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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 48

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-47



Jeremiah 48:1-47

"Moab shall be destroyed from being a people, because he hath magnified himself against Jehovah."- Jeremiah 48:42

"Chemosh said to me, Go, take Nebo against Israeland I took itand I took from it the vessels of Jehovah, and offered them before Chemosh."-MOABITE STONE.

"Yet will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days."- Jeremiah 48:47

THE prophets show a very keen interest in Moab. With the exception of the very short Book of Joel, all the prophets who deal in detail with foreign nations devote sections to Moab. The unusual length of such sections in Isaiah and Jeremiah is not the only resemblance between the utterances of these two prophets concerning Moab. There are many parallels of idea and expression, which probably indicate the influence of the elder prophet upon his successor; unless indeed both of them adapted some popular poem which was early current in Judah.

It is easy to understand why the Jewish Scriptures should have much to say about Moab, just as the sole surviving fragment of Moabite literature is chiefly occupied with Israel. These two Terahite tribes-the children of Jacob and the children of Lot-had dwelt side by side for centuries, like the Scotch and English borderers before the accession of James I. They had experienced many alternations of enmity and friendship, and had shared complex interests, common and conflicting, after the manner of neighbours who are also kinsmen. Each in its turn had oppressed the other; and Moab had been the tributary of the Israelite monarchy till the victorious arms of Mesha had achieved independence for his people and firmly established their dominion over the debatable frontier lands. There are traces, too, of more kindly relations: the House of David reckoned Ruth the Moabitess amongst its ancestors, and Jesse, like Elimelech and Naomi, had taken refuge in Moab.

Accordingly this prophecy concerning Moab, in both its editions, frequently strikes a note of sympathetic lamentation and almost becomes a dirge.

"Therefore will I howl for Moab;

Yea, for all Moab will I cry out.

For the men of Kirheres shall they mourn.

With more than the weeping of Jazer

Will I weep for thee, O vine of Sibmah.

Therefore mine heart soundeth like pipes for Moab,

Mine heart soundeth like pipes for the men of Kirheres."

But this pity could not avail to avert the doom of Moab; it only enabled the Jewish prophet to fully appreciate its terrors. The picture of coming ruin is drawn with the colouring and outlines familiar to us in the utterances of Jeremiah-spoiling and destruction, fire and sword and captivity, dismay and wild abandonment of wailing.

"Chemosh shall go forth into captivity, his priests and his princes together.

Every head is bald, and every beard clipped;

Upon all the hands are cuttings, and upon the loins sackcloth.

On all the housetops and in all the streets of Moab there is everywhere lamentation;

For I have broken Moab like a useless vessel-it is the utterance of Jehovah.

How is it broken down! Howl ye! Be thou ashamed!

How hath Moab turned the back!

All the neighbours shall laugh and shudder at Moab.

The heart of the mighty men of Moab at that day

Shall be like the heart of a woman in her pangs."

This section of Jeremiah illustrates the dramatic versatility of the prophet’s method. He identifies himself now with the blood thirsty invader, now with his wretched victims, and now with the terror-stricken spectators; and sets forth the emotions of each in turn with vivid realism. Hence at one moment we have the pathos and pity of such verses as we have just quoted, and at another such stern and savage words as these:-

"Cursed be he that doeth the work of Jehovah negligently,

Cursed be he that stinteth his sword of blood."

These lines might have served as a motto for Cromwell at the massacre of Drogheda, for Tilly’s army at the sack of Magdeburg, or for Danton and Robespierre during the Reign of Terror. Jeremiah’s words were the more terrible because they were uttered with the full consciousness that in the dread Chaldean king a servant of Jehovah was at hand who would be careful not to incur any curse for stinting his sword of blood. We shrink from what seems to us the prophet’s brutal assertion that relentless and indiscriminate slaughter is sometimes the service which man is called upon to render to God. Such sentiment is for the most part worthless and unreal; it does not save us from epidemics of war fever, and is at once ignored under the stress of horrors like the Indian Mutiny. There is no true comfort in trying to persuade ourselves that the most awful events of history lie outside of the Divine purpose, or in forgetting that the human scourges of their kind do the work that God has assigned to them.

In this inventory, as it were, of the ruin of Moab our attention is arrested by the constant and detailed references to the cities. This feature is partly borrowed from Isaiah. Ezekiel too speaks of the Moabite cities which are the glory of the country; {Ezekiel 25:9} but Jeremiah’s prophecy is a veritable Domesday Book of Moab. With his epic fondness for lists of sonorous names-after the manner of Homer’s catalogue of the ships-he enumerates Nebo, Kiriathaim, Heshbon, and Horonaim, city after city, till he completes a tale of no fewer than twenty-six, and then summarises the rest as "all the cities of the land of Moab, far and near." Eight of these cities are mentioned in Joshua {Joshua 13:15-28} as part of the inheritance of Reuben and Gad. Another, Bozrah, is usually spoken of as a city of Edom. {Jeremiah 49:13, possibly this is not the Edomite Bozrah.}

The Moabite Stone explains the occurrence of Reubenite cities in these lists. It tells us how Mesha took Nebo, Jahaz, and Horonaim from Israel. Possibly in this period of conquest Bozrah became tributary to Moab, without ceasing to be an Edomite city. This extension of territory and multiplication of towns points to an era of power and prosperity, of which there are other indications in this chapter. "We are mighty and valiant for war," said the Moabites. When Moab fell "there was broken a mighty sceptre and a glorious staff." Other verses imply the fertility of the land and the abundance of its vintage.

