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Isaiah 16:1-14 | Werner Bible Commentary

Isaiah 16:1-14

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16:1. Masoretic Text: Send a [male] lamb to the ruler of the land from Sela, toward the wilderness, to the mountain of the daughter of Zion.

Septuagint: I will send as [though] creeping things on the land. Is not the mountain of Zion a desolate rock?

Commentary

Apparently the fleeing Moabites are here represented as having arrived at Sela in Edomite territory. There is uncertainty about the location of Sela, one suggested site being Petra. (See Petra.)

Although singular, the Hebrew word for “lamb” may be regarded as a collective singular and denote “male lambs” or “young rams.” The context suggests that the tribute of male lambs to be sent to the ruler or king of the royal realm of Judah accompanied a request for the Moabite fugitives to be granted residence there. From Edom, the route to Jerusalem would pass through the wilderness of Judah. Accordingly, the Moabite delegation that would bring the tribute would first have to head toward the wilderness, finally to go up to the elevated site of Zion or Jerusalem. According to the Targum of Isaiah, the tribute would be brought to the “Messiah” or “Anointed One.”

The Septuagint rendering differs significantly. God is the one represented as sending creatures like “creeping things,” which could include reptiles, on the land. Zion is depicted as desolate. With the capital being in a state of desolation, the rest of the land must have been devastated. This suggests that what God sent or allowed to enter the land of the Israelites were military forces that caused extensive devastation and ruin in the land.

16:2. Masoretic Text: And it will occur that, like a bird taking flight [when] having been chased [from] a nest, [so] will be the daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon.

Septuagint: For you will be like a bird flying about [when its] nestling is being removed, O daughter of Moab, but thereafter, O Arnon,

Commentary

A predator’s attack on a nest would force a bird to leave and flutter about. According to the Septuagint, a frightened bird would fly about when the nestlings are endangered.

“Daughters” of Moab could either designate the cities and towns of the land or the womenfolk. Forced from their homes on account of the invading warriors, the fleeing women, or the inhabitants of the towns and cities, would be like frightened birds that had been chased away from their nests. The Arnon formed the northern boundary of Moab, and either the fleeing women or the people of Moab appear to be depicted as seeking to cross the stream to find a place of refuge. The Septuagint rendering seems to indicate that Arnon refers to a place, and the way the name is used indicates that the people there are being addressed. Just what they are encouraged to do is mentioned in the next verse. (For information and pictures of the Arnon and Moab, see Moab.)

16:3. Masoretic Text: Give counsel; administer justice. Make your shadow like night in the midst of noonday. Conceal the outcasts. Do not betray a fugitive.

Septuagint: [formulate] abundant counsel; always make for her a shelter of grief. At midday darkness they flee. They are beside themselves; do not let yourself be led away.

Commentary

In view of the Moabite delegation being sent to Zion, it may be that the words of this verse are directed to the king of the realm of Judah and his counselors. If so, their giving counsel would mean taking under advisement the situation of the Moabite refugees and then doing what is just, right, or fair. This would mean to act mercifully, extending the kind of refreshment and protection that a dark shadow provides from the hot sun at midday. Instead of hatefully turning over fugitives to their enemies, the Israelites would compassionately provide a place of refuge, concealing the “outcasts” or fugitives and not betraying any one of them.

If, however, the words of this verse are directly related to the admonition that follows in verse 4 and which, according to the Hebrew text, is addressed to the Moabites, this would mean that the Moabites are being admonished to deal mercifully with Israelite refugees before the time of their own calamity.

It appears that the Septuagint rendering represents the people of “Arnon” as being directed to formulate “abundant counsel” to deal with the calamity Moab would be experiencing. One aspect appears to be to provide a “shelter of grief” for “her,” the “daughter of Moab,” or the Moabite fugitives. This suggests that they were to do what they could to provide some kind of shelter or protection for those who were grieved on account of the losses and suffering to which the invading warriors had subjected them. The flight of the refugees, though taking place at midday, is depicted as occurring in darkness, for there was nothing to brighten the day. The refugees would have been beside themselves, shocked and dumbfounded. Nevertheless, they were to do whatever necessary so as not to be led away as captives.

