The Nations of the Bible: Moab and Ammon

John David Clark, Sr. - January, 1995

This is the second in the BROADCASTER series on The Nations Of The Bible.


God gave to Moab and Ammon the territory called in ancient times, "Ar" (Dt.2:9), the area east of Jordan and southward from the Jabbok River to the southern tip of the Salt Sea. To Moab belonged the land nearest to Canaan, and to Ammon belonged the region to the east, with the Jabbok River, where it dips to the south, as its western border (Dt.3:16; Josh.12:2). By God's ordination, Moab and Ammon were able to take this land from "the Giants" (Dt.2:10-11, 19-22), who in very ancient times possessed all the land on both sides of the Jordan River. Afterwards, however, the Amorites (note the difference between Amorites and Ammonites - they are completely different peoples) took from Moab the region between the Jabbok and Arnon Rivers. Even though it no longer belonged to Moab, this stretch of land between the Jabbok and the Arnon continued to be called "the plain of Moab" (Num.33:48; Dt.32:48-49), but the nation of Moab inhabited the relatively hospitable area (cp. 2Kgs.3:4) south of the Arnon River (Num.21:13). This was the geographic situation which confronted Moses and Israel when they arrived through Egypt, and throughout the biblical history, neither Moab nor Ammon's borders changed from these general locations.

When Moses and Israel came out of the wilderness into this territory, they promptly took from the Amorites the territory which the Amorites had taken from Moab (Num.21:21-31). This was the first territory the nation of Israel possessed as its own. Moses died while Israel was camped in this newly conquered land, and from Israel's camp here at Shittim, Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan.


The nations called Moab and Ammon are considered together because the men, Moab and Ammon, were brothers, children of incest involving Lot and his two daughters (Gen.19). After Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim were destroyed by God, Lot and his two unnamed daughters lived in a cave in a mountain near Sodom. There, on two consecutive nights, his daughters made Lot senselessly drunk and lay with him. Lot "perceived not when [they] lay down, nor when [they] arose.... Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father." The son of the older daughter was named Moab, and the younger daughter's son was named Ben-ammi. This is the only usage of the name Ben-ammi in the Bible. After this, the name is always Ammon. The daughters concocted this scheme to save the human race, believing - or so they said - that the fiery destruction which befell the cities in that area was world-wide and that God had slain everyone else on earth. This, despite the fact that they knew the little city of Zoar had been spared -they had gone there to escape from Sodom! Sodom's insidious influence on their characters is obvious.

When Israel came out of the desert wilderness on their way to Canaan, Moses implored the king of Moab to allow Israel to pass through his country, promising to stay on the highway and even offering to pay for any water which the people or animals would drink, but the king refused to grant Moses permission (Jud.11:17). Because neither the Moabites nor Ammonites provided any assistance to the Israelites at this time, God angrily forbade Israel to allow any Moabite or Ammonite to enter into the congregation of the Lord until ten generations had passed (Dt.23:3-6). In these same verses, God forbade Israel ever to do anything beneficial for the nations of Moab and Ammon. Nevertheless, certain individuals from these two nations did find grace in the sight of God.

When Israel camped in the territory it had won in battle from the Amorites, the Moabites became fearful, just as Moses had prophesied that they would (Ex.15:15). Apparently, the Moabite king did not know, or did not believe, that God had forbidden Moses to take any land belonging to either of Lot's children (Dt.2:9,19). In an effort to weaken Israel, Moab's King Balak offered an enormous monetary reward and a high position in his government to a world-renowned prophet, Balaam, if he would come and curse Israel (Num.22-24). Balaam came, wanting to curse Israel and receive Balak's reward, but God would not allow him to curse Israel. Having failed, then, in his first desire, Balaam, with the elders of the Midianites (q.v.), counselled King Balak not to war with the Israelites, seeing that God was determined to bless them, but to join them (Num.25:17-18; 31:14-16; Rev.2:14). The resulting intermarriage of the Moabites with the Israelites and the concomitant intermingling of religions enraged the Lord, Who then plagued Israel (Num.25:9). So, while Balaam could not curse Israel, by his craftiness he deceived Israel into great sin against God, Who then punished His people with a grievous plague. Thus did Balaam, in a way, accomplish his evil mission. This sin of Israel, "marrying" the god of Peor Mountain (Baal-Peor, Num.25:1-5), did such enormous damage to the nation's spirit that long after Israel conquered Canaan's land, Israel had not recovered from it (Josh.22:17). Centuries later, the prophets were still talking about this intermingling of Israel and Moab (Ps.106:28-29; Hos.9:10), the infamous "sin of Baal-Peor". Physical beauty is mentioned in connection with the Moabites (Jer.48:17), and in the matter of Israel's sin at Peor, a key feature was Moab's use of its women to lure many Israelites into making a league with Moab and its gods (Num.25:1; 31:14-16).

