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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 48

 

 

Verses 1-13

The Destruction of Moab (Jeremiah 48:1-13).

Note how, as in Isaiah 15, the towns and prominent places are mentioned by name. Some of them were towns that had been taken over from Israel (compare Mesha’s account of his conquests above referring to Nebo and Horonaim). Now these trophies will be theirs no more.

Jeremiah 48:1

‘Of Moab. Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel:

‘Of Moab.’ A plain and succint heading indicating the country in mind in the prophecy. YHWH is then identified by His full official title as ‘YHWH of hosts’, the One Who is over all the hosts both of heaven and of earth, and as ‘the God of Israel’, the official God worshipped by Israel Who still acknowledges them as His people even though they have been unfaithful to Him.

Jeremiah 48:2

“Woe to Nebo! for it is laid waste,

Kiriathaim is put to shame, it is taken,

Misgab is put to shame and broken down,

The praise of Moab is no more.

In Heshbon they have devised (hshb) evil against her.

“Come, and let us cut her off from being a nation.”

You also, O Madmen, will be brought to silence (dmm),

The sword will pursue you.”

Note the play on words between the cities named and the verbs used of their judgment, something beloved of Hebrew poetry. Moab was noted for its pride (Isaiah 16:6), and its judgment is described accordingly. Thus it is to be ‘put to shame’, it is ‘no more to be praised’, it is to be ‘brought to silence’. It is to be humbled in the dust.

Various towns and cities in Moab are identified, and it is noteworthy that they are conurbations which had once been a part of Israel. Note, for example, that Nebo was mentioned in the Moabite Stone (see above) as taken by Mesha from Israel. Heshbon was the leading city of Sihon, King of the Amorites (Numbers 21:25-30), and had been taken over by the tribe of Reuben on his defeat (Numbers 32:37). The fact that it was now Moabite speaks for itself. Kiriathaim, the plural ending probably indicating an upper and lower city, was also formerly a Reubenite city (Joshua 13:19). See Numbers 32:37-38; Joshua 13:17-19 for the whole. Madmen is unknown although there were towns with a similar name in Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 15:31; Isaiah 10 31). But it may refer to Dibon (Dimon in Isaiah 15:9) which was another Israelite city seized by Moab (‘m’ is often used to turn a verbal root into a noun). Thus there had been a considerable annexation of land by Moab from Israel and it is salutary that the very cities that the Moabites had annexed and now proudly called their own, would now be destroyed.

Jeremiah 48:3-4

“The sound of a cry from Horonaim,

“Desolation and great destruction!”

Moab is destroyed,

Her little ones have caused a cry to be heard.”

Moab no longer rings with shouts of pride, but with cries of destruction, as her people flee as refugees. All her ‘little ones’ (her towns and villages) cry out. The idea of towns and cities as ‘daughters’ is found regularly elsewhere. Horonaim was another annexed area and was another dual city that was to be destroyed. But it is then made clear that the destruction of these cities is synonymous with the destruction of Moab with all her towns.

Some see ‘her little ones’ as referring literally to children with the idea that even the children are involved in her suffering which is affecting the whole populace, but in context the restriction to ‘little ones’ in this sense seems unlikely. There is no mention of fathers, or mothers, or people. What has been in mind are the towns and cities.

Jeremiah 48:5

“For by the ascent of Luhith,

With continual weeping will they go up,

For at the descent of Horonaim,

They have heard the distress of the cry of destruction.”

Compare here Isaiah 15:5 which may well have been in Jeremiah’s mind. As the people of Moab flee before the enemy, seeking to escape as they laboriously climb the ascent of Luhith and make their way down the descent of Horonaim, (consider the difficulty that they must have faced, a long line of refugees, as they made their way up and down the passes bearing with them the possessions with which they fled) there is continual weeping and distress for the destruction that has come on their country and on their cities, the sound of which destruction is ringing in their ears from behind even as they seek to escape down ‘the descent of Horonaim’.

Jeremiah 48:6-8

“Flee, save your lives,

And be like the heath (vegetation) in the wilderness (semi-desert).

For, because you have trusted in your works and in your treasures,

You also will be taken,

And Chemosh will go forth into captivity,

His priests and his princes together.

And the destroyer will come upon every city,

And no city will escape,

The valley also will perish,

And the plain will be destroyed,

As YHWH has spoken.”