16:4. Masoretic Text: Let my outcasts, O Moab, dwell among you. Be a refuge for them from the despoiler. For the one pressing is no more; despoiling has ceased. Those trampling are cut off from the land.

Septuagint: The refugees of Moab will reside [as aliens] with you. They will be your shelter from the face of the pursuer, because your alliance has been lifted and the ruler has been destroyed, the one who trampled on the land.

Commentary

According to the Hebrew text, the “outcasts” or fugitives are the Israelites, and the Moabites are admonished to provide them a place of refuge. In being called “my outcasts,” they are identified as belonging to God as his people. The admonition is coupled with the implied thought that the affliction of the Israelites was temporary, for the prophetic word may be understood to refer to future deliverance. The one pressing, or the oppressive power that had subjected the Israelites to suffering, would be no more. Their land would no longer be despoiled and their possessions would not be seized as booty. Those “trampling,” representative of the enemy warriors that had marched through the land, would be cut off, ceasing to pose any further threat.

The Septuagint rendering differs in having the Moabite refugees coming to reside as aliens in the land of Israel. So it appears that the Israelites are represented as protecting the Moabites from the pursuing enemy. They would be able to provide shelter because they were enjoying security. The alliance that formerly posed a serious threat to the Israelites had been broken, and the ruler who had trampled on their land with his warriors no longer existed.

A number of modern translations have rendered both verses 3 and 4 as as a plea for the Moabite refugees to be granted shelter in the realm of Judah. “Give us counsel, intervene for us; let your shadow shield us at high noon as if it were night. Give the exiles shelter, do not betray the fugitives; let the exiles from Moab find a home with you and shelter them from the despoiler.” (REB) “Hold a council, make a decision. At noon spread your shadow as if it were night. Hide those who have been driven out, do not betray the fugitive, let those who have been driven out of Moab come and live with you; be their refuge in the face of the devastator.” (NJB) “Moab’s messengers say to the people of Judah, ‘Be kind and help us! Shade us from the heat of the noon-day sun. Hide our refugees! Don’t turn them away. Let our people live in your country and find safety here.’” (CEV)

16:5. Masoretic Text: And a throne will be established through enduring love [chésed] and one will sit on it in truth in the tent of David, judging and seeking justice, and swift [in upholding] righteousness.

Septuagint: And a throne will be established with mercy, and one will sit on it with truth in the tent of David, judging and seeking judgment and speeding righteousness.

Commentary

In the Targum of Isaiah, the one seated on the throne is identified as the “Messiah” or “Anointed One,” and this identification does fit the prophetic language. Whereas the enemy power would come to its end, the future ruler in the royal “tent” or house of David would administer justice. The “throne” or the ruling authority would have “enduring love” or “mercy” (LXX) as its foundation. In the Hebrew text, the word that may be rendered “enduring love” is chésed), which term can designate a compassionate concern that is manifest in positive action and can always be relied upon. For the king to be seated on the throne “in truth” would indicate that he would exercise ruling authority in sincerity, without any partiality, and with complete trustworthiness. At all times, the king, when rendering judgment, would seek to do what is just, and he would be “swift” in upholding and defending righteousness. He would never deviate from striving after righteousness or seeing to it that justice is rendered speedily.

16:6. Masoretic Text: We have heard of Moab’s pride ([how] very proud [he is]!), his haughtiness and his pride and his fury; not thus his pretenses[?]

Septuagint: We have heard of Moab’s pride, an exceeding pride [it is]; you have removed his arrogance, not so [is] your divination, not so.

By ending the final phrase of the Hebrew words as a question, a meaning is more readily discernible. The pride has no basis; it is just an empty display, a pretense. In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the phrase could be rendered, “indeed thus his pretenses.” Unlike in the Masoretic Text, the lamed (L) is not followed by an aleph (A) and thus can mean “indeed” (instead of “not”).

The second “not so” or “not thus” is at the beginning of verse 7 in Rahlfs’ printed text.

