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Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 3

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-3

2 Kings 3:1-3

Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign.

Evil-the same in principle though not in form

Two subjects are here illustrated--

That whilst the forms of evil may change, the principle may continue rampant. His father and mother worshipped Baal, but the very “image” of the idol “that his father had made he put away.” But notwithstanding that, “he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam.” Observe:

1. Though the existing generation sins not in the form of the preceding, their sin is not less sin on that account. The forms in which barbarians and our uncivilised ancestors sinned, appear gross and revolting to us; nevertheless, our sins are not the less real and heinous in the sight of God. Our civilisation hides the revolting hideousness, but leaves its spirit perhaps more active than ever.

2. That mere external reformations may leave the spirit of evil as rampant as ever. Jehoram “put away the image of Baal,” but the spirit of idolatry remained in him in all its wonted force. “He cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin: he departed not therefrom.” This is ever true. You may destroy this form of government or that, monarchical or democratic, and yet leave the spirit in which these forms work, vital and vigorous to manifest itself in other forms. Another subject illustrated here is--

That whilst sin may only be in the form of neglect of duty it may in the case of one man entail serious evils on posterity. (Homilist.)

Manipulation of evil

A remarkable character is given of Jehoram. He was not an imitator of the evil of his father as to its precise form, but he had his own method of serving the devil. We should have thought that Ahab and Jezebel had exhausted all the arts of wickedness, but it turns out that Jehoram had found a way of his own of living an evil life. There is room in wickedness for the exercise of genius of a certain limited kind. The limitation is imposed by wickedness itself, for, after all, wickedness is made up of but few elements. Many persons suppose that if they do not sin according to the prevailing fashion they are not sinning at all They imagine that by varying the form of the evil they have mitigated the evil itself. A good deal of virtue is supposed to consist in reprobating certain forms of vice. Jehoram made a kind of trick of wickedness; he knew how to give a twist to old forms, or a turn to old ways, so as to escape part of their vulgarity, and yet to retain all their iniquity. A most alarming thought it is to the really spiritual mind that men may become adepts in wickedness, experts in evil-doing, and may be able so to manage their corrupt designs as to deceive many observers by a mere change of surface or appearance. We do not amend the idolatry by altering the shape of the altar. We do not destroy the mischievous power of unbelief by throwing our scepticism into metaphysical phrases, and making verbal mysteries where we might have spiritual illumination. We are deceived by things simply because we ourselves live a superficial life and read only the history of appearances. What is the cure for all this manipulation of evil, this changing of complexion of form, and this consequent imagining that the age is improving because certain phenomena which used to be so patent are no longer discernible on the face of things? We come back to the sublime doctrine of regeneration, as the answer to the great inquiry, What is the cure for this heart-disease? “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” We may change either the language or the manners of wickedness, or the times and seasons for doing wicked things; we may decorate our wickedness with many beautiful colours but, so long as the heart itself is unchanged, decoration is useless; yea, worse than useless, for it is a vain attempt to make that look true which is false--an endeavour even to deceive Omniscience itself. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Verse 11

2 Kings 3:11

Elisha . . . which poured water on the hands of Elijah.

Contrast between Elijah and Elisha

The resemblances between Elijah and Elisha are occasionally so great, that it is scarcely surprising the one prophet is confused with the other. They both lived in one country and in one age. They were both the messengers of God to kings. They both wrought miracles, and even the same class of miracles, multiplying the widow’s off, and raising from the dead a mother’s only child. Last of all, the life-work of both was to withstand and witness against idolatry, and restore the worship of the true God in the land of Israel. And yet to the careful reader there is no contrast in the Bible more striking or complete. What John was to Peter, Mary to Martha, Melanchthon to Luther, that was Elisha the Prophet of Peace to Elijah the Desert Prophet--the Prophet of Fire. The one is John the Baptist, the other is the gentler John--the Evangelist, the disciple of love--who, leaning on his Master’s bosom, caught and breathed a kindred spirit. In place of the long shaggy locks that had marked the awful Elijah, the head of the new and youthful prophet was shorn and smooth. Instead of the sheepskin mantle, he wore the attire of the period. In his hand he carried a walking staff. His whole gait was that of the ordinary citizen. Elisha was no lonely man dwelling in the grot of Cherith or the solitudes of the wilderness. He had his own house in Samaria. He was known in far Damascus. Indeed the whole contrast between Elijah and Elisha is so significant and instructive as to be well worth following from point to point.

1. Elijah simply drops upon the scene. There is no warning, no period of pupilage or preparation. Of his previous history nothing whatever is known. Like Melchisedec he has neither “beginning of days nor end of life.” We meet Elisha, on the other hand, for the first time in his father’s fields, in “the meadow of the dance,” at Abel-meholah. Shaphat is a man of means, for he has twelve ploughs at work; a man of piety also, for he has refused to do homage at the shrine of Baal. In particular, he has trained his son to know Israel’s God.

