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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 15

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes


Section I - The Time of the Prophecy

‘The prophecy,’ says Prof. Stuart (“Bib. Rep.” vii. 110), ‘is a piece replete with vivid description, with animated and impassioned thought, with poetic diction, and with scenes which are adapted to make a deep impression on the mind of the reader.’ The prophecy in the two chapters contains the following parts:

I. The capitals of Moab are destroyed suddenly in one night Isaiah 15:1.

II. In the midst of the consternation, the people hasten to the high places, and to the altars and temples of the gods, to implore protection. They are seen in the streets with sackcloth, and on the tops of the houses, crying out with loud lamentations, and every expression of sorrow and despair Isaiah 15:2-4.

III. Some of the fugitives flee to Zoar for protection, and others to Luhith and Horonaim, hastening to countries beyond their own borders, because everything in their own land was withered and dried up Isaiah 15:5-7.

IV. Consternation and desolation are spread throughout the land, and even the streams are full of blood, and wild beasts are seen coming up upon the land Isaiah 15:8-9.

V. The prophet pities them, weeps with them Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:1 :11, and advises them to seek the favor of Judah by sending to them the customary tribute which was due, and which had been for a long time witcheld Isaiah 16:1.

VI. Some of the fugitives are seen at the fords of Arnon endeavoring to escape to Judea, and making supplication for reception, and imploring blessings on the land Isaiah 16:2-6. But see the notes at Isaiah 16:2-7, for another view of the design of this passage. The view here given is that suggested by Gesenius and Prof, Stuart.

VII. They are repulsed, and the answer to their supplication is given in such a tone as to show the deep sense of the injury received from Moab which the Jewish people entertainedIsaiah 16:7; Isaiah 16:7.

VIII. The prophet then proceeds in his description of the utter wasting of the country of Moab - desolation which excited the deepest feelings in his heart, and so great as to move his most tender compassion Isaiah 16:8-12.

IX. Then follows a limitation of the time when all this would take place. Within three years all this would be fulfilled Isaiah 16:13-14.

Verse 1

So a thief is represented as coming in the night - in a sudden and unexpected manner Job 24:14 :

The murderer in the night is as a thief.

See also Matthew 24:43; 1Th 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; Revelation 16:15.

Ar of Moab - This was the capital of Moab. it was situated on the south of the river Arnon. It was sometimes called “Rabbath Moab.” Isaiah Isaiah 16:7-11 calls it the city ‘with walls of burnt brick.’ Under the name of Areopolis it occurs in Eusebius and Stephen of Byzantium, and in the acts of many Synods of the fifth and sixth centuries, when it was the seat of a bishop (Reland’s “Palestine,” pp. 577, 578). Abulfeda says that in his time it was a small town. Jerome says that the city was destroyed by an earthquake when he was young, probably about 315 a.d. Burckhardt found a place called Rabba about twenty miles south of the river Arnon, which he supposed to be the ancient Ar. Seetsen found there ruins of considerable compass; especially the ruins of an old palace or temple, of which portions of the wall and some pillars are still standing. Legh says, ‘There are no traces of fortifications to be seen; but, upon an eminence, were a dilapidated Roman temple and some tanks.’

Is laid waste - That is, is about to be laid waste. This passed before the mind of Isaiah in a vision, and he represents it as it appeared to him, as already a scene of desolation.

And brought to silence - Margin, ‘Cut off.’ The word may mean either. The sense is, that the city was to be destroyed, for so the word דמה dâmâh often means Hosea 4:5-6; Hosea 10:7, Hosea 10:15; Jeremiah 6:2; Jeremiah 47:5; Zephaniah 1:11.