The call to them is to flee and save their lives, something which will result for them in conditions here depicted in term of ‘vegetation and shrubs in the semi-desert’, something stunted and fighting for life. They share the plight of all refugees in a war situation. And this was because their trust had been in their own achievements (their ‘work’) and in their wealth (their ‘treasures’ - mainly their vast numbers of sheep). Nor had Chemosh, their god in whom they had gloried (see again the Moabite stone inscription), been able to assist them. He too would be carried off into captivity, along with his priests and princes, to be ignominiously dealt with by his captors by being carried off helplessly on the backs of mules while the whole land was being destroyed. Compare the vivid picture of Babylonian deities being carried off by the invaders (probably the Assyrians) in Isaiah 46:1-2. Meanwhile no city would escape, and the countryside and valleys would bear their share of destruction. The whole land, city and countryside, would be devastated. And all this was because, in contrast with the helpless Chemosh, YHWH had spoken.

Note the huge contrast here between Chemosh and YHWH. Outwardly it might have appeared that neither could defend their people, for both nations would have been pillaged, but Jeremiah’s whole point is that YHWH’s people have suffered at YHWH’s hands as chastisement for their sins, precisely because they had turned to idols, and not because YHWH had been powerless to help them (had they obeyed YHWH’s word through Jeremiah they would not have been devastated). And He would therefore deliver them again. It did not thus indicate that YHWH had been helpless. No one had carried YHWH off in a mule train. Rather it was in fact He Who had brought the situation about. And as seen here He was still in overall control of events both on behalf of His people and on behalf of surrounding nations. He was LORD of all.

We should note here the very great difference between the Old Testament prophets, and the false prophets and the prophets of surrounding nations. The latter all assumed that their god would deliver, indeed that was the message that they were expected to give. Thus when their gods failed to do so those gods were discredited, although it should be noted that in the Moabite Stone Moab had suffered temporary humiliation at the hands of Israel because Chemosh was angry with them. But that was presumably over a lack if proper religious observance. However, in the case of YHWH His true prophets had regularly declared what YHWH would do to His people because of their disobedience to the covenant which covered their behaviour both religious and ethical, so that when it happened YHWH was actually vindicated.

Jeremiah 48:9-10

“Give wings to Moab,

That she may fly and get her away,

And her cities will become a desolation,

Without any to dwell in them.

Cursed be he who does the work of YHWH negligently,

And cursed be he who keeps back his sword from blood.”

With pointed irony the prophet calls for wings to be given to Moab so that she could flee the more quickly. But it would not be for the people’s benefit. They would still be refugees. This prayer was rather in order to underline the speed that they would need in order to escape, the devastation that was being left behind, and the haste in which they were having to leave it. While she ‘flew away’ her cities would be left devastated and uninhabited, her land desolated by war.

Some translate this as ‘give salt to Moab’, based on comparison of sis with a Ugaritic word. Then the idea parallels what follows for the spreading of salt was used in order to render a city uninhabitable.

This whole picture is then underlined by what follows, the calling for a curse on the invaders if they failed to do their task properly. This was because they were seen as doing the work of YHWH in bringing judgment on Moab, and had thus to do it to His satisfaction. They must not therefore draw back or hesitate. They must fulfil that task to the full. It is a reminder that nothing that is done for God should be done casually. This call for a curse is of course hyperbole. It is a hyperbolic method of underlining the fact that what is occurring is of YHWH. It is not calling for a literal curse to be laid on individuals as such We can compare here Judges 5:23; 1 Samuel 15:3; 1 Samuel 15:18; 1 Kings 20:42.

Jeremiah 48:11

“Moab has been at ease from his youth,

And he has settled on his lees,

And has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,

Nor has he gone into captivity,

Therefore his taste remains in him,

And his scent is not changed.”

Moab is likened to a skin (bottle-equivalent) of wine which has been left to mature. The picture is vivid. It is quality wine which is left to mature in this way. The lees have settled on the bottom and nothing has escaped, neither scent nor taste, because the skin has never been opened and poured out into another container. The wine has thus become rich and fruity, a delight both to the nose and the palate. Compare here Zephaniah 1:12. Moab was seen as like this because up until now her people had escaped invasion and being taken into exile. They had not been ‘poured out’. Rather they had continued to grow wealthy and expand their flocks of sheep without hindrance (their wealth was founded on sheep - 2 Kings 3:4). They would, of course, at times have had to pay tribute, but by doing so expediently they had escaped worse. But we know that at this stage they were getting involved in intrigue against Babylon, and this time therefore they would not escape.

‘Emptying from vessel to vessel’ was a technique of wine producers used in order to clarify wine and improve its flavour. It was especially necessary for cheaper wines. In practise it is to some extent a matter of taste. Some like wine clear, some like it mature, but the point here is that it is for a nation’s good to be stirred up every now and again, because it prevents them from becoming arrogant like Moab had. She boasted in her own ‘good fortune’ and of course laid it at the door of her god Chemosh.