2. During the whole of his public life--about twelve years at the most--Elijah to a large extent lived out of the world, or at least far above it, in stern sublimity. Elisha, on the other hand, is intimately mixed up with all the political movements and events of his day. Three kings seek him as their counsellor. Jehu is crowned at his bidding. Ben-hadad consults him in war. Joash attends at his death-bed. Whenever Elijah is seen in connection with kings and courts, it is always as their enemy--Ahab, Jezebel, Ahaziah. When Elisha is seen in the same connection, it is always as their friend--“My father, my father,” is their uniform and reverent mode of address.

3. The miracles wrought by the two prophets form another interesting point of contrast between Elijah and Elisha. It is noticeable that Elisha wrought twice as many miracles as Elijah did, suggesting the inference that the parting request had been complied with to the letter: “And Elisha said, I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” On his introduction to work, Elijah begins with a miracle--the emblem of so much of his future career--a miracle of judgment: “There shall not be dew nor rain these years,” referring to the drought, “but according to My word.” Elisha begins with a miracle--the emblem also of so much of his future career--but it is a miracle of mercy: “There shall not be from thence,” speaking of the bitter waters of Jericho sweetened, “any more death or barren land.” The miracles of Elisha, in fact, remind us very much of the miracles of Christ--miracles of beneficence. The very grave of Elisha wrought a miracle that reads very like a miracle of Christ, for “when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood up on his feet.”

4. As another point in the contrast between Elijah and Elisha, it cannot be out of a place to say that of Elisha, like Joshua the son of Nun, not a single infirmity or failing is recorded. This cannot be said of Elijah, for he fled into the wilderness and lay down under the juniper tree to escape a woman’s vengeance, and in despair to die. The humbler Elisha may do the greater work. There is every reason to believe that in reclaiming Israel from idolatry, by the conversion of individual men and women, the “still small voice” of Elisha, conjoined with his healing acts and social intercourse, accomplished wider and more permanent changes than the fire and storm and national upheaval caused by Elijah. Nor is this to be wondered at. The ministry of Elisha in Israel lasted nearly five times longer than the ministry of Elijah. The rough and pioneer work had already been done.

5. The translation of the one, the ordinary death by dissolution of the other. In conclusion, the whole career of Elisha supplies us with some serious and useful practical lessons. His special feature of character was this--holiness. He was “a holy man of God.” What a sublimity there is in this simple language! What honour or title is ever to be compared with it? Abraham was “the friend of God,” David was “the man after God’s own heart,” Daniel was “the man greatly beloved,” Elisha is “the man of God.” All social distinctions that count so much with men sink here into insignificance. Whatever else we are honourably known to be, let us seek to “be holy even as God is holy.” Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.” (H. J. Howat.)

The present ministry

A young man, who a few years ago was a student of Harvard College, became noted for his quiet offices of kindness, religious and otherwise, among the younger students. Without patronage, he seemed to adopt the role of eider brother to many a boy who, but for him, would have gone wrong and reaped the consequences. Some one asked a question one day, and drew out the secret. He had confided to his pastor his determination to “enter the ministry” as soon as he had graduated. “why not enter it now?” said the wise counsellor. “You will be all the better minister for ministering as you go along.”

Verses 13-17

2 Kings 3:13-17

And Elisha said unto the King of Israel, What have I to do with thee

Aspects of a godly man

Elisha was confessedly a godly man of a high type, and these verses reveal him to us in three aspects:--


As rising superior to kings.

1. He rebukes them for their idolatry. The loudest professors of our religion in these times will crouch before kings, and address them in terms of fawning flattery.

2. He yields to their urgency out of respect to the true religion. “And Elisha said, As the Lord of hosts 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.” Jehoshaphat was pre-eminently a godly man (2 Chronicles 17:5-6), and that influenced this great Elisha to interpose on their behalf. “Those that honour me I will honour, saith the Lord.” A godly man is the only truly independent man on this earth; he can “stand before kings” and not be ashamed, and rebuke princes as well as paupers for their sins.

As preparing for intercession with heaven what these kings wanted was the interposition of heaven on their behalf, and they here apply to Elisha to obtain this: and after the prophet had acceded to their request, he seeks to put himself in the right moral mood to appeal to heaven, and what does he do? “But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.” Probably his mind had been somewhat ruffled by the presence of these kings, especially at the sight of Jehoram, the wicked and idolatrous king, and before venturing an appeal to heaven he felt the need of a devout calmness. Hence he called for music, and as the devout musician sounded out sweet psalmody on his ear he became soothed and spiritualised in soul. Luther taught that the “spirit of darkness abhorred sweet sounds.” There is a spiritual mood necessary in order to have intercourse with heaven, and this mood it is incumbent on every man to seek and retain.

As becomes the organ of the supernatural.

1. Through him God made a promise of deliverance. Through him God affected their deliverance (2 Kings 3:24-25). We would remind those who perhaps ridicule the idea of man becoming the organ of Divine power:

1. That there is nothing antecedently improbable in this. God works through His creatures; since He created the universe He employs it as His agent.

