Text: Isaiah 15:5; 16:9-11 (Read Isaiah 15-16 for context)

The term “schadenfreude” is often used to describe the pleasure or joy derived from another person’s suffering or pain. This pleasure is often tinged with malice and gloating.

It is most easy to exalt in schadenfreude when something bad happens to our enemies. Yet, this is not the heart of the prophet Isaiah concerning the Moabites. Neither is this the heart of the one living and true God.

The people of Moab were distant relatives of the children of Israel. Genesis 19 describes the origin of the Moabites. After Lot and his daughters found refuge from the destruction of Sodom, the daughters decided to make Lot drunk and sleep with their father to preserve his seed. Moab was thus born out of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter. The name “Moab” means “Who is my father?”, which is appropriate given that Lot was both his father and grandfather!

Even though Israel and Moab were related through Abraham and Lot, Moab was not friendly towards Israel. One example of the animosity is seen during the time of the Exodus. When the children of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land, Balak employed the false prophet Balaam to curse Israel. Having failed to do so, Balaam came out with a nefarious plan to send whorish women into the camp of Israel to cause Israel to sin and meet with destruction. The Moabites did all they could to hinder the children of Israel.

Interestingly, despite not seeing eye to eye on many issues, the two nations be-came increasingly entwined when the Davidic kingdom was established, for David descended from Ruth who was a Moabitess. Moab was used by the Lord as an instrument in preserving the Messianic line.

In Isaiah 16:1-5, the LORD through Isaiah asked the Moab to be a refuge for the children of Israel from invading armies. By doing so, they would have the privilege to play a further role in the preservation of the Davidic kingdom as God’s instruments. Surely they would want to preserve the reign of David, for was there not Moabite blood in him?

Alas, the Moabites were a proud and treacherous people. Having promised refuge to the outcasts of Israel, they betrayed them with their lies and gave them up to the enemy. For this, Moab would be judged and destroyed by God.

It would be natural for Isaiah to gloat over the destruction of Moab. Was not Moab a perpetual enemy which caused Israel much hurt throughout the years? Did they not betray Israel with their fake promises? Yet all we see from Isaiah was sorrow for the children of Moab. “My heart shall cry out for Moab…” (Isa. 15:5). “Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease. Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh.” (Isa. 16:9-11)

The region of Heshbon and Eleah was supposed to be a well-watered area. However, in the face of the invading armies, Heshbon and Eleah were now in ruins. Instead, Isaiah revealed his deep feelings for Moab by describing his tears as that of the rain which was used to water these fertile grounds. There was certainly no rejoicing at the demise of the Moabites, but deep sorrow.

The heart of Isaiah was simply reflecting the heart of God. As a holy and just God, He loves righteousness and judgement (Psa. 33:5; 37:28). Yet, there is no rejoicing in the destruction of the wicked. “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Ezek. 18:23) He is not like a Nero or Hitler, who will gloat at the destruction of man.

Similarly, Christians must not gloat over the destruction of their enemies. When the Lord delivers us from the attacks of our enemies, we can rightly find joy in the Lord’s vindication. Nevertheless, this must always be accompanied by deep sorrow for those who are judged. How sad it is that our enemies should refuse to repent and go to God for forgiveness! How pitiful are they to have rejected the salvation and deliverance of God! This is the reason why the Apostle John was made to eat of the little book that would be sweet to his mouth but bitter to his belly (Rev. 10:9-10). As he witnessed the judgements of God over the sin-sick world, he must never gloat over the destruction of men, but rather have a heart full of pity and compassion. O how we must rather desire to see the salvation rather than the destruction of men!

On an ecclesiastical level, it should fill our heart with great sorrow when we see churches falling away. All the talk of compromise and falling away of churches must not be done in the spirit of gloating and self-promotion, for that is nothing but pride. Rather, we should be filled with great sorrow at seeing the destruction of churches, who should have been shining witnesses for Christ. We warn firstly to protect the flock of God, and secondly in hope that those in error would repent. We would rather they turn from their waywardness and embrace the truth.

Christians should not revel in schadenfreude. Our fervent zeal in the defence of God’s Word must be accompanied with a heart of compassion. This was the spirit of the prophet Isaiah. Let us also walk in the same way.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew