Bible Commentaries

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Isaiah 16


This chapter Isaiah 16:1-14 is a continuance of the former, and the scope of it is, to give advice to the Moabites, and to threaten them with punishment in case, as the prophet foresaw, they should neglect or refuse to follow it. The advice was Isaiah 16:1-5, to send the customary tribute to the king of Judah; to seek his protection, and to submit themselves to him. But the prophet foresaw that, through the pride of Moab Isaiah 16:6, they would refuse to recognize their subjection to Judah, and that, as a consequence, they would be doomed to severe punishment Isaiah 16:7-11, and to a certain overthrow within a specified time Isaiah 16:12-14. See the “Analysis” prefixed to Isaiah 15:1-9.

Verse 1

Send ye the lamb - Lowth renders this, ‘I will send forth the son from the ruler of the land;’ meaning, as he supposes, that under the Assyrian invasion, even the young prince of Moab would be obliged to flee for his life through the desert, that he might escape to Judea; and “that” thus God says that “he” would send him. The only authority for this, however, is, that the Septuagint reads the word ‘send’ in the future tense (ἀποστελῶ apostelō) instead of the imperative; and that the Syraic reads בר bar instead of כר kar, “a lamb.” But assuredly this is too slight an authority for making an alteration in the Hebrew text. This is one of the many instances in which Lowth has ventured to suggest a change in the text of Isaiah without sufficient authority. The Septuagint reads this: ‘I will send reptiles (ἐρπετὰ herpeta) upon the land. Is not the mountain of the daughter of Zion a desolate rock?’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘Bear ye tribute to the Messiah, the anointed of Israel, who is powerful over you who were in the desert, to Mount Zion.’ And this, understanding by the Messiah the anointed king of Israel, is probably the true rendering.

The word ‘lamb’ (כר kar) denotes, properly, a pasture lamb, a fat lamb, and is usually applied to the lamb which was slain in sacrifice. Here it probably means a lamb, or “lambs” collectively, as a tribute, or acknowledgment of subjection to Judah. Lambs were used in the daily sacrifice in the temple, and in the other sacrifices of the Jews. Large numbers of them would, therefore, be needed, and it is not improbable that the “tribute” of the nations subject to them was often required to be paid in animals for burnt-offering. Perhaps there might have been this additional reason for that - that the sending of such animals would be a sort of incidental acknowledgment of the truth of the Jewish religion, and an offering to the God of the Hebrews. At all events, the word here seems to be one that designates “tribute;” and the counsel of the prophet is, that they should send their “tribute” to the Jews.

To the ruler of the land - To the king of Judah. This is proved by the addition at the close of the verse, ‘unto the mount of the daughter o Zion.’ It is evident from 2 Samuel 8:2, that David subdued the Moabites, and laid them under tribute, so that the ‘Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.’ That “lambs” were the specific kind of tribute which the Moabites were to render to the Jews as a token of their subjection, is clearly proved in 2 Kings 3:4 : ‘And Mesha, king of Moab, was a sheep-master, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand rams, with the wool.’ This was in the time of Ahab. But the Moabites after his death revolted from them, and rebelled 2 Kings 4:5. It is probable that as this tribute was laid by “David” before the separation of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and as the kings of Judah claimed to be the true successors of David and Solomon, they demanded that the tribute should be rendered to “them,” and not to the kings of Israel, and this is the claim which Isaiah enforces in the passage before us. The command of the prophet is to regain the lost favor of Israel by the payment of the tribute that was due. The territory of Moab was in early times, and is still, rich in flocks of sheep. Seetzen made his journey with some inhabitants of Hebron and Jerusalem who had purchased sheep in that region. Lambs and sheep were often demanded in tribute. The Persians received fifty thousand sheep as a tribute annually from the Cappadocians, and one hundred thousand from the Medes (Strabo, ii. 362).

From Sela in the wilderness - The word ‘Sela’ (סלע sela') means “a rock;” and by it here there can be no doubt that there is intended the city of that name which was the capital of “Arabia Petrea.” The city was situated within the bounds of Arabia or Idumea, but was probably at this time in the possession of the Moabites. It was, therefore, the remotest part of their territory, and the sense may be, ‘Send tribute even from the remotest pat of your land;’ or it may be, that the region around that city was particularly favorable to pasturage, and for keeping flocks. To this place they had fled with their flocks on the invasion from the north (see the note at Isaiah 15:7). Vitringa says that that desert around Petra was regarded as a vast common, on which the Moabites and Arabians promiscuously fed their flocks. The situation of the city of Sela, or (πέτρα petra) Petra, meaning the same as Sela, a rock, was for a long time unknown, but it has lately been discovered.

It lies about a journey of a day and a ball southeast of the southern extremity of the Dead Sea. It derived its name from the fact that it was situated in a vast hollow in a rocky mountain, and consisted almost entirely of dwellings hewn out of the rock. It was the capital of the Edomites 2 Kings 19:7; but might have been at this time in the possession of the Moabites. Strabo describes it as the capital of the Nabatheans, and as situated in a vale well watered, but encompassed by insurmountable rocks (xvi. 4), at a distance of three or four days’ journey from Jericho. Diodorus (19, 55) mentions it as a place of trade, with caves for dwellings, and strongly fortified by nature. Pliny, in the first century, says, ‘The Nabatheans inhabit the city called Petra, in a valley less than two (Roman) miles in amplitude, surrounded by inaccessible mountains, with a stream flowing through it’ (“Nat. Hist.” vi. 28).

