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Prophecy Against Moab (Jeremiah 48) July 13

Recall from our previous reading that when Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar sent Chaldean troops and mercenary forces from Syria, Moab and Ammon into Judah. This was actually according to God's will, to punish Jehoiakim and Judah for their rebellion against Him (2 Kings 24:1-5). But these nations, though guilty of their own great sins, exulted in their part in Judah's downfall—full of arrogance and pride. They did not acknowledge God. And their hatred of God's people was completely unjustified. So they, too, would be punished. Jeremiah prophesies against them in Jeremiah 48 and 49—and against Israel's age-old enemy, Edom, along with other adjacent peoples. This parallels end-time events, when God punishes modern Israel and Judah through other nations—nations that God then punishes as well for their own pride, arrogance and wrongdoing.

The Moabites and Ammonites are descendants of Lot's sons, Moab and Ben-Ammi (Genesis 19:36-38). These peoples, along with the Edomites, lived on the east side of the Jordan River and Dead Sea, where the nation of Jordan is now situated—Ammon on the north, Moab in the middle and Edom in the south. The hammer of Babylon would fall on them too—not just Judah (see Jeremiah 27:1-11). But while the prophecies in chapters 48 and 49 probably applied to the people of Jeremiah's day in part, it is evident that their ultimate application was for the end time—the Day of the Lord, the cataclysmic period immediately preceding the return of Jesus Christ, which appears to be a year in length. Note Jeremiah 48:12 ("behold, the days are coming"), verse 41 ("on that day"), verse 44 ("the year of their punishment") and verse 47 ("in the latter days"). And we will see further proof as we examine the chapter.

As has been mentioned previously in the Bible Reading Program, the descendants of the people of ancient Ammon and Moab are evidently still concentrated in Jordan (with its capital named Amman after Ammon) and surrounding areas. Today's Palestinians of Jordan and Israel are probably a mixture of Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Arabs and other ancient Middle Eastern elements. In reading Jeremiah 48 and 49, consider the attitudes of these people today toward the Jewish state of Israel. As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Some of the wording in Jeremiah 48 is quite similar to that of the prophecy against Moab in Isaiah 15-16. Indeed, Jeremiah appears to have been led by God to actually use portions of Isaiah's prophecy himself. (That being so, you will probably find it helpful to reread Isaiah 15-16 at this point and review the Bible Reading Program commentary for those chapters.)

Let's look at some of the specifics of the prophecy in Jeremiah 48. Nebo (verse 1) was a town of Moab located at Mount Nebo, from where Moses surveyed the Promised Land. Kirjathaim (verse 1) and Heshbon (verse 2) were Moabite cities—Heshbon being the chief one. "Heshbon was midway between the rivers Arnon and Jabbok; it was the residence of Sihon, king of the Amorites [in Moses' day], and afterwards a Levitical city in Gad (Num. 21:26)" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on verse Jeremiah 48:2). Of course, Gad and the other Israelite tribes east of the Jordan had been carried away captive by the Assyrians and this territory reverted back to the Moabites (and even before that the land had changed hands numerous times because of frequent wars). It is interesting to notice that many of the Ammonite and Moabite cities were built by the Israelites: "And the children of Gad built Dibon and Ataroth and Aroer, Atroth and Shophan and Jazer and Jogbehan, Beth Nimrah and Beth Haran, fortified cities, and folds for sheep. And the children of Reuben built Heshbon and Elealeh and Kirjathaim, Nebo and Baal Meon (their names being changed) and Shibmah" (Numbers 32:34-38).

Madmen (Jeremiah 48:2) was another town in Moab, its name meaning "Dunghill." Horonaim (verse 3), meaning "Two Caves," was located in a "descent" or low place—in contrast to the "ascent of Luhith" (verse 5). "Horonaim lay in a plain, Luhith on a height. To the latter, therefore, the Moabites would flee with 'continual weeping,' as a place of safety from the Chaldeans" (note on verse 5).

Chemosh, the tutelary god of the Moabites, was to go into captivity—apparently signifying that the idols representing him would be plundered by the enemy or would simply accompany the people into captivity, as with the priests and princes (verse 7). However, there may be an end-time application here. Consider that the world religion known today as Christianity is actually a false Christianity that is in many ways a modern form of Baal worship—and that Baal and Chemosh are often identified as one and the same. In many ways, Islam—the religion of today's Moabites and virtually all Middle Eastern peoples other than the Jews—arose out of a blend of Judaism and this false Christianity mixed with Arab mythology. In spite of the fact that there are numerous sects within these three major religions, which provide hundreds of minor variations in practices, their roots are remarkably similar to each other, as well as to the ancient Canaanite and Babylonian religions.

