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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Isaiah 16

Verse 1

THE BURDEN OF MOAB (continued)

"Send ye the lambs for the ruler of the land from Selah to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion. For it shall be that, as wandering birds, as a scattered nest, so shall the daughters of Moab be at the fords of the Arnon. Give counsel, execute justice; make thy shade as the night in the midst of noonday; hide the outcasts; betray not the fugitive. Let mine outcasts dwell with thee; as for Moab, be thou a covert to him from the face of the destroyer. For the extortioner is brought to naught, destruction ceaseth, the oppressors are consumed out of the land. And a throne shall be established in lovingkindness; and one shall sit thereon in truth, in the tent of David, judging, and seeking justice, and swift to do righteousness."

This 16th chapter was divided as follows by Hailey: (1) Moab's hope (Isaiah 16:1-5); (2) Moab's rejection of this hope (Isaiah 16:6-12); (3) the appointed time for the execution of God's judgment upon Moab (Isaiah 16: 13,14).[11]

As regards these first five verses, there is much uncertainty and disagreement. Who is speaking to whom? Why should Moab send tribute through the capital of Edom, Petra, where it appears that Moab had taken refuge? Rather than explore all of these questions and the various proposed answers, we shall follow the lead of Jamieson, Barnes, Leupold, Delitzsch, and Rawlinson and accept the view that the prophet Isaiah is advising the Moabites to send gifts or tribute of lambs to Jerusalem, thus aligning themselves with the "remnant" who will trust in the ultimate coming of the Messiah, the righteous king who would role in the tent of David, that is, upon the throne of David.

The basic idea of this whole paragraph is that the only hope for Moab (or for anyone else) is the establishment of the kingdom of heaven in Christ. Isaiah's exhortations for Israel to show compassion and support for Moab in their manifold sorrow, that is, not to betray them, but to hide them, and counsel them, have overtones of the Messianic kingdom.

Note the tragic picture of the daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon, where they appear as confused and helpless as a nest of baby birds, scattered and destroyed by a predator. What a pitiful contrast with the hundreds of "the daughters of Moab" who participated in the shameful orgy of Numbers 25! For every shameful and licentious orgy that human beings ever participated in, there must always be a counterpart to it somewhere in their subsequent history by the fords of some spiritual Arnon!

Note also that God referred to these pitiful refuges from destruction as "mine outcasts," thus pinpointing God's unchanging love of all men. Here is the germ of John 3:16; here is the equivalent of God's revelation to Paul concerning the corrupt city of Corinth that God had "much people" in that city (Acts 18:10).

"Selah ..." mentioned in Isaiah 16:1 is the Semitic rendition of the Greek [@Petra], meaning, rocky ledge, as in Matthew 16:18, where the word describes the mighty ledge-rock upon which Jesus promised to build his church; and this seems to say that Moab had taken refuge in that rocky fortress which was the capital of Edom.

Verse 6

"We have heard of the pride of Moab, and that he is very proud; even of his arrogance, and his pride, and his wrath; his boastings are naught. Therefore shall Moab wail for Moab, everyone shall wail: for the raisin-cakes of Kirhareseth shall ye mourn, utterly stricken, For the fields of Heshbon languisheth, and the vine of Sibmah; the lords of the nations have broken down the choice branches thereof, which reached even unto Jazer, which wandered into the wilderness; its shoots were spread abroad, they passed over the sea. Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah; I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for upon thy summer fruits and upon thy harvest the battle shout is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the fruitful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither joyful noise: no treader shall tread out wine in the wine presses; I have made the vintage shout to cease. Wherefore my heart soundeth like a harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirheres. And it shall come to pass when Moab presenteth himself, when he wearieth himself upon the high place, and shall come to his sanctuary to pray, that he shall not prevail."

The rejection of Moab, whether based upon Isaiah's perception of their deceit and hypocrisy or upon the unwillingness of Moab to seek the true God, appears here to have been founded upon compelling reasons.

We should note the affirmation of scholars like Kelley who considered the gift of lambs from Moab to Jerusalem and their mention of the Davidic kingdom to come as efforts to deceive Israel into giving them refuge.[12] We reject this notion as being absolutely unsupported in the text; and we believe that Moab's failure to get the refuge they needed was due not to Israel's unwillingness to give it, but to Moab's unwillingness to receive it. Throughout this passage, the pride, arrogance, boastfulness and stubbornness of Moab are repeatedly stressed. One may see the duplication of this attitude continually in the unwillingness of evil men to receive the blessing and forgiveness of God.

It is significant that along with such qualities as arrogance, pride, etc., the Moabites' love of "raisin-cakes" was mentioned. This was not a mere food item, but an essential tool of the pagan religion so dear to the people. The raisin-cakes were customary payments received by the sacred prostitutes of their pagan shrines. Isaiah 16:12 cited the pitiful futility of their religious practices.

"The vine of Sibmah ..." This must indeed have been a famous vine. The reference to its branches going into the wilderness and even "crossing the sea" probably refers to the propagation of the plant throughout Palestine and beyond.

"Isaiah could not but lament the destruction to be meted out to all of the fair and smiling countryside of Moab. In vain, her supplicants would besiege the heathen altars of their high places."[13]

We believe that Hailey's analysis of this passage is correct and that we have in this paragraph "The reasons for Moab's rejection of Isaiah's advice and Jehovah's offer of refuge."[14] It lay squarely in the same reasons that wicked men still act upon in their denial of heavenly mercy, their pride, arrogance, stubbornness, boastfulness, and self-sufficiency.

Verse 13

The obvious meaning here is that God's prophecies against Moab given in time past (either by Isaiah, or by others, or by both) are about to be fulfilled. "In three years precisely the glory of Moab shall be brought low, and only an insignificant remnant shall survive."[15] The way in which Isaiah distinguished between "three years exactly," and "about three years" is interesting. By specifying, "as the years of a hireling," he meant that, "The hired servant serves for the three years exactly. The master sees to it that it shall be no less; the servant takes care that it shall be no more.[16]

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 16". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-16.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.