CLICK HERE to read Isaiah 15.
The Moabites are descendants of Moab, Abraham’s nephew, who was the son of Lot, Abraham’s foster brother (Abraham 2:1-2, 22-25). Lot consistently turned to the world instead of to the Lord, and this caused many problems (Genesis 19). See this post for more about Abraham and Lot, but these patterns of Korihor meant that the traditions he passed down to his family were false traditions. Specifically, he passed down false traditions about sexual sin, idol worship, and even human sacrifice. When the Lord tried to confront them and warn them by sending prophets, the Moabites tried to bribe the prophet (Balaam and his talking donkey) to declare a different message than what the Lord had prepared (see Numbers 22). Yet these people were Hebrews, born into the covenant, and so the Lord did redeem even these from their worst sins. The Lord always redeems those who turn to Him and His covenants, keeping His promises to righteous individuals regardless of society sin. An example of this is the Moabite woman Ruth who married Boaz, and it is through their union that King David was born, and generations later the Messiah Himself.
But part of redemption is cleansing from what-is-not-of-God, and Isaiah warns the people that two cities (Ar and Kir) will be destroyed on the same night (verse 1). He says that because they have not testified, they will lose their ability to testify.
Because of the loss of the many people in these great cities, the people will mourn (verse 2). They will even shave their heads and beards as was the custom, and wear sackcloth in public (verse 3). There will be such great destruction, with so many people in mourning, that even the proud soldiers (who worked hard to conquer Amorite land for Moab, see Numbers 21:23-26) would be grieving (verse 4). It will happen when Moab is in its prime (“an heifer of three years old”), when everyone thinks they are at the top of their game. It will surprise and shock everyone, and the people will flee south looking for refuge (verse 5).
South of Moab is the plain where Sodom and Gomorrah used to be. While the cities were destroyed and no longer exist, the plains just south of there have been a fertile area with plenty of watering pools for flocks. This place of rest and refreshment would be “desolate” (verse 6), without any living – not even the grass.
Isaiah said that the people fleeing Moab would so overcome those who lived south of them, that people would hide their food and resources from the refugees (verse 7). The people living on the borders south of Moab would become afraid and politically concerned that they would be sucked into the war (verse 8). The Moabites would have to flee their country through the wilderness because cities will not even be safe, and in the wilderness they would be hunted by the wild animals that live there (verse 9).
Here is something interesting about this piece of history. The Moabites and Amorites all apostatized like the rest of the tribes of Israel, except for Isaac’s children that were the ones in slavery in Egypt. By then the Moabites were so deep into sexual sin that Moses was not allowed to lead the people out of Egypt through the Jordan Valley, but instead had to go along the border between the Moabites and Ammonites. This meant that the Israelites had to fight all those battles, just because there was not safe passage for them to travel directly to where they needed to go. We often talk about the sins of the Israelites, and how this caused them to wander for forty years in the wilderness, but we too often forget how their neighboring cousins made the journey far more difficult by their own sin (and contention). It goes back to the overall them of being at-one with each, for we are on a journey together and would do well to support each other safely on our journey rather than our sin making it harder on others.
All of what Isaiah said did come true, which we will see more of in the next chapter, when Moab was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. One hundred years later, Jeremiah repeated these prophecies (Jeremiah 48), and it came true again when Babylon conquered Assyria in 582 B.C. That means it is a “multiple fulfillment prophecy”, meaning it came true several times in several ways. It almost always means it will happen again the Latter-days.
If we are looking for this to happen again in the Latter-days, how we will know when it happens? For starters, we need to know where Moab is:
We are in Isaiah’s time on this map. After King Solomon died (930 B.C.), the tribes fought and divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom (the Ten Tribes, or Israel, in green) and the southern kingdom (Judah, in pink, those we now call “Jews”). The surrounding countries are not just foreigners, but are cousins, through Abraham’s foster brother Lot and also the descendants of Ishmael.
Ultimately, all these have the promises of Abraham. They all have Abrahamic traditions, with pieces of the truth. However, all turned away from the Lord, and are apostatized with many false traditions as well. It is also fascinating to trace what kinds of sins caused each group to turn away from the Lord, because these are often either still the sins those people are famous for or else the opposite has happened and those things are now taboo in that culture (as if a communal repentance process is underway).
