Jeremiah 48 – A Word of Judgment Against Moab
A. Coming judgment against Moab.
1. (1-5) Judgment to come against the cities of Moab.
Against Moab.Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
“Woe to Nebo!
For it is plundered,
Kirjathaim is shamed and taken;
The high stronghold is shamed and dismayed—
No more praise of Moab.
In Heshbon they have devised evil against her:
‘Come, and let us cut her off as a nation.’
You also shall be cut down, O Madmen!
The sword shall pursue you;
A voice of crying shall be from Horonaim:
‘Plundering and great destruction!’
“Moab is destroyed;
Her little ones have caused a cry to be heard;
For in the Ascent of Luhith they ascend with continual weeping;
For in the descent of Horonaim the enemies have heard a cry of destruction.
a. Against Moab: In the series of judgments of nations surrounding Judah, Jeremiah now turned his attention to Israel’s neighbor to the east, on the other side of the Jordan. The ancestor of Moab came from the incestuous pairing of Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19:37).
i. Moab was something of a cousin to Israel. They feared Israel as they came from Egypt towards Canaan (Numbers 22:3-4) and Balak king of Moab hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22:5-8). When Israel came into Canaan, sometimes Moab attacked and ruled over them (Judges 3:12-14).
ii. Later, Ruth the Moabite was the great-grandmother of King David, and David sent his parents to Moab for their protection when Saul hunted him (1 Samuel 22:3-4). When he was king, David fought against and defeated Moab (2 Samuel 8:2), and they became a vassal kingdom to Israel, sometimes rebelling (2 Kings 1:1, 2 Kings 3:4-5).
iii. “There was little love lost between the two nations, a fact which is attested by foreign prophecies directed against Moab by Isaiah (chapters 15-16), Amos (2:1-3), Zephaniah (2:9), Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (25:8-11).” (Thompson)
b. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: The God of Israel was also God of all the earth and spoke with authority in judgment over Moab. He was also the LORD of hosts, the God commanding fearsome heavenly armies.
c. Woe to Nebo! For it is plundered, Kirjathaim is shamed and taken: Jeremiah began by listing many of the major cities and places of Moab that would be overwhelmed in judgment including Nebo, Kirjathaim, Heshbon, Horonaim and Luhith. They would be plundered, shamed, cut down, and destroyed.
i. “Nebo is not the mountain so named, but the Moabite city of Numbers 32:3, 38, built by the Reubenites.” (Harrison)
ii. “Most cities mentioned here had been assigned by Moses to the Reubenites (Numbers 32:33-38; Joshua 13:15-23).” (Harrison)
iii. No more praise of Moab: “To us at this distance the very mention of her renown is ironic, for we can see how local and how temporary was the fame that meant so much to her.” (Kidner)
iv. A voice of crying shall be from Horonaim: “They would not cry for their sins: they shall therefore cry for their miseries with desperate and bootless tears, and yet worse one day.” (Trapp)
v. With continual weeping: “Hebrew, Weeping with weeping shall go up – i.e., they shall weep abundantly.” (Trapp)
2. (6-9) The terror of judgment coming upon Moab.
“Flee, save your lives!
And be like the juniper in the wilderness.
For because you have trusted in your works and your treasures,
You also shall be taken.
And Chemosh shall go forth into captivity,
His priests and his princes together.
And the plunderer shall come against every city;
No one shall escape.
The valley also shall perish,
And the plain shall be destroyed,”
As the LORD has spoken.
“Give wings to Moab,
That she may flee and get away;
For her cities shall be desolate,
Without any to dwell in them.”
a. Flee, save your lives: This was the call that would be heard in Moab when the Babylonian armies advanced upon it.
i. “The picture which this chapter conveys is the shattering of such complacent self-sufficiency in a massive invasion, with its brutal accompaniments: looting, slaughter, captivity, untold misery and bitter lamentation.” (Cundall)
b. Because you have trusted in your works and your treasures: Moab was wealthy because important trade routes came through their land. Their treasures made them proud and self-reliant, ripe for God’s judgment.
i. “Geographically, Moab was more isolated than Israel and Judah, which were on the main trade-routs and were also surrounded by other kingdoms. Moab’s isolation enabled her to escape many of the international upheavals which weakened her neighbours, and she was often able to strengthen herself at their expense.” (Cundall)
c. Chemosh shall go forth into captivity: Chemosh was the ancient god of the Moabites and sometimes used as a representation of the people. In their conquest, the Babylonians would take the literal idols of Chemosh and the people of Chemosh into captivity.
i. “Chemosh was the principal Moabite deity (Numbers 21:29) and the sacrificing of children was an important part of his cult (2 Kings 3:27).” (Harrison)
ii. “Solomon erected a high place for Chemosh in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7), but it was demolished under Josiah (2 Kings 23:13).” (Harrison)
iii. “Despite his thirst for blood, Chemosh had often been a temptation to Israel. In the days of Balaam, Moabite women seduced the Israelites to worship their gods (Numbers 25). King Solomon later married Moabite women and set up an altar to Chemosh (1 Kings 11:1-13).” (Ryken)
iv. “The carrying off of statues of the gods into exile was common in the ancient Near East (cf. Amos 5:25; Isaiah 46:1,2).” (Thompson)
d. Give wings to Moab, that she may flee and get away: The destruction to come would be so complete (her cities shall be desolate) that those who could flee and get away would be fortunate.
i. The valley also shall perish: “The ‘valley’ is the Jordan Valley, which touched Moab on the west. All the Moabite cities will be involved in the doom. The ‘plateau’ is the extensive region where most of the Moabite cities were located.” (Feinberg)
3. (10-13) Complacent Moab must be emptied.
Cursed is he who does the work of the LORD deceitfully,
And cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood.
“Moab has been at ease from his youth;
He has settled on his dregs,
And has not been emptied from vessel to vessel,
Nor has he gone into captivity.
Therefore his taste remained in him,
And his scent has not changed.
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I shall send him wine-workers
Who will tip him over
And empty his vessels
And break the bottles.
Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh,
As the house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence.”
a. Cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood: The armies of Babylon were the unknowing servants of God, executing His judgment upon Judah, Moab, and other nations. They were to do their work without deceit and completely.
i. “Note the fearful twist to what may well have been a proverb or preacher’s text in verse 10a (Cursed is he who does the work of the Lord with slackness), turning it into a charge to Moab’s executioners.” (Kidner)
ii. Jeremiah 48:10 was “Described by a. S. Peake as ‘This bloodthirsty verse’ and regarded by him as an interpolation, is not to be interpreted literally, but as a hyperbolic statement of the completeness of the judgment about to fall. Such an event inevitably involves bloodshed, but the Lord takes no delight in the death of the most rebellious sinner (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).” (Cundall)
b. Moab has been at ease from his youth: God spoke through Jeremiah a remarkable picture of Moab’s sin and condition. They had been at ease for a long time and had settled on his dregs.
i. The picture is from the ancient process of refining wine. After fermentation, the wine would sit in a jar or bottle and the impurities – the dregs – would settle on the bottom, something like coffee grounds at the bottom of a cup. It would then be carefully poured into another vessel, leaving the dregs in the first vessel. Doing this a few times made for a wine with fewer impurities to spoil the taste.
ii. “One secret of the corruption of Moab had been that of its comparative ease.” (Morgan)
iii. “She lay outside the normal route of the invaders of the Middle East and was rarely disturbed.” (Thompson)
iv. “For defence, Moab had towering cliffs, and for wealth, her enormous flocks of sheep, riches that were self-renewing. But the shelter of these things had bred more complacency than character.” (Kidner)
c. Has not been emptied from vessel to vessel: Moab had not been shaken up in a while and had settled into a comfortable complacency. According to the picture, the remaining dregs began to flavor and spoil the wine. Moab – and many people today – would benefit from being emptied from vessel to vessel. For them it meant coming captivity.
