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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Isaiah 16

 

 

Verses 1-5

Moab’s Consideration of An Appeal to the King of Judah (Isaiah 16:1-5).

Analysis of Isaiah 16:1-5.

a Send the lambs, for the ruler of the land, from Sela which is towards the wilderness, to the mount of the daughter of Zion (Isaiah 16:1).

b For it will be that, as wandering birds, as a scattered nest, so will the daughters of Moab be, at the fords of Arnon (Isaiah 16:2).

c Give counsel, exercise justice (make a just decision), make your shadow as the night, in the midst of the noonday (Isaiah 16:3 a).

d Hide the outcasts, do not betray the wanderer (Isaiah 16:3 b).

d Let my outcasts dwell with you (Isaiah 16:4 a).

c As for Moab, be a covert to him, from the face of the spoiler

b For the extortioner is brought to nothing, spoiling ceases, those who tread down, are consumed out of the land (Isaiah 16:4 b).

a And a throne will be established in covenant love, and one will sit (or ‘one sits’) on it in truth, in the tent of David, judging and seeking justice, and swift to do righteousness (Isaiah 16:5).

In ‘a’ gifts are to be sent to the ruler who rules over the land of Judah and over mount Zion, and in the parallel the just and righteous ruler is described in glowing terms. In ‘b’ the daughters of Moab are in a hapless state, defenceless and hopeless, while in Judah righteousness rules, none are ‘spoiled’ or tread down the weak. In ‘c’ a plea is made to Judah for their shadow to cover the fleeing Moabites, and in the parallel the request is made for them to be a covert to him from the face of the spoiler. In ‘d’ the request is that their outcasts may be hidden in Judah and not betrayed, and in the parallel that they may dwell with them (in safety).

Isaiah 16:1-2

‘Send the lambs,

For the ruler of the land

From Sela which is towards the wilderness,

To the mount of the daughter of Zion.

For it will be that, as wandering birds,

As a scattered nest,

So will the daughters of Moab be,

At the fords of Arnon.’

Having fled into Edom (Sela is in Edom) for refuge the decision is taken to appeal to Judah for help, to ‘the mount of the daughter of Zion’, sending a gift of lambs, a payment for the privilege asked for (compare 2 Kings 3:4). Alternately it may indicate submission to the Davidic kingship. They had been subdued and rendered tributary by David (2 Samuel 8:2), and when the kingdom was divided, they continued in subjection to the ten tribes till the death of Ahab, paying yearly, or perhaps at the accession of every new king, a tribute of a hundred thousand lambs and as many rams with the wool (2 Kings 3:4-5). Thus the point here may be the renewal of tribute in return for protection. Alternatively the gift might have been seen as necessary so that national pride could be maintained at all costs. The appeal will go to the ruler of the land. In mind especially is the hapless state of the young women of Moab still seeking to cross the fords of Arnon in numbers, looking back in fear at the advancing Assyrian soldiery. Whereas the daughter of Zion prospers, the daughters of Moab are in a hapless state.

The young women are always the ones who suffer most in such circumstances. They are a prey to the enemy and unable to defend themselves. They are like birds that have become separated from the flock, like helpless nestlings when the nest has been destroyed.

Note the vague ‘ruler of the land’ and the way Jerusalem is described. Both avoid specifics. They do not speak of the anointed Davidic king, or refer to the Mount of Yahweh. They do not want to be seen as submitting to the son of David or to the God of Judah. They prefer to put themselves at the mercy of the people without wanting any deep involvement.

Isaiah 16:3-4

‘Give counsel,

Exercise justice (make a just decision),

Make your shadow as the night,

In the midst of the noonday,

Hide the outcasts,

Do not betray the wanderer.

Let my outcasts dwell with you.

As for Moab, be a covert to him,

From the face of the spoiler.’

The appeal to Judah is put into words. Let the leaders of Judah discuss the matter and come to a conclusion, let them make a just decision. Let the daughter of Zion act as a shadow to Moab from the heat of the Assyrian sun, let them shelter the outcasts and not hand back the refugees to the advancing Assyrians. Let them give them a place where they can settle as resident aliens for a time until the crisis is past. Let them be a place of refuge from the spoiler.

Isaiah 16:4-5

‘For the extortioner is brought to nothing,

Spoiling ceases,

Those who tread down,

Are consumed out of the land,

And a throne will be established in covenant love,

And one will sit (or ‘one sits’) on it in truth,

In the tent of David, judging and seeking justice,

And swift to do righteousness.’