But do you see? Can you see it? Do you see how the same tribes are still in place now?
Look at the geographical boundaries of today, and how they match the lands the way the Lord alloted them back before Isaiah’s day:
Can you see it?! Look side by side:
Moab, Ammon, and Edom are now Jordan. Aram is what we call Syria (and Lebanon), and has been even since that time. This map doesn’t show it, but Turkey is north of Syria.
Egypt still has its borders.
What we now call “the Gaza strip” (bottom, left, green) has always been Philistine territory. “Gaza”,” from the Arabic “Ġazza”, originally derives from the Canaanite/Hebrew root for “strong” and was introduced to Arabic by way of the Hebrew, “ʕazzā”, i.e. “the strong one”. The Canaanites gave Gaza its name, and it is used throughout the Old Testament. Egyptians called it “Ghazzat” (“prized city”), and the Arabs often refer to it as “Ghazzat Hashim”, because Islamic lore tells that Hashim, the great-grandfather of Muhammad is buried in the city. Regardless, it has always been called Gaza in some way, despite political battles over who lives there.
Zoom out (in your head) to see this picture being painted by Isaiah. The people of the north (northern Syria, near Turkey) are being conquered by Assyria, and fleeing west to the mountains (Lebanon) so they can travel south (to Moab) through the wilderness. That’s phase one.
Then the people of Moab have to flee south into a land in its prime (Jordan), until there are so many refugees that they can no longer be supported. That’s phase two.
Have you watched the news lately? Here’s a map from the United Nations site from when I was in the middle east last February, showing the worst of the wars and where the refugees are going (north and west into the mountains and south into Jordan):
That’s phase one, check.
Know what else? The international agreement on how to help the refugees has only been 26% funded, one of the only times this has ever happened, and the countries with open borders trying to host the refugees do not have enough resources to help them.
Go back to Isaiah 11:11-14, reading it again with everything defined by the last few chapters.
And it shall come to pass in that day (Latter-days),
that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time (restoration)
to recover the remenant (Ten Tribes) of his people,
which shall be left, from Assyria (Turkey/Lebanon/Syria),
and from Egypt, and from Pathros (Upper Egypt),
and from Cush (Sudan – south of Egypt, across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia),
and from Elam (Iran),
and from Shinar (Lebanon/Syria/Jordan/Israel/West Bank),
and from Hamath (Syria/Turkey),
and from the islandsof the sea (sometimes a reference to America/restoration).
And he shall set up an ensign for the nations,
(Prophet/General Conference/Covenant Laws)
and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel,
(intact Ten Tribes)
and gather together the dispersed of Judah
(scattered Judah/Ephraim/Manassah living amongst other nations)
from the four corners of the earth.
The envy also of Ephraim shall depart,
(jealousy of Judah being “the Jews” when Ephraim has the ordinances)
and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off:
(no more anti-Semitism or persecution of the Jews)
Ephraim shall not envy Judah,
(we will instead deliver the ordinances back to them)
and Judah shall not vex Ephraim
(they will instead accept the ordinances)
(together we will bring Temples to the middle East).
But they (Jews) shall fly (even literally)
upon the shoulders (rely on)
of the Philistines (Gentiles, or non-Judah tribes, see Isaiah 49:22-23)
toward the west;
(The restoration will start in the west (here!) and be brought to them in the East)
they shall spoil them of the east together:
(The land of the Jews in the Latter-days will not be large,
but the land they won under the reign of David will be returned to them)
they (Jews) shall lay their hand upon
Edom (south of the Dead Sea)
and Moab (part of Jordan);
and the children of Ammon (east of the Jordan River) shall obey them.
It is interesting to note that these lands were only belonging to the Jews when David conquered them, and in no other time of history. It is also interesting to note that the priesthood leader who will lead the Ten Tribes back to this area of land will also be named David (see Ezekiel 37:22-24).
All of this will come up again, with more details, in Isaiah 17.