Moab in ancient days was a kingdom east of Israel, in the Transjordan highlands. The nation arose from Lot’s incestuous child by his eldest daughter, named Moab (Genesis 19:38). They were often at war with their Israelite neighbours to the west. However events recorded in the book of Ruth testify to occasions of friendly interaction between the two nations, from time to time at least between Bethlehem and Moab.
Perhaps because he descended from Ruth, a Moabite, we know David also had friendly relations. He committed his parents to the protection of the Moabite King when pursued by King Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). However, once David became king he made the Moabites a tributary, while placing them under the rule of a governor. That was the end of all friendly relations.
One small incident remains to be told. When the Israelites were returning to the Promised Land from Egypt, the Moabites denied them passage through their land, causing them a long detour around, heaping God’s judgment upon themselves (Judges 11:17-18). In His judgment on them, God referred to Moab as His “washpot”, a place of accumulated filth (Psalm 60:8).
Israel suffered political upheaval under King Rehoboam. Under him the Moabites may have been absorbed into the northern kingdom of Israel, where they continued in vassalage until the death of Ahab. Eventually they refused to pay tribute, asserting their independence and making war on Israel. Later they assisted Nebuchadnezzar in his aggression against King Jehoiakim in Israel.
Isaiah and Jeremiah both refer to the burden that Moab had become (Isaiah 15-16, Jeremiah 48:42). Isaiah identifies their pride as an abomination to God, as well as their utter contempt for Israel.
At the time of Ruth we believe child sacrifices were still offered to one of their many deities. Chemosh was their chief god (2 Kings 23:13). Their religious influence reached as far into history as Solomon, who erected a “High place” for Chemosh (1 Kings 11:7). Sadly this was not destroyed until the reign of Josiah.
Isaiah is given denunciations by God against other nations, Moab included. Some hold no hope…certain nations will be cut off forever, once God’s judgment falls. However, Isaiah records a couple of very interesting phrases regarding Moab. God says “My heart cries out over Moab.” (Isaiah 15:5). “My heart laments for Moab (Isaiah 16:11).
What is it about this particular nation of Moab, that created angst in the heart of God? (Jeremiah 48:36)
What is it about any of us that generates His great love?
Let us remember that the essence of God’s character is love. His heart is pained when He has to declare judgment, because His intention is for His people to walk with Him in paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake! (Psalm 23).