Commentary

Apparently among the Israelites in the kingdom of Judah, the Moabites had a reputation of being exceedingly proud. The Moabites doubtless regarded themselves in a secure position and, therefore, became haughty, assuming an air of superiority. In their arrogance, they probably looked down on the people of other nations, particularly the people of nations that had become subject to foreign powers. When matters turned out contrary to their objectives, the Moabites would have become enraged. They had a distorted view of themselves and so their whole disposition was nothing but a baseless pretense. The mention of the extreme pride of the Moabites may here serve to show why calamity befell them.

A number of commentators have regarded the comment about pride to imply that the Israelites refused to give aid to the Moabite refugees on this basis. The explanation, however, does not agree with the tender feelings Isaiah expressed, and it is contrary to the law given through Moses, commanding that the afflicted should be shown compassion and that kind treatment should be extended even to enemies.

The reference to the removal of arrogance and the mention of divination in the Septuagint find no parallel in the Hebrew text. Perhaps the enemy power that brought ruin to Moab could be understood to have removed the arrogance, for the defeat would have humiliated Moab. Acts of divination may have preceded the military campaign to determine the course to be taken. Successful conquest, not the removal of Moab’s arrogance, would have been the aspect to which the divination pointed.

16:7. Masoretic Text: Therefore, Moab will howl for Moab. All of it will howl. For the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth, you will moan [as persons] indeed stricken.

Septuagint: Moab will howl, for all in Moabitis will howl. You will consider those dwelling in Deseth and not be put to shame.

According to wording of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, Moab is not to howl but all the others are to do the howling.

Commentary

At the time of their calamity, the Moabites would howl or wail in a loud and bitter manner. “All,” or the whole nation, would howl. There would be no exceptions. With the land lying in ruins, there would be no grapes in the vineyards for making raisin cakes, and so the Moabites would moan about no longer being able to enjoy the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth (probably the more complete name for Kir), the city identified with Al Karak (Karak, Kerak) in Jordan. This city is situated on a small plateau with an elevation in excess of 3,000 feet (c. 900 meters) and about 12 miles (c. 20 kilometers) east of a point below the Lisan Peninsula in the Dead Sea. Evidently because of their being very fond of raisin cakes, the Moabites would feel that their being without them was comparable to having a severe blow directed against them.

The Septuagint does not mention raisin cakes. If the ones doing the considering are the invading forces, the contemplating could relate to the campaign and what should be done regarding the survivors of Deseth. Then, whatever was decided would succeed, not proving to be a cause for shame from failure. According to another view of the Greek text, the entity addressed would care for the inhabitants of Deseth and would not regret doing so. This may be understood as applying to Israel as a collective whole when providing shelter for the fugitives.

16:8. Masoretic Text: For the fields of Heshbon have withered, [also] the vine of Sibmah. Masters of nations have struck down its branches; they have reached to Jazer, [yes,] wandered in the wilderness. Its shoots were spread abroad [and] crossed over the sea.

Septuagint: The fields of Hesebon [Heshbon] will mourn, [also] the vine of Sebama [Sibmah]. [When] swallowing up the nations, trample down her vines clear to Iazer [Jazer]. By no means will you reach [there]. Wander through the wilderness. Those sent away were left remaining, for they crossed the wilderness [“sea,” according to a number of manuscripts].

Apparently on account of scribal error, all the words that follow “Sibmah,” including the second mention of “Sibmah” in verse 9, are missing from the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.

The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two words for “not” found in the Septuagint.

The Targum of Isaiah makes no mention of a vine but represents the armies of Heshbon as spoiled and the companies of Sibmah as slain, and the kings of nations as having murdered the princes. The outcasts are then portrayed as coming to Jazer, wandering into the wilderness, and crossing the sea.

Heshbon has been identified with Hisban, a site situated over 15 miles (c. 25 kilometers) east of the location where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea. Sibmah and Jazer, however, cannot be linked to any specific location.

