Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Isaiah 16


Isaiah 16:0


Prophecy of Moab's DevastationMoab DestroyedAgainst Moab(Isaiah 15:1-14)Moab's Hopeless SituationThe Moabite's Petition
Isaiah 16:1-5(1-5)Isaiah 16:1-2(1-2)Isaiah 16:1-4b(1-4b)Isaiah 16:1-2Isaiah 16:1-2(1-2)
Isaiah 16:3-5(3-5)Isaiah 16:3-4bIsaiah 16:3-5(3-5)
Isaiah 16:4-5(4c-5)Isaiah 16:4-5
Isaiah 16:6-12(6-12)Isaiah 16:6-7(6-7)Isaiah 16:6-7(6-7)Isaiah 16:6Isaiah 16:6(6)
Moab's Lament
Isaiah 16:7-12Isaiah 16:7-12(7-12)
Isaiah 16:8-9(8-9)Isaiah 16:8-11(8-11)
Isaiah 16:10-11(10-11)
Isaiah 16:12(12)Isaiah 16:12
Isaiah 16:13-14Isaiah 16:13-14Isaiah 16:13-14Isaiah 16:13-14Isaiah 16:13-14

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compareyour subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 16:1-5 1Send the tribute lamb to the ruler of the land, From Sela by way of the wilderness to the mountain of the daughter of Zion. 2Then, like fleeing birds or scattered nestlings, The daughters of Moab will be at the fords of the Arnon. 3Give us advice, make a decision; Cast your shadow like night at high noon; Hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive. 4Let the outcasts of Moab stay with you; Be a hiding place to them from the destroyer.” For the extortioner has come to an end, destruction has ceased, Oppressors have completely disappeared from the land. 5A throne will even be established in lovingkindness, And a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; Moreover, he will seek justice And be prompt in righteousness.

Isaiah 16:1 To whom and from whom and why are the contextual questions.

1. the fleeing Moabites send a sacrificial gift to the Davidic ruler in Jerusalem to secure his aid, TEV, NRSV

2. a reference to Messiah, cf. Isaiah 16:5; Peshitta, Vulgate

3. a message of continuing judgment and destruction even to the survivors of Moab, cf. Isaiah 16:12

“Send” The VERB (BDB 1018, KB 1511) is a Qal IMPERATIVE. It denotes a desperate, frantic action.

“the tribute lamb” The MT has only “lambs” (BDB 503 III, PLURAL, and mentions “as tribute”). Only NASB adds this ADJECTIVE to its translation. As for the PLURAL vs. SINGULAR:



Moab was known for its sheep (cf. 2 Kings 3:4).

The ancient versions have very different translations.

1. LXX, “I will send as it were creeping animals on the land!”

2. Peshitta, “ I will send the son of the ruler of the land.”

3. JPSOA, “Dispatch a messenger to the ruler of the land.”

“From Sela” The basic meaning of the term (BDB 700) is “crag,” “cliff” (cf. Jeremiah 51:25), but it came to designate a city in Edom, Sela, or Petra (BDB 701 II, cf. 2 Kings 14:7; Isaiah 42:11). However, Sela does not fit the context exactly so maybe another rock feature close to the border with Judea. It possibly simply denotes a southern route.

Where is not as important as from whom, to whom, and why.

“to the mountain of the daughter of Zion” This is a figurative way of referring to YHWH's temple in Jerusalem. This means that the lambs were given to be sacrificed to YHWH (cf. Ezra 7:17).

Isaiah 16:2 Moab is described as

1. fleeing/fluttering birds, BDB 622 I, KB 672, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE

2. scattered nestlings, BDB 1018, KB 1511, Pual PARTICIPLE

She is further identified as “the daughters of Moab,” but this, like Isaiah 16:14, refers to all the inhabitants of the land that remained alive.

“at the fords of the Arnon” The Arnon River (wadi El-Mujib) flows into the middle of the Dead Sea on the eastern side. It was the geographical boundary between Ammon on the north and Moab on the south (extending to the Zered Brook [possible wadi El-Hesa]).

It is surprising that these fords (low water crossings) are not close to Judah's borders, but across the Dead Sea. Possibly a Judean military force had marched through Ammon to these fords. It is also possible that the phrase denotes a southern exodus from a northern invader.

Isaiah 16:3-4 These verses give (1) the message (IMPERATIVES used as requests) which accompanied the lambs or (2) Isaiah's admonition for the Judeans to accept the Moabites. I think option #1 is best.

1. “give advice,” BDB 97, KB 112, Hiphil IMPERATIVE, written MASCULINE PLURAL, but to be read as FEMININE SINGULAR to agree with “advice” (BDB 420), which is FEMININE

2. “make a decision,” BDB 793, KB 889, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. “cast your shadow,” BDB 1011, KB 1483, Qal IMPERATIVE(cf. Isaiah 25:4; Isaiah 32:2; Psalms 91:1)

4. “hide the outcasts,” BDB 711, KB 771, Piel IMPERATIVE

5. “do not betray the fugitive,” BDB 162, KB 191, Piel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

6. “let the outcasts of Moab stay with you,” BDB 157, KB 184, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

7. “be a hiding place to them,” BDB 217, KB 241, Qal IMPERATIVE

Although Moab was a traditional enemy, there were close connections to the Davidic house (i.e., Ruth; 1 Samuel 22:3-5).

Isaiah 16:3 “Cast your shadow like night at high noon” This is metaphorical language for protection. It may be a specific reference to the Shekinah cloud of glory that followed the Israelites through this very land during the Wilderness Wandering Period. It was a cloud cover (shade and cool) in the daytime and pillar of fire at night. It symbolized YHWH's personal presence, provision, and protection.