i. “The simile is particularly apposite because of the esteem in which Moabite vineyards were held (cf. Isaiah 16:8-11).” (Harrison)
ii. “Readers of the missionary classic, Hudson Taylor in Early Years, may remember the apt heading, ‘Emptied from Vessel to Vessel’, to a chapter describing an unsettling but ultimately fruitful few months in the missionary’s second year in China. ” (Kidner)
d. Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent has not changed: The picture remains true. If we are not emptied out from time to time we never grow, and our scent does not change. God promised to send wine-workers to Moab who would tip him over and empty his vessels and will faithfully do a similar work in lives of His people today.
i. For Moab, this was a demonstration of God’s judgment and anger. For the believer under the new covenant, it is a demonstration of God’s goodness and compassion.
ii. “Unlike an earthenware jar that is carefully tilted so as not to lose the sediment of the wine, Moab will be roughly dealt with (‘pour her out’) and emptied like jars and smashed like jugs.” (Feinberg)
e. Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh: Through the coming Babylonian conquest and captivity, God promised to break down their confidence in their local deity Chemosh, even as He broke the confidence of the northern kingdom of Israel in Bethel, their center of idolatry.
4. (14-17) The calamity to come upon Moab.
“How can you say, ‘We are mighty
And strong men for the war’?
Moab is plundered and gone up from her cities;
Her chosen young men have gone down to the slaughter,” says the King,
Whose name is the LORD of hosts.
“The calamity of Moab is near at hand,
And his affliction comes quickly.
Bemoan him, all you who are around him;
And all you who know his name,
Say, ‘How the strong staff is broken,
The beautiful rod!’”
a. We are mighty and strong men for the war: This was the attitude of Moab in the face of the Babylonian threat. God showed how this was foolish and vain confidence. They would be plundered and exiled (gone up from her cities).
i. “Partly because of isolation, Moab had never undergone the experience of exile, even though invaded and occupied periodically.” (Harrison)
b. Says the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts: It wasn’t a local deity who brought this word to Moab. It was the King over all, Yahweh, who commanded the armies of heaven (the LORD of hosts).
c. How the strong staff is broken: This would be the response of surrounding nations. Moab seemed like a beautiful and strong staff, but would be broken by the Babylonians.
i. The strong staff: “The expressions mighty scepter and glorious staff refer back to the days when Moab was able to exert some influence in the neighboring areas (Jeremiah 27:3; 2 Kings 1:1; 3:4-5; 24:2).” (Thompson)
5. (18-24) The complete nature of the conquest of Moab.
“O daughter inhabiting Dibon,
Come down from your glory,
And sit in thirst;
For the plunderer of Moab has come against you,
He has destroyed your strongholds.
O inhabitant of Aroer,
Stand by the way and watch;
Ask him who flees
And her who escapes;
Say, ‘What has happened?’
Moab is shamed, for he is broken down.
Wail and cry!
Tell it in Arnon, that Moab is plundered.
“And judgment has come on the plain country:
On Holon and Jahzah and Mephaath,
On Dibon and Nebo and Beth Diblathaim,
On Kirjathaim and Beth Gamul and Beth Meon,
On Kerioth and Bozrah,
On all the cities of the land of Moab,
Far or near.”
a. O daughter inhabiting Dibon, come down from your glory: God spoke to Moab in its cities and landmarks, telling them to humble themselves and prepare for the judgment to come as the plunderer of Moab has come.
i. “Dibon, the modern Diban, was four miles north of the Arnon and thirteen miles east of the Dead Sea. The Moabite Stone was discovered here in 1868.” (Harrison)
b. All the cities of the land of Moab, far or near: To give a sense of completeness of the judgment, Jeremiah listed at least 14 specific cities or places in Moab.
B. The reason for judgment: the pride of Moab.
1. (25-28) Proud Moab thought itself better than Israel.
“The horn of Moab is cut off,
And his arm is broken,” says the LORD.
“Make him drunk,
Because he exalted himself against the LORD.
Moab shall wallow in his vomit,
And he shall also be in derision.
For was not Israel a derision to you?
Was he found among thieves?
For whenever you speak of him,
You shake your head in scorn.