Kir of Moab - Probably this city was the modern Kerek or Karak. The Chaldee renders it by the name כרכא kerakā', or ‘fortress,’ hence, the name Kerek or Karak. According to Burckhardt, it lies about three hours, and according to Abulfeda twelve Arabic miles, south of Ar Moab, upon a very high and steep rocky hill, from which the prospect extends even to Jerusalem, and which, formed by nature for a fortress, overlooks the whole surrounding country. In the wars of the Maccabees (2 Macc. 12:17) it is mentioned under the name of Κάρακα Karaka, and it is now known by the name of “Kerek” or “Karak.” In the time of the crusades, a pagan prince built there under king Fulco (in the year 1131) a very important castle, which was very serviceable to the Franks, and in 1183 it held out successfully against a formidable siege of a month by Saladin. Abulfeda speaks of it as so strong a fortress that one must abandon even the wish to take it. It has been visited in modern times by Seetsen, Burckhardt, and the company of English travelers referred to above. The place has still a castle, into which the whole surrounding country brings its grain for safe keeping. The small and poor town is built upon the remains of once important edifices, and is inhabited by Moslems and Christians. It is the seat of a bishop, though the bishop resides at Jerusalem (see Gesenius, “Commentary in loc.”)

Verse 2

See also “Odyss.” iv. 197. This was also the custom with the Romans (Ovid. “Amor.” 3, 5, 12); the Egyptians (Diod. i. 84); the Scythians (Herod. iv. 71); and the modern Cretans. The principle on which this is done is, that thereby they are deprived of what is esteemed the most beautiful ornament of the body; an idea which lies at the foundation of mourning in all countries and ages. The loss of the beard, also, was the highest calamity, and would be expressive of the deepest grief. ‘It is,’ says D’Arvieux, who has devoted a chapter to the exposition of the sentiments of the Arabs in regard to the beard, ‘a greater mark of infamy in Arabia to cut a man’s beard off, than it is with us to whip a fellow at the cart’s tail, or to burn him in the hand. Many people in that country would far rather die than incur that punishment. I saw an Arab who had received a musket shot in the jaw, and who was determined rather to perish than to allow the surgeon to cut his beard off to dress his wound. His resolution was at length overcome; but not until the wound was beginning to gangrene. he never allowed himself to be seen while his beard was off; and when at last he got abroad, he went always with his face covered with a black veil, that he might not be seen without a beard; and this he did until his beard had grown again to a considerable length.’ (“Pic. Bib.,” vol. ii. p. 100.) Burckhardt also remarks, that the Arabs who have, from any cause, had the misfortune to lose their beards invariably conceal themselves from view until their beards are grown again (compare Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 41:5; Micah 1:16). The idea is, that the Moabites would be greatly afflicted. Jeremiah has stated the same thing of Moab Jeremiah 48:37 :

For every head shall be bald, and every beard be clipt;

And upon all hands shall be cuttings,

And upon the loins sackcloth.

Verse 3

In their streets - Publicly. Everywhere there shall be lamentation and grief. Some shall go into the streets, and some on the tops of the houses.

They shall gird themselves with sackcloth - The common token of mourning; and also worn usually in times of humiliation and fasting. It was one of the outward acts by which they expressed deep sorrow (Genesis 37:34; 2Sa 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; 2 Kings 19:1; Job 16:15; the note at Isaiah 3:24).

On the tops of the houses - The roofs of the houses in the East were, and still are, made flat, and were places of resort for prayer, for promenade, etc. The prophet here says, that all the usual places of resort would be filled with weeping and mourning. In the streets, and on the roofs of the houses, they would utter the voice of lamentation.

Shall howl - It is known that, in times of calamity in the East, it is common to raise an unnatural and forced howl, or long-continued shriek. Persons are often hired for this purpose Jeremiah 9:17.

Weeping abundantly - Hebrew, ‘Descending into weeping;’ “that is,” going, as we would say, “deep into it,” or weeping much; immersed as it were in tears (compare Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17).