Some see this as Zion’s conditional acceptance speech, a declaration that Moab must recognise the terms on which they can come. They must recognise that Judah is a well ruled land, ruled by one who sits on a throne established in covenant love and truth, sitting in the tent of David and ruling justly. Therefore there must be no misbehaviour, for all who misbehave will be severely dealt with. They must be willing to obey the Law of righteousness as expressed in the covenant. (‘Will be’ and ‘will sit’ then simply refer to what they will find when they come. Hebrew verb tenses must not be pressed timewise. They refer rather to completed or incompleted action).

Others see this as the flattery that follows the appeal. The Moabite leaders know about the hopes of Israel and define the ruler of the land to whom they are appealing in those terms. They know that he is a just king, they say, whose righteous reign has rid Judah of extortioners, of spoilers, of oppressors, who sits on a throne of mercy, who deals honestly, who is of the Davidic house, honourable like David was, judging fairly, seeking justice, quick to do what is right. The implication therefore is that he will not refuse their request.

Even others, however, see Isaiah 16:5 as spoken by Isaiah or God, and therefore a glimpse into the future Messianic reign, but as a direct reference this sits ill with what follows and seems out of context, although they would argue that Isaiah is deliberately seeking to bring in a reference to Immanuel as a reminder of what will be. What,. however, would seem more acceptable is the idea that this a description of an idealistic king which was applied rather hopefully to the house of David, and thus in that sense foreshadows the Messiah.

This stability and security of Judah is seen to be in direct contrast with the sad state of the daughters of Moab, and the description of the king ruling in strength and justice thus provides hope for the refugees.


Verses 1-14

Chapter 16 Moab, Her Refugees In Desperate Straits, Seek Refuge in Edom And Consider Refuge in Judah, But Decide Against It.

God was ready to provide Moab with a safe shelter in Judah, but they preferred remaining in Edom rather than having to submit to the requirements of Yahweh.


Verses 6-14

The Request To Judah Is Never Actualised Because of the Pride of Moab, With Sad Results (Isaiah 16:6-14).

Analysis of Isaiah 16:6-14.

a We have heard of the pride of Moab, (he is very proud), even of his arrogance, and his pride and his wrath. His boastings are nothing

b Therefore will Moab howl for Moab. Everyone will howl. You will mourn for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth, utterly stricken

c For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah. The lords of the nations, have broken down its choice plants. They reached even to Jazer, they wandered into the wilderness. Her branches were spread abroad, they passed over the sea

c Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jazer, for the vine of Sibmah, I will water you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh, for on your summer fruits and on your harvest, the shout has failed, and gladness is taken away, and joy out of the fruitful field, and in the vineyards there will be no singing, nor joyful noise, no treader will tread out wine in the presses. I have made the shout to cease

b For which reason My bowels sound like a harp for Moab, and my inward parts for Kir-heres. And it will come about that when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, and will come to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail

a This is the word that Yahweh spoke concerning Moab in time past. But now Yahweh has spoken saying, “Within three years, as the years of a hired servant, and the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, with (in spite of) all his great multitude, and the remnant will be very few and not mighty (Isaiah 16:13-14).

In ‘a’ the pride of Moab and his boastings are spoken of, and in the parallel their boastings will prove in vain for they will be brought into contempt and become few in number. In ‘b’ the result will be that Moab will howl, and mourn for the lack of their religious rites, and in the parallel Yahweh’s heart will sound like a doleful harp, for when Moab wear themselves out on their high places and come to their sanctuary to pray, they will not prevail. In ‘c’ there is weeping because the fields of Heshbon and the vine of Sibmah fail, and the choice plants that reached to Jazer will be broken down, While in the parallel, following the reverse order, there is weeping in Jazer, and the vine of Sibmah and Heshbon will be watered with their tears because the harvest of grain and vine has failed and there is no joy in harvest there.

Isaiah 16:6-7

‘We have heard of the pride of Moab.

He is very proud.

Even of his arrogance, and his pride and his wrath.

His boastings are nothing.

Therefore will Moab howl for Moab.

Everyone will howl.

You will mourn for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth,

Utterly stricken.’

On the basis of the first interpretation above this is Isaiah’s comment on why Moab do not take up the offer. Their pride is offended. They do not want to submit to the son of David. They do not want to put their trust in the covenant. They would prefer to stay in Edom where they are appreciated and there are no strict requirements, in spite of it not being as secure or pleasant as in Judah. Thus, says Isaiah, they will suffer for their pride and continue to howl and mourn. They might have had covenant love, righteousness, truth and justice. Instead they cling to their pride, their arrogance and their wrath, although their boastings are really worth nothing. The fact is that in the end they do not want to submit to Yahweh.

