Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
“Woe to Nebo, for it is laid waste!
Kiriathaim is put to shame, it is taken;
the fortress is put to shame and broken down;
the renown of Moab is no more.
In Heshbon they planned disaster against her:
‘Come, let us cut her off from being a nation!’
You also, O Madmen, shall be brought to silence;
the sword shall pursue you.
“A voice! A cry from Horonaim,
‘Desolation and great destruction!’
Moab is destroyed;
her little ones have made a cry.
For at the ascent of Luhith
they go up weeping;
for at the descent of Horonaim
they have heard the distressed cry of destruction.
Flee! Save yourselves!
You will be like a juniper in the desert!
For, because you trusted in your works and your treasures,
you also shall be taken;
and Chemosh shall go into exile
with his priests and his officials.
The destroyer shall come upon every city,
and no city shall escape;
the valley shall perish,
and the plain shall be destroyed,
as the Lord has spoken.
“Give wings to Moab,
for she would fly away;
her cities shall become a desolation,
with no inhabitant in them.” – Jeremiah 48:1-9 ESV
Moab, Nebo, Kiriathaim, Madmen, Heshbon, Horonaim, Luhith, and Chemosh. This is like a Who’s-Who of who’s that? Besides Moab, most of these other names are probably unfamiliar to us. And yet, God has His prophet, Jeremiah, call out each of these cities and Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, in particular, providing them with specific words of warning concerning their future fates. Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. So, the Moabites were distant relatives of the Jews. But they had been a thorn in the side of the Israelites since the days of King Saul and King David. David’s great-great grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabite. And Solomon, David’s son and successor to his throne would have many Moabite concubines, who would entice him to erect a shrine near Jerusalem, to Chemosh, the Moabite god.
We are not told when this oracle against Moab was given. But it is clearly a prediction by God of their looming destruction and, while this passage does not provide us with the reasons behind God’s anger with them, we can determine their guilt based on other passages. The Moabites are listed among those nations that joined King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces by providing raiding parties to destroy Judah.
During Jehoiakim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the land of Judah. Jehoiakim surrendered and paid him tribute for three years but then rebelled. Then the Lord sent bands of Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite, and Ammonite raiders against Judah to destroy it, just as the Lord had promised through his prophets. – 2 Kings 24:1-2 NLT
Because of the disobedience of the nations of Israel and Judah, God was obligated by His justice to punish them for their sin and rebellion against Him. So, He used the nations around them to bring about their destruction. His primary tool would be the Babylonians, but other nations would join in the feeding frenzy like sharks drawn to blood in the water. The Moabites would opportunistically take advantage of the fall of the people of God, hoping to benefit from their elimination. But God would hold them responsible for the part they played. While it is clear that God sovereignly ordained the roles the Babylonians, Moabites, Ammonites and others played in Judah’s fall, that does not mean they were forced to do so. It is not an indication that they did so against their wills. It simply means that God orchestrated the timing and sovereignly utilized the natural proclivities of these pagan nations to accomplish His divine will concerning Judah. These nations were naturally blood-thirsty and opportunistic. Their leaders were predisposed to conquer and destroy. God did not make Nebuchadnezzar invade Judah against his wishes. But God did orchestrate Nebuchadnezzar’s rise to power and the timing of the Babylonian invasion of the land of Judah.
And while God would also use the Moabites to accomplish His divinely ordained destruction of Judah, He would also hold the Moabites responsible for the part they played. Once again, they played their part willingly and eagerly. God simply used the natural predisposition of the Moabites to accomplish what He had ordained. And He would see that they paid for their part in Judah’s fall.
“What sorrow awaits the city of Nebo;
it will soon lie in ruins.
The city of Kiriathaim will be humiliated and captured;
the fortress will be humiliated and broken down.” – Jeremiah 48:1 NLT
Nebo and Kiriathaim were two major cities in the land of Moab. God specifically mentions a number of towns located throughout the land of Moab, signifying that the destruction would be widespread. The entire nation would feel the impact of God’s wrath and subsequent judgment. The Moabites would attack Judah when they were down and out, but God would hold them responsible for their opportunistic treatment of their distant relatives. And God makes it painfully clear: “All Moab is destroyed” (Jeremiah 48:4 NLT). He warns them in advance to run for their lives and escape the coming destruction, because the fall of Moab will be inevitable and unavoidable. God also provides a not-so-subtle indictment against Moab’s idolatry and prideful self-sufficiency.
“Because you have trusted in your wealth and skill,
you will be taken captive.
Your god Chemosh, with his priests and officials,
will be hauled off to distant lands!” – Jeremiah 48:7 NLT
Even Chemosh, the Moabite god, would be hauled away as booty, a fitting fate for a god who was non-existent and totally incapable of providing protection for itself, let alone the people who worshiped it. Moab’s destruction will be complete.
“All the towns will be destroyed,
and no one will escape—
either on the plateaus or in the valleys,
for the Lord has spoken.
Oh, that Moab had wings
so she could fly away,
for her towns will be left empty,
with no one living in them.” – Jeremiah 48:8-9 NLT
As with God’s prediction of the fall of the Philistines in chapter 47, this oracle concerning Moab’s fall is clearly meant to let the people of Judah know that the God they have forsaken is in control. He is all-powerful, completely sovereign over all the nations, and fully capable of accomplishing all He has promised to do, using any and every resource at His divine disposal to make it happen. And each and every actor in God’s divine drama will play their part, but also be held responsible for the role they play. No one, including the people of Judah, will escape God’s justice. No nation or king will walk away unscathed or guiltless in this God-orchestrated, divinely-ordained chain of events. Pagan kings, false gods, mighty nations, opportunistic neighbors, large cities, small villages, and people of all walks of life would feel the wrath of God. When the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel speaks, everyone may not listen to or obey what He has to say, but they will all experience the full impact of His sovereign will.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.