Isaiah Chapter 16

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The Burden of Moab, continued. Pride the cause of sorrow.


The burden of Moab is continued, and the chapter, a continuation of its predecessor, begins with the Spirit's counsel to Moab by the pen of the prophet thus:

1: Send ye the lambs to the Lord of the land,
Send them from Sela through desert,
To the mount of the daughter of Zion.
2: As little birds flutter when frighted from nests,
So shall the daughters of Moab
Tremble at fords of the Arnon.
3: Take counsel, and come to decision,
Make thy shade as the darkness of midnight,
Dark in the midst of the noonday,
Then in that shade hide the outcasts,
Nor betray to pursuers those fleeing.
4: Let My outcasts find dwelling with thee,
O Moab, be for them a covert
From the spoiler that would devastate them.
For th' extortioner comes to his end,
The spoiler shall not be forever,
And earth shall be freed from oppressors.
5: A Throne shall be set up in mercy,
And on it shall one sit in truth,
In the tent of (King) David there judging,
Zealous for right and swift justice.
If the first verse is as "a long-drawn trumpet blast," as Delitzsch says, the trumpet certainly here gives no uncertain sound. All divine counsel to our proud race is precisely of this same character, and demands attention, as here. "Humble thy proud heart, bow thy stiff neck, and own to the supremacy of Zion, for that very name tells of the grace thou needest. It is pride that ever denies submission to grace. Divert then that tribute of lambs from Samaria (2 Kings 3:4) to Zion, for there is still trouble ahead for Moab, and her daughters shall be at Arnon like little birds that flutter over their nests when they are shaken. Learn then by thy trouble to have compassion on others; and when Israel My people shall be outcasts, as darkness hides, so be for them a haven, hiding them from their persecutors. For although David's throne may seem forever abased, it shall yet be restored, and then shall the tables be turned on the oppressor, and the earth be freed from them forever."

Now let later light be thrown on this prophecy which without that light may appear meaningless as far as we are concerned. That there is to be a time of grievous trouble for the Jews on their return to their land is as clear as words can make it. When this is at its height, the Lord Jesus will be manifested for their deliverance. Then, sitting on the throne of His glory, all nations shall be gathered before Him, and He shall discriminate between them solely in view of their treatment of those He terms His "brethren" in the day of their distress (Matt. 25:32). Thus this becomes the way of salvation for the nations living on the earth at His appearing, and this begins to throw its light on this counsel to Moab.

But further, precisely at that same time, called "the great tribulation," Satan, cast out of heaven to the earth, will seek to stop every confession of the rights of Jehovah to that earth, and to destroy the confessors of that right. Such he finds in those Jews who will not acknowledge the "Beast" as the only rightful object of worship, in his image set up at Jerusalem. Many are slain; many flee. In the pictorial language of prophecy, he then sends forth a flood out of his mouth to swallow these fugitives up, but "the earth opened her mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth" (Rev. 12:16); or to interpret the sign-language of prophecy into our plain speech: the Devil stirs up the nations of the earth to follow in dire persecution the scattered remnant of the Jews: but these find favor with those whose hearts God touches, and they evidence "new birth" by feeding them when hungry, giving them drink when thirsty, hospitably receiving them when sick, and when in prison coming to them (Matt. 25:31-46).

I cannot refrain from one practical word for ourselves from this counsel to Moab. God never permits any form of distress to come upon His people simply in order to deliver them from it.

Whether a man is rich or poor, well or sick, is comparatively a small matter now. For the work of God in this day when His Son is rejected on earth, and the Spirit is here, is not with men's bodies, as it was when Jesus was here before His crucifixion; that has made a difference in God's work among men as radical as that solemn fact. Now that work is with the spirit, which shall still abide when the body may have gone to its kindred dust. That "good" to which "all things now work together" is no form of earthly prosperity, but the being "conformed to the image of His Son." I beseech you, then, in the day of distress, do not simply long for deliverance from italthough that is not to be condemnedbut that the distress may yield that which the Father's love sees shall be for your truest good, "the peaceable fruit of righteousness," and one form of this shall show itself in tender sympathy with others who are suffering too. But to continue our paraphrase:

6: We have heard of his pride: proud Moab's pride,
And that is pride beyond measure.
(We have heard) of his pride, his arrogance, wrath,
But all in vain are his vauntings.
7: Therefore shall Moab for Moab lament,
Yea, everyone shall be wailing;
For the grape-cakes of Kir-hares shall mourn,
Strickenutterly stricken!
8: The fruit-fields of Heshbon have faded away,
And faded the choice vine of Sibmah.
For the lords of the heathen have broken its sprouts,
The branches that reached unto Jazer;
All through the desert those branches have trailed,
And spread till the sea they passed over.
9: So for the vine of Sibmah I'll mourn,
And weep with the weeping of Jazer.
O Heshbon, I'll water (thy fields) with my tears,
And flood with my tears Elealeh.
For on thy fruits and fair harvest-fields
The shout of the battle has fallen.
10: The harvest now reaped from the once fruitful field
Is the gladness and cheer taken from them!
From the vineyards there sounds no jubilant song,
No shout of joyous exulting;
The treader treads out no wine from the press,
The song of the vintage is ended.
11: Wherefore my bowels for Moab shall sound,
My inward parts mourn for Kir-hares.
12: Then it shall hap, when weary with tears,
And Moab climbs to the hill-tops,
Would enter his temple to pour out his prayer,
That prayer shall be unavailing.
13: This is the word that Jehovah did speak
From far away back, touching Moab.
14: But now hath Jehovah spoken and said:
In the space of three years as a hireling,
The glory of Moab shall give place to shame,
Together with all that great number,
And only a poor little remnant be left,
And that contemptibly feeble.
I need add little to the above in the way of comment. Moab seems to stand as the very symbol, not merely of pride, but of a peculiar degree and character of pride, as that repetition in the second line suggests. Would you see how lofty worldly pride can be? Look at Moab: there is pride indeed! But the higher the poor proud one climbs in self-exaltation, the heavier his fall. Every step upward increases his degradation when it comes. Would you see the misery of that fall, then listen! No longer do cheerful songs sound from the grape-gatherers, but those wailings that have taken their place are Moab's, for such a storm of desolation has swept over the land that the meadows of Heshbon, trampled by the invaders, look as if sun-parched, and the pleasant vine of Sibmah, the national emblem of Moab, droops.