Jeremiah 48:12-13

“Therefore, behold, the days come,

The word of YHWH,

That I will send to him those who pour off,

And they will pour him off,

And they will empty his vessels,

And break their bottles in pieces,

And Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh,

As the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel their confidence.”

But Moab’s complacency will soon be shattered as surely as YHWH has spoken. Her wineskins will be opened up and poured out, and they will be made empty. And the wineskins themselves will be shattered and rendered useless. Such will be her condition that she will be ashamed of her god Chemosh as she recognises that he has been unable to help her. Just as in the same way Israel were made ashamed of Bethel. This latter possibly has in mind the golden calf at Bethel set up by Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:29), or it may refer to an actual god worshipped under the name of Bethel. Such a god was known among the Jewish colony at Elephantine in 5th century BC. The parallel and the phraseology might be seen as favouring the second as more probable, but even if that is so the worship of the golden calf would almost certainly be in mind. That god too had failed to deliver Israel.


Verses 1-47

D). Prophecy Against Moab (Jeremiah 48:1-47).

Whilst the Philistines were a constant trouble to Israel/Judah from the west, mainly troubling western Israel/Judah, eastern Israel/Judah, especially east of Jordan, suffered constantly at the hands of Moab when it was strong. Moab was situated east of the Dead Sea. This was partly due to the fact that in the time of Moses Israel had occupied territory which Moab saw as its own, territory which had been taken from Moab by the Ammonites prior to the arrival of Israel, and had subsequently been occupied by Israel on the defeat of Sihon. The consequence was that when it was strong Moab never ceased to trouble Israel as it sought to gain back what it saw as its own, and it would take advantage of that position in order to further its own wider interests. Such marauding against Israel had taken place in the days of Jehioiakim (Jeremiah 12:7-13; 2 Kings 24:2). A particularly good example of similar marauding is seen in the activities of King Mesha of Moab, as described by him in the Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone), as follows:

‘I am Mesha, son of KMSYT (Chemosh[-yat]), the king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father was king over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father. And I built this high-place for Chemosh in QRH ("the citadel"), a high place of salvation because he saved me from all the kings (or "all the attackers"), and because he let me be victorious over all my adversaries. Omri was king of Israel and he oppressed Moab for many days because Chemosh was angry with his land. And his son replaced him; and he also said, "I will oppress Moab". In my days he spoke thus. But I was victorious over him and his house. And Israel suffered permanent destruction, And Omri had conquered the land of Madaba, and he dwelt there during his days and half the days of his son, forty years. But Chemosh dwelt in it in my days. So I rebuilt Baal Meon, and I put the water reservoir in it. And I built Qiryaten. The men of Gad had dwelt in Ataroth from of old; and the king of Israel built Ataroth for himself. But I fought against the city and took it. And I slew all the people [and] the city became the property of Chemosh and Moab. And I carried from there the ariel (altar) for its DVDH (possibly "its Davidic altar-hearth"?) and I dragged it before Chemosh in Qerioit, and I settled in it men of Sharon and men of Maharit. And Chemosh said to me, "Go! Seize Nebo against Israel." so I proceeded by night and fought with it from the crack of dawn to midday, and I took it and I slew all of them: seven thousand men and boys, and women and girls and female slaves because I had dedicated it to Ashtar Chemosh. I took from there the vessels of YHWH, and I dragged them before Chemosh. And the king of Israel had built Yahaz, and he dwelt in it while he was fighting with me, but Chemosh drove him out before me. so I took from Moab two hundred men, all captains. And I brought them to Yahaz, And I seized it in order to add (it) to Dibon. I (myself) have built the 'citadel', 'the wall(s) of the forest' and the wall of the 'acropolis'. And I built its gates; And I built its towers. And I built a royal palace; and I made the ramparts for the reservoir for water in the midst of the city. But there was no cistern in the midst of the city, in the 'citadel,' so I said to all the people, "Make [for] yourselves each man a cistern in his house". And I hewed the shaft for the 'citadel' with prisoners of Israel. I built Aroer, and I made the highway in the Arnon. I built Beth-Bamot, because it was in ruins. I built Bezer, because it was a ruin with the armed men of Dibon because all of Dibon was under orders and I ruled over [the] hundreds in the towns which I have annexed to the land. And I built Medeba and Beth-Diblaten and Beth-Baal-Meon, and I carried there my herdsmen to herd the small cattle of the land, and as for Horonain, in it dwelt --- [and] Chemosh said to me, "Go down, fight against Horonain". And I went down and I fought with the city and I took it and Chemosh returned it in my days. Then I went up from there ---.’