Adrian, the successor of Trajan, granted important privileges to that city, which led the inhabitants to give his name to it upon coins. Several of these are still extant. In the fourth century, Petra is several times mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome, and in the fifth and sixth centuries appears as the metropolitan see of the Third Palestine (see the article “Petra” in Reland’s “Palestine”). From that time, Petra disappeared from the pages of history, and the metropolitan see was transferred to Rabbah. In what way Petra was destroyed is unknown. Whether it was by the Mahometan conquerors, or whether by the incursions of the hordes of the desert, it is impossible now to ascertain. All Arabian writers of that period are silent as to Petra. The name became changed to that which it bears at present - Wady Musa, and it was not until the travels of Seetzen, in 1807, that it attracted the attention of the world. During his excursion from Hebron to the hill Madurah, his Arab guide described the place, exclaiming, ‘Ah! how I weep when I behold the ruins of Wady Musa.’ Seetzen did not visit it, but Burckhardt passed a short time there, and described it. Since his time it has been repeatedly visited (see Robinson’s “Bib. Researches,” vol. ii. pp. 573-580).

This city was formerly celebrated as a place of great commercial importance, from its central position and its being so securely defended. Dr. Vincent (in his “Commerce of the Ancients,” vol. xi. p. 263, quoted in Laborde’s “Journey to Arabia Petrea,” p. 17) describes Petra as the capital of Edom or Sin, the Idumea or Arabia Petrea of the Greeks, the Nabatea considered both by geographers, historians, and poets, as the source of all the precious commodities of the East. The caravans in all ages, from Minea in the interior of Arabia, and from Gerka on the gulf of Persia, from Hadramont on the ocean, and some even from Sabea in Yemen, appear to have pointed to Petra as a common center; and from Petra the trade seems to have branched out into every direction - to Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, through Arsinoe, Gaza, Tyre, Jerusalem, Damascus, and a variety of intermediate roads that all terminated on the Mediterranean. Strabo relates, that the merchandise of India and Arabia was transported on camels from Leuke Kome to Petra, and thence, to Rhinocolura and other places (xvi. 4, 18, 23, 24).

Under the Romans the trade was still more prosperous. The country was rendered more accessible, and the passage of merchants facilitated by military ways, and by the establishment of military posts to keep in check the predatory hordes of the neighboring deserts. One great road, of which traces still remain, went from Petra to Damascus; another went off from this road west of the Dead Sea to Jerusalem, Askelon, and other parts of the Mediterranean (Laborde, p. 213; Burckhardt, 374, 419). At a period subsequent to the Christian era there always reigned at Petra, according to Strabo, a king of the royal lineage, with whom a prince was associated in the government (Strabo, p. 779). The very situation of this city, once so celebrated, as has been remarked above, was long unknown. Burckhardt, under the assumed name of Sheikh Ibrahim, in the year 1811, made an attempt to reach Petra under the pretext that he had made a vow to sacrifice a goat in honor of Aaron on the summit of Mount Hor near to Petra. He was permitted to enter the city, and to remain there a short time, and to “look” upon the wonders of that remarkable place, but was permitted to make no notes or drawings on the spot.

His object was supposed to be to obtain treasures, which the Arabs believe to have been deposited there in great abundance, as all who visit the ruins of ancient cities and towns in that region are regarded as having come there solely for that purpose. If assured that they have no such design, and if the Arabs are reminded that they have no means to remove them, it is replied ‘that, although they may not remove them in their presence, yet when they return to their own land, they will have the power of “commanding” the treasures to be conveyed to them, and it will be done by magic.’ (Burckhardt’s “Travels in Syria,” pp. 428, 429.)

Burckhardt’s description of this city, as it is brief, may be here given “verbatim:” ‘Two long days’ journey northeast from Akaba (a town at the extremity of the Elanitic branch of the Red Sea, near the site of the ancient Ezion-geber), is a brook called Wady Musa, and a valley of the same name. This place is very remarkable for its antiquities, and the remains of an ancient city, which I take to be Petra, the capital of Arabia Petrea, a place which, so far as I know, no European traveler has ever explored. In the red sandstone of which the vale consists, there are found more than two hundred and fifty sepulchres, which are entirely hewn out of the rock, generally with architectural ornaments in the Grecian style. There is found there a mausoleum in the form of a temple (obviously the same which Legh and Laborde call the temple of victory) on a colossal scale, which is likewise hewn out of the rock, with all its apartments, portico, peristylum, etc. It is an extremely fine monument of Grecian architecture, and in a fine state of preservation. In the same place there are yet other mausoleums with obelisks, apparently in the Egyptian style; a whole amphitheater hewn out of the solid rock, and the remains of a palace and many temples.’

Mr. Bankes, in company of Mr. Legh, and Captains Irby and Mangles, have the merit of being the first persons who, as Europeans, succeeded to any extent in making researches in Petra. Captains Irby and Mangles spent two days among its temples, tombs, and ruins, and have furnished a description of what they saw. But the most full and satisfactory investigation which has been made of these ruins, was made by M. de Laborde, who visited the city in 1829, and was permitted to remain there eight days, and to examine it at leisure. An account of his journey, with splendid plates, was published in Paris in 1830, and a translation in London 1836. To this interesting account the reader must be referred. It can only be remarked here, that Petra, or Sela, was a city entirely encompassed with lofty rocks, except in a single place, where was a deep ravine between the rocks which constituted the principal entrance.

