Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence; because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence;XV.
(1) The burden of Moab.—The oracle which fills the next two chapters deals with the coming history of Moab. The comparative obscurity of that history, the names of towns and villages which it is difficult to identify, present a striking contrast to the evolution of the great world-drama which is brought before us in the “burden” of Babylon. What light can be thrown on that obscurity must be gathered from what we can learn of the contemporary history of Moab and its relation to Israel. This we know partly from the record of 2 Kings 3, partly from the inscription of the Moabite stone found at Diban, in 1860, by Mr. Klein, and translated by Dr. Ginsburg in Records of the Past, xi. 163. Combining the information from these two sources, we find that Omri and Ahab had subdued Moab when that nation was governed by Chemosh-Gad of Dibon, and had compelled him to pay a sheep tribute reckoned by hundreds of thousands. When Jehoram succeeded Ahab, Mesha, the son of Chemosh-Gad, revolted, and the Moabite inscription records the successful issue of the campaign. Jehoram entered into an alliance with Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom. The Moabites were defeated. Their trees were cut down, their wells stopped, and their land made barren. The king of Moab in his despair offered up his son as a sacrifice to Chemosh in the sight of both armies. With that sacrifice apparently the tide of victory turned. Mesha, in his inscription, records how he took Nebo from Israel and slew seven thousand men, and built or restored fortified towns, and offered the vessels of Jehovah, taken probably from the sanctuaries of the “high places” of Nebo. Exulting in the memory of this victory, Moab became “exceeding proud” (Isaiah 16:6), and in a psalm, probably contemporary with Isaiah (see the mention of Assur, or Assyria, in Psalm 83:8), they are named as among the enemies of Judah, joined with the Philistines and Assyrians. It is probable enough that, having been kept in check-by the prosperous rule of Uzziah, they took advantage of the weakness of Ahaz to renew hostilities, and were looking, half with dread, half with hope, to the Assyrian power. It may be noted here that the following cities named in these chapters—Dibon, Medeba, Nebo, Horonaim—occur also in the Moabite stone, which thus renders a striking testimony to their antiquity, and, so far, to their authenticity. (Comp. Jeremiah 48, which is, to a large extent, a reproduction of Isaiah’s language.)
Ar of Moab is laid waste.—This was apparently the older capital (Numbers 21:28; Deuteronomy 2:9), sometimes known as Rabbath Moab. In Jerome’s time it was known as Areopolis, the Greeks catching, probably, at the resemblance between the name Ar and that of their god, Ares. Probably Ar was a Moabite form of the Hebrew Ir, a city. One of the names survives in the modern Rabba; but the ruins are comparatively insignificant. The prophet begins with words of threatening. Both that city and Kir (here again the word means “city,” and if we identify it, as most experts do, with Kerek, the castle on a hill, which rises to 1,000 feet above the Dead Sea, it must have been the strongest of the Moabite fortresses) were to be attacked at night, when resistance was most hopeless. So Mesha boasts (Records of the Past, xi. 66) that he had taken Nebo by a night attack. We note the emphasis of iteration in the words “laid waste and brought to silence.” The latter clause would be more accurately rendered cut off, or destroyed.
He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.(2) He is gone up to Bajith . . .—The noun is better taken not as a proper name, but as “the house” or “temple” of the Moabite god. In this and in the “high places” (Bamôth) we may probably recognise the Bamoth-baal (high places of Baal) which appears in Joshua 13:17, side by side with Dibon, and the Beth-Bamoth of the Moabite stone (Records of the Past, xi. 167). That stone was, it may be noted, found at Dibân, which stands on two hills, and represents the ancient city of that name. What the prophet sees as following on the destruction of Ar and Kir is the terror which leads men to join in solemn processional prayers to the temples of their gods.
Nebo.—Not the mountain that bore that name as such (Deuteronomy 34:1), but a city named after the same deity. Mesha boasts of having taken it, and slain seven thousand men (Records of the Past, xi. 166). Medeba is named by him (ib.) as having been taken by Omri, and held by the Israelites for forty years.
On all their heads shall be baldness . . .—This, originally, perhaps, sacrificial in its character, became at a very early period a symbol of intensest sorrow among Eastern nations. It was forbidden to Israel, probably as identified with the worship of other deities than Jehovah (Leviticus 21:5; Deuteronomy 14:1; Job 1:20; Micah 1:16; Amos 8:10).
In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.(3) In their streets . . .—The picture of lamentation is continued. The flat roofs of Eastern houses were a natural resort for such wailings (Isaiah 22:1). The “broad places,” the bazaars or market-places, were also, like the agora of Greek cities, a natural place of concourse. The prophet represents them as filled with the sound of wailing.