This is one example of how over the centuries Moab, when it was able, had consistently harried Israel, and annexed their land, something for which it now had to give a reckoning. But that is not the reason stated by Jeremiah for what is to happen. The reason for their judgment is rather to be seen as resulting from:

a). Their trusting ‘in their works and in their treasures’ (Jeremiah 48:7).

b). Their derision at Israel/Judah’s suffering (Jeremiah 48:27; Zephaniah 2:8-10).

c). Their trusting in their god Chemosh (Jeremiah 48:7; Jeremiah 48:13; Jeremiah 48:46).

For the whole passage compare Isaiah 15-16, and consider especially Isaiah’s words ‘we have heard of the pride of Moab’ (Isaiah 16:6; repeated in Jeremiah 48:29 below). Moab had exulted in itself and in its god Chemosh; had derided Israel in its sufferings; and had refused to turn to YHWH. It was thus ripe for chastening. For other prophetic references to judgment on Moab see Ezekiel 25:8-11; Amos 2:1-3, and Zephaniah 2:9. It was not to be the end of Moab, however. In the end they would find mercy (Jeremiah 48:47).


Verses 14-28

The Humbling Of Moab And Judgment On Her Cities (Jeremiah 48:14-28).

Jeremiah 48:14-15

“How do you say, ‘We are mighty men,

And valiant men for the war?’

Moab is laid waste, and they are gone up into his cities,

And his chosen young men are gone down to the slaughter,

The word of the King,

Whose name is YHWH of hosts.”

In their complacency the people of Moab trusted in their armed forces, in their champions and in their men of valour. They had no doubt that they could cope with anything. (Like many peoples of that day they did not quite realise what they were up against). But the consequence of that trust would be that Moab would be laid waste, her cities possessed and her choice young men slaughtered.

Note the growth of the case against Moab. She had trusted in her accomplishments and her wealth (Jeremiah 48:7), she had trusted in the fact that she had never experienced exile for her people (Jeremiah 48:11), she had trusted in the ability of her god Chemosh (Jeremiah 48:7; Jeremiah 48:13), and now she trusted in her military strength. What she was always unwilling to do was trust in the true and living God, even though her antecedents had been God-worshippers (Genesis 19:37-38).

And this will occur because it is the word of the true King (melech), YHWH of hosts, in contrast with the false god Melech, who was worshipped both by Moab’s neighbour Ammon, and by many throughout Canaan). Thus both Chemosh and Melech (Molech) have been dismissed, for it is YHWH Who is over all the hosts of heaven and earth.

Jeremiah 48:16-17

“The calamity of Moab is imminent,

And his affliction hastens speedily,

All you who are round about him, bemoan him,

And all you who know his name, say,

‘How is the strong staff broken,

The beautiful rod!’ ”

Because of the word of YHWH Moab’s downfall is imminent, her affliction will speedily come. Indeed all who her neighbours who had so admired her would soon mourn for her, having seen her as the strong and reliable one in the area, the strong staff/sceptre, and the beautiful stave. Such staffs were used for sceptres, for weapons, and for assisting men in walking, indicating the strength that Moab was seen to have. Her neighbours had relied on her strength. But soon it would be seen as having come to nothing.

Jeremiah 48:18-19

“O you daughter who dwells in Dibon,

Come down from your glory, and sit in thirst,

For the destroyer of Moab is come up against you,

He has destroyed your strongholds.

O inhabitant of Aroer,

Stand by the way, and watch,

Ask him who flees, and her who escapes,

Say, ‘What has been done?’ ”

Dibon was an important city (once an Israelite city), probably above the banks of the River Arnon. It belonged to Moab by the time of Mesha (see what was written on the Moabite stone above). There was no shortage of water for them. And it dwelt in splendour and glory, a royal city. But it is to be equally humiliated with all the other towns and cities. It too will sit in thirst in the heat and the dust (compare Isaiah 47:1), possibly awaiting transportation. But the ‘coming down’ to the thirst and the dust may also indicate self-humiliation because of what it sees coming on Moab, for the destroyer of Moab is coming against them, and has already destroyed many strongholds. There is therefore no point in her sitting there in her pride.

This was probably the Aroer on the north bank of the Arnon (Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:12; Deuteronomy 4:48; Joshua 12:2), where its inhabitants were to observe the flight of the once proud Dibonites. They are called on to observe the humiliation of Dibon, and, as the refugees from Dibon stream past, to ask, ‘what has happened?’. It is a theoretical picture. In reality the inhabitants of Aroer would be fleeing as well. It is intended simply to bring out the awfulness of the situation.