Commentary

The military campaign against Moab is represented as causing extensive devastation. Fields surrounding Heshbon would present a sorry spectacle in a withered, neglected, or desolated state. Terraces where grapevines flourished would lie in ruins. Although once covering an area from Sibmah to Jazer, reaching to the wilderness and appearing to pass over the sea, the “vine” (perhaps referred to as one plant on account of the appearance of the entire area devoted to viticulture) had been destroyed. The striking down of the branches of the vine is attributed to the “masters of nations.” These masters or lords would be the foreign rulers who with their forces invaded the land.

Much of the text of the Septuagint rendering is obscure. It would appear that the invading military force is the entity that swallowed up nations or brought them under the control of the expanding empire. That force is directed to trample down the vines of the land of Moab as far as the city of Jazer.

The Greek word rendered “reach” is a form of synápso, which term can also denote “touch,” “extend,” “join together,” and “come together.” If the meaning is “reach,” this could signify that the invaders would not be able to extend their conquest to the utmost limit as they wandered, or continued their march, through the wilderness. Those who had been sent away from Moab, which could be the messengers, would be left remaining, escaping from the invading force. This is because they would already have completed crossing the “wilderness” (or the “sea”).

16:9. Masoretic Text: Therefore, I will weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah. I will drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; for on your summer fruit and on your harvest, a shout [of warriors] has fallen.

Septuagint: Therefore, I will weep as with the weeping of Iazer [Jazer] for the vine of Sebama [Sibmah]. Your trees he has cast down, O Hesebon [Heshbon] and Eleale [Elealeh], for upon your harvest and vintage I will trample, and everything will fall.

The Targum of Isaiah portrays YHWH as bringing armies against Jazer and slayers against Sibmah, causing Heshbon and Elealeh to be drunk with tears.

Heshbon has been identified with Hisban, a site situated over 15 miles (c. 25 kilometers) east of the location where the Jordan enters the Dead Sea. About two miles (c. 3 kilometers) to the northeast of Hisban is el-‛Al, the place that has been identified with ancient Elealeh. No specific sites can be linked to Jazer and Sibmah.

Commentary

Apparently because of contemplating the great suffering the Moabites would experience, Isaiah is moved to weep. The weeping would be like that of the people of Jazer for the “vine of Sibmah,” or on account of the devastation of the vineyards for which the area around Sibmah had been famous. The shout coming from the victorious invaders of the land would have meant that the people of Heshbon and Elealeh had lost the fruit that ripened in the summer and the produce from the autumn harvest. The impact on Isaiah was so great for what the loss of crops would mean for the Moabites that he spoke of drenching Heshbon and Elealeh with his tears.

According to the Septuagint rendering, the invaders cut down the trees, which would have included the fruit trees. After the reference to the trees, God seemingly is the one who is represented as trampling the harvest and the vintage. In permitting this to happen to the Moabites in expression of his judgment, he is the one who is spoken of as accomplishing it, although the invading warriors would be the ones doing the actual trampling.

16:10. Masoretic Text: And joy and exultation have been removed from the orchard; and in the vineyards, [there is] no jubilating, no [joyous] shouting. No treader treads wine in the vats. I have caused the [joyous] shout [of treaders] to cease.

Septuagint: And joy and exultation will be removed from your vineyards, and by no means will they rejoice in your vineyards and by no means will they tread wine in the vats, for [everything] has ceased.

After mentioning that “they will not be jubilating,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah includes the conjunction “and” before the phrase about the “shouting.”

The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two words for “not” found in the Septuagint.

Commentary

Great joy accompanied the harvesting of grapes and the treading of grapes in the vats to produce the juice that would become wine. With the devastation of the vineyards during the military invasion, all such rejoicing would end. As this development would be an expression of God’s judgment, the end of the joyous shouting is attributed to him.

16:11. Masoretic Text: Therefore, my innards vibrate for Moab like a harp and my inward parts for Kir-heres.

Septuagint: Therefore, my belly will be resounding over Moab like a kithara, and my innards [will be] like a wall that you have restored.

In Hebrew the designation “Kir” (qir) means “wall,” and this explains why the Septuagint says “wall.” Perhaps the rendering was understood as meaning the noise that could be heard when a wall was being restored.