During the era of the Judges, Moab and Ammon were among the nations used by God to afflict and oppress disobedient Israel (Jud.3:12-30; 10:6-18; 1Sam.12:9). It was near the end of that era when Elimelech went to Moab to escape a famine in Judah. There, his two sons married Moabite women, one of them being Ruth, a virtuous woman who later remarried in Israel and became the great-grandmother of King David. Unfortunately, David's son, Solomon, would later marry a number of Moabite and Ammonite women who were not so virtuous (1Kgs.11:1). And since both the Moabites and Ammonites practiced human sacrifice (2Kgs.3:26-27; Lev.18:21; 20:2-5; 1Kgs.11:5,7; Amos 2:1), these particular wives of King Solomon were instrumental in ruining Solomon's faith, even to the point of persuading him to construct idols to their blood-thirsty gods. Most notable among Solomon's idols were the ones he built for Chemosh and Milcom, the chief gods of Moab and Ammon, respectively. The worship centers for these gods were built on the hill to the east of Jerusalem, called the Mount of Olives. Incredibly, this abomination stood within sight of the holy temple in Jerusalem which Solomon had also built, and unless they were disguised by the noise of loud prayers and music, the screams of babies and young children being burned alive would have been easily heard by those who gathered in the temple's courts to worship the Lord. Naamah, an Ammonitess, apparently held special favor in king Solomon's heart, for his successor to the throne of Israel was her son, Rehoboam (1Kgs.14:21).

Those high places on the Mount of Olives remained continual use for centuries, until there arose in Judah a young king, Josiah, whose love for God was such that he could not tolerate them. He put a stop not only to child sacrifice in Solomon's "high places", but in all places, including the trash-strewn valley to the south of Jerusalem, the Valley of the sons of Hinnom (2Kgs.23:10,13). Almost immediately after Josiah's death, the dreadful worship of Chemosh and Molech resumed in the holy city (Jer.32:34-35; Zeph.1:4-5).

Because the land between the Jabbok and Arnon Rivers was taken from Moab (Num.21:26), it seems strange that it was Ammon, not Moab, who strove to retake the land from Israel. It was when Ammon was making a vicious attempt to do so (cp.Amos 1:13) that the fearful elders of Israel, doubting God's power to save, demanded that a new form of government be instituted in Israel; they wanted a king (1Sam.12:12). Having been anointed king, young Saul successfully defended Israel against the powerful Ammonites (1Sam.11:1-11), and he decisively defeated both Moab and Ammon in other battles (1Sam.14:47). David brutally subdued them when he became king (2Sam.8:2,12; 12:29-31)). Benaiah, one of David's "mighty men" and the man destined to become general of Solomon's army, earned his way into David's elite group of soldiers, in part by killing "two lion-like men of Moab" (2Sam.23:20).

Gullible, affable King Jehoshaphat of Judah was persuaded by Israel's wicked King Jehoram to help him regain dominion over the Moabites (2Kgs.1:1; 3:4-27). The war's miraculous success, however, was short-lived, for not long afterward we find Moab invading the northern tribes' territory (2Kgs.13:20). After those days, Judah's king Uzziah and his son and successor, Jotham, subjugated Moab and Ammon (2Chron.26:8; 27:1-6), but the tables turned again late in Judah's history (2Kgs.24:1-2).

Both of these nations, the Moabites in particular, were a lusty people, with sophisticated tastes (Jer.48:7) and strong appetites. Moab was also financially secure (Isa.15:7; Jer.48:7,36) and had never suffered adversity as had other nations (Jer.48:11). They were accustomed to plenteous harvests of "summer fruits" and an abundance of wine (Isa.16:9-10; Jer.48:32-33). As a result of their prosperity and their skill in satisfying the lusts of the flesh, Moab became exceedingly proud. "We have heard of the pride of Moab, (he is exceeding proud) his loftiness, and his arrogance, and his pride, and the haughtiness of his heart", said both Jeremiah (48:29) and (over a century earlier) Isaiah (16:6). Pride was an enduring quality of the Moabites. Where pride is, anger also is (Prov.13:10; 21:24), and Moab was no exception. His proud wrath was held in contempt by the Almighty (Isa.16:6; Jer.48:30); nevertheless, Moab was confident of his ability to carry out the dictates of his wrath. Moab boasted, "We are mighty and strong men for the war!" (Jer.48:14), and he even "magnified himself against the Lord" (Jer.48:26). Jeremiah also mentioned Ammon's confidence in earthly riches, along with Ammon's foolish, boastful pride (Jer.49:4).

