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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 15

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


We shall treat Isaiah 15 and Isaiah 16 together, both of them being devoted entirely to the “Burden of Moab.” All of the commentators speak of the difficulties connected with interpreting this prophecy, but despite many questions that remain without certain answers, the overall picture is clear enough. The doom of Moab is announced, first by quoting a prophecy that Isaiah (perhaps) had already written, and then pinpointing the fulfillment of it within an exact period of only three years time.

Cheyne divided the prophecy (both chapters) into three divisions:(F1) (1) Isaiah 15:1-9; (2) Isaiah 16:1-5; and (3) Isaiah 16:6-14.

The time prophesied here for the fulfillment of the doom of Moab is nearly impossible to decide. As Hailey said, “If we knew the date of this prophecy, we could determine whether it was fulfilled by Shalmanezar, Sargon, or Sennacherib”;(F2) but Lowth is one of the few who assign a date. He wrote: “The most probable dating is that it was delivered in the first year of Hezekiah’s reign, and that the fulfillment was accomplished in Hezekiah’s fourth year, when Shalmanezar invaded Israel.”(F3) Lowth’s guess is as good as anyone’s.

One feature of this prophecy is the number of place-names, some twenty-three in all, only about ten of them being identified as to their exact location.

The Moabites, of course, were kinsmen of Israel. Lot was a nephew of Abraham who lived in Sodom when the city was destroyed. His wife was lost in the destruction of Sodom; and, while living in a cave with his two daughters, Lot fathered a child by each of them; and from that incestuous union came the two nations of Ammonites and the Moabites (See Genesis 19).

Despite this kinship, the nation of Moab developed as an enemy, both of Israel, and of Israel’s God. The arrogant pride of the people is mentioned in this prophecy. It will be remembered from Numbers 26, that the daughters of Moab seduced Israel in the orgy associated with the pagan god Baal-Peor, entitling them thus to having been one of the very worst influences upon Israel.

Scholars have had a field day trying to figure out who wrote the prophecy which Isaiah here says was given “in time past” (Isaiah 16:13). Some think Isaiah wrote it; others believe it is quoted from an earlier prophet, etc., etc. “But speculations of this kind are in the highest degree uncertain, and moreover lead to no results of the slightest importance.”(F4)

Verses 1-9


“The burden of Moab. For in a night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to naught; for in a night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to nought. They are gone up to Bayith, and to Dibon, to the high places, to weep: Moab waileth over Nebo, and over Meleba; on all their heads is baldness, every beard is cut off. On their streets they gird themselves with sackcloth; from their housetops, and everyone waileth, weeping abundantly. And Heshbon crieth out, and Elealeh; their voice is heard even unto Jahaz; therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud; for his soul trembleth within him. My heart crieth out for Moab; her nobles flee unto Zoar, to Eglathshe-lishi-yah: for by the ascent of Luhith with weeping they go up; for in the way of Horonaim they raise up a cry of destruction. For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate; for the grass is withered away, the tender grass faileth, there is no green thing. Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away over the brook of the willows. For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the wailing thereof unto Eglai, and the wailing thereof to Beerelim. For the waters of Dimon are full of blood; for I will bring yet more upon Dimon, a lion upon them of Moab that escape, and upon the remnant of the land.”

What a scene of desolation and destruction, of helpless flight before the forces of an invader, of a whole population shaving off their hair and their beards as a sign of national mourning, of citizens salvaging whatever they can carry away from their homes in their flight for refuge, of the pitiful confusion of the people when no safe refuge appears, of the weeping, wailing, sorrow and distress that rose like a dismal cloud over all of Moab!

What a sad picture of the mined people of Moab! Note their going up to the high places of Moab’s false gods, where all the cries and supplications of suffering peoples are poured out in vain. No wonder, Isaiah said, “My heart crieth out for Moab” (Isaiah 15:5). Moabites were kin to Israel; but not even one’s closest of kin can intervene against the judgment of God. Incidentally, this line in which the first person singular is used indicates that Isaiah himself is the author of this prophecy given in “time past” (Isaiah 16:13).

There are seventeen place-names in this brief little chapter referring to places literally all over Moab. Eerdmans New Bible Dictionary (1962) does not even mention six of these, but here is that source’s information on most of the others:

ArChief city of Moab, location unknown.
KirFortified city at elevation 3,370 feet, 11 miles east of the Dead Sea, and 15 miles north of the Arnon River.
Dibon The modern Dhiban east of the Dead Sea and 4 miles north of the Arnon River.
NeboThe mountain from which Moses saw the Holy Land, one of the Moabite gods, and a small city of Moab (perhaps a local shrine of Nebo).
HeshbonThe capital of Sihon, king of the Ammonites, which fell to Moses (Numbers 21:24), and was later allotted to Reuben (Numbers 32:37).
ElealehSmall town east of Jordan, always mentioned in connection with Heshbon. It is identified as modern el-Al, 1 mile north of Heshbon.
ZoarCity near the Dead Sea (southern extremity) from which Lot and his two daughters fled to a cave in the mountains (Genesis 19).
LuhithEusebius placed it between Zoar and Areopolis, but it has not yet been surely identified.
NimrimA place in south Moab some ten miles from the southern tip of the Dead Sea.

Some of these cities, however, have proved to be important historically. For example, Kir was the site where, “A heathen prince built a strong castle in the year 1131 A.D. (in the times of the crusades), which was very serviceable to the Franks, who in the year 1183 A.D. held it successfully against a very formidable siege of a month by Saladin.”(F5)

“The brook of willows” This was apparently a boundary between Moab and Edom, the Wadi el-Hesy.(F6)

“Waileth” Older versions translated this word as “shall howl”… In earlier times in the United States, such loud howling often took place at funerals. Barnes noted that, “In times of calamity in the East, it is common to raise an unnatural and forced howl, or long continued shriek. Persons were often hired for this purpose.”(F7)

“Unto Beer-elim” “This word literally means, `the well of the princes’; and it is perhaps the same as that mentioned in Numbers 21:14-18, as being in the land of Moab.”(F8)

The most delightful thing in this chapter is the compassion that seems to well up in the heart of Isaiah as he contemplates the massive sorrow and distress that always result from people’s disobedience of the Lord. The reason for Isaiah’s repeating this prophecy here is for the sake of confirming the truth of it and of setting a specific frame of reference in time when the complete fulfillment of it would take place.

“A lion upon them of Moab that escape” “Perhaps this should be understood literally (2 Kings 17:25), or it may stand metaphorically for invading foes (Jeremiah 4:7 and Jeremiah 5:6).”(F9) Some have suggested that “the lion” here was such an invader as Nebuchadnezzar, or Ashurbanipal.”(F10)

Severe as this prophecy is, there are other prophecies in God’s word just as devastating. For example, Amos has this:

“Thus saith Jehovah: for three transgression of Moab, yea, for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime. But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth; and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet; and I will cut off the judge from the midst thereof, and will slay all the princes thereof with him, saith Jehovah” (Amos 2:1-3).

Other prophecies of similar import are to be found in Isaiah 11:14; Isaiah 25:10; Jeremiah 48; Ezekiel 25:8-11; and Zephaniah 2:8-11. The first part of the next chapter states the reason for God’s judgment of Moab.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 15". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-15.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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