Isaiah 15-16: Moab

Moab is discussed quite a bit in the Bible, and most of the time it's not shown in a good light. So, it's not surprising that Isaiah delivers a prophecy for Moab's judgment. While studying Isaiah 15-16, I discovered quite a bit of interesting information about Moab, like the Mesha stele and the fact that there is a Moab, UT. It's definitely a lot to unpack.


Moab was not an ally to Israel, despite the fact that one of the most famous Moabites, Ruth, is actually one of Jesus' direct ancestors. The father of the Moabites was one of the sons born to Lot after his daughters committed incest (Genesis 19:30-38). While some may think it's due to the sinful nature of Moab's origin, it's more likely that God didn't approve of the nation due to their sinful behavior. From the exodus onward, the Moabites began luring Israelites to sin (Numbers 25:1-2). They fought countless battles against Israel, so, it's not surprising that one of the prophecies Isaiah receives is about the condemnation and judgement of Moab. Not only is the prophecy revealed to Isaiah, but it is also discussed in Jeremiah 48.

The Mesha Stele

The Mesha Stele
Photocredit: Wikipedia
Before we jump into the judgement of Moab presented in Isaiah 15 and 16, I want to talk about something Moab left behind: the Mesha Stele. The Mesha Stele is an engraving named for a Moabite king. The stele is currently located in the Louvere and is the earliest known original (and secular) writing that mentions the kingdom of Israel. The stele references a victory for Moab over Israel during the reign of king Ahab.[3] The Bible tells us Moab, led by Mesha, lost a battle after the death of Ahab (2 Kings 3). Since Moab and Israel were constantly at odds, it is very possible that two separate battles occurred.

Moab in the U.S.

As I was looking up information on Moab (particularly where it would be located today), I discovered that there's a city called Moab in Utah.[1] Moab definitely isn't the city of the Bible I would want my city named after, but apparently someone decided the name fit this place. I wonder how many people actually live there and if it's a touristy location. In any case, the original Moab would have been located somewhere in modern day Jordan, just East of Israel.

Reason for Judgement

God never judges people with giving a reason. Part of the reason we're told of these judgments is so that we can learn from the mistakes of those who came before us. Isaiah 16:6-7 inform us of Moab's offenses. The people of the nation were proud and haughty, two of the biggest stumbling blocks we tend to trip over. The danger of pride is that the more proud we become, the more we push God away. Since we are unable to be righteous without God, we spiral out of control when we lavish in pride. The lesson to be learned from the Moabites' judgment is that we have to work to remain humble. If we keep the perspective that God is supreme, we should remember that we are inferior and constantly be checked into humility.

Destroyed in the Night

Moab's cities of Ar and Kir are prophesied to be defeated in the night. Reading this made me wonder if God was proving His omniscience by giving a time of day (thus making the fulfillment of the prophecy more miraculous when it occurred), or if He was being figurative. Unless you're in a major city like New York (the city that never sleeps) or Vegas, night is when pretty much everyone is inattentive. Stores are closed and unprotected, people are asleep in their homes; this is the perfect time to catch people off guard. Which is why I wonder if Isaiah was actually inferring the state of the Moabites and their mindset: off guard and unprepared.


However the attack took place, one thing was for sure, Moab would be defeated and be left in mourning. Classic signs of mourning for the time, like shaving the head and wearing sackcloth, are attributed to Moab. In their grief, they would turn to their gods looking for mercy, but since they did not worship God the Father, it would't be found.

The Dangers of a False God

One of the things that I think is easy to overlook in this passage is that when things get bad, the Moabites run to their high places (Isaiah 15:2) and pray (Isaiah 16:12), but it doesn't do them any good. The reason these actions don't help is because they're praying to a false god.[6] Whether false gods are fallen angels trying to gain worship or figments of the imagination, they have absolutely no power in the face of God. If we fall into the same trap of worshipping a false god, especially a perversion of the One True God (re: the gold calf incident), we too will have empty, unanswered prayers.

Famine and Drought

Photocredit: Jimenez
Much of Moab's suffering comes from the Earth refusing to yield resources such as food and water. Without these necessities, the remaining Moabites are left in dire straits. God reminds us that the only reason Moab was able to thrive is because the land was good to them (i.e., He was good to them). The basic takeaway is we can't make it on our own.

Isaiah 16:8 seems to continue discussing the famine and drought that was to come as part of the judgement. This verse is particularly interesting because the description of destroying the vegetation parallels the descriptions that compare people to vines. There are many verses in the Bible that liken us to vines,; John 15:1-8 and Matthew 7:17-21 are great examples. The gist of the metaphor is that a person's actions are their fruit and identify what type of person they are, just as fruit identifies the type of tree. The vines in Moab are broken down, which means they are growing or bearing fruit—their intended purpose. Similarly, the Moabites are not are broken and not bearing fruit.