And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh: their voice shall be heard even unto Jahaz: therefore the armed soldiers of Moab shall cry out; his life shall be grievous unto him.(4) And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh . . .—Of the places thus named (1) Heshbon (now Heshan) was twenty miles east of the Jordan, on a line from the northern extremity of the Dead Sea. It is first mentioned as in the power of Sihon king of the Amorites (Numbers 21:26). On his overthrow it was assigned to the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 32:37), and became a city of the Levites (Joshua 21:39). It had probably fallen into the hands of the Moabites, to whom it had originally belonged (Numbers 21:26). Its ruins exhibit architecture of various periods, Jewish, Roman, and Saracenic; (2) Elealeh, obviously near Heshbon, had shared its fate (Numbers 32:3; Numbers 32:37). The ancient name still attaches to its ruins in the form El-A’al; (3) Jahaz was the scene of the battle between Sihon and the Israelites (Numbers 21:23; Deuteronomy 2:32; Judges 11:20), and was also within the region assigned to Reuben (Joshua 13:10) north of the Arnon. The language of Isaiah implies that it was at some distance from the other two cities. Their cry was to be heard even there. In the Moabite inscription it appears as annexed to Dibon (Records of the Past, xi. 167). Eusebius (Onomast.) names it as between Medeba and Debus, the latter name being probably identical with Dibon. The panic is intensified by the fact that even the “armed soldiers” of Moab are powerless to help, and can only join in the ineffectual wailing.
My heart shall cry out for Moab; his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old: for by the mounting up of Luhith with weeping shall they go it up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction.(5) My heart shall cry out for Moab . . .—The prophet, though a stranger to Moab, and belonging to a hostile people, is touched with pity at the sight—the fugitives fleeing before the army coming from the north to Zoar, at the extreme south of the Dead Sea (see Note on Genesis 19:22), in the wild scare as of a frightened heifer as yet untamed by the yoke (Jeremiah 31:18; Jeremiah 48:34; Jeremiah 1:11). The English “fugitives” answers to the marginal reading of the Hebrew, the text of which (followed by the Vulg.) gives, “his bars reach unto Zoar;” but it is not easy to connect this with the context.
By the mounting up of Luhith . . .—No city has been identified as bearing this name. Probably “the ascent of Luhith” (the name may indicate a staircase of boards) was the well-known approach (Jeremiah 48:5) to a Moabite sanctuary. Eusebius (Onomast.) speaks of it as between Zoar and Areopolis (Rabbath Moab). Horonaim (here and in Jeremiah 48:3; Jeremiah 48:5; Jeremiah 48:34) is as little known as its companion. The name, which in Hebrew means “two caverns,” is, perhaps, descriptive of the nature of the sanctuary. The point of the description is that the fugitives when they reach Horonaim, are met with the cry of destruction, “All is over.”
For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing.(6) The waters of Nimrim . . .—These also appear in Jeremiah 48:34. They were probably a reservoir from which the fields were irrigated so as to be conspicuous for their verdure Eusebius (Onomast.) places it north of Zoar. The name appears to survive in the Wady en Nemeirah on the south-eastern shore of the Dead Sea (De Saulcy, Voyage, i. 284; Tristram, Land of Israel, 340). Beth-Nimrah appears as the name of a town in Numbers 32:36). The desolation predicted was probably thought of as caused by the stoppage of the wells, one of the common acts of an invading army (2Kings 3:25).
Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows.(7) Therefore the abundance . . .—The picture of the flight is completed. The fugitives carry with them all that they can collect together of their household goods, and bear them in their flight.
To the brook of the willows.—This, which has been variously translated as (1) “the torrent of the poplars,” or (2) “the Arabians,” or (3) “of the wilderness,” was probably the Wady el Achsar, where a stream falls into the Dead Sea, between the territory of Moab and Edom, the brook Zered of Numbers 21:12, Deuteronomy 2:13. It is obviously named here as being the point where the fugitives pass the boundary of their own lands. With less probability it has been taken as a poetical equivalent for the Euphrates (Psalm 137:2).
For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beerelim.(8) The cry is gone round about . . .—The extent of the lamentation is emphasised by naming its farthest points. It reaches (1) Eglaim (“two pools”), probably the same as the En-Eglaim of Ezekiel 47:10, as near the Dead Sea. Eusebius (Onomast.) names it as eight miles south of Areopolis or Rabbath Moab. Josephus mentions a town Agalla as near Zoar (Ant. xii. 1, 4); (2) Beer-Elim (“the well of the terebinths”), perhaps the same as the “well” on the borders of Moab of Numbers 21:16.
(8) The waters of Dimon.—Probably the same as Dibon, the name being slightly altered (m and b, as labial letters, are closely connected in all languages) so as to resemble the Hebrew word for “blood” (dam), or dum (“silent”). Men should call the stream no more by the name of Dimon, but by that of the blood, or the silent river. (See Note on Isaiah 21:11.)
I will bring more . . .—i.e., sorrow upon sorrow. The “lions” are either literally such, as in 2Kings 17:25, prowling through the streets of the deserted city (see Notes on Isaiah 13:21), or symbols of Assyrian or other invaders (Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 5:6).