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Moab is the historical name for a mountainous strip of land in Jordan running along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. In ancient times, it was home to the kingdom of the Moabites, a people that was often in conflict with its Israelite neighbors to the west. Nevertheless, there was considerable interchange between the two peoples, and the Bible in the Book of Ruth traces King David's lineage to a Moabite woman.
The Moabites were a historical people. Their existence is attested to by numerous archeological findings, most notably the Mesha Stele, which describes the Moabite victory over Omri king of Israel (see 2 Kings 3).
The conflict between the Israelites and the Moabites is expressed in the biblical narrative describing the Mabites incestuous origins. According to the story, Moab was the son of Abraham's nephew Lot, through his eldest daughter, with whom he had a child after the destruction of Sodom. The Bible then explains the etymology of Moab as meaning "of his father".
The following is a summary of the Biblical account, and may not correspond to actual historical events.
The Moabites first inhabited the rich highlands at the eastern side of the chasm of the Dead Sea, extending as far north as the mountain of Gilead, from which country they expelled the Emims, the original inhabitants, (Deuteronomy 2:11) but they themselves were afterward driven southward by the warlike Amorites, who had crossed the river Jordan, and were confined to the country south of the river Arnon, which formed their northern boundary. (Numbers 21:13; Judges 11:18)
The territory occupied by Moab at the period of its greatest extent, before the invasion of the Amorites, divided itself naturally into three distinct and independent portions:--
The enclosed corner or canton south of the Arnon was the "field of Moab." (Ruth 1:1,2,6) etc.
The more open rolling country north of the Arnon, opposite Jericho, and up to the hills of Gilead, was the "land of Moab." (Deuteronomy 1:5; 32:49) etc.
The sunk district in the tropical depths of the Jordan valley. (Numbers 22:1) etc.
The Israelites, in entering the promised land, did not pass through the Moabites, (Judges 11:18) but conquered the Amorites, who occupied the country from which the Moabites had been so lately expelled. After the conquest of Canaan the relations of Moab with Israel were of a mixed character, sometimes warlike and sometimes peaceable. With the tribe of Benjamin they had at least one severe struggle, in union with their kindred the Ammonites. (Judges 3:12-30)
The story of Ruth, on the other hand, testifies to the existence of a friendly intercourse between Moab and Bethlehem, one of the towns of Judah.
By his descent from Ruth, David may be said to have had Moabite blood in his veins. He committed his parents to the protection of the king of Moab, when hard pressed by Saul. (1 Samuel 22:3,4) But here all friendly relations stop forever. The next time the name is mentioned is in the account of David?s war, who made the Moabites tributary. (2 Samuel 8:2; 1 Chronicles 18:2) At the disruption of the kingdom Moab seems to have fallen to the northern realm.
At the death of Ahab the Moabites refused to pay tribute and asserted their independence, making war upon the kingdom of Judah. (2 Chronicles 22:1)
As a consequence of these events, Israel, Judah and Edom united in an attack on Moab, resulting in the complete overthrow of the Moabites. Falling back into their own country, they were followed and their cities and farms destroyed. Finally, shut up within the walls of his own capital, the king, Mesha, in the sight of the thousands who covered the sides of that vast amphitheater, killed and burnt his child as a propitiatory sacrifice to the gods of his country. Isaiah, chs. (Isaiah 15,16,25:10-12) predicts the utter annihilation of the Moabites; and they are frequently denounced by the subsequent prophets.