Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Isaiah 15: 1-3

Judgment on Moab

1 The oracle concerning Moab.
Surely in a night Ar of Moab is devastated and ruined;
Surely in a night Kir of Moab is devastated and ruined.
They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep.
Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba;
Everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off.
In their streets they have girded themselves with sackcloth;
On their housetops and in their squares
Everyone is wailing, dissolved in tears.

A new chapter of Isaiah brings a new chapter of judgment upon an enemy. This time, it's Moab, Judah's longtime southeastern enemy. 

My first thought of Moab is Ruth, who, you might recall, hailed from the country but chose to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to her home in Judah at the conclusion of a time of famine there and the death of her sons. No one in the Bible is quoted as saying, "Can any good thing come out of Moab?" but if someone were, he or she would be referring to Ruth. You may also remember the story of King Balak of Moab who, out of his fear, tried to bring a curse upon Israel through his prophet Balaam. (God, through His angel, through Balaam's donkey said, "No." [Find the rest of the story in Numbers 22 through 24.])

God found Moab offensive because it worshiped idols. The nation's reliance on them trickled into everything and tainted the lives of God's people on more than one occasion. 

"This they [Moab] will have in return for their pride, because they have taunted and become arrogant against the people of the Lord of hosts. The Lord will be terrifying to them, for He will starve all the gods of the earth...."
--Zephaniah 2: 10-11a
The judgment through Isaiah is not that of complete destruction; God left that oracle to Jeremiah. [Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible] "This prophecy here was to be fulfilled within three years (Isa. 16:14), and therefore was fulfilled in the devastations made of that country by the army of the Assyrians...."

Not to escape our passage completely, but Henry makes another statement that I found interesting in referring to the speediness of the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. It is good every so often to remember the mission of a prophet, and that it is a calling fraught with challenge, at times:

"...That the accomplishment of this prophecy now shortly (within three years) might be a confirmation of the prophet’s mission and of the truth of all his other prophecies, and might encourage the faithful to depend upon them."
--Matthew Henry

This oracle, though referring to Moab, was shared with the people of Judah. In reading through just these few short verses, I found that it sounded like something God would have spoken to Israel or Judah in a time of judgment. King Hezekiah would have been so moved by the sin of his country as to have torn his robes and donned sackcloth in seeking repentance. Isaiah was telling of Moab, and Moab's response, here, would seem similar to Hezekiah's, except for one huge difference. Let's look more closely at our verses.

In verse 1, we read that over the course of a night, Ar and Kir are "devastated and ruined." Ar and Kir are both major cities in Moab--Kir being the capital city. Such destruction in such a short time led the people into mourning. They retreat to the temple to weep, and to Nebo and Medeba. (vs. 2) Mount Nebo, near the Dead Sea, is one of the tall peaks with Pisgah, which is where God led Moses to view the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 34:1) Medeba is a city about five miles away from Nebo.

With the end of verse 2 and, then, verse 3, come common expressions of grieving for that time: heads are bald; beards are cut; sackcloth put on; and, wailing, not just tears. There is no question that something deeply saddening has occurred. When it comes to the wearing of sackcloth, it is generally a sign, also, of disgrace or humiliation that comes with the grief. There is not just a tremendous loss, but there is sorrow expressed over the behavior that has led to this loss. Consider this example from the cross-referenced verses in today's passage:

"But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands."
--Jonah 3:8

This quote, from the king of Nineveh, comes following the prophet Jonah's words to the nation. God worked through a reluctant, fearful messenger to deliver a word of life-altering change to the head of the nation. Nineveh chose to follow God as a result, turning away from their sinful ways--at least, at that time. Another humble example of one "dissolved in tears" is Hannah. One of two wives to Elkanah, Hannah was unable to conceive and was repeatedly taunted by Elkanah's other wife over the matter. She cries out her grief to an overhearing Eli, the priest:

"She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. She made a vow and said, 'O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.' ...But Hannah replied, 'No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.'"
--I Samuel 1: 10 and 11; 15

Hannah believed that her life was "devastated and ruined" without a child, under the oppression of a difficult household situation. But Hannah--and the king of Nineveh--understood something that Moab did not. Perhaps you noticed that I left out a detail in looking at verse 2:

"They have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, even to the high places to weep."
--vs. 2

The temple is not the temple in Jerusalem. Dibon is the location of the temple of the Moabite god, Chemosh. Not just any Moabite god, but, as most of the reference sources I looked at said, the national god of Moab. As God would call Israel the people of God, the Moabites were called the people of Chemosh. Putting this together, then, all of the wailing and grief measures and humble dress were all offered to Chemosh, to appease and to seek refuge and restoration in him--not God! Such an enormously critical difference. Because it is not the actions of the people that will rectify their devastated state--not if they are reaching out to a false god.
"Note, It becomes a people in distress to seek to their God; and shall not we then thus walk in the name of the Lord our God, and call upon him in the time of trouble, before whom we shall not shed such useless profitless tears as they did before their gods?"
--Matthew Henry
Which leads to asking, is there something over which we are crying profitless tears? The God who knows and holds each tear we cry (Psalm 56: 8) is approachable--waiting and ready to receive us.
"O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."
--lyrics from Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Helen H. Lemmel)

"Surely, the grass is withered...," in Moab and elsewhere.... 'Til next Wednesday!

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Next week:  Isaiah 15: 4-6
Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).