Our reading today begins with an oracle against Moab. While judgment is pronounced, there is also lament in this oracle. It is not unimportant that YHWH shows sympathy for a Gentile nation. The cities of Moab named here move from south to north, with the worst destruction in the north, the direction from which Assyria will come against them. In 15:2, we see the worship of Moab’s gods in the “high places.” We have seen that Israel mixed in such pagan worship with their own, as they also worshiped at the “high places” in Israel. In the south of Moab, there is morning over the destruction in the north (v. 3). The army of Moab will be defeated (v. 4) while the people flee for refuge (v. 5). We see here the sympathy for Moab by God. The utter desolation in the north of Moab is detailed in verses 6-9.
Chapter 16 continues the oracle against Moab. In 16:1 we see that Moab will turn to Judah for help. That Judah (“the daughter of Zion”) is called the “ruler of the land” points to the subjection of Moab by Judah (see 2 Kings 3:4-8). Verses 3-4 are a command for Judah to help Moab. But there is a secondary (ultimate!) fulfillment in the salvation of the nations by the Messiah in view in verses 3-5, where the “destroyer” and “oppressor” is not Assyria, but sin and death.
In verse 6 we see the indictment against Moab: pride. This pride is the reason for their judgment (v. 7). Heshbon is in the extreme north of Moab (v. 8). It will be struck down by the “lords of the nations.” This points to all of the world powers who will control Moab, like they will control Israel and Judah. After the Assyrian conquest, Moab ceases to be its own sovereign nation and disappears from the annuls of history. We see in verses 9-11 another lament by God for Moab. Her gods can’t save her (v. 12). She will be wiped out (vv. 13-14).
Chapter 17 begins an oracle directed at Syria, whose alliance with Israel caused them to be overtaken by Assyria first (see chapters 7-8). Damascus will be utterly destroyed in 732 B.C. (17:1), a few years before Assyria’s siege of Samaria. In verse 3, we see how the judgment of Syria and Israel are intertwined. The destruction of Israel is then predicted (v. 4-6). In verse 7, the “in that day” points to a dual fulfillment of the destruction detailed in verses 7-14. We see that while this will all happen to Israel because of their idolatry (v. 8) and their forsaking of God (v. 10), this is also about all who will refuse to repent and believe in YHWH. We see this in verses 12-13 where “the nations” are brought into this judgment. They will be like chaff at the judgment (see Matt 3:12). In verse 14, the “plunder us” is a promise to God’s people, who in this world are “plundered” by the enemies of God. They will be judged.
Chapter 18 begins with an oracle against an unnamed nation “beyond the rivers of Cush” (located in modern-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan – 18:1). This is likely a continuation of the judgment pronounced against the world in the previous chapter. The sending of messengers to “a people feared near and far, a nation mighty and conquering, whose land the rivers divide” is a likely reference to Assyria (v. 2). No matter who it is, this is speaking of relying on worldly powers. That this is against the whole unsaved world is evident in verse 3. Verses 4-6 speak of universal judgment on the day of the Lord. The idea of a harvest (v. 5) is used repeatedly in the Bible to refer to the day of judgment (see Joel 3:13, Matt 13:30, Rev 14:19).
In verse 7, we see that the nation from verse 2 which represented worldly powers will pay tribute to YHWH in that day. This will happen at “the place of the name of YHWH of hosts.” This refers to the final judgment (see Rev 20:11-15). This is when Christ will return to earth, and will have bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, and every knee will bow to Him and every tongue will confess that He is God (Phil 2:9-11).