The Burden of Moab. A picture of the sorrow that worketh
This chapter continues the "burdens," and also continues the intensely animated style of its predecessor. We are tempted to pass them by, as having little that is of interest or profit to us Christians of the Gentiles, so far separated as we are by time, space and conditions from the actors in those far-off scenes. What have we to do with Moab? How can the temporary distress of that obscure people affect us who but later saw all Europe deluged in blood? Of what practical value now is the history of a people that can have no influence whatever on the world-politics of the day, nor any part in any League of Nations, for they have long ceased to exist as a nation? The way of the centuries that have intervened have swept them away. How can it then affect us, that they, too, experienced the common lot, in this devil-ruled world, and suffered from the ravages of war?
Nor is our interest increased, or our difficulties lessened, by questions as to the text, and still more as to the correct renderings of the text, as to which the most competent of scholars, the most spiritually-minded of students, differ. Shall we then say that here is a portion of the Word of God that can have no part in making "the man of God perfect"? Dare we say that? Or shall we the more earnestly and helplessly cast ourselves on the love that has never failed His people yet, and hope to discern at least some feature of "the salvation of Jehovah" in this portion of "Isaiah"? Nor should we expect to find the experiences of the Psalms, nor the simplicity of the Gospels, nor the revelations of the Epistles, but if we are hungry, we shall not be sent altogether empty away even from "the burden of Moab." The first four verses are rendered thus:
1: For in a night, AR-Moab is wasted—Note how the text opens with a "for," which attached to the word "burden" tells the readers that this burden on Moab is a "burden" indeed, for a single night suffices to replace the song with the wail. Then follows a most graphic picture of Moab's night of distress; and no "song in the night" can poor Moab raise, for that comes from a secret that no Moabite ever learns. As is always the case in times of serious calamity people fly to "religion," so here, crowds of wailing fugitives run to the house of their god. All dignity and self-respect are laid aside; the bare head and torn beard vividly expressing the depth of the distress. Sorrow fills the whole scene! Temples and highways, housetops and public squares, are all resounding with lamentation. The larger cities raise such a wail that it is heard afar. The very soldiery, hardened men as such are, are not unaffected! Yea, the soul of the whole nation is quivering with terror, for this I believe is the sense of this last line. If that is not a picture of the effect of a sudden and heavy calamity on this world, so well symbolized by Moab, then it would be difficult to find any. Now suppose that amid all those sounds of sorrow, one voice should be heard lifted up in joyous song, would not that be a striking testimony to the intervention of God? Indeed it would. It is easy to praise in the sunshine, but it takes God Himself to give us "songs in the night"! Do we not in this light see what is meant by: "He that offereth praise glorifieth Me"? Of course he does, for songs in suffering express God. But ever the sunshine of His love falls on the tear-dimmed eyes of the penitent, and those tears in that light make a rainbow that tells of the everlasting covenant of the Cross.
Note then, that even that man of God, Isaiah, who in a way represents Jehovah Himself, is not callous to the sorrow of Moab, for he apparently forgets the national enmity and expresses his own forced sympathy in the following verses, and as we listen, let us gather that God has no pleasure in the pain of any of His creatures, that not one is lost that does not make Him lament.
5: My heart for Moab is crying.Little Zoar, for which Lot successfully pleaded in the day of his flight from the doomed cities of the plain, is again the refuge of Lot's children, but now likened to a fair heifer in her prime; yet as never having been yoked, suggestive of a city that has never been captured; while doubtless the tradition of its security in the day of Sodom and Gomorrah had given it the reputation of being a sanctuary. But now all is in vain; the whole land becomes as bare as if fire-swept. The fugitives gather together what they can, and wade across the willow-brook into Edom, the air filled with the screams of the women, and deeper groanings of the men. The Arnon runs blood; nor even yet is the limit reached, for a "lion" (symbol of Judah) awaits the fugitives and the few that may have been spared at home.
Thus place after place joins in the cry of anguish till it reaches Beer-elim, "the well of the strong ones," or leaders, and our minds go back to the digging of that well, when far different music attended its springing waters. "Spring up, O well," Israel then sang, for "the princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver with their staves" (Numbers 21:17, 18). Now the well is the same, the waters may be springing as pure and sweet as ever, but Moab gets no refreshment from them now. How the darkness of unbelief that so often accompanies our days of sorrow, prevents our getting any comfort from those same springs that in brighter days afforded us such joy! The well is the same, the Word of God and its living streams are the same, it tells ever the same story of a Sun that still shines behind all clouds, but the dark, bitter waves of sorrow have gone over our heads, and we have no "song in the night." O happy people that can echo, however feebly, the song that first was heard in the dark groan-filled dungeon of Philippi! But the modern Moabite or world-lover is not much of a singer, save in the sunshine of prosperity.
1 I have thus translated the word Bajith which means "house," and here refers to the Temple of Chemosh.
2 Lit. "To descend," and thus "sinking," and so the not unusual expression "drowned in tears."