The Moabites were inhabitants of the nation of Moab, one of ancient Israel's neighboring nations. They were already in the land at the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt and remained until after the close of the Old Testament, although they were ruled by Israel and other nations throughout their existence. They first get notice in the book of Genesis as the descendants of a son born by incest. They continue to be referenced in a negative light until their last mention in the book of Zephaniah. That prophet prophesies the fall of the nation for its arrogance and enmity towards Israel.
According to Genesis 19:37, the Moabites were descendents of Moab, Lot's son by his daughter. He was conceived after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, when Lot and his daughters were living in the mountains after fleeing Sodom and Zoar. Lot's daughters believed that there were no men left in the region to marry. To preserve their family line, Lot's older daughter caused her father to become intoxicated, then conceived by him.
The land of Moab began east of the Jordan River and extended approximately 50 miles south to the southern boundary of the Dead Sea. This was immediately east of the land promised to Israel, as described in Numbers 34:10-12. It was mostly a high, fertile plateau, cut through with numerous gorges where streams flowed towards the Dead Sea.
Interaction with Israel
According to Exodus 15:15 and Numbers 22:2-3, the destruction of the Egyptian and Amorite armies at the hand of Israel terrified the Moabites. King Balak sent Balaam to curse them, although he did pursue war when Balaam failed to act. Nevertheless, the Moabites harmed the nation of Israel by leading them into idolatry when the Israelite men intermarried with their women. Because of the nation's antagonism towards their Israelite neighbors, the Lord placed a curse upon them, banning them and their descendents from entering the tabernacle (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). They remained Israel's enemy throughout most of the Old Testament, Moab by turn subduing and being subdued (Judges 3:14, 2 Samuel 8:2, 2 Kings 1:1).
The Moabites are described as a prosperous, confident and mighty people, but also as arrogant and idolatrous (Jeremiah 48:7, 11, 14, 29; 1 Kings 11:7). They worshiped the gods Chemosh and Baal of Peor (Numbers 21:29, 25:1-3) and Jehovah cursed them. Nevertheless, the apostle Matthew describes Ruth, a Moabitess convert to Judaism, as a woman of excellence who became the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Ruth 3:11, 4:17-22; Matthew 1:1-5).
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