Isaiah 16:4 There is a series of time conditions related to Moab's invasion after which the governmental authority of Judea will be extended to the whole area (cf. Isaiah 16:5).

Here are the conditions.

1. the extortioner (BDB 568) has come to an end (BDB 67, KB 79, Qal PERFECT)

2. destruction (BDB 994, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) has ceased (BDB 477 I, KB 476, Qal PERFECT

3. oppressors (BDB 942, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) have completely disappeared from the land (BDB 1070, KB 1752, Qal PERFECT)

Isaiah 16:5 This verse describes the coming government from Judea (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:3-5).

1. a throne will be established (PERFECT) in lovingkindness (BDB 338, see Special Topic following)

2. a judge will sit (PERFECT) on it in faithfulness (BDB 54) in the tent of David

3. he will seek justice (BDB 1048, cf. Isaiah 11:3, Isaiah 11:4)

4. he will be prompt in righteousness (“righteousness,” BDB 841, cf. Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 11:5, see Special Topic at Isaiah 1:4; “prompt,” BDB 555, usually means skilled in something, therefore, able to do it rapidly. Here it denotes a Davidic ruler who quickly acts in righteousness)

This verse is why the Peshitta and Vulgate view this context as Messianic.


Verses 6-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 16:6-12 6We have heard of the pride of Moab, an excessive pride; Even of his arrogance, pride, and fury; His idle boasts are false. 7Therefore Moab will wail; everyone of Moab will wail. You will moan for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth As those who are utterly stricken. 8For the fields of Heshbon have withered, the vines of Sibmah as well; The lords of the nations have trampled down its choice clusters Which reached as far as Jazer and wandered to the deserts; Its tendrils spread themselves out and passed over the sea. 9Therefore I will weep bitterly for Jazer, for the vine of Sibmah; I will drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; For the shouting over your summer fruits and your harvest has fallen away. 10Gladness and joy are taken away from the fruitful field; In the vineyards also there will be no cries of joy or jubilant shouting, No treader treads out wine in the presses, For I have made the shouting to cease. 11Therefore my heart intones like a harp for Moab And my inward feelings for Kir-hareseth. 12So it will come about when Moab presents himself, When he wearies himself upon his high place And comes to his sanctuary to pray, That he will not prevail.

Isaiah 16:6 This begins a new strophe. Isaiah 16:1-5 is what YHWH hoped would happen, but Isaiah 16:6 describes why it could not (compare Jeremiah 48:29).

1. the pride of Moab

2. excessive pride

3. arrogance

4. pride

5. fury (BDB 720, “insolence”)

6. false, idle boasts (BDB 95 III, empty, imaginary pretensions, cf. Job 11:3; Jeremiah 48:30)

The Hebrew term “pride” (BDB 144) is repeated in different ways four times. Moab, like her idols, claims much, talks much, but cannot do anything!

Isaiah 16:7-10 “Therefore” Here are the consequences.

1. Moab shall wail because of her Ba'al worship (i.e., “raisin cakes”), Isaiah 16:7, Isaiah 16:12 (it is possible this is another idiom for agricultural failure)

2. fields wither and no harvest, Isaiah 16:8-10 (cf. Isaiah 15:6)

It is also possible that “raisin cakes” in this context refers to a luxurious lifestyle.

Isaiah 16:10 “wine” See Special Topic: Biblical Attitudes Toward Alcohol and Alcoholism.

“I have made the shouting to cease” This refers to YHWH-sent invaders who disrupted the harvest and its annual festivals.

The concept of the removal of “joy” is recurrent in this verse.

1. gladness taken away, BDB 62, KB 74, Niphal PERFECT

2. joy taken away (assuming same VERB as #1)

3. no cries (or songs) of joy, BDB 943, KB 1247, Pual IMPERFECT

4. no jubilant shouting, BDB 929, KB 1206, Pola IMPERFECT

5. shouting to cease, BDB 991, KB 1407, Hiphil PERFECT

Isaiah 16:11 The question is who is speaking.

1. God (מעה, BDB 588, i.e., Isaiah 63:15; Jeremiah 31:20)

2. the prophet

3. Moab personified

Because of Isaiah 16:12, Moab (#3) cannot be right. Because of Isaiah 16:13 it could be #2, the prophet Isaiah, but because of Isaiah 15:5, Isaiah 15:9, as well as the Messianic implications of Isaiah 16:5, I think it is God who grieves over the “what-could-have-been.” God loves humans made in His image, made for fellowship, yet they turn to false gods, false hopes!

NASB, REB“Kir-hareseth” NKJV, NRSV, TEV, NJB“Kir Heres”

The MT is reflected in NKJV, but it is a shortened form of NASB (cf. Isaiah 16:7; the city was simply referred to as “Kir” in Isaiah 15:1).

Isaiah 16:12 This verse can be understood in two ways.

1. Moab brings offerings (Isaiah 16:1) to Jerusalem (Isaiah 16:5), but her pride refuses to fully embrace YHWH (Isaiah 16:6). YHWH cares for them (Isaiah 15:5; Isaiah 16:11).

2. Moab seeks help from her gods (Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 16:12), but they are unable to respond.

Verses 13-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 16:13-14 13This is the word which the LORD spoke earlier concerning Moab. 14But now the LORD speaks, saying, “Within three years, as a hired man would count them, the glory of Moab will be degraded along with all his great population, and his remnant will be very small and impotent.”

Isaiah 16:14 This describes the imminent (3 years) fate of prideful Moab!

Instead of abundant people, wealth, influence, and crops, Moab will be “very small and impotent”! The reversals in history are shocking and point fallen humanity to the promise and desire for stability and peace found only in Israel's God!

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 16". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.