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(Picture, “War & Poverty” by Kelly Short — I am using this picture because it provokes one to sympathy by seeing the horror of war — is one of the primary effects of Isaiah 15-16)

In reading Isaiah 15-16, I thought (1) How would I preach this passage? And (2) What is important in the manner of its composition: It is poetry, with a great deal of emphatic compression, repetition and imagery. Why is written like this and not as a narrative or as a didactic declaration?

I.  The Horror of Judgment

The overall tone is one of pathos. The repetition insists upon the horror and sorrow:

Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night

Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night

And so on. Every detail of the devastation is repeated and amplified. It is like a series of snapshots of broken walls, bodies and wailing. The destruction is absolute and goes down even to the earth. 16:8-10

There are refugees fleeing in all directions and the terror and sorrow spread in all directions like blood from the corpses:

Isaiah 15:8–9 (ESV)

          For a cry has gone

around the land of Moab;

her wailing reaches to Eglaim;

her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.

          For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;

for I will bring upon Dibon even more,

a lion for those of Moab who escape,

for the remnant of the land.

I can help thinking of all the millions pouring out of the Middle East who suffer loss and death and sorrow even as they flee. Any sermon must effectuate the sorrow and horror of the judgment or the sermon will have failed in its purpose.

II.  The Cause of Judgment

Second there is the cause of this devastation:

Isaiah 16:6–7 (ESV)

          We have heard of the pride of Moab—

how proud he is!—

of his arrogance, his pride, and his insolence;

in his idle boasting he is not right.

          Therefore let Moab wail for Moab,

let everyone wail.

Mourn, utterly stricken,

for the raisin cakes of Kir-hareseth.

This reminds me of Obadiah 3 (which is interesting when you compare this to Amos 1:11-12 & 2:1-3).  So this horror has come about because of pride.

III.  The Escape from Judgment

Third, this is the real bite in the passage. God has destroyed Moab with a horror beyond belief.  But God mourns the destruction:

Isaiah 15:5 (ESV)

          My heart cries out for Moab;

her fugitives flee to Zoar,

to Eglath-shelishiyah.

For at the ascent of Luhith

they go up weeping;

on the road to Horonaim

they raise a cry of destruction;


Isaiah 16:9 (ESV)

          Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer

for the vine of Sibmah;

I drench you with my tears,

O Heshbon and Elealeh;

for over your summer fruit and your harvest

the shout has ceased.

God loves his enemies: God judges, and yet there is compassion for the necessity of the judgment:

Luke 19:41–44

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

There is a command to shelter the refugees:

Isaiah 16:3–5 (ESV)

          “Give counsel;

grant justice;

make your shade like night

at the height of noon;

shelter the outcasts;

do not reveal the fugitive;

          let the outcasts of Moab

sojourn among you;

be a shelter to them

from the destroyer.

When the oppressor is no more,

and destruction has ceased,

and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,

          then a throne will be established in steadfast love,

and on it will sit in faithfulness

in the tent of David

one who judges and seeks justice

and is swift to do righteousness.”

Notice this command ends with the protection in the tent of David. This phrase “tent of David” matches (in the LXX) the language of Acts 15:16:

The citation from Amos 9:12 follows the LXX fairly closely, though this version differs from the Massoretic (Hebrew) text in significant ways.49 ‘Precisely the divergence of the LXX from the Hebrew enables the text to be used midrashically.’50 The purpose of this restoration of the Davidic rule is not simply to bless Israel but also ‘ “that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things” ’. James adds words possibly taken from Isaiah 45:21 ‘ “(things known from long ago” ’) as a gloss on the concluding words from Amos 9:12 (‘ “these things” ’).51 This addition strengthens the claim that God’s plan to save Gentiles along with Jews is no novelty, since it was part of his eternal purpose (cf. Rom. 15:8–12).

David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 432.

The language of the throne coupled to the tent of David strengthens the tie to Jesus (and all of the cross-references to Jesus based upon this language).

The reason why the sorrow and terror are seen throughout the poem is that God intends to provoke the same sorrow and terror in the hearer. Moab is guilty. The judgment is justice, but it is sad, frightening event. God is calling upon his people to rescue the judged people of Moab.

It is interesting that it is not certain what attack is being foretold:

The first part of the prophecy, 15:1–9, tells of the devastating effect of the disaster which was to befall Moab. As noted above, the actual nature of the attack cannot be determined from the general account here. The major emphasis is upon the effect, which will be that the Moabites will be so demoralized that their only response will be weeping and flight.

John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 336–337.

But by analogy, the lesser judgment all foretell the greater judgment to come. This would lend itself, by such analogy to a very evangelistic plea. The tie to seeking protection in the tent of David would strengthen the argument.

God foretells this judgment, primarily to the people of God, to provoke them with both the horror of the judgment and the sorrow of the victims (who deserve the judgment) so that they will reach out and rescue these people by bringing them into the tent of David.