You who dwell in Moab,
Leave the cities and dwell in the rock,
And be like the dove which makes her nest
In the sides of the cave’s mouth.”
a. The horn of Moab is cut off, and his arm is broken: The horn and the arm were representations of strength, one from the world of animals and the other from men. God would show Moab to be empty of all strength.
i. The horn of Moab is cut off: “i.e., His strength, power, glory, kingdoms; his sultans and princes, saith the Chaldee.” (Trapp)
b. Make him drunk, because he exalted himself against the LORD: Proud Moab believed they were greater than Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel. They also believed they were greater than Israel, holding them in derision. They held this sense of superiority when the Assyrians conquered the northern king of Israel and they escaped.
i. Moab shall wallow in his vomit: “Wallow in his vomit (EVV) uses the Hebrew verb sapaq, which, however, means to clap the hands (Numbers 24:0; Lamentations 2:15) and to clap the thigh (Jeremiah 31:19). Presumably the reference here is to a person holding his abdomen as he vomits.” (Harrison)
ii. “The drunken stupor of Moab is a warning to everyone who mocks God. God suffers himself to be ridiculed by his creatures. …But God will not be mocked forever. There was nothing humorous about Moab wallowing in her own vomit.” (Ryken)
iii. “The picture of a drunken man doubled over by vomiting is both disgusting and likely to provoke derision. Once Moab had laughed at Israel as she drank the cup of Yahweh’s wrath, regarding her as a laughingstock.” (Thompson)
c. Leave the cities and dwell in the rock: The coming judgment would make the people of Moab refugees from their cities, forced to find refuge in the mountains and their rocks.
2. (29-35) Proud Moab brought low.
“We have heard the pride of Moab
(He is exceedingly proud),
Of his loftiness and arrogance and pride,
And of the haughtiness of his heart.”
“I know his wrath,” says the LORD,
“But it is not right;
His lies have made nothing right.
Therefore I will wail for Moab,
And I will cry out for all Moab;
I will mourn for the men of Kir Heres.
O vine of Sibmah! I will weep for you with the weeping of Jazer.
Your plants have gone over the sea,
They reach to the sea of Jazer.
The plunderer has fallen on your summer fruit and your vintage.
Joy and gladness are taken
From the plentiful field
And from the land of Moab;
I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses;
No one will tread with joyous shouting—
Not joyous shouting!”
“From the cry of Heshbon to Elealeh and to Jahaz
They have uttered their voice,
From Zoar to Horonaim,
Like a three-year-old heifer;
For the waters of Nimrim also shall be desolate.
“Moreover,” says the LORD,
“I will cause to cease in Moab
The one who offers sacrifices in the high places
And burns incense to his gods.”
a. We have heard of the pride of Moab: There was a lot to say about the pride of Moab. God described it as exceedingly proud, as loftiness and arrogance and pride, and as haughtiness of his heart.
i. “Jeremiah here piles up a number of synonymous terms designed to emphasize Moab’s pride.” (Thompson)
b. I know his wrath: Moab’s pride was also connected to their wrath or anger. Believing themselves to be better than others, they found it easy to feel and act in an angry manner. God knew that it is not right. Their pride explained their anger but did not justify it.
c. Therefore I will wail for Moab: Even though the judgment was richly deserved, it was not rejoiced in. God and His prophet would cry out and mourn because of the destruction to come upon Moab and her people.
d. Joy and gladness are taken from the plentiful field: Moab’s previous prosperity in the field and the winepress would turn to sorrow and desolation. This would happen all over the land of Moab. Their idol sacrifices on the high places would stop.
i. No one will tread with joyous shouting: “Verse 33 is a variant of Isaiah 16:10. The implication is that the shout will not be the glad cry of the vintagers, but the noise of warriors bent on destruction.” (Harrison)
ii. Like a three-year-old heifer: “Which runs lowing from place to place in search of her calf, which is lost or taken from her.” (Clarke)
3. (36-42) Mourning for Moab.
“Therefore My heart shall wail like flutes for Moab,
And like flutes My heart shall wail
For the men of Kir Heres.
