen:

See also 25:10-12

v. 4: The OKJ translation is at odds here with the NRSV and even the NKJ, so I suspect the OKJ has it wrong.  The OKJ says, “Let my outcasts dwell with thee, Moab” as if Moab were called upon to shelter the people of God rather than the other way around.  Barnes agrees with the OKJ, which is surprising to me since he seems to have a good command of Hebrew.  Barnes might have paraphrased the chapter thus: v.1- Moab, give tribute to Judah (as you once did) v.2- because you will soon be destroyed (not by the people of God but by something else). Vs. 3&4- Therefore, be merciful to the people of God who are currently in distress.  Give them refuge V. 5- because after the people of God come through their current distress, God will give them a good, powerful king in the line of David (who will in turn protect you in your distress).  Vs.6-12 But Moab is too proud and will not help the people of God in their distress; therefore, when destruction comes on Moab, they will be utterly ruined.

I disagree with Barnes’ interpretation for two reasons.  First, the OKJ seems to stand alone in interpreting v.4 as it does.  Second, interpreting v. 4 as the OKJ has it does not seem to fit the general sense of the chapter.  For instance, if Moab rejects the people of God in their time of need, it seems out of place for the writer to dwell on God’s sorrow for the subsequent destruction of Moab.  I realize God has compassion for all his creatures, including the Moabites, but I would not expect the writer to focus on that compassion in the context that the OKJ establishes with its translation.  I would expect him to focus on God’s wrath and his justice.

Here is how I paraphrase the chapter:  v.1- Moab, give tribute to Judah (as you once did) so they will take you under their protection.  Vs. 2 through 4a- Judah, Moab will soon be destroyed and in need of help.  Show compassion to them.  Vs. 4b&5- Moab, although Judah is in distress now [from Assyria?] this will soon pass, and then I will establish a powerful king on the throne, who can protect you.  Vs. 6 through 12- Ah, Moab, you have always been too proud.  It breaks my heart.  I know that you will not seek help from my people, but rather that you will trust you own strength and your own gods and that you will be destroyed as a result.


Below is a rough outline of the history of Moab and its relationship to the people of God.

-Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 11:27) fathered Moab, the ancestor of the Moabites, on his own first-born daughter (Genesis 19:36-38).

-God would not permit his people to invade the country of Moab on their way to the Promised Land.  The Moabites were not on the list of those marked for destruction (2nd Chronicles 20:10).

-Nevertheless, King Balak of Moab opposed the people of God as they followed Moses toward the Promised Land.  But Balak was afraid to fight Israel, so he hired Balaam to curse the people of God.  However, Balaam ended up blessing Israel and prophesying to Balak that a leader of the Israelites would one day crush Moab (Numbers 22-24).

-Moses died in the land of Moab, and his secret grave is in a valley somewhere in that land (Numbers 34:1-7).

-During the time of the Judges, because God saw how evil the Israelites had become, He gave them into the hands of Eglon, king of Moab.  They were subject to Moab for eighteen years, but at the end of that time, God delivered them through the judge, Ehud, who stabbed Eglon in his fat stomach until the intestines came out (Judges 3:12-23).

-Also in the time of the Judges, an Israelite named Elimelech moved with his wife (Naomi) and two sons to the land of Moab because of a famine in Israel.  One of his two sons married Ruth, a Moabite woman.  When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi and Ruth moved back to Israel where Ruth met and married Boaz.  Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of King David (Ruth).

-When he was on the run from Saul, David left his father and mother with the king of Moab for safe-keeping (1st Samuel 22:3).

– As king, David subdued the Moabites but did not completely destroy them.  After this they were the subjects of the people of God and paid them tribute  (2nd Samuel 8:2).

-After the split into two kingdoms (Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel) Moab seems to have held the Northern Kingdom as its sovereign for a time.[1] Then King Mesha of Moab, who had been accustomed to giving sheep to the Northern Kingdom as tribute, (hence the mention of sending lambs in Isaiah 16:1) rebelled against the Northern Kingdom after the death of Ahab.  Jehoram of Israel (son of Ahab) enlisted the help of his allies, the king of Edom and King Jehoshaphat of Judah, to try to force Moab into subjection once again, but the effort seems to have failed (2nd Kings 3).  I assume this means that the Moabites were no longer under the dominion of Israel (or Judah) from this point.

– Moab, with Ammon and another group of people, then attacked Judah while Jehoshaphat was still king, but the Jews defeated them with the help of God[2] (2nd Chronicles 20).

– During the reign of Jehoash (Northern Kingdom) the Moabites were strong enough to raid the Northern Kingdom regularly (2nd Kings 13:20).  Isaiah began prophesying around 50 years after this time.  Around 70 years after this time, the Assyrians captured the Northern Kingdom.

I do not know exactly when Isaiah delivered this prophesy against Moab, but it seems like it may have been an ongoing prophetic warning to the Moabites (see v. 14) in which God encouraged them to avoid destruction by submitting themselves to his authority and to the rule of Judah as they had done in the days of David.  The reference to destruction in the prophecy was not a threat but a genuine warning for the Moabites to seek the protection of God from other invaders (not Judah).

v. 9: “I” here refers to God, not Isaiah the prophet.  (See the parallel passage in Jeremiah 48:31-32, which makes it obvious that God is the speaker.)

The image of God watering the doomed gardens and vineyards of Moab with his tears is beautiful poetry.

v. 14: This prophecy about Moab declares itself to be different in some way from those before it (those recorded in chapter 15 and 16:1-12).  The difference is in the specific reference to time.  The previous prophecies foretold the destruction of Moab in a general sense, but now the prophet assigns a specific date to the destruction.  Since we do not know what eventually destroyed Moab, nor when this prophecy was delivered, we cannot confirm the date, but we can conclude that the prophet was quite confident of its fulfillment.  (Otherwise, he would not have been so specific.)  One could also conclude that the prophecy was in fact fulfilled in the time frame Isaiah provides; otherwise, it would not have been retained in the book as a legitimate prophecy.

[1] Barnes believes that Omri, the father of Ahab, conquered Moab on behalf of the Northern Kingdom.  See his notes on 1st Chronicles 4:22.

[2] I place this event after the joint invasion of Moab by Jehoram of Israel and Jehoshaphat because I am assuming that this attack on Judah is a reprisal for Jehoshaphat’s assistance in the invasion of Moab.  Nevertheless, it may have happened before the invasion of Moab.  I am not sure.


2 Responses to “Isaiah 16”

  1. […] I wonder if this phrase “according to the years of a hired worker” is supposed to communicate the fact that Isaiah is no longer speaking in the cryptic, metaphorical language of most prophecy, but rather in plain terms that designate openly when a prediction will come to pass.  See notes on 16:14. […]

  2. […] I wonder if this phrase “according to the years of a hired worker” is supposed to communicate the fact that Isaiah is no longer speaking in the cryptic, metaphorical language of most prophecy, but rather in plain terms that designate openly when a prediction will come to pass.  See notes on 16:14. […]

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