Verse 9 in the New King James Version says, "Give wings to Moab, that she may flee and get away; for her cities shall be desolate, without any to dwell in them" (compare KJV). If the translation of the first part of this verse is accurate, the prophecy itself would seem to be the wings of escape—if the Moabites would heed it. However, other versions translate the verse differently. For example: "Oh, for wings for Moab that she could fly away [implying that she can't], for her cities shall be left without a living soul" (Living Bible). Still other translations are even more different: "Put salt on Moab, for she will be laid waste; her towns will become desolate, with no one to live in them" (NIV, compare NRSV). This seems to make the most sense, considering that God appears to be speaking to the forces of Moab's destruction in verses 9-10.

Verse 10 is apparently mistranslated in the King James and New King James Versions. In context, the word rendered "deceitfully" actually has to do with being slack or negligent. "To represent how entirely this is God's will, a curse is pronounced on the Chaldeans, the instrument, if they do it negligently (Margin) or by halves" (note on verse 10). Notice the NIV rendering: "A curse on him who is lax in doing the LORD's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed!" (compare NRSV, which translates the verse similarly).

Verse 11 declares that Moab is "settled on his dregs" (or "lees" in the King James Version), not having been "emptied from vessel to vessel." The JFB Commentary states: "As wine left to settle on its own lees retains its flavor and strength (which it would lose by being poured from one vessel into another), so Moab, owing to its never having been dislodged from its settlements, retains its pride of strength unimpaired" (note on verse 11). But this was going to change (verse 12). "The image was clear to Jeremiah's first readers. Wine was poured gently from the storage jar to serving jars so as not to disturb the dregs, impurities which had settled at the bottom. Similarly, God had treated Moab gently. But now the nation's experience will be like that of jars violently shaken and smashed" (Bible Reader's Companion, 1991, note on verse 11).

Dibon (verse 18) was the Moabite capital from which King Mesha had ruled (2 Kings 3:4-27). It is clear that all of Moab's strongholds are being destroyed—utterly humiliating this haughty people.

In verse 19 of Jeremiah 48, Aroer, "on the north bank of the Arnon [the river between Moab and Ammon], [is] a city of Ammon (Deut. 2:36; 3:12). As it was on 'the way' of the Moabites who fled into the desert, its inhabitants 'ask' what is the occasion of Moab's flight, and so learn the lot that awaits themselves" (JFB, note on Jeremiah 48:19). Indeed, Ammon was next on the list for destruction, as chapter 49 shows.

Verses 20-25 of Jeremiah 48 give the answer to the question of what happened in verse 19—and that answer is from God (verse 25). Judgment is to come on the countryside (verse 21) and on "all the cities of the land of Moab, far or near" (verse 24). "He enumerates the Moabite cities at length.... Many of them were assigned to the Levites, while Israel stood" (note on verse 20). Bozrah in verse 24 "refers not to the capital of Edom, but to Bezer, one of the cities of refuge (see Josh. 20:8)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Jeremiah 48:21-25). "The piling up of name after name is designed to drive home the message of total judgment" (New Bible Commentary, note on verses 21-24). The "horn" and "arm" of Moab—symbols of power and strength—are to be broken.

The Moabites are to be made "drunk"—that is, "intoxicated with the cup of divine wrath, so as to be in helpless distraction" (JFB, note on verse 26). They are to be objects of scorn, just as they scorned the Israelites. God asks Moab, "Was she [Israel] caught among thieves, that you shake your head in scorn whenever you speak of her?" (verse 27, NIV). This is "proverbial. What did Israel do to deserve such derision? Was he detected in theft, that thou didst so exult over him in speaking of him? Though guilty before God, Israel was guiltless toward thee" (note on verse 27). No doubt, the Palestinians of today would disagree—wrongly. Of course, it should be understood that the retribution on Moab is not mere "payback" for mistreating God's favored nation, but rather God's fair and equal treatment of all nations. No peoples will remain stiff-necked or arrogant before Him when He intervenes to judge the nations.

Verse 28 is a directive for those who "dwell in Moab" to leave the cities and dwell in "the rock." Is this referring only to Moabites, or is it referring to non-Moabites in the region, possibly some of God's people in the end time? Perhaps it refers to both—the directive being aimed at whoever will respond. The mention of "rock," or sela in Hebrew, is no surprise since the nation of Jordan is certainly rocky terrain. And in the southern part of Jordan, in the area once occupied by Edomites, is the ancient abandoned city of Sela. Its Greek name Petra, by which it is still known, means the same thing—"Rock"—since dwellings, tombs and temples were carved out of the rock cliffs. Some have speculated, based on an interpretation of certain scriptures, about the possibility of Petra being the place of safety in the end time prophesied in Revelation 12:6. Yet at this time we can't know for sure. Some possible interpretations and scenarios were covered in the commentary with Isaiah 16, where it appears to say that Moab will refuse to give refuge to God's outcasts (though, as noted before, the wording there is somewhat ambiguous). In any case, God will undoubtedly show those of His people whom He intends to protect in the end time the way to safety at the right time.