Therefore the riches they have acquired have perished.
“For every head shall be bald, and every beard clipped;
On all the hands shall be cuts, and on the loins sackcloth—
A general lamentation
On all the housetops of Moab,
And in its streets;
For I have broken Moab like a vessel in which is no pleasure,” says the LORD.
“They shall wail:
‘How she is broken down!
How Moab has turned her back with shame!’
So Moab shall be a derision
And a dismay to all those about her.”
For thus says the LORD:
“Behold, one shall fly like an eagle,
And spread his wings over Moab.
Kerioth is taken,
And the strongholds are surprised;
The mighty men’s hearts in Moab on that day shall be
Like the heart of a woman in birth pangs.
And Moab shall be destroyed as a people,
Because he exalted himself against the LORD.”
a. Therefore My heart shall wail like flutes for Moab: God and His prophet did not celebrate the coming doom upon Moab. Though they deserved the judgment, it was still painful to see it come upon Israel’s cousin and neighbor.
b. Every head shall be bald, and every beard clipped: Jeremiah recounted their many demonstrations of mourning, including ritual cutting (on all the hands shall be cuts) and the wearing of sackcloth.
c. I have broken Moab like a vessel in which is no pleasure: Clay pots or vessels were cheaply made in the ancient world. When the use or pleasure of a pot had ended, it was quickly and easily broken. This was a picture of how God’s judgment would come upon Moab. It would be so bad that men would show the pain and fear of a woman in the labor of birth.
i. One shall fly like an eagle: “The eagle, ready to swoop on its prey, was an apt figure of Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 49:22).” (Harrison)
d. Moab shall be destroyed as a people: The people of Moab would no longer continue as a separate, defined people. In a sense they would be lost to history, unlike Israel. All this came because he exalted himself against the LORD.
i. “Moab’s predicted extinction began with a heavy Nabatean settlement in the first century BC, and culminated under the Arabs in the Byzantine period.” (Harrison)
ii. “The end of Moab as an independent nation seems to have come in 582 BC when Nebuchadnezzar, no doubt because of a rebellion, marched against Moab and Ammon. …Not long after this the small states in Transjordan were overwhelmed by an Arab invasion and ceased to exist as a nation.” (Thompson)
4. (43-47) Unrelenting judgment, a glimmer of hope.
Fear and the pit and the snare shall be upon you,
O inhabitant of Moab,” says the LORD.
“He who flees from the fear shall fall into the pit,
And he who gets out of the pit shall be caught in the snare.
For upon Moab, upon it I will bring
The year of their punishment,” says the LORD.
“Those who fled stood under the shadow of Heshbon
Because of exhaustion.
But a fire shall come out of Heshbon,
A flame from the midst of Sihon,
And shall devour the brow of Moab,
The crown of the head of the sons of tumult.
Woe to you, O Moab!
The people of Chemosh perish;
For your sons have been taken captive,
And your daughters captive.
“Yet I will bring back the captives of Moab
In the latter days,” says the LORD.
Thus far is the judgment of Moab.
a. Fear and the pit and the snare shall be upon you: God promised that the judgment to come upon Moab would be thorough. If someone escaped an aspect of it, another aspect of judgment would catch up with them.
i. Thompson observed on Jeremiah 48:45-46: “It would appear that these verses consist of free quotation from the old song of Heshbon which occurs in Numbers 21:28-29 and also from Numbers 24:17. We may see in these words a claim that Balaam’s oracle against Moab was about to be enacted.” (Thompson)
b. Yet I will bring back the captives of Moab: Despite the complete nature of the judgment to come against them, God promised a measure of mercy to Moab in the latter days.
i. “Perhaps the restoration spoken of here, which was to take place in the latter days, may mean the conversion of these people, in their existing remnants, to the faith of the Gospel. Several judicious interpreters are of this opinion. The Moabites were partially restored; but never, as far as I have been able to learn, to their national consequence. Their conversion to the Christian faith must be the main end designed by this prophecy.” (Clarke)