On the east and west it was enclosed with lofty rocks, of from three to five hundred feet in height; on the north and south the ascent was gradual from the city to the adjacent hills. The ordinary entrance was through a deep ravine, which has been, until lately, supposed to have been the only way of access to the city. This ravine approaches it from the east, and is about a mile in length. In the narrowest part it is twelve feet in width, and the rocks are on each side about three hundred feet in height. On the northern side, there are tombs excavated in the rocks nearly the entire distance. The stream which watered Petra runs along in the bottom of the ravine, going through the city, and descending through a ravine to the west (see Robinson’s “Bib. Researches,” vol. ii. 514, 538.) The city is wholly uninhabited, except when the wandering Arab makes use of an excavated tomb or palace in which to pass the night, or a caravan pauses there.

The rock which encompasses it is a soft freestone. The tombs, with which almost the entire city was encompassed, are cut in the solid rock, and are adorned in the various modes of Grecian and Egyptian architecture. The surface of the solid rock was first made smooth, and then a plan of the tomb or temple was drawn on the smoothed surface, and the workmen began at the top and cut the various pillars, entablatures, and capitals. The tomb was then excavated from the rock, and was usually entered by a single door. Burckhardt counted two hundred and fifty of these tombs, and Laborde has described minutely a large number of them. For a description of these splendid monuments, the reader must be referred to the work of Laborde, pp. 152-193. Lend. Ed.

That this is the Sela referred to here there can be no doubt; and the discovery of this place is only one of the instances out of many, in which the researches of oriental travelers contribute to throw light on the geography of the Scriptures, or otherwise illustrate them. For a description of this city, see Stephen’s “Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petrea, and the Holy land,” vol. ii. ch. iv. p. 65ff; the work of Laborde referred to above; and Robinson’s “Bib. Researches,” vol. ii. pp. 573-580, 653-659.

To the mount of the daughter of Zion - To Mount Zion; that is, to Jerusalem (note, Isaiah 1:8). The meaning of this verse, therefore, is, ‘Pay the accustomed tribute to the Jews. Continue to seek their protection, and acknowledge your subjection to them, and you shall be safe. They will yield you protection, and these threatened judgments will not come upon you. But refuse, or withhold this, and you will be overthrown.’

Verse 2

For it shall be - It shall happen in the time of the calamity that shall come upon Moab.

As a wandering bird - (See Isaiah 10:14.) The same idea is presented in Proverbs 27:8 :

As a bird that wanders from her nest,

So is a man that wandereth from his place.

The idea here is that of a bird driven away from her nest, where the nest is destroyed, and the young fly about without any home or place of rest. So would Moab be when the inhabitants were driven from their dwellings. The reason why this is introduced seems to be, to enforce what the prophet had said in the previous verse - the duty of paying the usual tribute to the Jews, and seeking their protection. The time is coming, says the prophet, when the Moabites shall be driven from their homes, and when they will need that protection which they can obtain by paying the usual tribute to the Jews.

The daughters of Moab - The females shall be driven from their homes, and shall wander about, and endeavor to flee from the invasion which has come upon the land. By the apprehension, therefore, that their wives and daughters would be exposed to this danger, the prophet calls upon the Moabites to secure the protection of the king of Judah.

At the fords of Arnon - Arnon was the northern boundary of the land of Moab. They would endeavor to cross that river, and thus flee from the land, and escape the desolations that were coming upon it. The river Arnon, now called Mujeb, flows in a deep, frightfully wild, and rocky vale of the same name Numbers 21:15; Deuteronomy 2:24; Deuteronomy 3:9, in a narrow bed, and forms at this time the boundary between the provinces of Belka and Karrak (Seetzen). Bridges were not common in the times here referred to; and, indeed, permanent bridges among the ancients were things almost unknown. Hence, they selected the places where the streams were most shallow and gentle, as the usual places of crossing.

Verse 3

Take counsel - Hebrew, ‘Bring counsel;’ or cause it to come (הבאו hâbı̂'ı̂û, or as it is in the keri הביאי). The Vulgate, renders this in the singular number, and so is the keri, and so many manuscripts J. D. Michaelis, Lowth, Etchhorn, Gesenius, and Noyes, regard Isaiah 16:3-5 as a supplicatory address of the fugitive Moabites to the Jews to take them under their protection, and as imploring a blessing on the Jewish people if they would do it; and Isaiah 16:6 as the negative answer of the Jews, or as a refusal to protect them on account of their pride. But most commentators regard it as addressed to the Moabites by the prophet, or by the Jews, calling upon the Moabites to afford such protection to the Jews who might be driven from their homes as to secure their favor, and confirm the alliance between them; and Isaiah 16:6 as an intimation of the prophet, that the pride of Moab is such that there is no reason to suppose the advice will be followed. It makes no difference in the sense here, whether the verb ‘give counsel’ be in the singular or the plural number.