On the basis of the second interpretation above this would appear to be a rejection of their pleas by Judah. The grounds are then based on Moab’s behaviour in the past, the pride, arrogance and anger that they have previously shown towards Judah. And they had boasted against Judah, but now their boasting has come to nothing. Therefore they will be left to howl and to make do as they can. We must remember that to shelter the Moabites would be to offend the king of Assyria and to risk invasion.

‘The raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.’ Raisin cakes may refer to an important aspect of the worship of their gods (Hosea 3:1 compare Jeremiah 44:19). The suggestion might be that they have refused submission to Yahweh, but now have nowhere else to turn. Or the raisin cakes may have been a recognised delicacy for which Kir-hareseth was famous (compare 1 Chronicles 12:40).

Isaiah 16:8

‘For the fields of Heshbon languish,

And the vine of Sibmah.

The lords of the nations,

Have broken down its choice plants.

They reached even to Jazer,

They wandered into the wilderness.

Her branches were spread abroad,

They passed over the sea.’

Moab has cause to howl because the fields of their capital city languish as do the choice vine of Sibmah. This is because ‘the lords of the nations’ (compare Isaiah 13:4), Assyrian allied leaders, have broken down their choice plants.

‘They reached even to Jazer, they wandered into the wilderness. Her branches were spread abroad, they passed over the sea.’ This presumably refers to how choice the plants were. Jazer was beyond the northern border, with the wilderness to the east, and the sea to the west. The picture is of the vine spreading in all directions, signifying the export of its produce. But now there will be no more exports. Their means of prosperity has gone.

(An alternative translation is ‘her choice plants have broken down the lords of the nations’, that is, made them drunk and helpless, referring to local neighbouring royalty. But the above seems more likely).

Isaiah 16:9-10

‘Therefore I will weep with the weeping of Jazer,

For the vine of Sibmah,

I will water you with my tears,

O Heshbon and Elealeh,

For on your summer fruits and on your harvest,

The shout has failed,

And gladness is taken away,

And joy out of the fruitful field,

And in the vineyards there will be no singing,

Nor joyful noise,

No treader will tread out wine in the presses.

I have made the shout to cease.’

God is here pictured as weeping along with those who no longer receive the wine because of Moab’s loss. Although judgment has come on Moab, God has no pleasure in it. He feels for those who must suffer. The shouting and gladness and rejoicing has failed. There will be no singing or joyful noise or treading of the wine. For Yahweh has made the shout to cease. The depth of Moab’s loss is emphasised, both in wealth and in happiness, and is emphasised in threefold repetitions. And it is Yahweh Who has done it, for He does all things. But it was with sad heart.

Note the reverse order of the names to Isaiah 16:8, Jazer, Sibmah, Heshbon, a favourite device of Isaiah. Elealeh was closely related to Heshbon (see Isaiah 15:4).

Isaiah 16:11-12

‘For which reason my bowels sound like a harp for Moab,

And my inward parts for Kir-heres.

And it will come about that when Moab presents himself,

When he wearies himself on the high place,

And will come to his sanctuary to pray,

He will not prevail.’

The genuineness of Yahweh’s grief for Moab is emphasised. His very inner being is like the doleful sound of the harp because of Moab’s misfortune. They had had their opportunity to come within the covenant and had rejected it. All that is now open to them is fruitless prayer to false gods. They will weary themselves pleading with their gods, both in the high places and in their temples, but it will achieve nothing. They will not prevail. Their gods will not hear. (This is in contrast with Yahweh Who will deliver Jerusalem).

Isaiah 16:13-14

‘This is the word that Yahweh spoke concerning Moab in time past. But now Yahweh has spoken saying, “Within three years, as the years of a hired servant, and the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, with (in spite of) all his great multitude, and the remnant will be very few and not mighty.’

The prophetic vision of the destruction of Moab has been given previously, now the time of its fulfilment is determined. Yahweh has spoken and within three years all that Moab gloried in will be brought into contempt, and this in spite of his great numbers of people. Those who remain will be few and weak. So much for the pride of Moab.

‘As the years of a hired servant.’ The length of time is fixed by contract and is certain to the day. He does not want ‘three years’ to have its usual significance of an indeterminate period of time.

It is clear from all this that Moab would not have been a safe people to rely on. It is further clear that having had the opportunity of trusting Yahweh they have refused to do so. Therefore their fate is sealed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/isaiah-16.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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