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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 3

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-8

Second Kings - Chapter 3

Jehorem Reigns - Verses 1-8

The opening statement of this chapter, that Jehoram began to reign over Israel in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, does not seem to correspond with 2 Kings 1:17. There it is said Jehoram of Israel began to reign in the second year of Jehoram of Judah. From this Bible commentators have concluded that Jehoram of Judah had-a co-regency with his father, Jehoshaphat, which was in its second year when Jehoshaphat was in his eighteenth year. It seems to have been a common practice for kings of both Israel and Judah to begin a co­regency with their fathers near the end of the older king’s reign. It must have been a kind of training time.

Jehoram was very much like his father Ahab inasmuch as he continued his evil ways, but unlike him in that he discontinued the outward worship of Baal and removed the Baal image. What he sought was to return Israel to worship of the calves which Jeroboam, who caused the initial apostasy of the northern kingdom from the temple in Jerusalem. Though Jezebel was still alive it appears that she was unable to influence her son to the extent she had Ahab.

The rebellion of Mesha, king of Moab, against the subjection of Israel is introduced again. The land of Moab was a grassland and supported the intensive grazing of sheep. The tribute to Israel had been paid in sheep and wool. His yearly payment consisted of a hundred thousand each of lambs and rams with the wool. But with Ahab dead, and the country defeated in battle by the Syrians, Mesha saw an opportunity to strike for independence. The account studied previously, from Second Chronicles, chapter 20, probably was one event in the rebellion of Moab. But that had been frustrated by the intervention of the Lord on behalf of Judah and Jehoshaphat.

When he became king after the death of his brother, Ahaziah, Jehoram proceeded to muster an army and go to re-subjugate the Moabites. Then an astonishing thing happened with Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah. Jehoram solicited the aid of the king of Judah to go with him against the Moabites. It is not known why Jehoshaphat acquiesced in Jehoram’s desires and reacted in the very same manner he did when he consented to go with Ahab against the Syrians at Ramoth-gilead. Jehoshaphat had been severely rebuked by the prophet for that mis-adventure, and one would have surely expected that he would never again fall into that error (1 Kings chapter 22).

Perhaps Jehoshaphat felt obligated to go to this encounter against the Moabites, who had so recently invaded his land. But then God had given him the mighty victory over the combined forces of Moab, Ammon, and Edom without his having to raise a hand in his own defense. Surely he could not believe God would bless his evil affinity with Jehoram. But he again uttered the old untruth he had given Jehoram’s father at that first time, "I will go with you, I am as you are, my people as your people, and my horses as your horses." In other words they would present a united effort against Moab. Jehoshaphat even allowed Jehoram to plan the assault route, and he chose to attack through the southern wilderness of Judah, through Edom, to Moab. This meant going around the Dead Sea’s south end to its east side.

Verses 9-19

Elisha Saves the Day - Verses 9-19

As the armies of Israel and Judah set out they were joined by the king of Edom with his army. They planned a circuitous route which would bring them into Moab by the back door through Edom, but somewhere their surveillance men failed them. They missed the oases in the wilderness and found themselves without water and unable to find any. This was a great dilemma with the thousands of armed men, to say nothing of the camp followers, horses, mules, and the cattle they were bringing along for food. Immediately the ungodly Jehoram began to blame God for bringing them here to perish. Is it not strange he did not blame his own false gods? But that is the way of the worldly, who have no serious thought of the Lord until some serious calamity overtakes them, and then they want to blame God for their trouble.

Again the godly Jehoshaphat belatedly decides they should seek the will of the Lord through one of his prophets. When he inquired for a prophet he was informed that Elisha was among the camp. Jehoshaphat was pleased at this and persuaded the other two kings to go with him to consult the prophet. It is not known why Elisha was with the army. Likely it was to supply spiritual guidance for the men who required it, but whatever the reason, his presence was the means of the deliverance of the allied armies.

Elisha saw the king of Israel as the leader of the expedition, which of course, he was, and he disdained to answer him. He wanted nothing to do with the wicked Jehoram and suggested that he consult the gods of his father and mother. Jehoram gave as his reason for seeking the prophet of God that it was the Lord’s judgment which got them in this fix. In his mind Jehoram must have looked on God as a big bully, out to get the cream of young manhood in the three nations by slaughtering them in the Judaean wilderness.