If singular, it may be understood as addressed to “Moab” itself; if plural, to the “inhabitants” of Moab. Vitringa supposes that this an additional advice given to the Moabites by the prophet, or by a chorus of the Jews, to exercise the offices of kindness and humanity toward the Jews, that thus they might avoid the calamities which were impending. The “first” counsel was Isaiah 16:1, to pay the proper tribute to the Jewish nation; “this” is Isaiah 16:3-5 to show to those Jews who might be driven from their land kindness and protection, and thus preserve the friendship of the Jewish nation. This is, probably, the correct interpretation, as if he had said, ‘ake counsel; seek advice in your circumstances; be not hasty, rash, impetuous, unwise; do not cast off the friendship of the Jews; do not deal unkindly with those who may seek a refuge in your land, and thus provoke the nation to enmity; but let your land be an asylum, and thus conciliate and secure the friendship of the Jewish nation, and thus mercy shall be reciprocated and shown to you by him who shall occupy the throne of David’ Isaiah 16:5. The “design” is, to induce the Moabites to show kindness to the fugitive Jews who might seek a refuge there, that thus, in turn, the Jews might show them kindness. But the prophet foresaw Isaiah 16:6 that Moab was so proud that he would neither pay the accustomed tribute to the Jews, nor afford them protection; and, therefore, the judgment is threatened against them which is finally to overthrow them.

Execute judgment - That is, do that which is equitable and right; which you would desire to be done in like circumstances.

Make thy shadow - A “shadow or shade,” is often in the Scriptures an emblem of protection from the burning heat of the sun, and thence, of these burning, consuming judgments, which are represented by the intense heat of the sun (note, Isaiah 4:6; compare Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2; Lamentations 4:20).

As the night - That is, a deep, dense shade, such as the night is, compared with the intense heat of noon. This idea was one that was very striking in the East. Nothing, to travelers crossing the burning deserts, could be more refreshing than the shade of a far-projecting rock, or of a grove, or of the night. Thus Isaiah counsels the Moabites to be to the Jews - to furnish protection to them which may be like the grateful shade furnished to the traveler by the rock in the desert. The figure used here is common in the East. Thus it is said in praise of a nobleman: ‘Like the sun, he warmed in the cold; and when Sirius shone, then was he coolness and shade.’ In the “Sunna” it is said: ‘Seven classes of people will the Lord overshadow with his shade, when no shade will be like his; the upright Imam, the youth,’ etc.

Hide the outcasts - The outcasts of Judah - those of the Jews who may be driven away from their own homes, and who may seek protection in your land. Moab is often represented as a place of refuge to the outcast Hebrews (see the Analysis to Isaiah 15:1-9.)

Bewray not him that wandereth - Reveal not (תגלי tegalı̂y), do not show them to their pursuer; that is, give them concealment and protection.

Verse 4

Let mine outcasts - This may be understood as the language of Judea, or of God. ‘Mine outcasts’ may mean the exiles of Judea, or God may call them “his.” The sense is essentially the same. It denotes those who were fugitives, wanderers, exiles from the land of Judea, and who took refuge in the land of Moab; and God claims for them protection.

Dwell with thee - Not dwell permanently, but sojourn (יגוּרוּ yāgûrû), let them remain with you as exiles; or let them find a refuge in your land.

Be thou a covert to them - A refuge; a hiding-place; a place of “secrecy” (סתר sêther).

From the face of the spoiler - That is, the conqueror from whose desolating career they would seek a refuge in the land of Moab. Who this “spoiler” would be, is not known. It would seem to be some invader who was carrying desolation through the land of Judea. It may be observed, however, that Lowth, by setting the points aside, supposes that this should be read, ‘Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn with thee, O Zion.’ So Noyes. But this seems to me not to suit the connection and the design; which is, to persuade the Moabites to conciliate the favor of the Jews by affording a hiding-place to their fugitives.

For the extortioner is at an end - literally, ‘there is an end, or there will be an end of the oppressor; or he will be wonting.’ The Chaldee renders it, ‘The enemy is at an end.’ The idea here seems to be, that the oppressor in the land of Judea would not continue there always; the exiles of the Jews might soon return; and Judea be able “then” to return kindness to Moab. Judea did not ask that her exiles should permanently abide in Moab, but asked only a temporary refuge, with the certainty that she would be soon delivered from her oppressions, and would then be able to furnish aid to Moab in return.

The oppressors are consumed - Or, ‘the treader down,’ he that has trodden down the nations “shall” soon be removed, and “then,” in turn, Judea will be able to repay the kindness which is now asked at the hand of Moab, in pemitting her exiles to remain in their land.

Verse 5

And in mercy - In benignity; kindness; benevolence.

Shall the throne be established - The throne of the king of Judah. That is, he that shall sit upon the throne of David shall be disposed to repay the kindness which is now sought at the hand of Moab, and shall be able to do it.

And he shall sit upon it - The king of Israel.

In truth - In faithfulness; that is, shall be true and faithful. His character shall be such that he will do justice, and will furnish protection and aid to the Moabites, if they now receive the fugitives of Israel.

In the tabernacle of David - In the dwelling place; the palace of David; for so the word “tabernacle, or tent” (אהל 'ôhel) seems to be used here. It means “temple” in Ezekiel 41:1. It denotes a habitation, or dwelling place, in general, in Proverbs 14:11; Psalms 52:7; Psalms 91:10. The palace, court, or “citadel” of David, was on mount Zion; and the sense here is, that the king to whom Israel refers would be a worthy successor of David - just, true, faithful, benignant, and disposed to repay the favors now sought at the hand of Moab.