Verse 4

And Heshbon shall cry - This was a celebrated city of the Amorites, twenty miles east of the Jordan Joshua 13:17. It was formerly conquered from the Moabiltes by Sihon, and became his capital, and was taken by the Israelites a little before the death of Moses Numbers 21:25. After the carrying away of the ten tribes it was recovered by the Moabites. Jeremiah Jeremiah 48:2 calls it ‘the pride of Moab.’ The town still subsists under the same name, and is described by Burckhardt. He says, it is situated on a hill, southwest from El Aal (Elealeh). ‘Here are the ruins of an ancient town, together with the remains of some edifices built with small stones; a few broken shafts of columns are still standing, a number of deep wells cut in the rock, and a large reservoir of water for the summer supply the inhabitants.’ (“Travels in Syria,” p. 365.)

And Elealeh - This was a town of Reuben about a mile from Heshbon Numbers 32:37. Burckhardt visited this place. Its present name is El Aal. ‘It stands on the summit of a hill, and takes its name from its situation - Aal, meaning “the high.” It commands the whole plain, and the view from the top of the hill is very extensive, comprehending the whole of the southern Belka. El Aal was surrounded by a well built wall, of which some parts yet remain. Among the ruins are a number of large cisterns, fragments of walls, and the foundations of houses, but nothing worthy of notice. The plain around it is alternately chalk and flint.’ (“Travels in Syria,” p. 365.)

Even unto Jahaz - This was a city east of Jordan, near to which Moses defeated Sihon. It was given to Reuben Deuteronomy 2:32, and was situated a short distance north of Ar, the capital of Moab.

The armed soldiers of Moab - The consternation shall reach the very army. They shall lose their courage, and instead of defending the nation, they shall join in the general weeping and lamentation.

His life shall be grievous - As we say of a person who is overwhelmed with calamities, that his life is wearisome, so, says the prophet, shall it be with the whole nation of Moab.

Verse 5

My heart shall cry out for Moab - This is expressive of deep compassion; and is proof that, in the view of the prophet, the calamities which were coming upon it were exceedingly heavy. The same sentiment is expressed more fully in Isaiah 16:11; see also Jeremiah 48:36 : ‘My heart shall sound for Moab like pipes.’ The phrase denotes great inward pain and anguish in view of the calamities of others; and is an expression of the fact that we feel ourselves oppressed and borne down by sympathy on account of their sufferings (see the note at Isaiah 21:3). It is worthy of remark, that the Septuagint reads this as if it were ‘“his” heart’ - referring to the Moabites, ‘the heart of Moab shall cry out.’ So the Chaldee; and so Lowth, Michaelis, and others read it. But there is no authority for this change in the Hebrew text; nor is it needful. In the parallel place in Jeremiah 48:36, there is no doubt that the heart of the prophet is intended; and here, the phrase is designed to denote the deep compassion which a holy man of God would have, even when predicting the ills that should come upon others. How much compassion, how much deep and tender feeling should ministers of the gospel have when they are describing the final ruin - the unutterable woes of impenitent sinners under the awful wrath of God in the world of woe!

His fugitives - Margin, ‘Or to the borders thereof, even as an heifer’ (בריחיה berı̂ychehā). Jerome and the Vulgate render this ‘her “bars,”’ and it has been explained as meaning that the voice of the prophet, lamenting the calamity of Moab, could be heard as far as the “bars,” or gates, of Zoar; or that the word “bars” means “princes, that is,” protectors, a figure similar to “shields of the land” Ps. 47:10; Hosea 4:18. The Septuagint renders it, Ἐν αὐτὴ en autē - ‘The voice of Moab in her is heard to Zoar.’ But the more correct rendering is, undoubtedly, that of our translation, referring to the fugitives who should attempt to make their escape from Moab when the calamities should come upon her.