The downside of even mentioning a place of future temporary refuge is that God's people can be tempted to trust in getting to the place. The trust should only be in God, who, by His supernatural protection and provision, makes one place safer than others for a particular period of time. And a Christian's focus should not be on physically saving his own neck, but on doing the work of God—"for in doing this you will [spiritually] save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:11-16; compare Matthew 16:24-27).

Returning to Jeremiah 48, we see the pride of Moab addressed in strong terms in verse 29—six times in this one verse. In verse 30, God speaks of Moab's unjust wrath—and even lies. Therefore punishment must come. But this is no pleasure for God—He mourns over having to take such action (verse 31).

Kir Heres, "also called Kir Haraseth, (see 2 Kin. 3:25; Is. 16:11), may be a name for the capital city of Moab (Kir of Moab; see Is. 15:1)" (note on Jeremiah 48:30-33). Sibmah and Jazer (verse 32) are other Moabite cities built by the Israelites, as mentioned earlier. Verse 32 has been translated and interpreted in various ways, some seeing Jazer as a literal sea, perhaps the Dead Sea or Mediterranean, and some seeing it as a figurative sea of tears formed from the great weeping mentioned.

The cry from Heshbon to Elealeh and Jahaz (Jeremiah 48:34) is mentioned in Isaiah 15:4. The three-year-old heifer is mentioned in verse 5 (see previous Bible Reading Program comments on Isaiah 14:28-16:14). "My heart shall wail like flutes for Moab...for the men of Kir Heres" (Jeremiah 48:35) parallels "my heart shall resound like a harp for Moab...for Kir Heres" (Isaiah 16:11).

In Jeremiah 48:40 we see one flying like an eagle to overspread Moab—"not to bear them 'on eagles' wings' (Exod. 19:4; Deut. 32:11, 12), as God does His people, but to pounce on them as a prey ([Jeremiah] 49:22; Deut. 28:49; Hab. 1:8)" (note on Jeremiah 48:40).

Verse 44 mentions "the year of their punishment." Considering the related punishments of Ammon, Moab and Edom, this seems to tie very clearly to "the day of the LORD's vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (Isaiah 34:8; compare 63:4). As already mentioned, this year of punishment is a reference to the end-time Day of the Lord, which culminates in the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.

"In the shadow of Heshbon, the [Moabite] fugitives stand helpless" (Jeremiah 48:45, NIV). Indeed, it is all to no avail. The land will be devoured by fire. Again, while this may have had some application to the ancient Babylonian invasion, it is primarily speaking of the end time. Yet it should be noted that the end-time invader of Moab is not the final Babylon—for Ammon, Moab and Edom will escape from the hands of that imperialistic power (see Daniel 11:41).

Rather, the eagle who will pounce on Moab and destroy it is the returning Jesus Christ and a resurgent Israel. The "fire out of Heshbon" and "flame from the midst of Sihon" (Jeremiah 48:45) is a quote from Numbers 21:28 concerning the ancient Israelite destruction of Moab. Verse 46 of Jeremiah 48 is quoted from Numbers 21:29, regarding Israel's ancient subjugation of Moab. Yet in Jeremiah these things are prophesied to happen in the future (compare also Isaiah 11:11-14). Making it even clearer, the devouring of the "brow of Moab, the crown of the head of the sons of tumult" (verse 45) is essentially quoted from the messianic prophecy God gave through Balaam: "A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult" (Numbers 24:17). This unmistakably refers to the coming of the Messiah in mighty power—and provides a clear marker that these prophecies extend to the time of Christ's return.

But that is not the ultimate end for Moab. While there is a seeming contradiction between verse 42 and verse 47, it is easily resolved. "Moab shall be destroyed as a people" (verse 42), "yet I [God] will bring back the captives of Moab in the latter days" (verse 47). Verse 42 must mean "a people" as a whole—a nation—and not every last person. Otherwise there would be no one to take into captivity (see verse 46). It is thus evident that when Moab is destroyed, there will be some survivors. This is consistent with what we have sometimes witnessed in modern warfare. Even in the horrific "ethnic cleansing" wars of late, some people survive.

Besides Isaiah 15-16, other prophecies concerning Moab may be found in Amos 2:1-3, Zephaniah 2:8-11, Isaiah 25:10-12 and Ezekiel 25:8-11.

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