Both Moab and Ammon refused to acknowledge the unique relationship between Israel and God, arrogantly deriding Israel (Jer.48:26-27; Zeph.2:8-11) and saying that Judah was just like any other nation (Ezek.25:8-11). For this, God promised that destruction would come from "the men of the east", so that "the Ammonites may not be remembered among the nations.... And I will execute judgments upon Moab...." The Ammonites in particular brought upon themselves great wrath by rejoicing at the fall of Judah and the destruction of God's temple (Ezek.25:1-3; 21:28-32). Jeremiah said that Moab literally "skipped for joy" to see Judah's anguish (48:27), and of Ammon's pleasure at Judah's suffering, Ezekiel lamented, "Thou hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced in heart with all thy despite against the land of Israel" (Ezek.25:4-7). Little did they know that the same bitter destruction at King Nebuchadnezzar's hands awaited them (Jer.25:21; 27:1-6; 48:38-39). Although he was in captivity, many hundreds of miles from the scene, the prophet Ezekiel was given by God the privilege of choosing on the map the spot of ground where Nebuchadnezzar would pause to divide his Babylonian army, sending one arm against Judah and the other to Rabbath, the capitol of Ammon (Ezek.21:18-22). Of course, Nebuchadnezzar knew nothing about this. He thought his gods were in control.

Nebuchadnezzar overran Judah in short order, and the covetous Ammonites brutally seized the unprotected territory of Gilead, thus accomplishing their long-held desire to take from Israel the land which Moses took from the Amorites (Jud.11:12-13; Jer.49:1). God then promised to play the part of Israel's near-kinsman and give Israel what the Ammonites possessed (Jer.49:2). Amos and Jeremiah both prophesied that Rabbath, the capitol, and the daughters (cities) of Ammon would be burned with fire (Amos 1:14; Jer.49:2).

After Nebuchadnezzar's army had conquered Canaan, the great Babylonian king appointed Gedaliah as the Jewish governor. According to the word of the Lord (Isa.16:3-4), some Jews fled for refuge to Moab, Ammon, and Edom, returning to Canaan only when Nebuchadnezzar appointed a Jew, Gedaliah, to be governor of their homeland (Jer.40:11-12). Baalis, the rebellious and arrogant king of Ammon, hired a treacherous Jew name Ishmael to murder the new governor (Jer.40:13-14). Gedaliah was earnestly warned of the plot, but his trusting soul would not allow him to believe the report (Jer.40:13-16). Consequently, Ishmael succeeded in assassinating Gedaliah and escaped to Ammon, trying but failing to take captive with him a large number of fellow Jews (Jer.41:1-15).

Over half a century later, when Judah returned from Babylonian captivity, Tobiah the Ammonite was one of the chief antagonists to Nehemiah, seeking to thwart the Jews' efforts to rebuild Jerusalem's walls at every turn (Neh.2:10; 4:7-8). Incredibly, Tobiah was later given a room in the rebuilt temple of God, Eliashib the High Priest emptying out a room designated to hold offerings for the Levites so that the evil-hearted Ammonite could have a place in Jerusalem (Neh.13:4-5). When Nehemiah returned from Persia to Jerusalem and discovered this wicked deed, he was infuriated. He unceremoniously threw Tobiah's furniture out of God's temple and sharply reproved the Jews who were responsible (Neh.13:6-14).

Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah could put an end to Israel's ungodly attachments, especially marriages, with the heathen, though they both heroically tried (Ezra 9; 10; Neh.13:23-27). From the earliest days of Israel's history as a nation (Amos 5:26) until the latest, Israel's attraction to heathen flesh and her willingness to compromise her holy Law to have it, afflicted the nation. God's faithful men were never able to convince God's people as a whole that if the heathen were really after Israel's best interest, then they themselves would repent of idolatry, submit to circumcision, and serve the God of Israel as the Law of Moses prescribed.

