Background on the Moabites

The history of the Moabites and the Ammonites begins with Lot, who was a most interesting character. He was a man of faith, ability and ambition, but were it not for the New Testament statement about him, we would most likely draw some wrong conclusions.

Lot termed righteous

Lot is described in the New Testament as just or righteous Lot and he has the distinction of holding that reputation in a most evil environment. From the Genesis record he is seen to be a man of outstanding ability and faith but one who brought upon himself much misery by the environment which he chose. Starting with the knowledge that Lot was a righteous man we conclude that he must have believed in the God of Abraham and the promises which He made to Abraham. We are told that when Abraham set out to go to an unknown land in response to God’s command, “Lot went with him!” He was not persuaded to go, he went! He, too, left behind the security of his native land and went out not knowing whither he went.

For some time he shared God’s blessing with Abraham and it was because his cattle and herdsmen had grown to such proportions that it became necessary for him to part from Abraham. There was strife between his and Abraham’s herdsmen and Abraham suggested the expediency of separating, giving Lot the first choice of all the land before them.

A wrong choice

It is at this stage that we see a sharp contrast between the magnanimity of Abraham and the selfishness of Lot. Lot looked around and we are told, “Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan.” His choice was self-centred — “he chose him.” He made the choice and he made it for himself, and the things that governed his choice reveal something about his thinking. Not only was the well-watered plain ideal for his cattle, but it suggested two things to him, it was like the garden of the Lord and like the land of Egypt. These two aspects dominate his thinking throughout his life; he believed and wanted to share the benefits of God’s promises to Abraham, but he also saw great possibilities in the move toward Sodom.

So it was that from dwelling outside Sodom that Lot not only moved into the city but he quickly graduated to become a judge sitting within the gate (Gen. 19:1), a position for which he was later criticised by the angry men of the city (v. 9). In those days the gate of a city was used very much as the town hall is used today. All the business of the people was transacted there as the references in the footnote show.

Impact on family

It is worth spending a little time thinking of Lot’s decision and its consequences upon his family, for it is not unknown today for brethren of outstanding ability to make the same mistakes. Lot believed and wanted a part in the promises that God made to Abraham but he also saw the possibilities of living in Sodom. He believed that he could still maintain his righteousness while living among the Sodomites and perhaps he even thought that he could be a good influence on the people as he sat as a judge in the gate. He did not consider, however, that what he was able to do, his family might not.

His faith might be strong enough for him to maintain his righteousness but the environment might prove to be too much for his children. His uncle, Abraham, went to great lengths to obtain the best possible wife for his son, but Lot had placed his daughters among the Sodomites and we are told that they were to marry two of them (Gen. 19:4 see RV mg.). It so often happens that a temporary lapse in the lives of parents has spiritually fatal consequences for their children, but to choose a way of life set in a hostile environment is really placing our children in an impossible situation. Our faith may be as strong as was Lot’s, or we may convince ourselves that it is, but our children, being of tender years in the Truth, may not have developed sufficiently to cope with the problems and temptations of the lifestyle which we have chosen.

Bad choice, bad results

Lot maintained his righteousness but by his choice brought upon himself daily vexation of spirit. Not only so, while he entered Sodom as a rich man, he left it with absolutely nothing.

He had approached the edge of a downward spiral and while he had kept his head above water his family were engulfed. His wife, whose heart was with Sodom, looked back to see its destruction and perished with it, while his daughters lived only to produce children by drunkenness and incest, children who were to be the progenitors of two accursed races — the Moabites and the Ammonites (Deut. 23:3).

It is a sad story of a man of ability and faith who set his sights on “the garden of the Lord and the land of Egypt;” he sought the best of both worlds. Although he maintained his righteousness, he was eventually only saved because of the prayers of Abraham. He would have much time to reflect upon his folly as he tried to put together the threads of his life, living in a cave outside the little city of Zoar!

Two nations

Such was the beginning of the Moabites and the Ammonites. We read nothing more of them until the children of Israel were about to enter the promised land and by that time they were described as having a king and princes. We read of several times when they were overcome by their enemies — by the Amorites, by Israel in the times of the Judges, by Israel led by Saul and later by David, who imposed heavy taxation upon them. Finally they were overthrown by Babylon in 582 BC (see Jer. 48).

Moab’s own record

There is an interesting confirmation of the descent of Moab from Lot and also of the conquest of Omri, king of Israel over the Moabites. A stone, now known as the Moabite stone, was discovered and inscriptions upon it throw some light on this history. The following is a quotation from the Encyclopædia Britannica:

The black stone 1.1 m high, was discovered at Dhiban in 1868 and is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The stone’s text of 34 lines, written in a Canaanite alphabet similar to contemporary Hebrew, is the only written document of any length that survives from Moab and the only royal stela known from Israel’s neighbours. In its inscription, Mesha (fl.c.870 BC) tells of King Omri’s reconquest of Moab and ascribes the renewed Israelite domination over Moab to the anger of Chemosh…The Moabite language differed only dialectally from Hebrew, and the Moabite religion and culture were very closely related to those of the Israelites.

The latter part of this quotation is what we would expect, knowing the origin of the Moabites to be through Lot who was the nephew of Abraham.

Israel encounters Moab

At the time of taking a census of the tribes of Israel for the dividing of the land, the men of 20 years old and upward numbered 601,730. If we add to this number that of their wives and children, the Levites, and the mixed multitude who came with them from Egypt and all their cattle, they would appear a formidable host to the Moabites. We are told that on their way from the wilderness to the land, Israel camped in the plains of Moab near to Jericho and it is not surprising that the king of Moab was “sore afraid of the people and distressed because of the children of Israel,” particularly as he had seen what they had done to the Amorites (Num. 22:1-3). It was at this point that Balak, king of Moab, hired the services of the prophet Balaam. Balak had the mistaken impression that if, because Balaam’s prophecies came to pass, he could get him to prophesy Israel’s doom it was bound to happen (Num. 22:6). His fears and attempts to persuade Balaam to speak out against Israel were all in vain: had he only known that God had already commanded Moses not to distress the Moabites or to contend with them in battle, he need have done nothing! (Deut. 2:9).

Balaam, who failed to utter a prophecy favourable to king Balak, satisfied his greed for the king’s payment by teaching Israel, of whom God had said “Israel shall dwell alone,” to intermarry with the Moabites. Balaam’s plan was that God’s wrath would fall upon Israel and he would eventually receive his reward (Num. 23:9; 25:3; 31:16). Not long after this, Balaam was slain under Moses’ leadership when he led the children of Israel to be avenged of the Midianites (Num. 31:8).

Balaam’s remarkable prophecy

Though Balaam was an ungodly man, God did use him to reveal His purpose with Israel. The prophecies begin by showing how the Israelites have been separated by God to dwell alone; they are a unique people and are to be blessed above all nations. The last prophecy (Num. 24:15-25) gives a wonderful glimpse of the future,“I will advertise thee what this people shall do unto thy people in the latter days.” He prophesies the coming of Messiah in the last days (“I shall see him, but not now”) and describes him as “a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre rising out of Israel.” Both the star and the sceptre are used of Jesus in the Scriptures; his birth was heralded miraculously by the star, and the sceptre will be his at his second coming when he comes as king to rule in righteousness.

It is at this second coming that Christ will smite “the corners of Moab,” meaning that Moab will be utterly defeated. Moses also wrote of this time when after the Exodus he taught the children of Israel to sing what is now known as the Song of Moses. The song is a song of triumph for God’s victory over the Egyptians: but it is also prophetic of the last days, as the following quotation makes clear:

Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation. The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O LORD, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established (Ex. 15:13-17).

Note the words “redeemed,” “which thou hast purchased,” “in the sanctuary” which point to the saints who, led by Christ, will make the “mighty men of Moab”tremble. There is some doubt as to the meaning of “Sheth” in Numbers 24:17, but it is suggested that it refers to Seth, a progenitor of nations and thus shows the universal nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

Moab’s future

There are many prophecies which speak of the utter and complete destruction of Moab and the question might very well be asked, since this happened in 582 BC when Moab disappeared from history being overrun by the Babylonians, how can there be prophecies which refer to Moab in the last days? The question is answered by Jeremiah who wrote, “All ye that are about him, bemoan him; and all ye that know his name, say, How is the strong staff broken, and the beautiful rod,” “Yet will I bring again the captivity of Moab in the latter days, saith the LORD. Thus far is the judgement of Moab” (Jer. 48:17,47). One would not expect that the actual descendants of Moab be referred to but rather the people who occupy their land in the last days. If we add to this the words of Daniel that Edom, Moab and Ammon will escape the hand of the northern invader while Egypt will not (Dan. 11:40,41), we must conclude that Egypt, Edom, Moab and Ammon are not on the side of the northern host at that time. We must await developments to see how this is to be fulfilled, but Egypt and Jordan (the latter covers the territories of Moab and Ammon), although Arab peoples, have always had a different relationship with England and Israel than the others. In connection with this, the words of Isaiah (Isa. 16:2-5) must be remembered that for a brief time in the last days Moab will give refuge to Israel’s outcasts before being itself utterly destroyed (Isa. 16:13,14).

In the last days

It would appear that the northern host will follow the route taken by the ancient King of the North, pushing down the western side of the land and driving the Israelis down into Egypt when, no doubt, some will flee to the east into Moab. Together, these verses provide an interesting antitype to Lot’s experiences: he too found a temporary refuge in Sodom and his deliverance was by God who sent His angels to drag him forth before the complete destruction of the cities of the plain.

Israel is to be given shelter for a brief time by Moab before Moab is destroyed. We know there will be a second Exodus for God’s people from the land of Egypt (Isa. 11:15-16) but we also know they will be gathered from many other places (Isa. 11:11; Zech. 10:10-12; Hos. 11:11). Zephaniah completes this type by likening the destruction of Moab to that of Sodom:

Therefore as I live, saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them (Zeph. 2:9).

Isaiah carries the type a little further by showing that as Lot fled to Zoar so will the inhabitants of Moab:

My heart shall cry out for Moab; his fugitives shall flee unto Zoar, an heifer of three years old: for by the mounting up of Luhith with weeping shall they go up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction (Isa. 15:5).

We do not know just how or when these nations will be guided to fulfil these prophecies, but we can be confident they will come to pass and if we are alert, we shall recognize them as they unfold. We must not, however, be too influenced by current events which sometimes seem to point in a different direction; current events can change rapidly but Bible prophecy remains constant!

Cyril Tennant