(Moʹab), Moabites (Moʹab·ites).
1. The son of Lot by his older daughter. Like his half brother Ammon, Moab was conceived after Lot and his daughters left Zoar and began dwelling in a cave of the nearby mountainous region. Moab became the forefather of the Moabites.
2. The territory anciently inhabited by the Moabites was called “Moab” and also “the field(s) of Moab.” (Ge 36:35; Nu 21:20; Ru 1:2; 1Ch 1:46; 8:8; Ps 60:8) Earlier the Emim had resided in this land but were apparently displaced by the Moabites. (De 2:9-11; compare vss 18-22.) Toward the close of Israel’s wilderness wandering, the territory of Moab appears to have extended from the torrent valley of Zered in the S to the torrent valley of Arnon in the N (a distance of some 50 km [30 mi]), the Dead Sea forming the W boundary and the Arabian Desert an undefined E boundary. (Nu 21:11-13; De 2:8, 9, 13, 18, 19) Rising sharply from the Dead Sea, this region is chiefly a tableland slashed by gorges and has an average elevation of some 900 m (3,000 ft) above the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times it afforded pasture for vast flocks (2Ki 3:4) and supported vineyards and orchards. (Compare Isa 16:6-10; Jer 48:32, 33.) Grain was also cultivated.
There was an earlier period when the land of Moab extended N of the Arnon and included “the desert plains of Moab across the Jordan from Jericho.” (Nu 22:1) But sometime before the arrival of the Israelites, Amorite King Sihon annexed this region, and the Arnon came to be Moab’s N boundary. (Nu 21:26-30; Jg 11:15-18) The Ammonites also suffered defeat at the hands of Sihon and were pushed to the north and east. The territory conquered from both peoples by the Amorites formed a wedge between Moab and Ammon, and thus Moab came to be bounded by Amorite territory on the north and Edomite territory on the south. (Jg 11:13, 21, 22; compare De 2:8, 9, 13, 14, 18.) At its greatest extent the territory of Moab was approximately 100 km (60 mi) from N to S and 40 km (25 mi) from E to W.
Probably because a part of Amorite territory had once belonged to Moab, it continued to be called “the land of Moab.” (De 1:5) It was in this former Moabite territory that the Israelites encamped before crossing the Jordan. (Nu 31:12; 33:48-51) There a second census was taken of Israel’s able-bodied men from 20 years old upward. (Nu 26:2-4, 63) Also there divine commands and judicial decisions were received about Levite cities, cities of refuge, and inheritance. (Nu 35:1–36:13) There Moses delivered his final discourses and concluded with Israel a covenant urging faithfulness to Jehovah. (De 1:1-5; 29:1) Finally Moses ascended Mount Nebo to view the Promised Land and then died. For 30 days on the desert plains of Moab, Israel mourned Moses’ death.
Moab’s Relationship to Israel. As descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot, the Moabites were related to the Israelites. The languages of both peoples were very similar, as is seen from the inscription on the Moabite Stone. Also, like the Israelites, the Moabites appear to have practiced circumcision. (Jer 9:25, 26) Nevertheless, with few exceptions, such as Ruth and King David’s mighty man Ithmah (Ru 1:4, 16, 17; 1Ch 11:26, 46), the Moabites manifested great enmity toward Israel.
Before Israel’s entry into the Promised Land. The song of Moses about Jehovah’s destroying Egypt’s military might in the Red Sea indicated that news of this event would cause “the despots of Moab” to tremble. (Ex 15:14, 15) That the Moabites did become fearful is indicated by their king’s denying Israel peaceful passage through his realm about 40 years later. (Jg 11:17) Because of a direct command from God, the Israelites, however, did not attack the Moabites, but upon coming to Moab’s southern boundary at the torrent valley of Zered, they skirted the territory of Moab. (Nu 21:11-13; De 2:8, 9; Jg 11:18) Although the Moabites did sell food and water to the Israelites (De 2:26-29), “they did not come to [Israel’s] aid with bread and water.” (De 23:3, 4) Evidently this means that the Moabites did not receive them hospitably and supply provisions without seeking gain.