Jeremiah 48:20-24

“Moab is put to shame,

For it is shattered (broken down),

Wail and cry,

Tell you it by the Arnon,

That Moab is laid waste,

And judgment is come on the plain country (the plateau),

On Holon, and on Jahzah, and on Mephaath,

And on Dibon, and on Nebo, and on Beth-diblathaim,

And on Kiriathaim, and on Beth-gamul, and on Beth-meon,

And on Kerioth, and on Bozrah,

And on all the cities of the land of Moab,

Far or near.

The horn of Moab is cut off,

And his arm is broken.”

The word of YHWH.

Prior to this the emphasis has been on the towns and cities in northern Moab, which had been seized from Israel. But now the whole of Moab is in mind, and its great towns and cities are listed, including many mentioned above. What is now being described is the devastation of the whole of Moab. Its great pride was now to be humbled, and it was to be ‘put to shame’. At the crossing-place of the Arnon the story would be told, ‘Moab is laid waste, and judgment has come on the Plateau’.

The great towns and cities of the Plateau are now listed as being a part of the destruction. Dibon and Nebo have been mentioned above, and along with Kiriathaim and Beth-diblathaim are mentioned in the Moabite Stone (see above) which was discovered at Dibon. A number of them are former levitical cities as named in the Book of Joshua (e.g. Jahzah 21:36; Mephaath 21:37 ; Bozrah (bezer) Jeremiah 20:8. The names now include those of towns in Moab proper (e.g. Beth-meon).

‘The horn of Moab is cut off.’ Wild animals in captivity had their horns cut off so as to render them powerless, and the horn is ever a symbol of strength. The breaking of the arm indicated a similar situation. A man could not fight with a broken sword arm (compare Ezekiel 30:21). In the same way would Moab be rendered powerless by Babylon. And all this in accord with the prophetic word of YHWH.

Jeremiah 48:26-27

“You (who are invading), make him drunk,

For he magnified himself against YHWH,

And Moab will wallow in his vomit,

And he also will be in derision.”

For was Israel not a derision to you?

Was he found among thieves?

That as often as you speak of him,

You wag the head.”

The invaders, ‘you’, are called on to make Moab so drunk with the wine of the wrath of YHWH (compare Jeremiah 25:15-29; Isaiah 49:26; Isaiah 51:21-23) that she wallows in her own vomit, becoming a pitiable sight mocked by the nations, in the same way as she had once mocked Israel. The invaders are to be seen as instruments in God’s hands. But we should note that the whole idea of drinking emphasises that Moab themselves deliberately partake of it by their own actions. YHWH’s punishments are not direct but are the consequences of man’s rebellion connected with man’s inhumanity to man. Thus the arrogance of Moab and the cruelty of the Babylonians were both tools in His hands for the fulfilling of His purposes. Indeed had Moab heeded YHWH when He warned against rebellion against the Babylonians she would not have suffered these judgments. She thus brought them on herself. We should always remember that God’s judgments are brought about by men’s machinations, even though it be under His sovereign hand.

It was, however, because Moab had magnified itself against YHWH by deriding His failure to protect Israel, by not responding to Him and by not heeding YHWH’s warning against rebellion against Babylon, that they themselves must be brought low. They had continually wagged their heads in derision at Israel’s earlier fate, and the prophet challenges them as to why they had done so. Had they any grounds for suggesting that Israel were deserving of their fate because they had allied themselves with marauding nations (had been found among thieves)? In the Hebrew the question expects the answer ‘no’, but some commentators see what is said was indicating that Moab’s attitude was due to the consequence of Israel having entered into alliance with bad companions. If that is so they had now done the same thing themselves, for they were not alone in the rebellion which brought Nebuchadrezzar’s wrath on them.

‘Wallow --.’ The verb literally means ‘clap the hand’ or ‘slap the thigh’ (compare Jeremiah 31:19; Numbers 24:10). The thought is seemingly of their response to their situation expressed in gesticulation.

Jeremiah 48:28

“O you inhabitants of Moab,

Leave the cities,

And dwell in the rock,

And be like the dove who makes her nest over the mouth of the abyss.”

So the Moabites are now called on to flee from their cities and become refugees in the mountains. Like the dove who chooses the most inaccessible place for its nest, they are to seek out hiding places where they can be safe, dwelling in caves and holes in the rocks, a contrast with their sophisticated lives in their cities.


Verses 29-39

A Lament Over Moab (Jeremiah 48:29-39).

The fate of Moab is very much linked with its overweening pride. It tended to be out of the way of invaders from the north who would use the coastal route, and after the demise of the Assyrians had therefore remained relatively unscathed. It was thus confident in itself and in its god Chemosh, and saw itself as superior to other nations, especially Israel and Judah which had suffered much more at the hands of oppressors. It had grown confident that nothing could happen to it of an adverse nature. But it was now to be humbled and brought low in order that it might learn its lesson.

Jeremiah 48:29

We have heard of the pride of Moab,

(He is very proud),

His loftiness, and his pride,

And his arrogance, and the haughtiness of his heart.”

These words are very similar to those found in Isaiah 16:1-11. See especially Jeremiah 16:6. They are similar enough to indicate that Jeremiah knew of Isaiah’s prophecy, or of similar common tradition. It would seem clear that Moab’s pride in itself, and its extreme arrogance, were proverbial. It would seem that it was time now for them to be humbled so that they would recognise the inadequacy of their god Chemosh, and the smallness of their own status.

Jeremiah 48:30-32

“I know his wrath, the word of YHWH, that it is nought,

His boastings have accomplished nothing,

Therefore will I wail for Moab,

Yes, I will cry out for all Moab,

For the men of Kir-heres will they mourn,

With more than the weeping of Jazer will I weep for you,

O vine of Sibmah.

Your branches passed over the sea,

They reached even to the sea of Jazer,

On your summer fruits and on your vintage,

The destroyer is fallen.

And gladness and joy is taken away from the fruitful field and from the land of Moab,

And I have caused wine to cease from the winepresses,

None will tread with shouting,

The shouting will be no shouting.”

Compare here Isaiah 16:7. In Isaiah it is Moab which howls, although the prophet also weeps with them (Jeremiah 48:9). Here either YHWH or the prophet himself is the one who howls for Moab. God’s judgments are always accompanied by God’s weeping even as He carries them out. He is no hard-nosed judge.

“I know his wrath, the word of YHWH, that it is nought, his boastings have accomplished nothing --.” YHWH looks with scorn at Moab’s attempts to aggrandise itself. Both his self-expressed haughty anger against lesser peoples, and his loud boastings, are a nothing, and accomplish nothing. They are empty attitudes and words. In the end all empires, both small and great, collapse into themselves and find themselves subdued.

‘Therefore will I wail for Moab, yes, I will cry out for all Moab, for the men of Kir-heres will they mourn --.’ The question here is as to who is speaking. Jeremiah 48:35; Jeremiah 48:38 suggest that the ‘I’ is YHWH Himself. Others see it as referring to words of Jeremiah, or of some unknown onlooker. But the context is in favour of the first alternative. It is YHWH Himself Who weeps for Moab. And His weeping is in parallel with the weeping of Moab or of sympathetic onlookers (‘they’). This underlines the compassion of YHWH while at the same time emphasising the certainty of what will be. It also brings out the inevitable nature of what follows. The fact that YHWH will weep over it proves that it will happen. But it further brings out that YHWH is not acting in a vindictive manner. He is doing what has to be done. But even as He judges He weeps. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, necessary though it be.

Kir-heres, ‘the city of the sun’, was probably a strong Moabite fortress the defeat of which with its powerful defenders signalled the totality of the disaster coming on Moab. Even the sun god worshipped there could not prevent coming disaster. It was only to be seen as an irrelevance not worthy of mention. What happened there was in the hands of YHWH. For Kir-heres compare Kir-haresheth (Isaiah 16:7) and Kir of Moab (Isaiah 15:1). Taken together these references indicate an important city.

“With more than the weeping of Jazer will I weep for you, O vine of Sibmah, your branches passed over the sea, they reached even to the sea of Jazer --’. Both Jazer (Joshua 21:39) and Sibmah (Joshua 13:19) appear to have been near Heshbon, and they appear to have been situated in a part of the land prominent for its vineyards. The vineyards encompassed Jazer and Sibmah stretching even to ‘the sea of Jazer’. This latter was probably a famous inland lake in northern Moab, although some see it as referring to the Dead Sea. Thus their inhabitants were united in mourning over the destruction of their vineyards. But though the mourning of the vinedressers of Jazer might be deep, it did not compare with the depths of the weeping of YHWH. He was equally deeply involved.

“On your summer fruits and on your vintage, the destroyer is fallen, and gladness and joy is taken away from the fruitful field and from the land of Moab, and I have caused wine to cease from the winepresses, none will tread with shouting, the shouting will be no shouting.” The whole of Moab’s vintage crop will be destroyed, along with its summer fruits (figs and pomegranates) and harvests, with the result that the wine presses will lie empty and unused, and there will be no treaders of the grapes to shout joyously as they trample on the grapes. What shouting occurs will not be joyous shouting. It will not be the shouting of the treaders of the grapes exulting in the harvest, but that of the conquerors scenting their own harvest of booty and conquest.