Seeking judgment - Anxious to do right; and seeking an opportunity to recompense those who had shown any favor to the people of the Jews. Moab, therefore, if she would now afford protection to the Jews, might be certain of a recompense.

And hasting righteousness - Not tardy and slow in doing what should be done - anxious to do justice to all. It is implied here also, that a king who would be so just, and so anxious to do “right” to all, would not only be ready to show kindness to the Moabites, if they protected the fugitives of Judea, but would also be disposed to do “right” if they refused that protection; that is, would be disposed to inflict “punishment” on them. Alike, therefore, by the hope of the protection and favor of the king of the Jews, and by the dread of punishment, the prophet endeavors to persuade Moab now to secure their favor by granting protection to their exiles.

Verse 6

We have heard of the pride of Moab - We Jews; we have “all” heard of it; that is, we “know” that he is proud. The evident design of the prophet here is, to say that Moab was so proud, and was well known to be so haughty, that he would “reject” this counsel. He would neither send the usual tribute to the land of Judea Isaiah 16:1, thus acknowledging his dependence on them; nor would he give protection to the exiled Jews as they should wander through his land, and “thus” endeavor to conciliate their favor, and secure their friendship. As a consequence of this, the prophet proceeds to state that heavy judgments would come upon Moab as a nation.

He is very proud - The same thing is stated in the parallel place in Jeremiah 48:29 (compare Isaiah 16:11). Moab was at ease; he was confident in his security; he feared nothing; he sought “no” means, therefore, of securing the friendship of the Jews.

And his wrath - As the result of pride and haughtiness. Wrath or indignation is excited in a proud man when he is opposed, and when the interests of others are not made to give way to his.

But his lies shall not be so - The Hebrew phrase (לא־כן lo' kên) - ‘not so’ here seems to be used in the sense of ‘not right;’ ‘not firm, or established;’ that is, his vain boasting, his false pretensions, his “lies” shall not be confirmed, or established; or they shall be vain and impotent. In the parallel place in Jeremiah, it is, ‘But it shall not be so; his lies shall not effect it.’ The word rendered ‘his lies’ here (בדיו badāyv), means his boasting, or vain and confident speaking. In Isaiah 44:25, it is connected with the vain and confident responses of diviners and soothsayers. Here it means that Moab boasted of his strength and security, and did not feel his need of the friendship of the Jews; but that his security was false, and that it should not result according to his expectations. That Moab was proud, is also stated in Isaiah 25:8; and that he was disposed to give vent to his pride by reproaching the people of God, is apparent from Zechariah 2:8 :

I have heard the reproach of Moab,

And the revilings of the children of Ammon,

Whereby they have reproached my people,

And boasted themselves upon their border.

Verse 7

Therefore shall Moab howl for Moab - One part of the nation shall mourn for another; they shall howl, or lament, in alternate responses. Jerome renders it, ‘the people (shall howl) to the city; the city to the provinces.’ The general idea is, that there would be an universal lamentation throughout the land. This would be the punishment which would result from their pride in neglecting to send the tribute and seeking the favor of the Jews; or they would lament because the expectation of finding a refuge among the Israelites was taken away.

For the foundations - On account of the foundations of Kir-hareseth, for they shall be overthrown; that is, that city shall be destroyed. The word rendered here ‘foundations’ (אשׁישׁי 'ăshı̂yshēy), occurs nowhere else but in this place, and in Hosea 3:1. The Septuagint renders it: ‘The inhabitants.’ The Chaldee, ‘Men.’ Jeremiah, in the parallel place, renders it also ‘men’ Jeremiah 48:31. In Hosea 3:1, it is rendered ‘flagons of wine’ - and it has been supposed by many that it has this sense here, as this would agree with what is immediately added of the fields of Heshbon, and the vine of Sibmah. Rosenmuller renders it by ‘strong people, or heroes;’ and supposes that it means that the “strong” people of Kir-hareseth would be destroyed, and that they would mourn on that account. The probable sense is, that that on which the city rested, or was based, was to be destroyed. So Kimchi, Jarchi, and the Syriac understand it.

Kir-ha-reseth - literally, “wall of potsherds, or of bricks.” Aquila renders it, Τοιχῳ ὀστρακίνῳ Toichō ostrakinō. Symmachus, Τείχει ὀστρακίνῳ Teichei ostrakinō. This was a city of Moab, but where it was situated is unknown. Vitringa supposes that it was the same as Kir Moab Isaiah 15:1, which, Gesenius says, is not improbable, for it is now mentioned as in ruins, and as one of the chief cities.

Verse 8

For the fields of Heshbon - (See the note at Isaiah 15:4.)

Languish - They are parched up with drought. The ‘fields’ here evidently mean “vineyards,” for so the parallelism demands. So in Deuteronomy 32:32 :

Their vine is of the vine of Sodom,

And of the fields of Gomorrah.

And the vine of Sibmah - Sibmah, or Shibmah, was a city of Reuben Numbers 32:38; Joshua 13:19. Jeremiah, in the parallel place Jeremiah 48:32 speaks of the vine of Sibmah also. He also says that the enemies of Moab had taken Sibmah, and that the vine and wine had been destroyed Jeremiah 48:33. There was no more certain mode of producing desolation in a land where grapes were extensively cultivated than to cut down the vines. The Turks constantly practice that in regard to their enemies, and the result is, that wide desolation comes upon the countries which they invade. At this time it is probable that Sibmah belonged to the Moabites. It is mentioned here as being distinguished for the luxuriant production of the grape. Seetzen still found the vine cultivated in that region. Jerome says, that between Sibmah and Heshbon there was scarcely a distance of five hundred paces, half a Roman mile.

