(IBD) Moab (perhaps of my father), was a neighboring nation of Israel whose history was closely linked to the fortunes of the Hebrew people. Moab was situated along the eastern border of the Dead Sea, on the plateau between the Dead Sea and the Arabian desert. It was about 57 kilometers (35 miles) long and 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide. Although it was primarily a high plateau, Moab also had mountainous areas and deep gorges. It was a fertile area for crops and herds. To the south and west of Moab was the nation of Edom: to the north was Ammon. After the Israelites invaded the land, the tribe of Reuben displaced the Moabites from the northern part of their territory and the tribe of Gad pushed the Ammonites eastward into the desert.
General History: Moab was inhabited from prehistoric times. The King's Highway, a major trade route from Syria to the Gulf of Aqabah, brought wealth and culture to Moab as early as 2500 B.C. Some time during the 15th century B.C., as the nomadic population settled down, the kingdom of Moab arose, along with the other kingdoms east of the Jordan River, such as Edom and Ammon. The Moabites built fortifications throughout their territory, especially on the south and east. Not long before the conquest of the region by the Hebrew people, Sihon, king of the Amorites, invaded Moab from the north and added much of Moab to his kingdom (Num. 21:27-30).
The Israelite tribes of Reuben and Gad settled the northern part of the territory of Moab. During most of Israel's history, the Moabites were Israel's enemies. In the late eighth century B.C. Moab became subject to Assyria, like many other nations in the region. When the Assyrian Empire fell in 609 B.C. Arab invasions intensified, and the kingdom of Moab was taken. Thereafter Moab was occupied increasingly by nomadic Arabs, until the Nabateans established a settled culture from the first century B.C. to A.D. 106. After that, the entire region was made into a Roman province.
Connections with Israel: Moab, founder of the Moabites, was a son of Lot by incest (Gen. 19:30-38). Although the Moabites were of mixed ethnic stock, the influence of Moab's descendants among them was great enough to give the country its ancient name. The story in Genesis 14 of the raid of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and his fellow kings records the conquest of most of Moab about 2000 B.C.-1900 B.C.
Sihon's Amorite kingdom annexed much of Moab shortly before the Israelite conquest of Canaan (Num. 21:17-19). After the Israelites defeated Sihon, Balak, the king of the relatively weak Moabites, joined with the Midianites in hiring the prophet-magician Balaam to curse Israel so the Israelites could be defeated (Num. 22:1-20). Balaam's mission failed, but when the Israelites camped in Moab just before crossing the Jordan River, the women of Moab enticed the Israelites into a form of idolatry that involved ritual sexual immorality. This resulted in GOD's judgment against Israel (Num. 25:1-9).
Moses saw the Promised Land from Moab's Mount Nebo (Num. 27:12-23). Here he was buried after his death (Deut. 34:6). From the region of Acacia Grove in northwest Moab, the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Josh. 3:1). The tribes of Reuben and Gad actually settled in northern Moab (Num. 32:1-37).
The nation of Israel was relatively weak during the period of the judges, after the conquest. Eglon, a king of Moab, began to oppress Israel, capturing territory east of the Jordan River as far as Jericho. Ehud the judge delivered Israel from Eglon (Judg. 3:12-30). The events of the Book of Ruth occurred during this same general period. Ruth, a Moabite woman, became an ancestor of King David and therefore of Jesus himself (Ruth 2:6; 4:13-22; Matt. 1:5-16).
The Moabites also threatened Israel in the days of Israel's first king, Saul, who was apparently succesful against them (I Sam. 14:47). Although David had some early friendships among the Moabites (I Sam. 22:3-4), he eventually conquered Moab (II Sam. 8:2). The Moabites remained subject to Israel until after Solomon's death.
Omri, king of Israel (885-874 B.C.), kept Moab under his control, as did his son Ahab (874-853 B.C.), until Ahab was so occupied with wars against Syria and Assyria that Moab broke free. This was described by King Mesha of Moab in his monument, the Moabite Stone. King Jehoram of Israel, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king of Edom joined forces to attack Moab about 849 B.C. But they failed to conquer the Moabites because of a superstitious lack of faith when the king of Moab sacrificed his own son to show how deeply he believed in his cause (II Kings. 3:1-27).
On another occasion, a coalition of Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites invaded Judah, but they were destroyed by GOD (II Chron. 20:1-30). The Moabites apparently raided Israelite territory during the eighth century B.C. (II Kings 13:20).
The Assyrians conquered Moab about 735 B.C., and invading Arabs conquered it about 650 B.C. The prophet Isaiah lamented over Moab's defeat (Isaiah 15-16), and Jeremiah predicted Moab's death at the end of the seventh century B.C. (Jeremiah 48). When Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., some of the Jews fled to Moab to escape being taken into captivity (Jer. 40:11-12).
The Moabite Stone is a black basalt memorial stone discovered in Moab by a German missionary in 1868. Nearly four feet high, it contained about 34 lines in an alphabet similar to Hebrew. The stone was probably erected about 850 B.C. by the Moabite King Mesha.
King Mesha's story written on the stone celebrated his overthrow of the nation of Israel. This event apparently is recorded in II Kings 3:4-27, although the biblical account makes it clear that Israel was victorious in the battle. The passage shows clearly that Mesha honors his god Chemosh in terms similar to the Old Testament reverence for Jehovah. The inhabitants of entire cities were apparently slaughtered to appease this deity, recalling the similar practices of the Israelites, especially as described in the Book of Joshua. Besides telling of his violent conquests, Mesha boasted on the stone of the building of cities (with Israelite forced labor) and the construction of cisterns, walls, gates, towers, a king's palace, and even a highway.
The Moabite stone has profound biblical relevance. Historically, it confirms Old Testament accounts. It has a theological parallel to Israel's worship of one god. It is also valuable geographically because it mentions no less than 15 sites listed in the Old testament. The writing on the stone also resembles Hebrew, the language in which most of the Old Testament was originally written.
Some pieces of the stone are now housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
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