Jeremiah 48:34

“From the cry of Heshbon even to Elealeh,

Even to Jahaz have they uttered their voice,

From Zoar even to Horonaim, to Eglath-shelishiyah,

For the waters of Nimrim also will become desolate.”

The weeping and crying will not just be localised, it will stretch to all the cities of Moab. Heshbon and Elealeh were two miles apart, and Jahaz was not too far away. The whole area in northern Moab (once Reubenite) would be filled with weeping and cries of distress. And the same would apply to the region from Zoar to Horonaim and Eglath-shelishiyah, including the waters of Nimrim. Here we are in southern Moab. All would become desolate.

‘Eglath-shelishiyah.’ This means literally ‘heifer of the third year’, that is, one not brought under the yoke. Most commentators see it as the name of a city, the three names in southern Moab paralleling those in northern Moab. Others see it as signifying ‘the third Eglath’ (there being two other towns of the same name), or as signifying that Eglath is the third of the triumvirate Zoar, Horonaim and Eglath. Still others consider that it rather indicates that Horonaim (or Horonaim and Zoar) was a city that had never been previously brought under foreign control, the parallel to Jazer (compare ‘the sea of Jazer’ above) being the waters of Nimrim.

Jeremiah 48:35

“Moreover I will cause to cease in Moab,

The word of YHWH,

Him who offers in the high place,

And him who burns incense to his gods.”

Here is one of the foundation causes of YHWH’s judgments, the false worship of the Moabites, for they were eponymously descended from worshipers of the true God (Genesis 19:37), and were therefore without excuse. Thus YHWH prophetically assures them that the priests and worshipers of Moab’s false gods will have their activities brought to an end by Him. The ‘high place’ has in mind altars in sanctuaries, some possibly in the mountains. Incense offering was common throughout the Near East, and ancient incense altars have been found.

Jeremiah 48:36-37

“Therefore my heart sounds for Moab like pipes,

And my heart sounds like pipes for the men of Kir-heres,

Therefore the abundance that he has obtained,

It is perished,

For every head is bald,

And every beard is clipped,

On all the hands are cuttings,

And on the loins sackcloth.”

Compare here Isaiah 16:11 from which the idea is taken. The heart of YHWH is so moved that its vibes sound like funeral pipes playing for the men of Moab and Kir-heres. Even while they suffer under His judgments YHWH weeps with them over their sufferings. And yet His weeping is the very proof that it will happen. Of course all these expressions are anthropomorphisms emphasising that God understands our sufferings and shares in our grief, something especially revealed when He became man on our behalf. This reminds us that when we look at the problem of suffering we must look deep. Our problem is that we are so sinful that we are not aware of the problem of sin. Thus we do not understand why God has to act as He does.

The consequence of what YHWH wept for was that the wealth of Moab would perish, her abundance would cease. And as a result they would all be in dire mourning. The shaving of the head, the clipping of the beard, the cuttings on the hands and the sackcloth on the loins were all recognised funerary activities.

Jeremiah 48:38

“On all the housetops of Moab and in its streets,

There is lamentation every where,

For I have broken Moab like a vessel,

In which no one delights,

The word of YHWH.

Indeed in every town and city lamentation would be everywhere, and this would include in rooftop sanctuaries and resting places (see Judges 3:20). And this would be because YHWH had broken Moab like a clay vessel which no one wanted, either because it was cracked, or because it was dirty, past its user date and useless. Note the point that Moab’s condition is in mind. It has become defiled and useless. And this was the assured prophetic word of YHWH.


Verses 39-46

The Coming Judgment On Moab And Its Final Restoration (Jeremiah 48:39-46).

In its pride Moab considered itself invulnerable and well able to take care of itself. It exalted its own god, Chemosh, above YHWH as it arrogantly surveyed what had happened to Judah/Israel. But its very pride led to it refusing tribute to Babylon, with the consequences which followed. When men become too confident in themselves they are heading for a downfall. It may be delayed, but it will come. And if we put anything before God we can be sure that it will be the cause of our downfall.

Jeremiah 48:39

How is it broken down (shattered)! How they wail!

How Moab has turned the back with shame!

So will Moab become a derision,

And a horror (terror) to all who are round about him.”