The lords of the heathen - The princes of the pagan nations that had come to invade Moab. The words ‘have broken down’ (הלמוּ hâlemû) may be taken in either of two senses, either to beat, strike, or break down, as in our version; or “to be” beaten, or smitten with wine - that is, to become intoxicated - like the Greek οἰνοπλὴξ oinoplēx - “smitten with wine.” The former is doubtless the sense here.

The principal plants thereof - The chose vines of it - “her sorek” (שׂרוּקיה s'erûqehā). (See the notes at Isaiah 5:2.)

They are come - That is, the vines of Sibmah had spread or extended themselves even to Jazer, indicating their great luxuriance and fertility.” Jazer was a city at the foot of the mountains of Gilead which was given to Gad, and afterward to the Levites Joshua 21:39. Jerome says it was about fifteen miles from Heshbon. Seetzen found the ruins of a city called Szar, and another place called Szir, from which a small stream (Nahar Szir) flows into the Jordan (Gesenius). That the shoots of the vine of Sibmah reached unto Jazer and the desert, is a beautiful poetic expression for the extensive spread and luxuriance of the vine in that region.

They wandered - The vines “wandered” in the desert. They found no twig or tree to which they could attach themselves, and they spread around in wild luxuriancy.

Through the wilderness - The wilderness or desert of Arabia, which encompassed Moab.

Her branches are stretched out - Are extended far, or are very luxuriant.

They are gone over the sea - Called in the parallel place in Jeremiah 48:32, ‘the Sea of Jazer;’ probably some lake that had that name near the city of Jazer. It may “possibly” mean the Dead Sea, but that name is not elsewhere given to the Dead Sea in the Scriptures. It has been objected by some to this statement that modern travelers have not found any such place as the ‘Sea of Jazer;’ or any lake in the vicinity of Jazer. But we may observe -

(1) that Seetzen found a stream flowing into the Jordan near Jazer; and

(2) that it is possible that a pond or lake may have once there existed which may have been since, in the course of ages, filled with sand.

It is known, for example, that in the vicinity of Suez the ancient narrow gulf there, and the large inland sea made by the Bitter lakes, have been choked up by the sand of the desert. Seetzen also says that he saw some pools near the source of the stream called Nahar Szir (“river Szir”). Prof. Stuart. “Bib. Rep.” vol. vii. p. 158. The whole description of the vines of Sibmah is poetic; designed, not to be literally understood, but to denote their remarkable luxuriance and fertility. A similar description of a “vine” - though there used to denote the Jewish people - occurs in Psalms 80:8-11 :

Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt;

Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it;

Thou preparedst room before it,

And didst cause it to take deep root,

And it filled the land.

The hills were covered with the shadow of it,

And the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars.

She sent out her boughs unto the sea,

And her branches unto the river.

Verse 9

Therefore, I will bewail - So great is the desolation that I, the prophet, will lament it, though it belongs to another nation than mine own. The expression indicates that the calamity will be great (see the note at Isaiah 15:5).

With the weeping of Jazer - That is, I will pour out the same lamentation for the vine of Sibmah which I do for Jazer; implying that it would be deep and bitter sorrow (see Jeremiah 48:32).

I will water thee with my tears - Indicating the grievous calamities that were coming upon those places, on account of the pride of the nation. They were to Isaiah foreign nations, but he had a heart that could feel for their calamities.

For the shouting for thy summer fruits - The shouting attending the ingathering of the harvest (note, Isaiah 9:3). The word used here (הידד hēydâd), denotes, properly, a joyful acclamation, a shout of joy or rejoicing, such as was manifested by the vintager and presser of grapes Jeremiah 25:30; Jeremiah 48:33; or such as was made by the warrior Jeremiah 51:14. Here it means, that in the time when they would expect the usual shout of the harvest, it should not be heard, but instead, thereof, there should be the triumph of the warrior. Literally, ‘upon thy summer fruits, and upon thy harvests has the shouting fallen;’ that is, the shout of the warrior has fallen upon that harvest instead of the rejoicing of the farmer. So Jeremiah evidently understands it Jeremiah 48:32 : ‘The spoiler is fallen upon thy summer fruits, and upon thy vintage.’ Lowth proposes here a correction of the Hebrew text, but without necessity or authority.

Verse 10

And gladness ... - The gladness and joy that was commonly felt in the field producing a rich and luxuriant harvest.

Out of the plentiful field - Hebrew, ‘From Carmel;’ but Carmel means a fruitful field as well as the mountain of that name (see the note at Isaiah 10:18).

I have made their vintage shouting to cease - That is, by the desolation that has come upon the land. The vineyards are destroyed; and of course the shout of joy in the vintage is no more heard.