Moab in fact had profited by the misfortunes of its more powerful and ambitious neighbours. The pressure of Damascus, Assyria, and Chaldea prevented Israel and Judah from maintaining their dominion over their ancient tributary. Moab lay less directly in the track of the invaders; it was too insignificant to attract their special attention, perhaps too prudent to provoke a contest with the lords of the East. Hence, while Judah was declining, Moab had enlarged her borders and grown in wealth and power.

And even as Jeshurun kicked, when he was waxen fat, {Deuteronomy 32:15} so Moab in its prosperity was puffed up with unholy pride. Even in Isaiah’s time this was the besetting sin of Moab; he says in an indictment which Jeremiah repeats almost word for word:-

"We have heard of the pride of Moab, that he is very proud,

Even of his arrogancy and his pride and his wrath." {Isaiah 16:6}

This verse is a striking example of the Hebrew method of gaining emphasis by accumulating derivatives of the same and similar roots. The verse in Jeremiah runs thus: "We have heard of the pride (Ge’ON) of Moab, that he is very proud (GE’EH): his loftiness (GABHeHO), and his pride (Ge’ONO), and his proudfulness (GA’aWATHO)."

Jeremiah dwells upon this theme:-

"Moab shall be destroyed from being a people,

Because he hath magnified himself against Jehovah."

Zephaniah bears like testimony:-{Zephaniah 2:10}

"This shall they have for their pride,

Because they have been insolent, and have magnified themselves

Against the people of Jehovah Sabaoth."

Here again the Moabite Stone bears abundant testimony to the justice of the prophet’s accusations: for there Mesha tells how in the name and by the grace of Chemosh he conquered the cities of Israel; and how, anticipating Belshazzar’s sacrilege, he took the sacred vessels of Jehovah from His temple at Nebo and consecrated them to Chemosh. Truly Moab had "magnified himself against Jehovah."

Prosperity had produced other baleful effects beside a haughty spirit, and pride was not the only cause of the ruin of Moab. Jeremiah applies to nations the dictum of Polonius-

"Home-keeping youths have ever homely wits,"

and apparently suggests that ruin and captivity were necessary elements in the national discipline of Moab:-

"Moab hath been undisturbed from his youth;

He hath settled on his lees"

He hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel;

He hath not gone into captivity:

"Therefore his taste remaineth in him,

His scent is not changed.

Wherefore, behold, the days come-it is the utterance of Jehovah-

That I will send men unto him that shall tilt him up;

They shall empty his vessels and break his bottles."

As the chapter, in its present form, concludes with a note-

"I will bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days-it is the utterance of Jehovah"-

we gather that even this rough handling was disciplinary; at any rate, the former lack of such vicissitudes had been to the serious detriment of Moab. It is strange that Jeremiah did not apply this principle to Judah. For, indeed, the religion of Israel and of mankind owes an incalculable debt to the captivity of Judah, a debt which later writers are not slow to recognise. "Behold," says the prophet of the Exile, -

"I have refined thee, but not as silver;

I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." {Isaiah 48:10}

History constantly illustrates how when Christians were undisturbed and prosperous the wine of truth settled on the lees and came to taste of the cask; and-to change the figure-how affliction and persecution proved most effectual tonics for a debilitated Church. Continental critics of modern England speak severely of the ill-effects which our prolonged freedom from invasion and civil war, and the unbroken continuity of our social life have had on our national character and manners. In their eyes England is a perfect Moab, concerning which they are ever ready to prophesy after the manner of Jeremiah. The Hebrew Chronicler blamed Josiah because he would not listen to the advice and criticism of Pharaoh Necho. There may be warnings which we should do well to heed, even in the acrimony of foreign journalists.

But any such suggestion raises wider and more difficult issues; for ordinary individuals and nations the discipline of calamity seems necessary. What degree of moral development exempts from such discipline, and how may it be attained? Christians cannot seek to compound for such discipline by self-inflicted loss or pain, like Polycrates casting away his ring or Browning’s Caliban, who in his hour of terror,

"Lo! ‘Lieth flat and loveth Setebos!

‘Maketh his teeth meet through his upper lip.

Will let those quails fly, will not eat this month

One little mess of whelks, so he may ‘scape."

But though it is easy to counsel resignation and the recognition of a wise, loving Providence in national as in personal suffering, yet mankind longs for an end to the period of pupilage and chastisement and would fain know how it may be hastened.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 48". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/jeremiah-48.html.
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