Among the peoples of the Palestine region who were related to the Israelites were the Moabites. They, along with the Ammonites, were descended from Lot through the children that resulted from Lot’s immorality with his two daughters (Gen 19:36-38; see also AMMON). The Moabites lived in the tableland region east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, an area of good pastures suitable for raising sheep (Num 22:1; 2 Kings 3:4; Isa 16:1-2). The Moabites’ chief city was Heshbon (Isa 16:4; Jer 48:2) and their national god was Chemosh (Jer 48:7,46; see CHEMOSH).

Early history

Conflicts with other peoples of the region meant that Moab’s boundaries changed from time to time. At the time Israel invaded Canaan, Moab controlled only the southern portion of the territory east of the Dead Sea – from the Arnon River south to the Zered River. All Moab’s former territory north of the Arnon had been taken by the Amorite king Sihon, who then made Heshbon his capital (Num 21:13,26). In leading the Israelites north towards Canaan, Moses reached the Arnon River without having any conflict with Moab (Num 21:10-13). Now that he was entering territory controlled by the Amorites, Moses asked their permission to travel along the well used road known as the King’s Highway that passed through their territory (Num 21:21-22; Deut 2:26-29). When the Amorites responded with attack, the Israelites crushed their army and seized their territory (Num 21:23-25; Deut 2:30-37; 29:7- 8; see AMORITES). The Moabites feared this Israelite advance. Previously they had refused to supply the Israelites with food and water, but now they increased their opposition. They hired a soothsayer named Balaam to put a curse on them, believing this would ensure their destruction (Num 22:1-6). Balaam was unable to put a curse on Israel, but God put a curse on Moab (Num 23:20-21; 24:17; Deut 23:3-6; see BALAAM). Israel continued to advance, and eventually conquered Canaan. When all the conquered lands (on both sides of the Jordan) were divided among Israel’s twelve tribes, the tribe of Reuben received the former Moabite territory that Israel had taken from the Amorites. The Arnon now became Israel’s border with Moab (Deut 3:12,16).

Moab and Israel

During the time of the judges, Moab, with help from Ammon, exercised control over parts of Israel for eighteen years (Judg 3:12-14). The joint oppressors were finally overthrown by the Israelite hero, Ehud (Judg 3:15-30). Moab had further conflict with Israel during the reign of Saul (1 Sam 14:47), and became subject to Israel’s overlordship during the reign of David (2 Sam 8:2). After the decline of Israelite power through the division of the kingdom, Moab regained its independence (2 Kings 3:6-27), and gathered allies in an attempt to conquer Judah; but God saved his people (2 Chron 20:1-12,20-23). In its arrogance, Moab repeatedly boasted of its glory and mocked God’s people. As a result it brought upon itself the assurance of divine judgment (Isa 16:6-7,13; Jer 48:29-39; Zeph 2:8-11). Moab was among those whose raids helped to weaken Judah in the days of Babylon’s final assault on Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:1-2), and so made its own destruction inevitable (Ezek 25:8-11). God’s prophet warned that when that day of judgment came, all Moab’s desperate pleas for help would be useless (Isa 15:1-9; 16:1-7,12). The conquests by Babylon and Persia saw the prophecies of judgment fulfilled, and Moab’s national existence came to an end (Jer 48:42). Despite Moab’s overall hostility to Israel, there were occasions when individual Moabites showed kindness to Israelites (e.g. 1 Sam 22:3-4). The most notable example was that of the young widow Ruth, who sacrificed her own interests to help her Israelite mother-in-law (Ruth 1:2-5,16-18; 2:1). Ruth later married an Israelite. She became an ancestress of Israel’s King David, and therefore an ancestress of the Messiah Jesus (Ruth 4:13,17; Matt 1:1,5).

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