Unto Zoar - Zoar was a small town in the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, to which Lot fled when Sodom was overthrown Genesis 19:23. Abulfeda writes the name Zoghar, and speaks of it as existing in his day. The city of Zoar was near to Sodom, so as to be exposed to the danger of being overthrown in the same manner that Sodom was, Zoar being exempted from destruction by the angel at the solicitation of Lot Genesis 19:21. That the town lay on the east side of the Dead Sea, is apparent from several considerations. Lot ascended from it to the mountain where his daughters bore each of them a son, who became the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites. But these nations both dwelt on the east side of the Dead Sea. Further, Josephus, speaking of this place, calls it Ζοάρων τῆς Ἀραβίας Zoarōn tēs Arabias - ‘Zoar of Arabia’ (Bell. Jud. iv. 8, 4). But the Arabia of Josephus was on the east of the Dead Sea. So the crusaders, in the expedition of King Baldwin, 1100 a.d., after marching from Hebron, proceeded around the lake, and came, at length, to a place called “Segor,” doubtless the Zoghar of Abulfeda. The probability, therefore, is, that it was near the southern end of the sea, but on the eastern side. The exact place is now unknown. In the time of Eusebius and Jerome, it is described as having many inhabitants, and a Roman garrison. In the time of the crusaders, it is mentioned as a place pleasantly situated, with many palm trees. But the palm trees have disappeared, and the site of the city can be only a matter of conjecture (see Robinson’s “Bib. Researches,” vol. ii. pp. 648-651).

An heifer of three years old - That is, their fugitives flying unto Zoar shall lift up the voice like an heifer, for so Jeremiah in the parallel place explains it Jeremiah 48:34. Many interpreters have referred this, however, to Zoar as an appellation of that city, denoting its flourishing condition. Bochart refers it to Isaiah, and supposes that he designed to say that “he” lifted his voice as an heifer. But the more obvious interpretation is that given above, and is that which occurs in Jeremiah. The expression, however, is a very obscure one. See the various senses which it may bear, examined in Rosenmuller and Gesenius in loc. Gesenius renders it, ‘To Eglath the third;’ and supposes, in accordance with many interpreters, that it denotes a place called “Eglath,” called the third in distinction from two other places of the same name; though he suggests that the common explanation, that it refers to a heifer of the age of three years, may be defended. In the third year, says he, the heifer was most vigorous, and hence, was used for an offering Genesis 15:9. Until that age she was accustomed to go unbroken, and bore no yoke (Pliny, 8, 4, 5). If this refers to Moab, therefore, it may mean that hitherto it was vigorous, unsubdued, and active; but that now, like the heifer, it was to be broken and brought under the yoke by chastisement. The expression is a very difficult one, and it is impossible, perhaps, to determine what is the true sense.

By the mounting up of Luhith - The “ascent” of Luhith. It is evident, from Jeremiah 48:5, that it was a mountain, but where, is not clearly ascertained. Eusebius supposes it was a place between Areopolis and Zoar (see Reland’s “Palestine,” pp. 577-579). The whole region there is mountainous.

In the way of Horonaim - This was, doubtless, a town of Moab, but where it was situated is uncertain. The word means “two holes.” The region abounds to this day with caves, which are used for dwellings (Seetzen). The place lay, probably, on a declivity from which one descended from Luhith.

A cry of destruction - Hebrew, ‘Breaking.’ A cry “appropriate” to the great calamity that should come upon Moab.

Verse 6

For the waters of Nimrim - It is supposed by some that the prophet here states the cause why the Moabites would flee to the cities of the south, to wit, that the “waters” of the northern cities would fail, and the country become desolate, and that they would seek support in the south. But it is more probable that he is simply continuing the description of the desolation that would come upon Moab. Nimrah, or Beth Nimra, meaning a “house of limpid waters,” was a city of Reuben east of the Dead Sea (Numbers 32:3; compare Jeremiah 48:34). It was, doubtless, a city celebrated for its pure fountains and springs of water. Here Seetzen’s chart shows a brook flowing into the Jordan called “Nahr Nimrim, or Wady Shoaib.” ‘On the east of the Jordan over against Jericho, there is now a stream called Nimlim - doubtless the ancient Nimrim. This flows into the Jordan, and as it flows along gives fertility to that part of the country of Moab.’ (Eli Smith.) It is possible that the waters failed by a common practice in times of war when an enemy destroyed the fountains of a country by diverting their waters, or by casting into them stones, trees, etc. This destructive measure of war occurs, with reference to Moab, in 2 Kings 3:25, when the Israelites, during an incursion into Moab, felled the fruit trees, cast stones into the plowed grounds, and “closed the fountains, or wells.”

