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Isaiah chapter 15

What does Isaiah chapter 15 mean?

During this era of history, Moab's territory included nearly land east of the Dead Sea to the wilderness. The Moabites were descended, in scandal, from Abraham's nephew Lot (Genesis 19:30–38). They shared a long history of antagonism with Israel dating back to the wilderness wanderings. Moab was often mentioned as one of Israel's enemies (Numbers 25:1; 31:15–17; Joshua 24:9; Judges 3:12–14; 2 Kings 1:1), frequently in conflict over disputed territory north and east of the Dead Sea.

This chapter begins a prophecy from the Lord against Moab. The "oracle" shares common content with Jeremiah's predictions (Jeremiah 48). Since the Holy Spirit inspired both passages, it is not surprising there is overlap in their reporting of the future judgment to come on Moab. This oracle is unique because it does not explicitly spell out what form the judgment from the Lord takes. Instead, Isaiah describes the grief and hardship in the aftermath of events that wiped out one city after another in Moab. Commentators suggest that the most likely explanation for Moab's woes would have been Assyrian invaders from the north. These invaders would have destroyed each of the towns mentioned as they made their way south.

Isaiah describes Moab as being undone after the major cities of Ar and Kir are destroyed in one night. The people go up to the temple and high places in the city of Dibon to weep. This grief would likely be directed to the Moabite god Chemosh, who failed to save them from the utter destruction (Judges 11:24; Jeremiah 48:46). The people also weep over the cities of Nebo and Medeba in the north after they are wiped out. Survivors of the massacre go into mourning. The men shave their heads and beards. Everyone wears coarse, dark mourning clothing: sackcloth, a material like burlap worn because it was uncomfortable and ragged. Both in private and in public, all wail and melt in tears for the loss of loved ones, homes, and ways of life. The cities of Heshbon and Elealeh in the north also wail after in their destruction. Their cries are heard by those in the city of Jahaz, to the south. Even the armed men of Moab's army outwardly weep and tremble in their souls at the destruction (Isaiah 15:1–4).

Even Isaiah, speaking God's own message, feels pity for the Moabites as they flee. Fugitives fill the road heading south to the city of Zoar. This destination would be just beyond Moab's border with Edom at the southern end of the Dead Sea. They keep moving south even as they are weeping. They find even more reason to weep when they reach the waters of Nimrim. The oasis is dried up, and the grass is all dead. Rather than finding relief, they find more desolation. The people push on, perhaps leaving their pack animals behind and carrying their last remaining possessions on their own backs. Finally, they reach the Brook of the Willows, or the Ravine of the Poplars. Commentators assume this place to be the Zered Brook, the border between Moab and Edom (Isaiah 15:5–7).

Still, Isaiah concludes, the cry of anguish has travelled from one end of Moab to the other. The water supply of the city of Dibon is contaminated with human remains, due to the great slaughter of the people there. The Lord promises there is more suffering to come for those who escape that initial destruction. He declares that He has prepared "a lion" to come for the remnant of Moab (Isaiah 15:8–9).
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