Isaiah 15 – Moab’s Devastation & Beards and Hairstyles

That’s really cool that You tossed the devil out of heaven because I hear that he’s some really serious bad news.  I bet if he would’ve had a mother she would’ve put him up for adoption. 

And that’s really cool that You protected Jerusalem from the Assyrians, those were some mean and nasty people.  They’re just like the devil himself.  Mean, nasty, powerful, but nothing but powder puffs compared to You, Jesus and the Holy Ghost, but I know there’s only one of You guys (Deut 4:39, 32:39; Isa 43:11, 44:6, 45:5), and that all you guys are separate but the same (1 Jn 5:7).

1 The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence; because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence;

15:1-16:14see Jer 48; Eze 25:8-11; Amos 2:1-3; Zeph 2:8-11.

Dibon
Dibon, modern Dhībān, ancient capital of Moab, located north of the Arnon River in west-central Jordan. Excavations conducted there since 1950 by the archaeologists affiliated with the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem have uncovered the remains of several city walls, a square tower, and numerous buildings.

The pottery found on the site dates from Early Bronze (c. 3200–c. 2300 bc) to Early Arabic (c. 7th century ad), although pottery dating from the Middle and Late Bronze ages (c. 2300–c. 1550 bc; c. 1550–c. 1200 bc) is very rare, thus adding weight to the modern assumption that a great part of Transjordan reverted to nomadism during that time.

One of the most important finds at Dibon was the discovery in 1868 of the so-called Moabite Stone, bearing an inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, about the 9th century bc; its 34-line inscription commemorates a victory over the Israelites that reestablished the independence of Moab.

“Moab” – a country east of the Dead Sea that was a perpetual enemy of Israel (see 25:10; 2 Kgs 13:20).

“Ar” – location of this city is unknown.

“Laid waste” – the same Hebrew word describes Isaiah’s feelings about himself in 6:5.  The destruction of Moab was probably connected with an invasion by Sargon of Assyria in 715/713 B.C. (cf Jer 48:1-17).

“Kir” – probably Kir Hareseth, 15 miles south of the Arnon River and perhaps the capital of Moab at this time.  Kir means “city.”

2 He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.

“Dibon” – located four miles north of the Arnon River and given to the tribe of Gad at one time (see Num 32:34).

“High places” – shrines originally built on hilltops and usually associated with pagan worship.

“Nebo” – north of the Arnon River, perhaps near mount Nebo (Deut 34:1).

“Medeba” – about six miles south of Heshbon (see v 4) and once captured by Israel from Sihon (see Num 21;26, 30).

3 In their streets they shall gird themselves with sackcloth: on the tops of their houses, and in their streets, every one shall howl, weeping abundantly.

“Sackcloth” – the course garb of mourners (see Job 16:15; Jer 48:37; Lam 2:10), made of goat hair.

“Tops of house” – perhaps chose because incense was sometimes offered there (see Jer 19:13).

4 And Heshbon shall cry, and Elealeh: their voice shall be heard even unto Jahaz: therefore the armed soldiers of Moab shall cry out; his life shall be grievous unto him.

“Heshbon” – located about 18 miles east of the northern tip of the Dead See.  See also Jer 48:34.  It was King Sihon’s capital before Israel captured it (Num 21:23-26).

“Eleahleh” – about a mile north of Heshbon and always mentioned with it.

“Jahaz” – just north of the Arnon River and about 20 miles from Heshbon (Num 21:23; Jer 48:34).

5 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 it up; for in the way of Horonaim they shall raise up a cry of destruction.

Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone)

In the Bible it says that Mesha the king of Moab was paying tribute to Israel and that they suddenly stopped: “Mesha, king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel…” (2 Kings 3:5). Well, Mesha made his own record of this rebellion, and the record has been found. It is known today as “The Mesha Stele” or the more popular designation “The Moabite Stone.”

It was found in 1868 at Dibon, in Moab. Dibon is located 20 miles east of the Dead Sea. Amazingly enough it was discovered by chance by F.A. Klein, a German missionary who had heard rumors of this stone while visiting the area. It was a bluish basalt stone, about 4 feet high and 2 feet wide, and 14 inches thick, with an inscription from king Mesha. When it was found the Berlin Museum negotiated for it while the French Consulate at Jerusalem offered more money.

The next year some local Arabs, realizing all that was at stake, laboriously hoisted it out of the earth and lit a fire around it, and after pouring cold water on it they chipped away several large pieces which they distributed among a few of them. Later the French re-assembled 669 of the estimated 1100 consonants from the pieces and preserved the inscription. It now remains in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

“Zoar” – probably located near the southern end of the Dead Sea.  Lot fled there from Sodom (see Gen 14:2, 19:23, 30).

