Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 16

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


The subject of the preceding chapter is continued in this. In that is described the horrors of war upon Moab probably such as were executed by the allied armies for non-payment of the customary tribute to Israel, and soon were to be repeated by Judah for a similar reason, and possibly by yet others in the future. This chapter opens with an exhortation to seek refuge from such horrors by coming over again to Judah, and by seeking protection from their liege lord in Jerusalem.

Verse 1

1. Send ye the lamb Collective for lambs, the traditional yearly tribute due to Judah. It appears from 2 Kings 3:41, that when Moab was tributary to Jehoram, king of Israel, this tribute amounted to “a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams, with the wool.”

From Sela to the wilderness That is, from along all the foraging region for Moab’s flocks. Sela means rock, a city built into an amphitheatre of rocky hills. It was the capital of Edom, and was afterward, under Roman rule, named Petra. It lies about a journey of a day and a half southeast from the southern end of the Dead Sea. The ruins of the city are frequently visited, and its dwellings, tombs, and temples are found to be cut out of the soft red sandstone. Its ingress and egress is by a two-mile valley, very narrow, called Wady Mousa. This Petra seems to have been in the hands of Moab at the time of this prophecy by Isaiah. Underneath the outward expression in the text is doubtless a reference to true relief and salvation through offerings of the sacrificial lambs. Jehovah is the speaker through his prophet, who here appears to sympathize and mourn with Moab.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. For Not for, but and, it shall be If they comply, then this shall follow: that, as a wandering bird cast… nest Moab must acquire favour from Israel or Judah right early, (Isaiah 16:1,) for soon she would stand a restless fugitive on the borders of the latter, and implore protection. Fugitives, here, are compared to fluttering birds, routed from their nests, and left in timid indecision.

Daughters of Moab Usually, and especially as applied to Judah, Babylon. etc., the word “daughters” of a place are the inhabitants of the place. But here the women seem to be the suppliants. They stand at the ford of Arnon, the ancient border of Moab. Numbers 21:13. The exhortation to them is,

Take counsel Apply counsel given by the prophet.

Execute judgment Rather, decision. Decide at once to pass the stream. No delay is admissible. Flee for help to the mount in Jerusalem, Mount Zion.

Shadow as the night Seek protection from divine wrath, such as the shadow of night is, from enemies. Let the Lord be thy shadow and pavilion, and be secure as much in noonday as in the night.

Hide the outcasts In turn make secure the exiles from Judah in your midst. Often had Moab been such a refuge.

Bewray not Reveal not the place of the persecuted exile.

Verses 4-5

4, 5. Be thou a covert Who the object of address here is, is matter of dispute. Some make it Moab, others, Judah. The sense depends on which it is. If it be Moab, as the older and later but best accredited writers hold, the “outcasts” here are those of Israel; if it be Israel, those of Moab. The exhortation may be appropriate either way. Give the fugitives, whoever they are, shelter; they will not need it long. The extortioner will soon cease. Oppression will soon be over. Trampling invaders, whether here or there, will in judgment be consumed. Not unlikely the reference is to invading Assyrians. Possibly, also, a comprehensive extension is made to oppressors, at one time of Judah, at another of Moab, covering the whole history of both. The transition from the one to the other, if it exist, is sudden and obscure: yet as an appeal it might well enough apply to both. Applying to the Jews as affording shelter to fugitives from Moab, the promise is that their own government shall be strengthened by this exercise of mercy, and their prosperity promoted by the coming of a king in the family of David the Messianic king who shall judge and seek justice and be prompt in equity and truth. And this means not Hezekiah merely, but all good kings to come, but chiefly the high antitype of David, the Messiah.

Verse 6

6. Whether Moab or Israel, or both, were intended in the promise, Moab will give no heed to it.

We Probably Jews.

Have heard of the pride of Moab We all have heard of and know his “pride;” he is so very proud that he will reject both counsel and promise. See the parallel in Jeremiah 48:20; Jeremiah 48:29.

