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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The Moabite Stone (discovered in 1868) has a parallel account of events in this chapter from the viewpoint of Mesha (2 Kings 3:4), the Moabite king who authored the inscription on that stone. Dentan said of this stone that, “It is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time (it may be seen in the Louvre in Paris) and provides interesting confirmation of the situation presupposed by this chapter.”(F1) This writer prefers the viewpoint that this chapter confirms what is written on the Moabite Stone!

We have cited examples of monuments with false inscriptions (as on Robert Fulton’s Tomb on Wall Street in New York City); and the critical dictum that any pagan inscription is a preferable record to the Holy Bible is merely another false axiom of critics!

As a matter of truth, the Moabite Stone is a magnificent account of the war discussed in this chapter, in full agreement with what the inspired author has written here.

Verses 1-3


“Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, but not like his father, and like his mother; for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.”

The critical allegation that this paragraph is merely, “A Deuteronomic appraisal, and that the successive kings of Israel were judged by the Deuteronomic standard of the single sanctuary (in Jerusalem),”(F2) is unacceptable in the light of truth. The implication of such an opinion is that the provision of Jerusalem as the single, one and only, acceptable sanctuary for the Chosen People came, not from Moses via the direct revelation of God, but that it resulted from a very long crusade of certain hard-headed priests who finally succeeded in making it so.

That implication is false. All Israel was aware of God’s Divine instructions regarding the uniqueness of His sanctuary, and it was that knowledge that compelled the kings of Northern Israel to persist in their unbelievably hard-headed preference of paganism as the most practical device for retaining their independence. Once all Israel had been allowed to return three times each year to Jerusalem in the great national festivals Divinely ordained for Israel, the northern kingdom could not have continued very long.

The theory of “a Deuteronomic” campaign, lasting through the history of Northern Israel, to make Jerusalem the only sanctuary is nothing but a fairy tale. It had been “the only sanctuary” ever since the days of David, and even prior to that, there was never more than one sanctuary at a time. The efforts of Northern Israel to change that were founded upon absolutely nothing except the vain-glorious ambition of their evil, unbelieving, and conceited rulers.

“He put away the pillar of Baal” Yes, he put it away, but he did not destroy it, nor did he get rid of the illegitimate sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel, since they were the king-pins of his stability on the throne. “He did not succeed in exterminating the worship of Baal. It not only continued but appears to have been carried on in the most shameless manner (2 Kings 10:18 ff), at which we should not be surprised, because his mother Jezebel, that fanatical worshipper of Baal, was living throughout the whole twelve years of his reign.”(F3)

Verses 4-8


“Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master; and he rendered unto the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams. But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel. And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab hath rebelled against me; wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up, I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses. And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way of the wilderness of Edom.”

The obvious reason why Jehoram desired that alliance with Jehoshaphat was that Edom, at that time, was subject to Jehoshaphat and that such an arrangement would allow him to attack Moab through Edom’s territory. The desirability of that was urgent because Moab had strongly fortified the cities that lay along the more direct route.

“Mesha the king of Moab was a sheep-master” The word sheep-master occurs nowhere else in the Bible except in Amos 1:1.(F4)

“He rendered unto the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand,” The RSV adds the word “annually” here, despite the fact of its not being in the Hebrew, but this is probably correct, because Keil agreed that the usage of this terminology throughout the O.T. indicates annual tribute.(F5)

Calkins labeled such an annual tribute as “excessive,”(F6) but Keil stated that, “Such an annual tribute would not have been exorbitant, because the land of the Moabites abounded in excellent pasture and was especially adapted to the rearing of flocks.”(F7)

“I am as thou art,” Jehoshaphat’s ready compliance with Jehoram’s request is surprising, “Because his similar response to a like invitation from Ahab had resulted in his receiving the rebuke of God’s prophet (2 Chronicles 19:2). Jehoram’s removing that pillar of Baal might have influenced him.”(F8)

So the kings went to war against Moab, but a drought had removed their projected water supply!

Verses 9-12


“So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom; and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey: and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts that followed them. And the king of Israel said, Alas! for Jehovah hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab. But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah, that we may inquire of Jehovah by him? And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of Jehovah is with him. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.”

“They made a circuit of seven days’ journey” Their route of attack against Moab was down the western shore of the Dead Sea, around the southern end of that sea and through the territory of Edom toward Moab. When they came to the border of Moab, which was the Wady es-Ahsy they fully expected plenty of water from the perennial stream, but an extended drought in Edom had dried it up, and the whole host of the three kings was threatened with death by thirst! It was a crisis of unbelievable magnitude.

“Jehovah hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab” This statement by the king of Israel was that of an unbeliever. Any threatening disaster he was ready to attribute to Israel’s true God, but, fortunately, Jehoshaphat was a man of greater faith.

“Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah?” It is remarkable that Jehoram was ignorant of Elisha’s presence in the host, but one of his servants told him that the prophet was among them. Having learned this, Jehoshaphat at once stated that the word of Jehovah was with Elisha, and the three kings decided to consult him.

“And they went down to him” Jehoram might have thought of sending for Elisha, but the three kings were in dire straits and decided to humble themselves and go to the prophet rather than demanding that the prophet come to them. After all, when terrible death threatens, many an erstwhile unbeliever turns in meekness and humility to God who alone determines the issues of life and death.

Verses 13-17


“And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay; for Jehovah hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab. And Elisha said, As Jehovah liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee. But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, that when the minstrel played, that the hand of Jehovah came upon him. And he said, Thus saith Jehovah, Make this valley full of trenches. For thus saith Jehovah, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, and ye shall drink both ye and your cattle and your beasts.”