“A heifer of three years old” – a place name, Eglath-shelishiyah, meaning “three-year-old heifer” (cf 1 Sam 1:24), the location of which is unknown (see Jer 48:34).

Luhith and Horonaim are also both unknown.

6 For the waters of Nimrim shall be desolate: for the hay is withered away, the grass faileth, there is no green thing.

“Waters of Nimrim” – perhaps to be identified with the Wadi en-Numeirah, then miles from the southern end of the Dead Sea (cf Jer 48:34).

“Hay is withered away” – the advancing enemy may have stopped up the major springs of Moab.

7 Therefore the abundance they have gotten, and that which they have laid up, shall they carry away to the brook of the willows.

“Brook of the willows” – or the brook of Arabim, probably located at the border between Moab and Edom (see v 8).

8 For the cry is gone round about the borders of Moab; the howling thereof unto Eglaim, and the howling thereof unto Beer-elim.

“Egliam” – perhaps near the northern border of Moab.

“Beer-elim” – beer means “well” (cf Num 21:16).  This site may have been close to the southern border.

9 For the waters of Dimon shall be full of blood: for I will bring more upon Dimon, lions upon him that escapeth of Moab, and upon the remnant of the land.

“Waters of Dimon…blood” – the Hebrew for “blood” (dam) sounds like “Dimon.”  This is probably also a wordplay on the name “Dibon” (v 2), close to the Arnon River.  Many Moabites will die in the conflict.

“Lions” – a reference to either the Assyrian army (cf 5:29; Jer 50:17) or actual lions (cf 13:21-22).

Beards and Hairstyles in the Biblical World

It’s impossible to be exactly certain how people wore their hair in the Biblical World.  The Bible says to do it this way, but as we’ve seen most people don’t listen to God or rules, regulations, traditions, etcetera.

I’m sure that many followed that days fashion, but I’m also sure that the Bible has not listed all the fashions of all nations.  Of course we don’t have any photographs of the hairstyle, but we do have some wall drawings.

In Isaiah 15:2 the prophet declared that every head was shaved and every beard cut off.  In context, it’s clear that this was a sign of mourning, saving the head and face was evidently not ordinary fashion but a way of expressing overwhelming grief.

Baldness was a subject to mockery (2 Kgs 2:23-25; we find the same attitude in the Greek comedies of Aristophanes in the late 5th century B.C.), while luxuriant hair seems to have been viewed as a sign of strength and vigor.  But how did people in the ancient world typically wear their hair?

Aristophanes
Aristophanes, c. 446 – c. 386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme Kydathenaion (Latin: Cydathenaeum), was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These, together with fragments of some of his other plays, provide the only real examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy, and are used to define it.

Also known as “the Father of Comedy” and “the Prince of Ancient Comedy”, Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes’ play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates, although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher.

Aristophanes’ second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was denounced by Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis. It is possible that the case was argued in court, but details of the trial are not recorded and Aristophanes caricatured Cleon mercilessly in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights, the first of many plays that he directed himself. “In my opinion,” he says through that play’s Chorus, “the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all.”

Fashions in hairstyles and beards varied in different times and places in the Biblical world.  Paul stated that, in his cultural context, it was a disgrace for men to wear their hair long for women to have theirs shorn (1 Cor 11:6, 14-15).

Samson and Absalom both had long hair (Jdg 16:13-19; 2 Sam 14:26), but the very fact that the Bible draws attention to this may indicate that this practice was outside the norm.

Israelite men typically wore their beards long, although during the interestamental period and the New Testament, under the influence of Greek culture, some Jewish men were clean shaven.

It’s possible that some professions called for distinctive hairstyles.  For example, Mesopotamian physicians may have shaved their heads and Mesopotamian slaves were required to wear a particular hairstyle with dire consequences for unlawfully altering it.
The Israelites had some distinctive customs.  Men were forbidden to trim their hair along the sides or the edges of their beards (Lev 19:27).

A Nazirite who had made a vow didn’t allow a razor to touch his hair until that vow had been completed; at that time his hair was shaved and cast into the fire under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering he had presented to God (Num 6:5-21).

Hair and beards could have symbolic significance as well.

While cutting off another man’s beard was considered an insult (2 Sam 10:4-5), cutting one’s own hair or beard was a sign of mourning (Isa 15:2).

Ezekiel, for example, shaved off his hair and beard as a symbol of the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Eze 5:1).