It is weird to think of how God works against our expectations. Most of us can think of times in which we thought God needed to do something and it seemed like nothing happened. We sat in the hospital room and prayed until our eyes were dry of tears and nothing appeared to transpire beyond the inevitable death of our loved one. Other times we have looked upon the world and we see all the violence, the violation of our personal space or property, or life itself, and we begin to pray with the psalmist, "Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide in times of trouble?" (Psalm 10:1, CSB) Only to find that God was with us the whole time, but He was hidden in suffering in order that He might be the One who raises the dead.
As I was doing my readings this week I was in the middle of studying Jeremiah 48 and the prophecies against Moab and this verse, which concludes the chapter along with the prophecy, caught my eye - "Yet, I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the last days." This is the Lord's declaration (Jeremiah 48:47). At first glance, it doesn't seem too out of place. God is one who speaks of restoration quite often. He spends much of the prophets telling of doom that comes with a future absolution and return to wholeness in relationship with Him for His people. So, the verse should not be too weird except for the fact that it is speaking of Moab. Moab is not Israel or Judah. Moab was a close cousin with God's people but they were not part of the chosen people, so why this promise of restoration, especially after a chapter full of condemnation?
Moab is not known for having a good history. According to the account in Genesis 19, Moab (the man) came from an incestual relationship between Lot, Abraham's nephew, and his oldest daughter. In fact, Moab's name means "From my Father." His name would haunt him forever in telling of where he came from, and the sin that bore him. Not a great origin story.
Their land was eventually founded east of the Dead Sea, and was a prime place for the people of God to travel when they made their journey from Egypt and the Exodus to the promised land. After winning great victories and amassing a reputation, King Balak of Moab enlisted Balaam the prophet to pronounce a curse on Israel. Only God had other plans. Balaam turns towards God's people and blesses rather than curses. Balak is displeased and sends Balaam away. Both are later killed in battle (Numbers 22-24). Not a good continuance of this familial relationship.
When Israel camps in the midst of Moab for a time, it is said in Numbers 25 that the people of Moab and Midian caused the Israelites to "prostitute" themselves to other gods, specifically Ba'al of Peor. This displeases God and brings about some very ugly ends for many of the leaders in Israel and for Midian. Not the best outcome here.
In Judges 3, King Eglon of Moab invades parts of Israel, which would hinder any good relationships that could happen, and God sends Ehud to redeem His people. The family feud continues.
In Ruth we discover a righteous woman who comes from Moab, marries Boaz, and becomes the great grandmother of David, the king. This is a good thing, right?
But in the Kingdom of Israel, both Saul and David end up at war with Moab. So much so, that in 2 Samuel 8 we are told that David defeated his own relatives (remember he is Moabite through the line of Ruth) and had two-thirds of them killed. I guess they will forego sending him invitations to the next family reunion.
This animosity and conflict are at the heart of the life that Israel has with Moab all down through history. It was so hostile in the minds of the people that even after the return from the Babylonian exile, hearing the Book of the Law read publicly (Deuteronomy 23), the people of Judah segregated themselves out and separated from all those of mixed descent in Israel. (Nehemiah 13:1-3)
Knowing all of this I was struck by those words of Jeremiah, "Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in the last days." Here we have God spending forty-six verses speaking woe and destruction to a people that Judah and Israel would love to see burn, and then there is promise spoken, "I will restore their fortunes." This same promise is spoken to Israel and Judah multiple times in Jeremiah:
30:3 - "...for look, the days are coming” — this is the LORD’s declaration — “when I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel and Judah,” says the LORD.
30:18 - I will certainly restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and show compassion on his dwellings.
31:23 - “When I restore their fortunes, they will once again speak this word in the land of Judah..."
33:7 - “I will restore the fortunes of Judah and of Israel and will rebuild them as in former times."
33:28 - "But in fact, I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them."
Every time God uses these same words, words of bringing back captives from captivity, words of release and redemption, they are words He applies to Israel...and now also to Moab. God speaking words of grace and mercy after words of judgement to a hostile people. Showcasing Himself as a God who is truly longsuffering and full of compassion, even for the outcast, the outsider, the sinner, the enemy. A new relationship forged with the "un-promised ones" in which His anger only lasts for a night, with joy coming in the morning.
For us, as we read those words we must see ourselves as the Moabites. Ones who would, without much regret, reject the chosen people for any other reason than that we are not. Who would fight and attack those who seem blessed because we often feel we lack blessing. Those who lead each other astray after other so-called "gods" because we can't imagine that THE God is our God. And yet, He is. If He can be the God of Moab who has jurisdiction for punishment, but also a place for justifying mercy, He can be yours too. In fact He is yours whether you like it or not.
The Moab of our lives will always be this place where we seek so many other things because we either find ourselves to be "less-than's" or "too-cool-for-school." The Moab of our lives will always lead us, as our sin and Satan do day after day, to reject this God who speaks to us because we can't believe that in all the words spoken, in all the "Thus-saith-the-Lord's" that there is a word for us. And yet...there is...always. There is THE Word, Jesus Christ, who always speaks to us in His promise that He is our God, and that all our idolatry, forgetfulness, rejection, and woe has been paid for and silenced. That our separation as the "Not-a-people" has now been circumvented and we are His people.
That is this story of Moab and of you. Where God's humbling of us, His humiliation of our souls, is actually the place in which only then can He speak promise. When everything is going well, the promise feels deserved. When everything is going poorly, the promise becomes fresh water in the wilderness. It becomes a word that brings life and resurrection when death seems to be our only friend.
Your Moab is your Moab, it is there, but never think it makes you anything less than one for whom Christ died. His blood has become the river through which the boat of God's promise sails to you. His voice becomes the tiny whisper that says, "When all else has failed, when all else is gone, I am here. I am yours, and you are Mine." Never forget it, Moab, because it's true.