His lies… not… so Shall not be confirmed or established. Impotent and vain shall they be.

Verse 7

7. Therefore As a certain result foreseen in the fate of Moab.

Shall Moab howl for Moab One part for the other parts shall mutually mourn. It shall be a universal “howl.”

Foundations of Kir-hareseth The strongest fortress of the nation shall be overthrown. Kir was on the southernmost limits. The word means a wall, a strong wall.

Hareseth Used of bricks, potsherds, glazed tiles. Some (as Vitringa, Delitzsch, Alexander, and others) hint at another meaning to the word here rendered “foundations.” They render it grapes, cakes, raisins, or pressed grapes, an article of refreshment to wearied ones, thus changing the thought entirely, yet making it congruous with the thought of the verse following.

Verse 8

8. Fields of Heshbon The region around Heshbon on the north, noted for choice vineyards.

Languish Or, wither. The locality lies near to the former sites of Sodom and Gomorrah, on the plain north of the Dead Sea, not south as heretofore believed.

The vine of Sibmah This place has not been identified. Jerome speaks of it as only about half a Roman mile from Hesh-bon. The why the vineyards stand withered is, the lords of the nations have broken off, or down, the principal plants thereof. Either Moab’s own masters, princes, or Assyrian warriors, were wantonly making havoc in the land: the action is the perpetual present of prophecy proleptic.

They The vine plants.

Come even unto Jazer So luxuriant are they. The same wandered or trailed through the desert eastward.

They are gone over the sea Westward, to the sea or pools of Jazer, or even to the Dead Sea. The fruitful, extending vine is a favourite symbol with Old Testament poets for a populous and luxuriant nation.

Verses 9-10

9, 10. I will water thee with my tears The prophet turns to mourning again for the woes of Moab, with a sorrow, however, not patriotic. It is because the wrath of Jehovah falls thus on that guilty people. He joins the people of Jazer in their weeping for their loss of rich vintages by means of the enemy. The loss upon Heshbon and upon Elealeh (near to “Heshbon”) is shown by the fact that the shout of the harvesters has ceased. In times of harvest and grape gathering joyous shouts are heard in all Oriental lands. Now all is silent in fields and at wine-presses in the land of Moab, and tears of sympathy gush from even the eyes of a denouncing prophet.

Verse 11

11. Wherefore my bowels An expression of deepest grief. The viscera above the diaphragm, including heart, lungs, liver, are here called “bowels.”

Shall sound like a harp Grief was capable, it was thought, of causing the heart to beat and the nerves to tremble; and such sensations were fancied to resemble low harp sounds.

Verses 12-14

12-14. From times long, long past, Jehovah denounced calamity to Moab. Poole refers to Numbers 21:27-30, as intended. To the nation as a whole there was no relief.

Moab is weary on the high place “Weary” with offering unanswered prayer to Chemosh, his god, in his sanctuary, always on hills. “Weary,” also, with calamities.

Word… since that time Or, hitherto. “Word,” here, signifies former predictions respecting Moab; other prophets uttered them. They embodied the same principles contained in this entire prophecy. Isaiah now reiterates them as still applicable; and while his prophecy is in part generic, there is a reference in the fourteenth verse to a specific time when the ruin of Moab by some northern power shall be completed, and but the smallest remnant left of the people; they being chiefly those who abandon Chemosh for the worship of Jehovah. “The clause, as the years of a hireling, here, and Isaiah 21:16, must render the designation of time somewhat more definite, inasmuch as the hired labourer serves out his time but no more. Hence the sense is, ‘No longer and no shorter.’ See Isaiah 18:25.” Gesenius.

The prophecy, as a whole, is very obscure. The theory of it as a generic prophecy, covering conditions of Moab at different periods, helps to some solution of it, but its comparative historic relations are so slight as to keep it still obscure.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.