No Escape From Judgement

If you study history, you will find that after World War II, a lot of Nazi war criminals managed to escape.[5] In fact, they spent years chasing down people and sentenced someone for their participation in the Nazi death camps just a few years ago.[4] When we hear about people who created such horrific injustices going free, it's hard to get mad. We're often not satisfied with God's timing when it comes to justice, but the fact is, His justice always comes.

In the final verses of Isaiah 15, God makes it clear that the Moabites will not escape judgment. No matter where they fled, eventually they would be judged. While God expresses that there will be some people left alive from the ordeal, He also implies that they will have a rough time as well. The people in this remnant are probably the few good souls God found and chose to save. Remember, a similar type of judgment is awaiting all of us; if we haven't surrendered to Christ and repented of our sins, on judgement day, we will suffer just as the Moabites suffered.

In Isaiah 16:2, God compares the remnant—those not killed in the judgments—to a wandering bird. This imagery reminds me of the phrase "sitting duck," especially in Isaiah 16:14 when He refers to the remnant as feeble. After reading this, I asked myself, if the remnant was so weak, were they able rebuild? When God pronounces judgment on some places, He specifies that the cities would never be rebuilt. However, Moab is blessed to have a remnant, likely because Moab refers to a nation/lineage rather than a particular city. Today, no one refers to themselves as Moabites, but it's likely that the remnant people intermarried with their Assyrian and Babylonian captors until they lost their Moabite identity.[2]

Debt to Israel

Isaiah 16:1 and 5 give us great allusions to the Messiah, while likely references a literal debt owed to Israel. David conquered the Moabites (2 Samuel 8:2), which would have required them to pay tribute to Israel and 2 Kings 3:4 tells us that the Moabites paid Israel 100,000 lambs for a tribute. It is likely that after the revolt mentioned in the Mesha stele, Moab stopped paying tribute.[11] Isaiah 16:1 commands the Moabites to send a lamb to Jerusalem once again.

Of course, when paired with Isaiah 16:5, the lamb mentioned in Isaiah 16:1 makes me think of Jesus, the righteous king who will establish the throne of David. Jesus is our lamb and does cover our sins. Had the Moabites worshipped God, they too would have experienced grace and had their sins covered. Like Israel, they would have been offering real lambs since Jesus had not yet died for our sins, but today we send The Lamb to God in place of us.

One of the signals of their defeat would be the fact that in the midst of this turmoil, they would reach out to become a vassal state to Israel. Vassal states were basically subservient nations that although they had a leader, were really controlled (and thus protected) by a more powerful nation.[8]

Three Years

The time frame of 3 years is mentioned twice in the this passage, once in Isaiah 15:5 and again in Isaiah 16:14. The former discusses the route in which the Moabites would try to escape. For some reason, Zoar is linked to "a heifer of three years old." Modern translations leave this phrase out, whereas the NKJV makes it clear that their journey would be like a three year old heifer. Having grown up around cows my whole life, I'm still not sure what is meant here. I can say that this is about the age when female calves mature, so it may be a references to the haphazardness of youth.

Whatever it means, the authors of my study Bible also linked it to the latter reference. Isaiah 16:14 states that the prophecy would be fulfilled within 3 years. It is thought that fulfillment of this prophecy occurred in approximately 718bc when Assyria launched a campaign against northwest Arabia.[8] Assyrian inscriptions confirm that Moab paid tribute to Sargon, an Assyrian king who ruled from 721–705bc, which means they had been subdued by the Assyrians.[7][9] Given that Isaiah is thought to have lived during the 8th century (800-700) bc, this event falls in the timeline.[10]


  1. "Discover Moab". Moab; visited July 2018
  2. "Moabite. Encyclopædia Britannica. November 02, 2007
  3. "The Mesha Stele. Louvre; visited July 2018
  4. Bard Wilkinson and Nadine Schmidt. "'Bookkeeper of Auschwitz' Oskar Groening dies before serving sentence". CNN. March 13, 2018
  5. Christopher Klein. "The 7 Most Notorious Nazis Who Escaped to South America". History. December 27, 2017
  6. Judd H. Burton. "Chemosh: the Ancient God of the Moabites". ThoughtCo. March 12, 2018
  7. Joseph Jacobs and Louis H. Gray. "MOAB (Hebrew, ; LXX. Μωάβ; Assyrian, "Mu'aba," "Ma'ba," "Ma'ab"; Egyptian, "Muab")". Jewish Encyclopedia; visited July 2018
  8. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 1151. 2014
  9. Jorgen Laessoe. "Sargon II". Encyclopædia Britannica. September 18, 2008
  10. Sheldon H. Blank. "Isaiah". Encyclopædia Britannica. May 14, 2013
  11. "Isaiah 16:1 Commentary". Bible Hub; visited July 2018

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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