Isaiah Translated and Explained

by Joseph Addison Alexander

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The Creation Concept

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These chapters contain a prediction of the downfall of Moab. Some writers regard the last two verses of ch. xvi as an addition made by Isaiah to an earlier prediction of his own, or an addition made to a prophecy of Isaiah by a later prophet. The simplest view of the passage is that which regards the whole as a continuous composition, and supposes the Prophet at the close to fix the date of the prediction which he had just uttered. The particular event referred to in these chapters has been variously explained to be the invasion of Moab by Jeroboam II. king of Israel, by Tirhaka king of Ethiopia, by Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, by his successors Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon, by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon etc. The safest conclusion seems to be, that the prediction is generic and intended to describe the destruction of Moab, without exclusive reference to any one of the events by which it was occasioned or promoted, but with special allusions possibly to all of them. Compare the introduction to ch. xiii—xiv.


This chapter is occupied with a description of the general grief, occasioned by the conquest of the chief towns and the desolation of the country at large. Its chief peculiarities of form are the numerous names of places introduced, and the  strong personification by which they are represented as grieving for the public calamity. The chapter closes with an intimation of still greater evils.

1. (This is) the burden of Moab, that in a night Ar-Moab is laid waste, is destroyed; that in a night Kir-Moab is laid waste, is destroyed. The English Version understands the first verse as assigning a reason for the second. Because in a night etc. he ascends etc. But so long a sentence is at variance, not only with the general usage of the language, but with the style of this particular prophecy. Ar originally meant a city, and Ar-Moab the city of Moab, i. e. the capital city, perhaps as the only real city of the Moabites. It was on the south side of the Arnon (Num. 22:36). The Greeks called it Areopolis or City of Mars, according to their favourite practice of corrupting foreign names so as to give them the appearance of significant Greek words. Ptolemy calls it Rhabmathmom, a corruption of the Hebrew Rabbath-Moab i.e. chief city of Moab. Jerome says that the place was destroyed in one night by an earthquake when he was a boy. The Arabs call it Mab and Errabba. It is now in ruins. In connection with the capital city, the Prophet names the principal or only fortress in the land of Moab. Kir originally means a wall, then a walled town or fortress. The place here meant is a few miles southeast of Ar, on a rocky hill, strongly fortified by nature, and provided with a castle. The Chaldee Paraphrase of this verse calls it Kerakka de Moab, the fortress of Moab, which name it has retained among the orientals, who extend it to the whole of ancient Moab.

2. The destruction of the chief cities causes general grief. They (indefinitely) go up to the house (i. e. the temple), and Dibon (to) the high places for (the purpose of) weeping. On Nebo and on Medeba, Moab howlson all his heads baldnessevery beard cut off. The ancient heathen built their temples upon heights (ch. 65:7). Solomon built one to the Moabitish god Chemosh on the mountain before Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:7). Dibon, a town north of the Arnon, bebuilt by the tribe of Gad, and thence called Dibon-gad (Num. 33:45), although it had formerly belonged to Moab, and would seem from this passage to have been recovered by them. The same place is called Dimon in v. 9, in order to assimilate it to the Hebrew word for blood. The modern name is Diban. There is no preposition before it here in Hebrew. Hence it may be either the object or the subject of the verb. The first construction is preferred by the older writers; those of modern date are almost unanimous in favour of the other, which makes Dibon itself go up to the high places. The objection to the first is that Dibon was situated in a plain; to which it may be answered that the phrase go up has reference in many cases not to geographical position but to sacredness and dignity.

3. In its streets they are girded with sackcloth; on its roofs and in its squares (or broad places) all (literally, all of it) howls, coming down with weeping (from house-tops or the temples). In the Hebrew of this verse there is a singular alternation of masculine and feminine forms, all relating to Moab, sometimes considered as a country and sometimes as a nation. The last clause is explained by most modern writers, to mean melting into tears, as the eye is elsewhere said to run down tears or water (Jer. 9:18. Lam. 3:48). But as the eye is not here mentioned, and the preposition is inserted, making a marked difference between this and the alleged expressions, it is better to adhere to the old construction which supposes an antithesis between this clause and the ascent to the temples or the house-tops. Sackcloth is mentioned as the usual mourning dress and a badge of deep humiliation.

4. And Heshbon cries and Elealeheven to Jahaz is their voice heardtherefore the warriors of Moab cryhis soul is distressed to him (or in him). Heshbon, a royal city of the Amorites, assigned to Reuben and to Gad at different times, or to both jointly, famous for its fish-pools, a celebrated town in the days of Eusebius, the ruins of which are still in existence under the slightly altered name of Hesban. Elealeh, often mentioned with it, was also assigned to the tribe of Reuben. Eusebius describes these towns as near together in the highlands of Gilead, opposite to Jericho. Robinson and Smith, while at the latter place, conversed with an Arab chief, who pointed out to them the Wady Hesban. near which far up in the mountain is the ruined place of the same name, the ancient Heshbon. Half an hour north-east of this lies another ruin called El Al, the ancient Elealeh. (Palestine II. 278.)

