A Modern Analogy
How many of us reading this are parents or school teachers? Parents know what it is like to discipline their children. Sometimes our own child becomes involved in a neighborhood squabble. We turn to our child first, disciplining them for their part in the fracas. But then, as parents and adults, we discipline the other guilty parties as well. As parents, and school teachers, we learn that the fault seldom, if ever, involves just one party. Usually, more than one person or group is guilty.
The Bible Is Not So Different
In the early chapters of Isaiah, we saw how God dealt with his own children first–Israel and Judah. They were not innocent. God even allowed the bigger, neighborhood bullies of Assyria and Babylonia to punish them. But what about Israel’s neighbors? In this portion of Isaiah, God turns to punish some of Israel’s neighbors. Isaiah 15-16 concern Moab.
Who Is Moab?
Who is Moab? The Bible first references Moab in Genesis 19:37. Lot was Abraham’s nephew. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he allowed Lot to escape with his two daughters. Not trusting God to take care of them, Lot chose to live in a cave. As a consequence of their God-doubting isolation, Lot’s eldest daughter led the younger in having incest with their father. The eldest then gave birth to Moab, and the younger gave birth to Ben-ammi, ancestor to the Ammonites. Moab and Ammon were Israel’s neighbors to the east of the Dead Sea. (See Genesis 19:29-38.)
Moab and Israel continuously squabbled and fought one another. Numbers 22:1 through 24:25 records the entertaining history of King Balak of Moab, Balaam the prophet, and Balaam’s donkey. Then, Deuteronomy and Judges often mention Moab’s contentions with Israel. Sometimes Israel had the upper hand against Moab. But at other times God used Moab to punish Israel. On a more positive note, “Ruth the Moabite” figures prominently in the genealogy of Christ (Ruth 1:1-4:22). But mostly, they fought. The back and forth fighting between Moab and Israel continues through 1st and 2nd Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. Moab even figures into Psalm 60:8, 83:6, and 108:9. Biblical Moab and Israel very much resemble two siblings who often squabble with each other.
The Prophecy Against Moab
Isaiah 15:2 LXE announces a call for Moab to lament and loudly grieve the destruction against it. This includes apparent drought (Isaiah 15:6) and enemy attack (Isaiah 15:7-9). Some details of both the Greek (Septuagint) and Hebrew (Masoretic) textual traditions are difficult to decipher. See, for example, Isaiah 16:3-4. But the main lines are clear.
First, God is displeased with Moab. Second, its people are guilty of the great sin of pride (Isaiah 16:6). Third, the Moabites wear themselves out seeking help from their idols. These cannot deliver them (Isaiah 16:12).
Isaiah pinpoints Moab’s destruction to an exact number of years.
And now I say, in three years, of the years of a hireling [note: in other words, exactly three years], the glory of Moab shall be dishonored with all his great wealth; and he shall be left few in number, and not honored. (Isaiah 16:14, CAB)
Other Prophecies Against Moab
Other prophets before and after Isaiah spoke judgment against Moab. Amos, before Isaiah, prophesied its thorough destruction (Amos 2:1-3). Ezekiel (25:8-11), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:1-47), and Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:8-9) prophesied against Moab after Isaiah.
Israel’s Greatest Sin With Moab
God favored Israel. He wanted to bless them. God chose Israel because he wanted a traceable ancestral line for his most highly favored Messiah. For these reasons, he wanted Israel to maintain faithfulness to him alone. God therefore commanded Israel not to intermarry with the pagan nations around them.
The people of Israel’s sexual relations with the Moabites is biblically well documented. Numbers 25:1-3f relates how these began. Micah 6:5 and Revelation 2:14 connect the dots between Balaam and this sin. (Not having been able to conquer Israel directly, the Moabites compromised them in this other way.) Even after the exile, Jewish men persisted in marrying Moabite and other foreign women.
God through Jesus Christ is awesome in his mercy and provision for all peoples on earth.
Jeremiah 48:47 Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days, declares the LORD.” Thus far is the judgment on Moab. (ESV) [Note: this verse is not present in the Septuagint, even in its alternate numbering.]
Does God Still Have National Favorites?
The question my heart keeps asking as I read Isaiah 15-16 is, “Does God still have national favorites?” I don’t believe he does. God’s intention for humankind is universal in scope (Genesis 3:15). And, God’s intention for Christ as King predates creation (Ephesians 1:4). Further, Abraham predates Moses. Scripture teaches that everyone who believes Christ by faith is a child of Abraham (Romans 4:9-13). And Abraham is heir of the world (Romans 4:13).
God has not changed from Old Testament days. God never changes. But the covenant, or working agreement, he made with humans has changed. First, there was the Old Covenant, which God declared null and void by the cross (Hebrews 8:13). And, there is now the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. The New Covenant includes everyone who is united with Christ (Hebrews 9:15). The New Covenant knows no national boundaries, since it is made with those who partake of the blood of Christ by faith (Luke 22:20). Therefore, God no longer relates to human beings according to their nationality, but according to whether or not they receive by faith the blood of his Son, King Jesus. Jesus said all this succinctly in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
God in the New Testament, beginning with Christ, looks upon all peoples of all nations differently than he did in the Old Testament. Consider Jesus’s revelation to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
John 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV)
Also, Jesus speaks of his kingdom, to which all believers belong.
John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (ESV)
Next we hear from the Apostle Paul.
Galatians 3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (ESV)
2 Corinthians 5:16 Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2Co 5:16-19 NKJ)
In the verses immediately above, Paul’s use of the phrase in verse 16, “according to the flesh,” includes genealogy and everything associated with the physical body. Likewise, verse 17 means that everything about the first creation, including physical descent, have passed away. Otherwise, the walls of division would still be present, even in the church. But, all walls separating one person from another, even nationality, have been removed. Listen to Paul again.
Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands–
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:11-18 ESV)
Finally, the Apostle John speaks.
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (ESV)
My heart cries a loud “Hallelujia! to the Lamb.” In the former days of Isaiah 15-16, Moab bickered and fought back and forth with Israel for centuries. But now in the Kingdom of Christ, the Christ-believing progeny of Moab are reconciled with the Christ-believing progeny of Israel. Both are reconciled to God in Christ. We are all one body in him. Christ is the head.