Then, verse 9, "the circumstantiality of the vision is here swallowed up again by the sympathy of the prophet, and the prophecy which is throughout as truly human as it is divine, becomes soft, and flowing like an elegy" (Delitzsch). Can anything be more affecting than to see the prophet himself (Oh, how like unto our Lord he is in this!) foreseeing without one shade of doubt the sorrows that he is foretelling, actually anticipating them with his tears. That seems to be not only the faith that substantiates what as yet has no existence, but sends a ray of tender gracious light onto the very Heart of God. He takes no pleasure in the sorrows of any creature! Could anything witness more strongly to that than His taking up a lamentation, not merely for Jerusalem, but even for Satan! (Ezek. 28:11). I am not sure that there is not a hint of this in the line: "I'll weep with the weeping of Jazer," for that word means: "The one in whom is help," and who can that be but our Lord? Isaiah is, in a very deep sense, "a man of God"! So we go back to verse 11, and find in the prophet no paid mourner, but his innermost being resounds with the mournful desolation that he foresees.

But the climax of Moab's misery is that they can get no help from Chemosh. Natural religion may suffice for men in the day of prosperity, but it fails utterly in the day of trouble. In such times, darkness may enshroud the mind of the Christian temporarily, but Christ is ever most real, most precious, to His own people in the night of their sorrows.

The burden concludes with Jehovah's fixed decree, told when everything was outwardly smiling, "In three years, as the years of a hireling," that is, one who will not work one minute beyond the time that has been agreed upon, so at an equally fixed moment all the glory of Moab shall only emphasize his shame!

This is, indeed, very ancient history, yet, I again say, being in that Word that is ever "living," Moab too, must be living, even to this day, and be as great a foe to faith as was his prototype of old. We will consider three clear and simple features that characterized him: his origin, geographical position, and the line of his opposition to God's people, for these will help us in discerning him.

1: His origin. He was the offspring of horrible incest. So today, it is the worldliness of true Christians, the uniting of the Lord's people with the world, that produces in the next generation positive opposition to the path of pilgrimage. How many Christian parents are bewailing the worldliness of their children! Has their own worldliness nothing to do with it? Demas was an early dweller in Moab, but this was so rare a case in those happy days, as to make this worthy of notice. Today the land of Moab is so crowded as to forbid a comment on one!

2: Moab's inheritance lay on the east of Jordan, and so we may say today, the modern Moabite will always be found on the easy earthward side of the Cross, as the two-tribes-and-a-half loved those fertile fields so well adapted to their own wealth of flocks and settled there. Moab's land was on the opposite side to that of the Philistines, nor was it, as theirs, directly within the borders of Israel's true possession, so that if the Philistine must be found in the religious formalism in the Church, the Moabite must be found in the dead worldliness that borders the Church, and has a spurious relation to it. The Philistine had his counterpart, in our Lord's day, in the Pharisee; the Moabite, in the Herodian. Today the Philistine is the formal Ritualist; the Moabite, the mere worldly professor.

3: As to the nature of his opposition to faith, the clearest light is given in the Lord's letter to Pergamos, that Church that was settling down in the world where Satan's throne was, and is, and in which there were "those who held the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balac, king of Moab, to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication." It was the false prophet then, who taught how to entangle the feet of pilgrims in that day, and precisely the same spirit of false prophecy in the Church today soothes the conscience with the lie that this world, being now Christian, if not the final resting-place of the Christian (for death is an awkward fact that cannot be ignored), is very attractive, and far pleasanter to settle down in whilst living, than to turn one's back in spirit on all, and keep the heart fixed on the future when He, earth's true King, shall reign, and we shall reign with Him.

All is in perfect accord, and all points to "religious worldliness" being the Moabite of today, and ever the pilgrim's worst enemy. The increase of wealth, with all the luxury that accompanies it, fosters pride, dulls all affection for Christ and His people, and induces short-sightedness, whereby nothing is recognized as of any practical value, save the transient attractions of this fleeting scene.

What shall Isaiah ("the salvation of Jehovah") counsel? "Send the Lamb of the tribute to the Ruler." Give the willing submission of thine heart to that God who is high over all, and (whilst not the intent of the prophet) may we not say it is by means of the Lamb of redemption? For it is His love that has provided that Lamb and awaits thy return to welcome thee with His kiss. Leave Moab; for know, O world-loving Christian, that the glories, the inventions, the wealth of the world, all lie, this very instant, under the doom of which we have a shadow in these two chapters. May the Lord make us to fear, for that is one of the elements of faith.