5. My heart for Moab cries outher fugitives (are fled) as far as Zoaran heifer of three years old-for he that goes up Luhith with weeping goes up by it-for in the way of Horonaim a cry of destruction they lift up. Every part of this obscure verse has given rise to some diversity of exposition. Zoar, one of the cities of the plain, preserved by Lot's intercession, is now ascertained to have been situated on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. at the foot of the mountains near its southern extremity. (Robinson's Palestine II. 480, 648.) It is here mentioned as an extreme southern point, but not without allusion to Lot's escape from the destruction of Sodom.—The next phrase is famous as the subject of discordant explanations. These may however be reduced to two classes, those which regard the words as proper names, and those which regard them as appellatives. All the ancient versions, and the great majority of modern writers, regard the words in question as appellatives, and all agree in rendering the first of the two heifer. The other is explained to mean three years old, or retaining the form of the original more closely, a heifer of the third (year). By a heifer three years old, we may understand one that has never yet been tamed or broken, according to Pliny's maxim, domitura boum in trimatu, pastea sera, antea praematura. Now as personal afflictions are sometimes likened to the taming of animals (Jer. 31:18. Hos. 10:11), and as communities and governments are often represented by the figure of a heifer (Jer. 46:20. 50:11. Hos. 4:16), the expressions thus interpreted would not be inappropriate to the state of Moab, hitherto flourishing and uncontrolled, but now three years old and subjected to the yoke. Some of the older interpreters suppose this statement of the age to have reference to the voice of the animal, which is said to be deepest at that age. There is still a doubt, however, with respect to the application of the simile, as last explained. Some refer it to the Prophet himself. Others to the fugitives of Moab, who escape to Zoar, crying like a heifer three years old. Luhith is mentioned only here and in Jeremiah 48:5. Eusebius describes it as a village still called ***, between Areopolis and Zoar. Horonaim is mentioned only here and in Jer. 48:3, 5, 34. The name originally means two caverns, and is near akin to Beth-boron. It is not improbable that Luhith and Horonaim were on opposite faces of the same hill, so that the fugitives on their way to Zoar, after going up the ascent of Luhith, are seen going down the descent of Horonaim. A cry of breaking is explained by some of the rabbinical interpreters as meaning the explosive sound produced by clapping the hands or smiting the thigh. Others understand it to mean a cry of contrition, i. e. a penitent and humble cry. Gill suggests that it may mean a broken cry, i. e. one interrupted by sighs and sobs. It is possible however that it may be mentioned as the very word uttered.

6. For the waters of Nimrim (are and) shall be desolations; for withered is the grass, gone is the herbage, verdure there is none. The description is continued, the desolation of the country being added to the capture of the cities and the flight of the inhabitants. The waters meant may be streams which met there, or the springs and running streams of that locality. The translation of the first verb as a future and the others as preterites seems to make the desolation of the waters not the cause but the effect of the decay of vegetation. It is better, therefore, to adopt the present or descriptive form throughout the verse, as all the latest writers do.

7. Therefore (because the country can no longer be inhabited) the remainder of what (each) one has made (i. e. acquired), and their hoard (or store), over the brook of the willows they carry them away. Not one of the ancient versions has given a coherent or intelligible rendering of this obscure sentence. It is now commonly agreed that the brook mentioned is the Wady el Ahsa of Burckhardt (the Wady el Ahsy of Robinson and Smith), running into the Dead Sea near its southern extremity, and forming the boundary between Kerek and Gebal, corresponding to the ancient Moab and Edom. On the whole, the most probable meaning of the verse is that the Moabites shall carry what they can save of their possessions into the ancient land of Edom.

8. The lamentation is not confined to any one part of the country. For the cry goes round the border of Moab (i. e. entirely surrounds it); even to Eglaim (is) its howling (heard), and to Beer Elim its howling. The meaning is not that the land is externally surrounded by lamentation, but that lamentation fills it.

9. The expressions grow still stronger. Not only is the land full of tumult and disorder, fear and flight; it is also stained with carnage and threatened with new evils. For the waters of Dimon are full of blood; for I will bring upon Dimon additions (i.e. additional evils), on the escaped (literally, the escape) of Moab a lion; and on the remnant of the land (those left in it, or remaining of its population). By the waters of Dimon or Dibon, most writers understand the Arnon, near the north bank of which the town was built, as the river Kishon is called the waters of Megiddo (Judg. 5:19).