Verse 11

Wherefore my bowels - This is also an expression of the deep grief of the prophet in view of the calamities which were coming upon Moab. The “bowels” in the Scriptures are everywhere represented as the seat of compassion, pity, commiseration, and tender mercy Genesis 43:30 : ‘His bowels did yearn upon his brother’ - he deeply felt for him, he greatly pitied him 1 Kings 3:26; Psalms 25:6; Proverbs 12:10; Song of Solomon 5:4; Isaiah 63:15; Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 31:20; Philippians 1:8; Philippians 2:1. In classic writers, the word ‘bowels’ denotes the “upper” viscera of victims - the heart, the lungs, the liver, which were eaten during or after the sacrifice (Robinson, “Lex.,” on the word σπλάγχνον splangchnon). In the Scriptures, it denotes the “inward parts” - evidently also the upper viscera, regarded as the seat of the emotions and passions. The word as we use it - denoting the lower “viscera” - by no means expresses the sense of the word in the Scriptures, and it is this change in the signification which renders the use of the very language of the Bible unpleasant or inappropriate. We express the idea by the use of the word “heart” - the seat of the affections.

Shall sound like an harp - The “bowels” are represented in the Scriptures as affected in various modes in the exercise of pity or compassion. Thus, in Lamentations 1:20, Jeremiah says, ‘My bowels are troubled’ (see Lamentations 2:1; Jeremiah 31:20). Job Job 30:27, says, ‘My bowels boiled, and rested not;’ there was great agitation; deep feeling. Thus, Jeremiah 4:19 :

My bowels! My bowels! I am pained at my very heart.

My heart “maketh a noise” in me.

So Isaiah 63:15 : ‘Where is the sounding of thy bowels and mercies?’ The word ‘sound’ here means to make a tumultuous noise; and the whole expression here denotes that his heart was affected with the calamities of Moab as the strings of the harp vibrate when beaten with the plectrum or the band. His heart was deeply pained and affected by the calamities of Moab, and responded to those calamities, as the strings of the harp did to the blow of the plectrum.

Mine inward parts - The expressions used here are somewhat analogous to ours of the “beating of the heart,” to denote deep emotion. Forster says of the savages of the South Sea that they call compassion “a barking of the bowels.”

For Kirharesh - (See the note at Isaiah 16:7.)

Verse 12

When it is seen - When it occurs; that is, when Moab actually “becomes” weary.

Is weary on the high place - The “high place” denotes the place of idolatrous worship, and here means the same as the temple of Chemosh or his sanctuary. Temples and altars were usually constructed on such places, and especially the temples of the pagan gods. Moab is represented here as looking to her gods for protection. Weary, exhausted, worn down with calamities, she is represented as fleeing from the desolate towns and cities, and taking refuge at the altar, and seeking assistance there. This, says Jerome, is the final misery. She is now forsaken of those aids to which she had always trusted, and on which she had relied. Her people slain; her towns destroyed; her strong places broken down; her once fertile fields languishing and desolate, she flees to the shrine of her god, and finds even her god unable to aid and defend her.

Shall come to his sanctuary - To his “principle” sanctuary; or to the temple of the principal god which they worshipped - the god “Chemosh” 1 Kings 11:7. This does not mean the temple at Jerusalem, though Kimchi so understands it; but the temple of the chief divinity of Moab. Jerome says that this temple was on mount Nebo.

Shall not prevail - That is, her prayer shall not be heard.

Verse 13

This is the word - This is the substance of the “former” predictions respecting Moab. This has been the “general course” or sense of the prophecies respecting Moab, during all its history.

Since that time - Formerly; from former times. There had been a course of predictions declaring in general that Moab should be destroyed, and the prophet says here that he had expressed their general sense; or that “his” predictions accorded with them all - for they all predicted the complete overthrow of Moab. He now says Isaiah 16:14 that these general prophecies respecting Moab which had been of so long standing were now to be speedily accomplished. The prophecies respecting Moab, foretelling its future ruin, may be seen in Exodus 15:15; Numbers 21:29; Numbers 24:17; Psalms 60:8; Psalms 108:9; Amos 2:2; Zephaniah 2:9. It “may,” however, be intended here that the former portion of this prophecy had been uttered by Isaiah himself during the early part of his prophetic life. He is supposed to have prophesied some sixty or more years (“see” Introduction, Section 3); and it may be that the prophecy in the fifteenth and the previous part of the sixteenth chapter had been uttered during the early part of his life without specifying the time when it would be fulfilled; but now he says, that it would be accomplished in three years. Or it may be that some other prophet had uttered the prediction which he now repeats with additions at the close. The fact that Isaiah had done this on some occasions seems probable from the beginning of Isaiah 2:0, which appears to be a quotation from Micah 4:1-3 (see the Analysis to Isaiah 15:1-9, and the notes at Isaiah 2:2).

Verse 14

But now the Lord hath spoken - This refers to the particular and specific prophecy of Isaiah that destruction should come upon them in three years. Instead of a “general but indefinite” prediction of calamity to the Moabites, such as had been uttered by the former prophets, or by Isaiah himself before, it was now specific and definite in regard to the “time” when it should be fulfilled.

Within three years - We have no means of ascertaining the exact fulfillment of this prediction, nor do we certainly know by whom it was accomplished.

As the years of an hireling - A man that is hired has a certain time specified during which he is to labor; the years, the months, the days for which he is engaged are agreed on, nor will he suffer any addition to be made to it. So the prophet says that the very time is fixed. It shall not be varied. It will be adhered to by God - as the time is adhered to between a man who employs another and him who is hired. And it means, that “exactly at the time” which is here specified, the predicted destruction should come upon Moab.