Elisha consented to seek the will of the Lord simply because he respected the presence and person of the godly Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, even swearing by the living God, whom he served, he would not intervene otherwise. But the prophet was too distraught and angered to get to the Lord in his present state. He asked for a minstrel, whose soothing music would calm his spirit and help him to remove the rancor from his heart so he could consult the Lord. There is a good lesson here for God’s children, when their emotions upset them. They need a few quiet, soothing moments of meditation that they may become forgiving and be restored to divine fellowship (Isaiah 59:2; 1 Peter 5:6-7).

The Lord’s message which He gave to Elisha may have seemed strange to the kings, and perhaps unbelievable to wicked Jehoram. It certainly required considerable faith to carry it out. They were directed to dig ditches all through the dry valley. The Lord would fill them with abundant water, enough for men, cattle, and beasts. Not only would the Lord thus deliver the armies from their predicament, but they would go on to absolute defeat of the Moabites. So complete would be the devastation of their land that every fortified city and every goodly city would be laid waste. The forests would be cut down, the wells and springs stopped up, and the cultivable land filled with rocks. Moab would be ruined.

Verses 20-27

Moab Defeated - Verses 20-27

The miracle of the water came the next morning at the regular time for offering the daily meat (or meal) offering. This public offering, which was made of flour, or other grain product, signified a person’s recognition of the Lord’s provident care in sustaining him. Thus it was appropriate that the Lord provide the needed water at the time of this public offering. It was one of the prescribed Levitical offerings (see Leviticus, chapter 2).

God brought the water to fill the ditches the men had dug from Edom. There may be no particular significance in this, although that land, which is mostly arid, contains some very beautiful fountains. Meantime the Moabites learned they were being invaded and gathered all the men of the land who were able to bear arms. They then advanced to their border to head off the invaders if possible. This seems to be where they found the three kings camped, waiting for the Lord to send them deliverance. They seem to have arrived on the scene at the time the ditches had just been filled with the water.

The Moabites came from the east and had the sun to their backs. Its early rays falling on the water gave it a red hue in their sight. They must have known that this was an ordinarily dry valley. Therefore, when they looked down on it they suspected that the "red" water was blood, that the kings had fallen out among them (as had occurred when they invaded Judah with the Ammonites and Edomites earlier). Therefore they cried out in joy and hastened down to the valley to gather the spoil.

The Israelites were hid in ambush so that their camp seemed deserted. When the jubilant Moabites rushed down the Israelites rose up and attacked them. The Moabites were thrown into confusion. They turned to flee, but the Israelites killed them right and left, and pursued them to their own cities killing, spoiling, and devastating the land, just as the Lord had promised through Elisha. When men act in faith the Lord will do what He promises. The presence of godly Jehoshaphat bolstered the faith of the others. They dug the ditches, filling the valley with them, trusting the Lord to fill them, and He did. If God’s people today will enlarge their intake, by digging ditches to receive and contain His blessings, He will surely send them (Philippians 4:19).

The Israelites were ruthless in their slaughter and devastation. They tore down the cities and used the stones to pile in the fields and prevent their cultivation. They threw more stones in the wells and filled them up. Cities which were not destroyed had their inhabitants slain by the slingers. The Moabite king became desperate. Taking some of his best men he tried to break through the Israelite lines to place himself in the hands of the king of Edom, who had previously been his ally, but he could not. In one final act the king sacrificed his eldest son, the crown prince, hoping his gods would be thus favored to help him, but ruin was upon him.

The last statement of verse 27 is somewhat vague. It does not seem to apply to the Moabites, although it is quite understandable that they would have great indignation against Israel who had destroyed them. Rather it seems more probable that the reference is to the men of Judah and Edom, who forsook the battle and returned to their own country. It is unlikely that they were turned against Israel because of their ruthless methods in killing the people. More likely it is because they destroyed everything and left nothing for spoil. Another interpretation suggests that the wrath of God came on Israel, so that her allies deserted them. Though Moab was spoiled it does not appear that they ever again were so completely under the thumb of Israel to the extent they had previously been.

Lessons: 1) More times than not the sons of evil fathers also turn out to be bad; 2) God’s servants should never allow themselves to feel obligated to the wicked; 3) strangely most people will not seek the Lord until they find themselves in helpless situations without Him; 4) children of God must suppress their natural emotions, returning good for evil to those who hate them; 5) when men act by faith the Lord responds with abundant blessing; 6) the wicked will finally come to terrible, absolute judgment.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Kings 3". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-kings-3.html. 1985.
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