The end of Moab is vividly described. It is shattered. Its people wail. It turns away with shame. For it has become a derision to all who are around it and were aware of its arrogant claims. The proud nation is to be humbled before all, to the horror of the nations, who will themselves be terrified at the sight, something seen as already accomplished in the prophet’s eyes. How many people today have experienced a similar fate when they have foolishly turned away from or forgotten God? What we sow we reap

Jeremiah 48:40-42

‘For thus says YHWH:

Behold, he will fly as an eagle,

And will spread out his wings against Moab.

Kerioth is taken,

And the strongholds are seized,

And the heart of the mighty men of Moab at that day,

Will be as the heart of a woman in her birthpains.

And Moab will be destroyed from being a people,

Because he has magnified himself against YHWH.”

The people were used to the sight of the terrible eagle as it hovered in the sky and then pounced on some prey for which it had been seeking. In a similar way would Nebuchadrezzar descend upon Moab, flying as an eagle and spreading his wings over Moab, descending to seize his prey. Even mighty Kerioth (see Jeremiah 48:24) would be taken, and Moab’s strongholds would all be seized, and the heart of its trained fighting men would be as desperate and helpless as a woman lying helpless in her labour pains. The dove which had its nest in the clefts of the rock (Jeremiah 48:28), and had thought itself invulnerable, would fall prey to the mighty eagle swooping down from above. For Moab was to be destroyed from being an identifiable nation. And it was because it had magnified itself against God.

Jeremiah 48:43-44

“Fear, and the pit, and the snare,

Are upon you, O inhabitant of Moab,

The word of YHWH,

He who flees from the fear will fall into the pit,

He who climbs out of the pit,

Will be taken in the snare,

For I will bring on him, even upon Moab,

The year of their visitation,

The word of YHWH.”

“Fear (pahath), and the pit (pahat), and the snare (pah).” Note the play on words which brings out the inevitability of the process. For the phrase see Isaiah 24:17. It was probably by now proverbial. The picture is one of hunted animals, first the animals in terror at the approach of the hunters, then the pit prepared for them into which they are driven, and finally for those who manage to scramble out of the pit, the hunter’s snare which seals the fate of those who escape.

So the vivid picture changes, although the message is the same. Moab is now seen as fleeing in fear like a hunted animal and falling into a hunter’s pit. And if any manage to scramble out of the pit it is only to find themselves caught in a snarer’s trap. There is to be no escape. For it is the year of their visitation, the time when they receive retribution for all that they have been and done. It is a reminder of the words of our own poet, ‘The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small’. And all this in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH (neum YHWH).

It is salutary for us all to recognise that ‘the day of our visitation’ will come. One day every one of us will give account to God for what we have done in our bodies, whether good or bad. We should therefore live in readiness for that day.

Jeremiah 48:45

“Those who fled stand without strength,

Under the shadow of Heshbon,

For a fire is gone forth out of Heshbon,

And a flame from the midst of Sihon,

And has devoured the shaped beard (corner) of Moab,

And the crown of the head of the panic-stricken (children of tumult).”

The Moabites are seen as fleeing to mighty Heshbon, once the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, prior to the arrival of Israel (Numbers 21:26). Now the capital city of Ammon (Jeremiah 49:3). But Heshbon will do them no favours. For instead of succour, from Heshbon will come fire, for Heshbon also will be in the hands of their enemies. And the fire will devour them, identified as deserving of judgment as they are by their godless symbolism. Arriving at Heshbon panic-stricken, the shaping of their beards and their heads as an indication of mourning, reveal them as belonging to Chemosh, the Moabite god, for they are recognised symbols of pagan mourning. It is as such that they will be devoured.

Comparison should be made with Numbers 21:28-29; Numbers 24:17 b, which serves to explain the reference to Sihon. Moses’ words in Numbers will be fulfilled.

Jeremiah 48:46

“Woe to you, O Moab!

The people of Chemosh are undone,

For your sons are taken away captive,

And your daughters into captivity.

Yet will I bring back the captivity of Moab,

In the latter days, the word of YHWH.

Thus far is the judgment of Moab.

And the final consequence will be exile. As those who proudly call themselves ‘the people of Chemosh’ they will be hauled away to foreign lands to eke out their existence, as Israel/Judah had been because of their worship of false gods. Chemosh can do nothing to help them. He is a nonentity.

But it is not to be a final end. In later days many of them will be restored to their land, as indeed would happen under Cyrus of Persia. And this in accordance with the prophetic word of YHWH. There is also in this the hint that one day Moab would participate in the blessing of God when the Gospel reached out to the ends of the earth.

‘Thus far is the judgment of Moab.’ The judgment has been pronounced. Now awaits its execution. But it is a judgment tinged with mercy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 48:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-48.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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