The first two verses here reveal the complete rejection of the king of Israel by the prophet, for he declared flatly that, if he had not been accompanied by the king of Judah the prophet would not even have looked at him.

“Make this valley full of trenches” The different rendition here by the RSV is probably correct, based upon the fact that God did NOT need any help to supply plenty of water for that host with all their animals. That rendition is, “Thus saith the Lord, I will make this dry stream-bed full of pools.” We strongly prefer the RSV here, because it frustrates the erroneous interpretation of some writers that, “In this wady it is still possible to obtain water by digging for it!”(F9) The water that filled that valley did not come from the army’s digging wells all that night! No indeed, the text flatly declares that, “There came water by the way of Edom (2 Kings 3:20)” That can mean only that there was a cloudburst in the highlands of Edom where that wady originated, and that by the following morning the whole area was flooded!

“Ye shall not see wind, neither… rain, yet this valley shall be filled with water” This prophecy of Elisha meant that the wind and rain normally to be expected together (in that area) would NOT be seen. Why? It would occur at a great distance from the host, and none of them would even be aware of it. It should be noted that Elisha did not say that there would not be rain, but that they would not see it!

“Ye shall drink… ye and your cattle and your beasts” “The cattle (Hebrew = flocks and herds) is a reference to their food supply, and beasts refers to the luggage animals.”(F10)

Verses 18-20


“And this is but a light thing in the sight of Jehovah: he will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. And ye shall smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones. And it came to pass, in the morning, about the time of offering the oblation, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.”

Some writers take the “scorched earth” policy of this war against Moab as being in direct violation of Deuteronomy 20:19-20, which forbade Israel to cut down the fruit trees of conquered enemies, but the allegation is false. As Rawlinson explained:

“That prohibition in Deuteronomy is limited to cases where the conquest of the country attacked, and its occupation by the conquerors is anticipated. The words are, `When thou shalt besiege a city… thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: FOR THOU MAYEST EAT OF THEM.’“(F11)

Verses 21-25


“Now when the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered themselves together, all that were able to put on armor, and upward, and stood on the border. And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water over against them as red as blood: and they said, This is blood; the kings are surely destroyed, and they have smitten each man his fellow: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil. And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them; and they went forward into the land, smiting the Moabites. And they beat down their cities; and on every good piece of land they cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all the fountains of water, and felled all the good trees, until in Kir-hareseth only they left the stones thereof howbeit the slingers went about it, and smote it.”

This paragraph states merely that the victory over Moab was granted, even as the prophet had said and that the Israelites ruthlessly carried out their ancient equivalent of the “scorched earth” invasion. However, it was not in the will of God that Moab should again become tributary to Israel; and accordingly, there came an abrupt end of this destructive campaign, leaving Moab independent of Israel.

Verses 26-27


“And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew the sword, to break through unto the king of Edom; but they could not. Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.”

The best explanation of what happened here is perhaps that of Honeycutt. “The scene of the king sacrificing his oldest son on the wall, the one destined to succeed him as king, so moved and excited the Moabites that they fell upon the coalition and defeated it.”(F12) It is certainly ridiculous to suppose, as Mesha reported it on the Moabite Stone, that his pagan god Chemosh defeated Israel.

“He took seven hundred men… to break through to the king of Edom” In this maneuver, Mesha, the king of Moab, evidently supposed that the king of Edom, a vassal of Jehoshaphat, might actually change sides and help him, or at least be a less enthusiastic fighter than others of the coalition. Montgomery called this passage a contradiction(F13) of the fact of Edom being a part of the coalition. However, he merely misunderstood the thinking of Mesha.

“And there was great wrath against Israel” The source of this wrath is NOT stated, and scholars have different views of its origin. Keil believed that, “The Israelites brought upon themselves the wrath of God by occasioning the offering of an abominable human sacrifice.”(F14) Adam Clarke agreed with that view, writing that, “The Lord was displeased with Israel for driving things to such an extremity.”(F15) Jackson declared that, “The great wrath that came upon Israel was from the god of Moab who accepted the human sacrifice of his worshippers.”(F16)

We cannot agree with either of these opinions. God would hardly have been angry with Israel for carrying out the same kind of victorious destruction of Moab that God’s prophet had prophesied, as Keil thought. Nor is it possible to suppose that a nonentity like Chemosh, the Moabite’s pagan god, could either have “accepted” or “rejected” anything. However, in this case, it must be admitted that the defeat of Israel following Mesha’s appeal to Chemosh by the sacrifice of his son and heir gave that pagan ruler ample excuse for attributing the victory to his pagan god. In this connection, the words of Dentan are helpful:

“It may seem strange that our Bible would contain a story that can be interpreted as teaching the efficacy of human sacrifice, even such a sacrifice to a heathen god, Chemosh of the Moabites; but this is another striking bit of evidence of basic honesty.”(F17)

If there had been any such person as that mythical Deuteronomist so sternly jealous of the honor of the One True God and his unique sanctuary in Jerusalem, why would he have allowed anything like this to appear in the Bible? The existence of it proves that no such person existed!

Another possible explanation of Israel’s repulse here is that of LaSor:

“It is possible that the Israelites believed that human sacrifice was efficacious to Chemosh in his own land, because the popular beliefs of the Israelites were often in opposition to revealed truth, as spoken by the prophets.”(F18) If that was the case, it is easy to see how there might have ensued a general panic following the sacrifice of Mesha’s son.

It appears, therefore, that the great wrath that came upon Israel was that of the Moabites who were aroused to a frantic frenzy by their kings abominable sacrifice of his son. At any rate, the campaign ended then and there.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-kings-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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