Later, after crossing the torrent valley of Arnon, Israel was confronted by the Amorites under King Sihon, who had earlier seized Moabite territory N of the Arnon. Following their God-given victories over this ruler and also King Og of Bashan, the Israelites encamped on the desert plains of Moab. (Nu 21:13, 21–22:1; De 2:24–3:8) The extensive Israelite camp frightened the Moabites and their King Balak, causing them to feel a sickening dread. Although making no claim to the former Moabite territory taken by the Israelites from the Amorites, Balak did fear for his realm. He therefore consulted with the older men of Midian and then sent messengers, older men of both Moab and Midian, to hire the prophet Balaam to come and curse Israel. (Nu 22:2-8; compare Jg 11:25.) In this way Balak ‘fought’ against the Israelites. (Jos 24:9) Jehovah, however, caused Balaam to bless Israel and even to foretell Israel’s ascendancy over Moab. (Nu chaps 23, 24; Jos 24:10; Ne 13:1, 2; Mic 6:5) Next, at Balaam’s suggestion, Moabite and Midianite women were used to lure Israelite males into immorality and idolatry in connection with Baal of Peor. Many Israelites succumbed to this temptation, bringing Jehovah’s anger and death to 24,000 men. (Nu 25:1-3, 6, 9; 31:9, 15, 16) For failing to aid the Israelites with bread and water and for hiring Balaam to curse Israel, the Moabites were barred from coming into the congregation of Jehovah “even to the tenth generation.”
In the time of the Judges. During the period of the Judges, the Moabites appear to have expanded their territory N of the Arnon and, in the reign of their King Eglon, occupied Israelite territory W of the Jordan at least as far as “the city of palm trees,” Jericho. (Jg 3:12, 13; compare De 34:3.) Israel’s subservience to Moab continued for 18 years until Ehud, a left-handed Benjamite, killed King Eglon while having a private audience with him. Ehud then led the Israelites against Moab, striking down about 10,000 Moabites and subduing them.
In this general period, when famine affected Judah, Elimelech, with his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, emigrated to the more fertile land of Moab. There the sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. After the death of the three men in Moab and improvement of conditions in Israel, Naomi, accompanied by Ruth, returned to Bethlehem. There Boaz, a kinsman of Elimelech, married Ruth, who had abandoned the polytheism of the Moabites and had become a worshiper of Jehovah. Thus Ruth, a Moabitess, became an ancestress of David and therefore also of Jesus Christ.
Also in the time of the Judges, Israel began venerating the deities of the Moabites, doubtless including their god Chemosh. (Jg 10:6; Nu 21:29; Jer 48:46) For adopting such false worship of neighboring peoples, the Israelites lost Jehovah’s favor and suffered at the hands of their enemies. (Jg 10:7-10) As late as the time of Samuel, unfaithful Israel experienced harassment from the Moabites.
During reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon. Difficulties with the Moabites continued for years afterward. Israel’s first king, Saul, victoriously warred against them. (1Sa 14:47) Since the Moabites would therefore have regarded Saul as an enemy, understandably the king of Moab was agreeable to having the parents of David, a man whom Saul had outlawed, dwell at Mizpeh in Moab.
Later, when David himself ruled as king, there also was warfare between Israel and Moab. The Moabites were completely subdued and were made to pay tribute to David. Apparently at the end of the conflict two thirds of Moab’s fighting men were put to death. It seems that David had them lie down on the ground in a row and then measured this row to determine the two thirds to be put to death and the one third to be preserved alive. (2Sa 8:2, 11, 12; 1Ch 18:2, 11) Possibly in the course of the same conflict, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada “struck down the two sons of Ariel of Moab.” (2Sa 23:20; 1Ch 11:22) David’s decisive victory over the Moabites was a fulfillment of Balaam’s prophetic words uttered over 400 years earlier: “A star will certainly step forth out of Jacob, and a scepter will indeed rise out of Israel. And he will certainly break apart the temples of Moab’s head and the cranium of all the sons of tumult of war.” (Nu 24:17) Also apparently with reference to this victory, the psalmist spoke of God’s regarding Moab as his “washing pot.”
