Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
ISAIAH CHAPTER 15
"The burden of Moab ." (v 1). In this chapter and the next, Isaiah continues his series of prophecies about the fate of the main biblical nations with a prophecy over the coming exile of the Moabites that is almost a lament.
"My heart cries out for Moab .: (v 5): Rashi (ad loc. comments): "The prophets of Israel are not like the prophets of the nations of the world. Bila'am sought to uproot Israel for no reason, while the prophets of Israel mourn over the punishments of the nations."
The Moabites were descended from the incestuous relations between Abraham's nephew Lot and his oldest daughter after the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19:33-38). The mountainous strip of land east of the Dead Sea above Sodom to which Lot had fled became the inheritance of the children of Moab , while the children of Ammon, born from his relations with his second daughter, inherited the territories further north, east of the River Jordan, around the present-day Jordanian city of Amman .
The territories of the Moabites, lying largely on a plateau 4,300 feet above the level of the Dead Sea , consisted of steep but fertile hills that provided excellent pasture for their many sheep and cattle as well as abundant grain and wine. Thus although this region of the south of the modern kingdom of Jordan is not particularly famous or noteworthy today, in ancient times it was the center of a thriving kingdom with its own idolatrous religion and culture and a mighty army.
Although "cousins" of the Israelites, the Moabites were traditionally hostile to Israel in the times of Moses, the Judges and Kings. In this they were seen as the epitome of ingratitude because Abraham had taken Lot from Haran and saved him from captivity by the four kings, and in Abraham's merit Lot was saved from the destruction of Sodom . Yet not only did the Moabites not help Israel ; they sent Bilaam to curse them and made war against them in the time of the Judges and Kings. When Sennacherib took the tribes of Reuben and Gad through their territory into exile, the Moabites mocked them saying they were simply returning to the other side of the river ( Euphrates ) from which their ancestor Abraham had come (see Rashi on v 7 of our present chapter).
The Moabites' final expression of ingratitude was when they came to assist Sennacherib when he laid siege to Shomron for three years (see Rashi on Isaiah 16:14). In retribution, many of the Moabites themselves were taken into exile by Sennacherib, and any that were left were later exiled by Nebuchadnezzar. According to rabbinic tradition, the Moabites became completely assimilated with the other nations and all trace of them was lost (Rambam, Hilchos Issurey Bi'ah 12:25), although Jeremiah prophesied that at the end of days God will return the captivity of Moab (Jeremiah 48:47).
Vv 1-4 depict the destruction of the cities of Moab when Sennacherib would take their inhabitants into exile, and the mourning that would ensue.
Vv 5-6: Isaiah laments their destruction. The nation that was like a fat, prosperous three-year old heifer would flee screaming over their own devastation. "For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate, for the hay is withered away, the grass fails, there is no green thing" (v 6): From this verse we can understand how lush and prosperous were the pastures of the Moabites at the height of their greatness.
Vv 7-9 explain the cause of their destruction because of their historical failure to support Israel (see Rashi on v 7, of which a synopsis was given above) and how Nebuchadnezzar - the "lion" referred to in verse 9 - would complete their desruction.
Vv 1-4: The reason for Moab 's punishment is that they did not help and support Israel . This is alluded to in verse 1, "Send the lamb to the ruler of the land. to the mountain of the daughter of Zion ". Meisha king of Moab had been subject to King Ahab of Israel , to whom he used to send one hundred thousand sheep (II Kings 3:4), but after the death of Ahab, he rebelled. Isaiah is saying here that the Moabites should have sent lambs to the Temple in Jerusalem , and had they done so in the time of Hezekiah they would have been saved from exile, but because of their failure to do so they would be punished.
"Take counsel, execute judgment, make your shadow as the night in the midst of the noonday: hide the outcasts, betray not the wanderer. Let My outcasts, O Moab, dwell with you" (vv 3-4). Here Isaiah asks the Moabites to give succor to the Israelites when they would later try to escape from Nebuchadnezzar's armies by taking refuge in their territory. If they would do so they would avoid exile, but since they would not, they would be exiled.
V 5: "And in mercy a throne will be established and he shall sit upon it in truth." Our commentators interpret this verse as an allusion to the throne of Hezekiah (see Rashi ad loc.). This was greatly strengthened after the overthrow of Sennacherib, which came after he had already exiled the Moabites. The House of David itself was descended from the Moabite princess Ruth, daughter of King Eglon, who was King David's great grandmother. Ruth embodied the spark of holiness that came down from the line of Abraham's nephew Lot . When she converted, the vital spark for whose sake Moab was kept alive left it, and thus the kelipah (husk) - the remaining people of Moab - fell away into exile, while the throne of David was simultaneously strengthened.
Vv 6-11: The arrogance of Moab . Their destruction is compared to that of a fruitful vine.
"Therefore my heart shall moan like a lyre for Moab " (v 11). Again the Israelite prophet shows his great compassion for the suffering of the nations with this metaphor evoking the plaintive melody of the lyre.
V 12: The Moabites' prayers to their gods will not help them.
Vv 13-14: Prophecy on the looming calamity that would strike Moab after their three years in the service of Sennacherib besieging Shomron like wage laborers: its glory would be cast down and the tiny remnant would be left with no power.
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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