Inasmuch as both Moab and Ammon were almost always antagonistic toward Israel, the exceptions are remarkable. When David was being sought by King Saul, he was granted refuge in Moab, and even was allowed to bring his parents to Moab for safety (1Sam.22:3-4). During this time, Nahash, king of Ammon, shewed kindness to David as well, for which David was very grateful (2Sam.10:1-2). This friendship with David continued through one of Nahash's sons, Shobi (2Sam.17:27), even though Nahash's other son, Hanun, who reigned in the place of his father, started a war with David by abusing David's ambassadors (2Sam.10). Still, among those warriors in David's army who had proved themselves to be most trustworthy and valiant was a man from Moab and one from Ammon (1Chron.11:39,46). Much later, when Judah's King Joash turned from righteousness and murdered the prophet Zechariah, he was assassinated by two of his own servants, one an Ammonite and the other a Moabite (2Chron.24:25-26). How strange it seems to have in Jerusalem men of Moabite and Ammonite lineage avenging the murder of a righteous man! Some in Jerusalem may have admired them for their deed, but they were not regarded as heroes by the dead king's heir. He ordered them to be executed (2Chron.25:3).


Moab and Ammon had sanctuaries to which they came to pray (Isa.16:12). And, of course, they had their distinguished class of professional priests, sorcerers, and prophets who flattered and lied to both their kings and their nations (Ezek.21:29), in one instance assuring them that they would never have to serve the King Nebuchadnezzar (Jer.27:1-11). The foolish confidence which they inspired helped bring their nations to ruin. Two particularly noted high places of worship in Moab were Bajith and Dibon (Isa.15:2). When the Moabites wailed in grief "in their streets" and "on the tops of their houses" (Isa.15:3; Jer.48:38), it was a plaintiff cry to their gods for help. It is reminiscent of what occurred on the houses in apostate Judah, "upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods" (Jer.19:13). Also in Judah, which had "learned the way of the heathen", there was a place prepared for worship and supplication to the gods "in every street" (Ezek.16:25,31). The deceived Moabites put on sackcloth and "howled" in their streets, "weeping abundantly" in vain hope of being heard by their gods (Isa.15:3; Jer.48:38b). As with virtually all ancient societies, the Moabites and Ammonites worshipped a multitude of gods (Jud.10:6). Moab's chief god, however, was Chemosh (Num.21:29; 1Kgs.11:33), and Ammon's chief god was Molech (1Kgs.11:5,7. Also called Moloch, Milcom, and Malcham).


Many horrible punishments were prophesied for Moab and Ammon. Just as God caused the Israelites to be "wanderers among the nations" (Hos.9:17), so he sent the Moabites and Ammonites into captivity (Jer.48:12,42; 49:3; Amos 1:15). Remarkably, however, God promised that "in the latter days" He will bring them back to their homeland (Jer.48:47; 49:6). "And Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed of Beth-el their confidence" (Jer.48:13). God's promise to cleanse Moab of idolatry (Jer.48:35) was an indication of divine compassion toward this particular nation. God grieved and lamented for the destruction of Moab (Isa.16:9,11; Jer.48:31-32,36); on the other hand, nothing was ever said about God grieving for Ammon, and no promise of spiritual cleansing is given to him. In Psalms 60 and 108, God even referred to Moab as belonging to Him, though He said nothing in either place concerning Ammon.

God's wrath at one point burned so fiercely against Moab that He uttered a curse upon any man who refused to use the sword against them (Jer.48:10), accusing such a man of "doing the work of the Lord deceitfully". When that destruction came, the terror-filled cries of the inhabitants of Heshbon and Elealeh were heard more than seven miles away (Isa.15:4). Not a single city or significant plot of ground escaped the destroyer's hand (Jer.48:8). Some Moabites fled the country (Jer.48:9,19,28), going toward the north (Isa.15:2) and toward the south (Isa.15:5), but troubles, including lions, found those who escaped the country (Isa.15:9; Jer.48:44-45). For all this, Moab and Ammon survived to be mentioned during the time of the Persian Empire (Neh.13:23). Further yet, Daniel prophesied (11:41) that Moab and Ammon would escape destruction at the hands of an evil prince during the time between the testaments.

Some of the prophecies concerning the Moabites and Ammonites were for a time which has come and gone (Isa.16:14), but there are prophecies apparently unfulfilled, for when Jesus returns, we are told, he will conquer Moab (Num.24:17; Isa.25). Also through Christ, the reassembled "outcasts" of Israel shall reign over Moab, Ammon, and Edom (Isa.11).

Extra notes of interest: Ijeabarim is on the border of Moab. Num.33:44

Ar = the coast of Moab (?) Dt.2:18

In Heshbon "they" conspired against Moab. (Jer.48:2)

Dt.2:28-29 !!?

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