David’s son Solomon, however, disregarded God’s law and married Moabite women who had not become worshipers of Jehovah. To please them, Solomon built a high place to their god Chemosh. Not until some three centuries later, during Josiah’s reign, was this high place made unfit for worship.
Until the Judean exile. Sometime after the secession of Israel from Judah, the Moabites appear to have regained territory N of the Arnon. On the black basalt stele known as the Moabite Stone, Moab’s King Mesha speaks of Israel’s King Omri as taking possession of the region of Medeba. Since the tableland of Medeba was in the territory of Reuben (Jos 13:15, 16), Israel had apparently lost this area to the Moabites so that Omri later had to recapture it.
Evidently Moab remained under Israelite control during the reigns of Kings Omri and Ahab. But following the death of Ahab, Moab’s King Mesha, who “paid to the king of Israel a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand unshorn male sheep,” revolted. (2Ki 1:1; 3:4, 5) The Moabite Stone memorializes this revolt. (PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 946) If correctly identified as being the same places mentioned in the Bible, 10 of the cities that King Mesha claims as subject to or captured by or (re)built by him were definitely in Israelite territory N of the Arnon. These cities are Dibon, Ataroth, Aroer, Kiriathaim, Nebo, Baal-meon (Nu 32:34, 37, 38), Medeba, Bamoth-baal, Jahaz (Jos 13:9, 17-19), and Bezer (Jos 20:8).
Unlike Mesha’s propagandistic inscription, the Scriptures report that the Moabites suffered humiliating defeat. Enlisting the aid of King Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom in putting down the Moabite revolt, Jehoram (who became king of Israel about two years after Ahab’s death) marched against Moab from the S, by way of the Wilderness of Edom. But the allied armies and their animals almost perished for lack of water. The prophet Elisha’s aid was then sought, and in fulfillment of his prophecy that Jehovah would help on account of Jehoshaphat, the torrent valley became filled with water. The next morning the reflection of the sun upon the water made it look like blood to the Moabites. Wrongly concluding that the allied armies had slaughtered one another, the Moabites abandoned all caution and came to the Israelite camp, only to be put to flight. As the battle progressed, Moabite cities were ruined, good tracts of land were filled with stones, trees were cut down, and springs were stopped up. When King Mesha found himself penned up in the city of Kir-hareseth with the battle going against him, he, with 700 men, unsuccessfully tried to break through to the king of Edom. Finally he took his firstborn son and offered him up as a burnt sacrifice upon the wall. For this or some other reason there “came to be great indignation against Israel” and the siege was abandoned.
As this humiliating defeat did not take place on foreign soil but brought devastation to the land of Moab, reasonably a considerable period of time would have been required for recovery. So it seems likely that it was at an earlier date during Jehoshaphat’s reign that Moab combined with the forces of Ammon and the mountainous region of Seir to attack Judah. By Jehovah’s intervention the three armies turned on one another and destroyed themselves. (2Ch 20:1, 22-24) Some scholars believe that this event is alluded to at Psalm 83:4-9.
In subsequent years enmity continued between Moab and Israel. After the death of the prophet Elisha, marauding bands of Moabites regularly invaded Israel. (2Ki 13:20) About two centuries later, in Jehoiakim’s time, similar Moabite bands contributed to the ruin of Judah during its final years. (2Ki 24:2) With the destruction of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., Jews sought refuge in Moab, returning to Judah when Gedaliah was appointed governor.
After the exile. After an Israelite remnant returned from Babylonian exile in 537 B.C.E., some married Moabite wives. But at Ezra’s admonition they dismissed these wives and their children. (Ezr 9:1, 2; 10:10, 11, 44) Years later Nehemiah found a similar situation; many Israelites had taken Moabite wives.
