What do we know about the Moabites?

The Moabites were a tribe of people who descended from Moab, one of the sons of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37). Moab was one of two sons born to Lot's daughters after they helped him to become drunk and then had children through him, seeing him as their only option to bear children. Moab was born first, with his name sounding like the Hebrew for "from father." Despite the strange nature of Moab's birth and the development of his people, history records many important insights regarding his legacy.

Originally from the area on the southeastern edge of the Dead Sea, the Moabites eventually spread to the area east of the Jordan River. After a war with the Amorites, the Moabites lost territory and lived in the land south of the Arnon Valley according to Numbers 21:26-30.

It was during this time period when the Israelites journeyed for 40 years in the wilderness. The size of the Israelites worried the Moabite king Balak. He sought help from the Midians (the people the wife of Moses had descended from) and together sought the assistance of a man named Balaam to curse the Jewish people (Numbers 22:2-6).

The Israelites passed through an area called the Plains of Moab just before crossing into the Promised Land. It was in this area that Moses ascended to the top of Mount Pisgah and viewed the Promised Land before his death (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).

Following this period, the most well-known account related to the Moabites is found in the book of Ruth. The account tells of Naomi moving to Moab from Israel with her husband and two sons. Both of her sons married Moabite women. Later her husband and both sons died. Naomi set out to return to Israel along with her daughters-in-law. However, a ways into the journey, Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their families. One daughter-in-law did, but Ruth stayed with Naomi and returned with her to Israel. By the end of the book, Ruth married Boaz and had a son named Obed. Obed would become the grandfather of David, the king of Israel (Ruth 4).

In more recent times, one archaeological discovery related to the Moabites has been of important significance. In 1868, an inscription was discovered in Dibon from approximately 900 BC that mentioned Mesha's war with Omri from 2 Kings 3. It is considered one of the oldest written inscriptions ever discovered and provides a powerful confirmation of the accuracy of this aspect of the Old Testament.

The Moabites offer a powerful example of how God can work through a group of people for His purposes. Through the Moabite woman Ruth, we find King David, a leader in Israel from whom Jesus was descended. Ruth is even favored with being one of only three women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel.

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