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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 48:1-9

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 17, 2015

Of all the Judgments against the Nations in Jeremiah, only the oracle against Babylon (50:1-51:64) is longer than this one against Moab (48:1-47). Related to Israel through Abraham’s nephew Lot, the Moabites had been enemies of God’s people since the days of Moses.

A Prophecy Against Moab
48 This is what the LORD of Armies, the God of Israel says:
Woe to Nebo! It will be destroyed.
  Kiriathaim will be disgraced and captured.
The stronghold will be disgraced and broken down.
2 There is no longer any praise for Moab.
      They have devised evil against her in Heshbon:
     “Come, let us destroy that nation!”
You will be silenced, O Madmen.
  The sword will pursue you.

The cities of Nebo, Kiriathaim and Heshbon were all once inhabited by the tribe of Reuben. The Reubenites were exiled by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:18), and after that the villages of Reuben were claimed by Moab. The Moabite place name Madmen has nothing to do with the English expression “madman” or its plural. Madmen sounds something like the word damam “to be silent,” so there is a play on words there. Also, the term “devised” (hashbu) sounds like Heshbon. Thinking about what Israel has lost, the prophet knows that Moab will lose everything they have, too—no matter how they came about having it.

3 The sound of a cry from Horonaim,
     desolation and great destruction!
4 Moab is destroyed.
     Her little ones will cry out.
5 For they go up the ascent to Luhith, weeping continually.
   On the descent of Horonaim
they have heard the cry of the distress
  because of the destruction.
6 Flee! Save your lives!
     Be like a juniper bush in the wilderness.

In verse 5, Jeremiah prophesies about some of Moab’s famous roads, the road up to Luhith and the road down to Horonaim. No matter where the stragglers will go, the Babylonian destruction will have reached there, too.

The first of two translation challenges in this section appears in verse 6. The word aroer means a particular type of evergreen bush, the juniper. My most recent attempt at a bonsai plant was a juniper. They are fairly hardy (evidently not hardy enough for my inattention) and have small aromatic needles. Some translations prefer to follow the Greek Septuagint’s onos agrios (ὄνος  ἄγριος), “wild donkey.” Either term would present the image of a creature that might possibly survive in the wild without help from mankind.

7 Because you trusted in your works and treasures,
      you too will be taken.
Chemosh will go into exile,
  his priests and officials together.
8 The destroyer will come against every city,
     and no city will escape.
The valley will also perish,
  and the plain will be destroyed, as the LORD has spoken.

Chemosh was the name of Maob’s god, a name they did not get from Lot and his faith (2 Peter 2:7), but from the Canaanites they met east of the Dead Sea (Numbers 21:29). Here is a grim reminder that we cannot be saved by our own works or deeds. This sounds like something straight from the pen of the Apostle Paul! Remember that Paul proclaimed that we are saved “by grace…through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Abraham was not saved by his good works (Romans 4:2). Rebekah’s children Jacob and Esau were not saved by their good works (Romans 9:10-12). And the Gentiles, who didn’t know God’s law at all, have certainly not been saved by their good works (Romans 9:30). But anyone—even glorious Israel—who tries to achieve eternal life by good deeds will fail utterly (Romans 9:31). Why? “Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone,’” who is Jesus Christ (Romans 9:32-33).  We are saved by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus. We trust in him and in him alone.

9 Give Moab a blossom
   for it will blow away.
Her cities will become desolate
  with no one to live in them.

The second translation challenge here is the first half is this verse. The first line very clearly says tanu tsits leMoab, “Give Moab a blossom.” But the second part says ki natso tetsi, “for it will surely fly (or, go away).” Many translations have been led to understand the first noun, tsits, as a similar word in the Ugaritic language meaning salt. This is why so many translations say something like “Put salt on Moab, she will be laid waste.” I have surmised that the more certain Hebrew word, “blossom,” is meant in both halves of the couplet. Ultimately, whichever way the first half of the verse goes, the second half with its uninhabited desolate cities tells us what the prophet foresees of Moab’s future.

Our city in heaven will be filled with every good thing. God will provide for our needs, our food, our family and friends, the way we work, worship and relax, and even with things of beauty everywhere the eye will look. There will be satisfaction and meaning in everything, from the number of stones in the gates to the reason there will no longer be a sun or moon or even a temple. God explains all of these things in the last two chapters of Revelation, but we look forward to it all with anticipation and delight because we have the holiness of Jesus himself covering over every flaw and every misstep. Our Savior loves us and has given us everything, and in him we have the promise and the certainty of eternal life; a blossom that will never fade or blow away.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

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