Moab in Prophecy. In harmony with its long history of opposition to Israel, Moab is mentioned among the hard-set enemies of Jehovah’s people. (Compare Isa 11:14.) Condemned for reproaching Israel and for pride and haughtiness, Moab was finally to become a desolation like Sodom. (Zep 2:8-11; see also Jer 48:29.) Already at the close of the ninth century B.C.E., Amos wrote that Moab would suffer calamity for “burning the bones of the king of Edom for lime.” (Am 2:1-3) While some take this to mean that 2 Kings 3:26, 27 refers to King Mesha’s offering up, not his own son, but the firstborn of the king of Edom, this is an unlikely inference. One Jewish tradition, though, does link the event mentioned by Amos with the war waged against Mesha and claims that sometime after this conflict the Moabites dug up the bones of the king of Edom and then burned them for lime. But the Bible record provides no basis for determining the time involved.
Isaiah (chaps 15, 16), apparently around the time of King Ahaz’ death and while Assyria dominated in the eighth century B.C.E., referred to one Moabite city after another as being in line for calamity. He concluded with the words: “And now Jehovah has spoken, saying: ‘Within three years, according to the years of a hired laborer, the glory of Moab must also be disgraced with much commotion of every sort, and those who remain over will be a trifling few, not mighty.’”
From historical records the fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Amos cannot be placed precisely in the stream of time. However, there is evidence that Moab did come under the Assyrian yoke. Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III mentions Salamanu of Moab among those paying tribute to him. Sennacherib claims to have received tribute from Kammusunadbi the king of Moab. And Assyrian monarchs Esar-haddon and Ashurbanipal refer to Moabite Kings Musuri and Kamashaltu as being subject to them. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, pp. 282, 287, 291, 294, 298) There is also archaeological evidence that many places in Moab were depopulated about the eighth century B.C.E.
Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventh century B.C.E. pointed to the time when Jehovah would hold an accounting against Moab (Jer 9:25, 26), doing so by means of the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar. (Jer 25:8, 9, 17-21; 27:1-7) Numerous Moabite cities were to be reduced to a desolation. (Jer 48) Apparently when Judah experienced the execution of Jehovah’s judgment by means of the Babylonians, the Moabites said: “Look! The house of Judah is like all the other nations.” For thus failing to recognize that the judgment was really God’s and that the inhabitants of Judah were his people, the Moabites were to experience disaster and thereby ‘come to know Jehovah.’
The Jewish historian Josephus writes that, in the fifth year after desolating Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar returned to war against Coele-Syria, Ammon, and Moab and thereafter attacked Egypt. (Jewish Antiquities, X, 181, 182 [ix, 7]) Regarding archaeological confirmation of the desolation of Moab, The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible observes: “Archaeological exploration has shown that Moab was largely depopulated from ca. the beginning of the sixth century, and in many sites from ca. the eighth century. From the sixth century on, nomads wandered through the land until political and economic factors made sedentary life possible again in the last centuries B.C.”
Later, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 48:47, Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon, likely permitted Moabite exiles to return to their homeland.
The accurate fulfillment of the prophecies concerning Moab cannot be denied. Centuries ago the Moabites ceased to exist as a people. (Jer 48:42) Today what are considered to have been such Moabite cities as Nebo, Heshbon, Aroer, Beth-gamul, and Baal-meon are represented by ruins. Many other places are now unknown.
The sole explanation for the disappearance of the Moabites as a people is provided by the Bible. Noted the 1959 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (Vol. 15, p. 629): “Israel remained a great power while Moab disappeared. It is true that Moab was continuously hard pressed by desert hordes; the exposed condition of the land is emphasized by the chains of ruined forts and castles which even the Romans were compelled to construct. But the explanation is to be found within Israel itself, and especially in the work of the prophets.”
In view of the disappearance of the Moabites as a people, the inclusion of Moab at Daniel 11:41 among nations in “the time of the end” (Da 11:40) is logically to be regarded in a figurative sense. The Moabites evidently refer to some of those that “the king of the north” does not succeed in bringing under his control.
For information on the Moabite Stone, see MESHA No. 2.