Isaiah 16
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela to the wilderness, unto the mount of the daughter of Zion.

(1) Send ye the lamb to the ruler of the land.—In the days of Ahab, Mesha, the then king of Moab, had paid a tribute of sheep and lambs to the king of Israel (2Kings 3:4). On his revolt (as recorded in the Moabite Inscription) that tribute had ceased. The prophet now calls on the Moabites to renew it, not to the northern kingdom, which was on the point of extinction, but to the king of Judah as the true “ruler of the land.” The name Sela (“a rock”) may refer either to the city so-called (better known by its Greek name of Petra), 2Kings 14:7, or to the rock-district of Edom and the confines of Moab generally. In either case the special direction implies that the presence of the invaders described in Isaiah 15 would make it impossible to send the tribute across the fords of the Jordan, and that it must accordingly be sent by the southern route, which passed through Sela and the desert country to the south of the Dead Sea (Cheyne). Possibly the words are a summons to Edom, which had attacked Judah in the reign of Ahaz (2Chronicles 28:17), to join in a like submission.

For it shall be, that, as a wandering bird cast out of the nest, so the daughters of Moab shall be at the fords of Arnon.
(2) As a wandering bird cast out of the nest.—Better as in the margin, a forsaken nest. The “daughters of Moab” either literally, the women driven from their homes, or figuratively (as in Isaiah 16:1) the whole population of its towns and villages, are represented as fluttering in terror, like birds whose nests are spoiled (comp. Isaiah 10:14), like the fledglings in the nest, on the fords of Arnon, uncertain whether to return to their old homes or to cross into a strange land. The imagery reminds us of Psalm 11:1, Proverbs 27:8, so also of Æsch. Agam. 49-52.

Take counsel, execute judgment; make thy shadow as the night in the midst of the noonday; hide the outcasts; bewray not him that wandereth.
(3) Make thy shadow as the night . . .—The whole verse is addressed, as the context shows, not by the prophet to Moab, but by Moab to the rulers of Judah. The fugitives call on those rulers to plead for them and act as umpires, to be to them “as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2), black as night whilst the hot sun glares all around. Some critics, however, hold that the prophet still speaks to the Moabites and calls on them to protect the fugitives from Judah as they had done of old (Ruth 1:2; 1Samuel 22:3), and so to secure a return of like protection (Kay).

Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab; be thou a covert to them from the face of the spoiler: for the extortioner is at an end, the spoiler ceaseth, the oppressors are consumed out of the land.
(4) Let mine outcasts dwell with thee . . .—Better, let the outcasts of Moab dwell with thee. Judah, as being herself in safety, is once more appealed to to show mercy to the Moabite fugitives. The “oppressors” are, literally, they that trample under foot.

And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness.
(5) And in mercy shall the throne . . .—Better, less definitely, in mercy shall a throne be established, and one shall sit upon it in truth. The prophet has in mind the ideal king of Isaiah 9:4-7; Isaiah 11:1-5 (of whom Hezekiah was a partial type and representative), whom he expected after the downfall of the Assyrian oppressor. For the “tabernacle of David,” comp. Amos 9:11.

We have heard of the pride of Moab; he is very proud: even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath: but his lies shall not be so.
(6) We have heard of the pride of Moab . . .—The hopes of the prophet are clouded by the remembrance of the characteristic sin of Moab. Of this the Moabite Inscription gives sufficient evidence. (See Notes on Isaiah 15) Isaiah’s language finds an echo in Jeremiah 48:29.

But his lies shall not be so.—Better, “his lies, or boasts, are of no worth,” are “not so” as they seem to be.

Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab, every one shall howl: for the foundations of Kirhareseth shall ye mourn; surely they are stricken.
(7) Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab.—Either the whole nation wailing for its downfall, or the survivors wailing for the fallen.

The foundations of Kir-hareseth.—The name has been commonly explained as the “brick fortress,” (city of pottery). Others, with a different derivation, make it “city of the sun.” Others, again (E. H. Palmer, in the Athenæum of August 19, 1871), connect it with háreith, the modern Moabite name for the hillocks on which the rock fortresses were built. The word for foundations occurs in Hosea 3:1, for raisin-cakes (“flagons of wine” in the Authorised version (comp. 2Samuel 6:19, Song Song of Solomon 2:5), and has been supposed to refer to this as the main product of Kir-hareseth, the traffic in which she lost through the destruction of the vineyards, mentioned in the next verse. Ruins would, in any case, be better than “foundations.”

For the fields of Heshbon languish, and the vine of Sibmah: the lords of the heathen have broken down the principal plants thereof, they are come even unto Jazer, they wandered through the wilderness: her branches are stretched out, they are gone over the sea.
(8) The fields of Heshbon languish . . .—For Heshbon see Note on Isaiah 15:4. Sibmah appears as assigned to the tribe of Reuben, in Numbers 32:38, Joshua 13:19, and in Jeremiah 48:32 as famous for its vines. Jerome (Comm. in Esai. 5) speaks of it as about half a Roman mile from Heshbon, and as one of the strongest fortresses of Moab. It has not been identified by recent travellers. The names of the chief Moabite cities are brought together by Milton with a singular rhythmical majesty in Par. Lost, 1, 406-411.

The lords of the heathen . . .—The words admit of this rendering; but another version, equally admissible grammatically, is preferred by most recent critics. Its branches smote down the lords of the nations, i.e., the wine of Sibmah was so strong that it “overcame” the princes who drank of it (Isaiah 28:1; Jeremiah 23:9). In the word for “lords” (baalim), we have a parallel to the “lords of the high places of Arnon,” in Numbers 21:28.

They are come even unto Jazer.—The pronoun may be referred either to the “branches of the vine,” or to the “lords of the heathen,” as destroyers. Adopting the former construction, we find in the words a description of the extent of the culture of the Sibmah vine. Northward it spread to Jazer on the Gilead frontier (Numbers 32:1; Numbers 32:3; 1Chronicles 26:31), rebuilt by the Gadites (Numbers 32:35), eastward to the wilderness, westward it crossed the Dead Sea, and re-appeared in the vine-clad slopes of Engedi (Song of Solomon 1:14). In Jeremiah 48:32, we have “the sea of Jazer.” See Note there.

Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen.
(9) Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer . . .—The prophet, in his sympathy with the sufferings of Moab (see Isaiah 15:5), declares that he will weep with tears as genuine as those of Jazer itself over the desolation of its vineyards.

The shouting for thy summer fruits . . .—Better, as in the margin, on thy summer-fruits, and on thy harvest a shout is fallen, i.e., not the song of the vintage gatherers and the reapers, but the cry of the enemy as they trample on the fields and vineyards. The force of the contrast is emphasised, as in Jeremiah 48:33 (“a cheer which is no cheer,” Cheyne), by the use of the same word (hedad) as that which in the next verse is employed for the song of those that tread the grapes. (Comp. Jeremiah 25:30.) Possibly the word for “harvest” is used generically as including the vintage.

And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease.
(10) Out of the plentiful field.—Literally, out of the Carmel, one of Isaiah’s favourite words, as in Isaiah 10:18; Isaiah 29:17. The word for “shouting” is the hedad of the previous verse. In the words, “I have made . . .” Jehovah speaks as declaring that the work of desolation, though wrought by human hands, is yet His. The prophet, while he weeps in true human pity, is taught not to forget that the desolation is a righteous punishment.

Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh.
(11) My bowels shall sound like an harp . . .—The context leaves it uncertain whether the speaker is the prophet as in Isaiah 16:9, or Jehovah as in Isaiah 16:10. The former seems, perhaps, the most natural. On the other hand, the very phrase is used of the compassion of Jehovah in Isaiah 63:15. The “bowels,” as in modern language the “heart,” were looked on as the seat of the emotions, and as such they vibrate, like the chords of the harp or lyre (kinnûr) used at funerals, with the thrills of pity.

And it shall come to pass, when it is seen that Moab is weary on the high place, that he shall come to his sanctuary to pray; but he shall not prevail.
(12) When it is seen . . .—Better thus: When Moab appeareth (sc., as a worshipper), when he wearies himself on the high place (the scene of Chemosh-worship), though he enter into the sanctuary to pray, yet shall he not prevail. The prophet draws a picture of the unavailing litanies which Moab, like the priests of Baal in 1Kings 18:26, shall offer to his gods.

This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning Moab since that time.
(13) Since that time.—The phrase is used of an indefinite past, like our “of yore,” or “of old time.” It is variously translated by “hitherto” (2Samuel 15:34), “from the beginning” (Isaiah 48:3; Isaiah 48:5; Isaiah 48:7). It seems to imply that thus far Isaiah had been in part reproducing the “burden” of an older prophet, or of one given to him to deliver at an earlier date.

But now the LORD hath spoken, saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling, and the glory of Moab shall be contemned, with all that great multitude; and the remnant shall be very small and feeble.
(14) But now the Lord hath spoken . . .—The point of contrast seems to lie in the vaguer character of what had gone before, and the specific defined prediction that follows. “Within three years,” measured with the exactness of the hired labourer, who will not give more than he has contracted for, and of the employer, who will not take less. The same phrase meets us in Isaiah 21:16.

The glory of Moab shall be contemned.—We may infer from the fact that the prophecy was recorded when the writings of Isaiah were collected. whether by himself or another, that men looked on it as an instance of his prevision. History is, indeed, silent as to the manner of its fulfilment. It was probable, however, that the armies of Salmaneser or Sargon swept, as those of Pul and Tiglath-pileser had done (1Chronicles 5:26), over the region east of the Jordan, and so invaded Moab. (See Note on Isaiah 17:1.) We note that here also there was to be a “remnant,” but not like that of Israel, the germ of a renewed strength.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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