The glory of Moab - That in which it glories, or boasts - its wealth, its armies, its cities, towns, etc.

Shall be contemned - Shall be esteemed of no value; shall be destroyed.

And the remnant - There shall be few cities, few people, and very little wealth that shall escape the desolation (compare Isaiah 10:25; Isaiah 24:6). Jerome says that ‘this prophecy was delivered after the death of Ahaz, and in the reign of Hezekiah, during whose reign the ten tribes were led by Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, into captivity. And, therefore, after three years, the Assyrians came and destroyed Moab, and very few were left in the land who could inhabit the deserted cities, or cultivate the desolate fields.’ But it is not certainly known to what particular time the prophecy refers. In regard to the present state of Moab, and the complete fulfillment of the prophecies respecting it, the following works may be consulted: Newton, “On the Prophecies;” Keith, “On the Prophecies;” Burckhardt’s “Travels in Syria;” and Captains Irby and Mangles’ “Travels.” In regard to the fulfillment of these predictions respecting the destruction of Moab, it may be sufficient to refer to the remarks which I have made on the particular places which are mentioned in these two chapters, and to the writers mentioned above.

All travelers concur in the general desolation of that country which was once so thickly studded with towns, and that abounded so richly in flocks, and produced so luxuriantly the grape. It is now strewed with ruins. All the cities of Moab have disappeared. Their place is characterized in the map of Volney’s “Travels, by the ruins of towns.” Burckhardt, who encountered many difficulties in so desolate and dangerous a land, thus records the brief history of a few of them: ‘The ruins of Eleale, Heshbon, Meon, Medaba, Dibon, Arver, all situated on the north side of the Arnon, still subsist to illustrate the history of the Beni-Israel’ (“Life and Travels,” prefixed to the “Travel’s in Nubia,” pp. 48, 49). ‘And it might be added,’ says Keith, ‘that they still subsist to confirm the inspiration of the Jewish Scriptures, for the desolation of each of these cities was the theme of a distinct prediction’ (“Prophecies,” p. 129). Within the boundaries of Moab, Burckhardt enumerates about “fifty” ruined cities, many of them extensive. In general they are a broken down and undistinguishable mass of ruins; but, in some instances, there are remains of temples, sepulchral monuments, traces of hanging gardens, entire columns lying on the ground, and dilapidated walls made of stones of large dimensions (see “Travels in Syria,” pp. 311-456).

In view of these two chapters, constituting one prophecy, and the facts in regard to the present state of the country of Moab, we may observe that we have here clear and unanswerable evidence of the genuineness and truth of the sacred records. That evidence is found in the “particularity” with which “places” are mentioned; and in the fact that impostors would not “specify” places, any further than was unavoidable. Mistakes, we all know, are liable to be made by those who attempt to describe the “geography” of places which they have not seen. Yet here is a description of a land and its numerous towns, made nearly three thousand years ago, and in its “particulars” it is sustained by all the travelers in modern times. The ruins of the same towns are still seen; their places, in general, can be designated; and there is a moral certainty, therefore, that this prophecy was made by one who “knew” the locality of those places, and that, therefore, the prophecy is ancient and genuine.

An impostor would never have attempted such a description as this; nor could he have made it so accurate and true. In the language of Prof. Stuart (“Bib. Rep.,” vol. vii. pp. 108, 109), we may say, ‘How obviously everything of this kind serves to give confirmation to the authority and credibility of the sacred records! Do sceptics undertake to scoff at the Bible, and aver that it is the work of impostors who lived in later ages? Besides asking them what “object” impostors could have in forging a book of such high and lofty principles, we may ask - and ask with an assurance that need not fear the danger of being put to the blush - whether impostors of later ages could possibly have so managed, as to preserve all the “localities” in complete order which the Scriptures present? Rare impostors they must indeed have been - people possessed of more knowledge of antiquity than we can well imagine could ever be possessed by such as would condescend to an imposition of such a character. In fact the thing appears to be morally impossible, if one considers it in the light of “antiquity,” when so little knowledge of a geographical kind was in existence, and when mistakes respecting countries and places with which one was not personally familiar, were almost, if not altogether, unavoidable.

‘How happens it, now, that the authors of the Old Testament Scriptures should have possessed such a wonderful tact in geography, as it would seem they did, unless they lived at the time and in the countries of which they have spoken? This happens not elsewhere. It is but yesterday since one of the first scientific writers on geology in Great Britain, published to the world the declaration that our Mississippi and Missouri rivers “belong to the tropics.” Respectable writers, even in Germany, the land of Classical attainments, have sometimes placed Coelo-Syria on the east of the Anti-Libanus ridge, or even seemed to transfer Damascus over the mountains, and place it between the two Lebanon ridges in the valley.’ No such mistakes occur in the sacred writers. They write as people who were familiar with the geography of places named; they mention places with the utmost familiarity; and, after a lapse of three thousand years, every successive traveler who visits Moab, Idumea, or Palestine, does something to confirm the accuracy of Isaiah. Towns, bearing the same name, or the ruins of towns, are located in the same relative position in which he said they were; and the ruins of once splendid cities, broken columns, dilapidated walls, trodden down vineyards, and half-demolished temples, proclaim to the world that those cities are what he said they would be, and that he was under the inspiration of God.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Isaiah 16". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.