The refugees of Moab

  • Colin Marshall
  • 27 April 2015
Syrian refugee, photo by Solidarités InternationalGod weeps for the refugees of Moab. They break his heart. How do we feel about the refugees on our screen everyday?
My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
to Eglath-shelishiyah…
Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer
for the vine of Sibmah;
I drench you with my tears,
O Heshbon and Elealeh...(Isaiah 15:5, 16:9)

Who are these refugees that God weeps for? Moabites, Israel’s cousins, under attack from Assyria, the dominant world power of 8th century BC. Survivors are being driven south across the river Arnon. The whole land of Moab wails, from north to south, in the temples, homes and public squares and on the battlefield(Isa 15:2-4). The rulers of Moab plead for asylum for their refugees:
Send the lamb to the ruler of the land…
to the mount of the daughter of Zion.
Like fleeing birds,
like a scattered nest,
so are the daughters of Moab
at the fords of the Arnon.
“Give counsel;
grant justice…
shelter the outcasts;
do not reveal the fugitive;
let the outcasts of Moab
sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them
from the destroyer.” (Isaiah 16:1-4a)

The Moabite government arranges envoys to take lambs as tribute to Judah. These rulers have escaped, but they remember those suffering women still in danger. They are desperate and insistent in their appeal to Judah’s King: don’t let the fugitives be extradited, let them stay with you, be their shelter.

But there is no promise of asylum from the rulers of Jerusalem. Instead, God’s promise is much bigger and better:
“When the oppressor is no more,
and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land,
then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness
in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
and is swift to do righteousness.” (Isaiah 16:4b-5)

God will end all oppression and establish a permanent rule of righteousness not subject to the caprice and self-interest of human governments. A faithful king from David’s dynasty will rule, and all nations, including the Moabites, can come under his loving protection.

Now that’s what I call asylum!

But tragically the Moabites’ pride means they do not seek the security of God’s righteous king in Zion, and her false religion and gods are of no avail (Isa 16:6,12)

Shockingly, the God who weeps for Moab is also the God who sends this bloody horror:
For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
for the remnant of the land.(Isaiah 15:9)

What do we learn about God from this history of Moabite refugees?

God sees, understands and feels the plight of the oppressed. If we are not stirred at the sight of the fugitive, we do not have the heart of God. And if we see a brother or sister without clothes or daily food, and only wish them well, what good is it? Faith without deeds is dead (Jas 2:14-17).

But the God of Israel is not a cosmic welfare provider, mopping up after humanitarian disasters. He is in absolute control of all human history and governments. With Assyria, he used one nation to punish the pride of another. The God who weeps is the same God who destroys the wicked, executing judgement with tears in his eyes.

The ultimate hope for the Moabites and all refugees is not in human sanctuary, uncertain and temporary. The nations will only find security if they align themselves with the God who rules in Zion. God’s own eternal Son is our refuge. This greatest son of David ‘disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them’ (Col 2:15). And people from all nations are streaming to this King of Zion to live forever under his righteous rule.

As believers we are all God's elect, strangers in the world. The hope of the gospel is certain but there is grief for a little while.
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials. (1 Peter 1:1-6)

The refugee highway leads to God’s king on Mount Zion—Jesus.

Photo credit: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection and Solidarités International