For the hay is withered away - The waters are dried up, and the land yields nothing to support life.

Verse 7

Therefore, the abundance they have gotten - Their wealth they shall remove from a place that is utterly burned up with drought, where the waters and the grass fail, to another place where they may find water.

To the brook of willows - Margin, ‘The valley of the Arabians.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘I will lead them to the valley of the Arabians, and they shall take it.’ So Saadias. It might, perhaps, be called the valley of the Arabians, because it was the boundary line between them and Arabia on the south. Lowth renders it, ‘To Babylon.’ The probability is, that the prophet refers to some valley or brook that was called the brook of the willows, from the fact that many willows grew upon its bank. Perhaps it was the small stream which flows into the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, and which forms the boundary of Arabia Petrea of the province of Jebal. They withdrew toward the south, where toward Petra or Sela they had their property in herds Isaiah 16:1, for probably the invader came from the north, and drove them in this direction. Lowth, and most commentators, suppose that ‘they’ in this verse refers to the enemies of Moab, and that it means that they would carry away the property of Moab to some distant place. But the more probable meaning is, that when the waters of the Nimrim should fail, they would remove to a place better watered; that is, they would leave their former abode, and wander away. It is an image of the desolation that was coming upon the land.

Verse 8

For the cry is gone round about ... - The cry of distress and calamity has encompassed the whole land of Moab. There is no part of the land which is not filled with lamentation and distress.

The howling - The voice of wailing on account of the distress.

Unto Eglaim - This was a city of Moab east of the Dead Sea, which, Eusebius says, was eight miles south of Ar, and hence, says Rosenmuller, it was not far from the south border of Moab. It is mentioned by Josephus (“Ant.” xiv. 1), as one of the twelve cities in that region which was overthrown by Alexander the Great.

Unto Beer-elim - literally, “the well of the princes.” Perhaps the same as that mentioned in Numbers 21:14-18, as being in the land of Moab, and near to Ar:

The princes digged the well,

The nobles of the people digged it.

Verse 9

For the waters of Dimon - Probably the same as “Dibon” Isaiah 15:2. Eusobius says it was a large town on the northern bank of the river Arnon. Jerome says that the letters “m and b” are often interchanged in oriental dialects (see the note at Isaiah 15:2).

Shall be full of blood - That is, the number of the slain of Moab shall be so great, that the blood shall color the waters of the river - a very common occurrence in times of great slaughter. Perhaps by the “waters” of Dimon the prophet does not mean the river Arnon, but the small rivulets or streams that might flow into it near to the city of Dibon. Probably there were winter brooks there, which do not run at all seasons. The Chaldee renders it, ‘The waters of Dimon shall be full of blood, because I will place upon Dimon an assembly of armies.’

For I will bring more upon Dimon - Hebrew, ‘I will bring additions;’ that is, I will bring upon it additional calamities. Jerome says, that by those additional calamities, the prophet refers to the “lions” which are immediately after mentioned. “Lions upon him that escapeth of Moab.” Wild beasts upon those who escaped from the slaughter, and who took refuge in the wilderness, or on the mountains. The Chaldee renders it, ‘A king shall ascend with an army, and shall destroy the remainder of their land.’ Aben Ezra interprets it of the king of Assyria; and Jarchi of Nebuchadnezzar, who is called a lion in Jeremiah 4:7. Vitringa also supposes that Nebnchadnezzar is meant. But it is more probable that the prophet refers to wild beasts, which are often referred to in the Scriptures as objects of dread, and as bringing calamities upon nations (see Leviticus 26:22; Jeremiah 5:6; Jeremiah 15:3; 2 Kings 18:25).

Upon the remnant of the land - Upon all those who escaped the desolation of the war. The Septuagint and the Arabic render this, ‘Upon the remnant of Adama,’ understanding the word rendered ‘land’ (ארמה 'ădâmâh), as the name of a city. But it more probably means the land.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/isaiah-15.html. 1870.
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