Commentary

Isaiah’s great grief regarding what the Moabites would experience seems to have taken hold of his entire being. Within himself he sensed a state of turmoil, an emotional upheaval comparable to the vibration of the strings on a harp. Either because Kir-heres was the capital city or one of the principal cities of Moab, it is singled out as the object of Isaiah’s emotional inward distress.

16:12. And it will occur that when it is seen that Moab wearies himself on the high place and he has come to his sanctuary to pray, then he will not prevail.

Septuagint: And it will be for you to be shamed, because Moab wearied himself at the altars and she [Moabitis, the people of Moab collectively] will enter into [the sanctuary of] her handmade things so as to pray, and by no means would it be able to rescue him [Moab].

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” is missing at the beginning of the verse. Instead of reading “wearies,” this scroll says Moab “comes.”

The Septuagint rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two words for “not” in the Greek text.

Commentary

The inability of the deities of Moab to provide any aid would become apparent. As the rendering of the Septuagint indicates, this would result in shame for the disheartened people. They would weary themselves in vainly crying out for aid to their gods and performing all the prescribed rituals. Even their chief god Chemosh would not answer; the nonexistent deities would not hear the supplications of the people. The idols were just lifeless handmade objects.

16:13. Masoretic Text: This is the word that YHWH spoke formerly concerning Moab.

Septuagint: This [is] the word that the Lord spoke concerning Moab when he also spoke.

Commentary

In the past, YHWH had directed words of judgment against Moab. The very early prophecy of Balaam pointed to the time when Moab would be subjugated by one (a “star”) coming from Jacob or Israel. (Numbers 24:17) Other prophetic words, doubtless including those expressed through Isaiah, did not indicate just when that judgment might befall the people.

16:14. Masoretic Text: And now YHWH has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hireling, and the honor of Moab will be treated contemptuously among all the great multitude. And the remnant [will be] very few, not strong.

Septuagint: And now I [the Lord] say, “In three years of the years of a hireling, the glory of Moab will be dishonored with all his abundant riches, and he will be left few in number and not honored.

The Hebrew words that can be literally rendered “among all the great multitude” have been variously understood, and this is reflected in modern translations. “The glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all its great multitude.” (NRSV) “The vast population in which Moab glories will be brought into contempt.” (REB) “Moab’s population, with all its huge multitude, shall shrink.” (Tanakh) “Moab’s splendor and all her many people will be despised.” (NIV)

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes the words “not strong.”

Commentary

The judgment upon Moab was sure to come and at a fixed time, within three years. Previously, the judgment message or messages had not included the reference to the exact time. For a hired worker, three years would have meant a very specific period, not just an approximate number of months or years.

The context does not provide the essential historical information that makes it possible to establish when the count of three years began. During the time Isaiah carried on his prophetic activity, Assyria filled the role of the dominant power in the region. Extant Assyrian annals mention a number of Moabite kings who paid tribute, but there is no specific mention of military campaigns that devastated the land of Moab. Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III received tribute from Salamanu of Moab. Moabite king Kammusunadbi paid tribute to Assyrian monarch Sennacherib. Assyrian king Esar-haddon’s annals mention the Moabite king Musuri among those required to provide building material for his palace. Assyrian monarch Ashurbanipal had the support of Moabite king Kamashaltu in dealing with the revolt of Ammuladi the king of Qedar. In a battle with Ammuladi, Kamashaltu proved to be victorious.

The glory or splendor that Moab once enjoyed as a populous nation, together with its riches, came to an end just three years after Isaiah announced YHWH’s message that it would happen. Upon suffering defeat, Moab was stripped of its former glory or splendor. The humiliation would mean that the glory of Moab had been treated with contempt. It appears that the invaders greatly reduced the population of the land, which doubtless included taking many survivors into exile. Few were left, and they were not strong. This could mean that they were primarily the lowly or insignificant Moabites, not the ones who were held in high esteem. What had been a “great multitude” thus came to be an insignificant despised few.