2. Biblical history attests this. Moses, Christ, and the apostles performed deeds that seem to us to have transcended the natural. A morally great man becomes “mighty through God.” God has ever worked wonders through godly men, and ever will (Homilist.)

Holy Spirit should come upon him to inspire him with prophetic utterances. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” We need that the hand of the Lord should be laid upon us, for we can never open our mouths in wisdom except we are under the Divine touch. Elisha had noticed that the Spirit of God acted upon him most freely when his mind was restful and subdued. He found himself best prepared for the heavenly voice when the noise within his soul was hushed, and every disturbing emotion was quieted. Having ascertained this fact by observation, he acted upon it. He could not create the wind of the Spirit, but he could set his sail to receive it, and he did so. At the particular time alluded to in the text, Elisha had been greatly irritated by the sight of Jehoram, the King of Israel, the son of Ahab and Jezebel. In the true spirit of his old master, Elijah, the prophet, let Jehoram know what he thought of him; and having delivered his soul, he very naturally felt agitated and distressed, and unfit to be the mouthpiece for the Spirit of God. He knew that the hand of the Lord would not rest upon him while he was in that state, and therefore he said, “Bring me a minstrel.” The original Hebrew conveys the idea of a man accustomed to play upon the harp. Under the influence of minstrelsy his mind grew quiet, his agitation subsided, his thoughts were collected, and the Spirit of God spake through him. It was a most commendable thing for him to use the means which he had found at other times helpful, though still his sole reliance was upon the hand of the Lord.

Let us strive to be in a fit state for the Lord’s work. If we know of anything that will put our mind into such a condition that the Spirit of God is likely to work upon us and speak through us, let us make use of it.

1. It is very evident that we, too, like the prophet, have our hindrances. We are at times unfit for the Master’s use. Our minds are disarranged, the machinery is out of order, the sail is furled, the pipe is blocked up, the whole soul is out of gear. The hindrance in Elisha’s case came from his surroundings. He was in a camp; a camp where three nations mixed their discordant voices; a noisy, ill-disciplined camp, and a camp ready to perish for thirst. There was no water, and the men-at-arms were perishing; the confusion and clamour must have been great. Prophetic thought could scarcely command itself amid the uproar, the discontent, the threatening from thousands of thirsty men. Three kings had waited on the prophet; but this would not have disconcerted him had not one of them been Jehoram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel. What memories were awakened in the mind of Elijah’s servant by the sight, of the man in whom the proud dame of Sidon and her base-minded consort lived again. Elisha acted rightly, and bravely. When he saw Jehoram coming to him for help, he challenged him thus--“What have I to do with thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother.” When the king humbly and with bated breath confessed that he saw the hand of Jehovah in bringing the three kings together, the prophet scarcely moderated his tone, but exclaimed, “As the Lord of hosts 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.” It was fit that he should be in that temper; the occasion demanded it. Still it was not a fit preface to the inward whisper of the Spirit of God, and the prophet did not feel ready for his work. Do you not occasionally fred yourself in an unhappy position? You have to preach, or to teach a class in school, or to carry an edifying word to a sick person, but everything distracts you. What With noise, or domestic trouble, or sinful neighbours, or the railing words of some wicked man, you cannot get into a fit frame of mind. Little things grieve great minds.

2. Elisha’s hindrances lay mainly in his inward feelings: he could not feel the hand of the Lord upon him until the inner warfare had been pacified. He burned with indignation at the sight of the son of Jezebel, and flashed words of flame into his face. I know of nothing that is more likely to put a man out of order for the communications of the Spirit of God than indignation. Even though we may be able to say, “I do well to be angry,” yet it is a very trying emotion. Doubtless, also, the prophet’s spirits were depressed. Be saw before him the King of Edom, an idolater; the King of Israel, a votary of the calves of Jeroboam; and Jehoshaphat, the man of God, in confederacy with them. This last must have pained him as much as anything. What hope was there for the cause of truth and holiness when even a godly prince was in alliance with Jezebel’s son? Moreover, the servant of God must have been the subject of a fierce internal conflict between two sets of thoughts. Indignation and pity strove within his heart. His justice and his piety made him feel that he could have nothing to do with two idolatrous kings; but pity and humanity made him wish to deliver the army from perishing by thirst. Like a patriot, he sympathised with his people; but, like a prophet, he was jealous for his God.

3. But what are our helps when we are pressed with hindrances? Is there anything which in our case may be as useful as a harp? “Bring me a minstrel,” said the prophet, for his mind was easily moved by that charming art. Music and song soothed and calmed and cheered him. Among our own helps singing holds a chief place; as saith the apostle, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Suppose, however, that singing has no such power over you; let me recommend to you the quiet reading of a chapter of God’s Word.

We should use every means to obtain the touch of the Divine hand.

We should more abundantly use holy minstrelsy. Saints and sinners, too, would find it greatly to their benefit if they said, “Bring me a minstrel.” This is the world’s cry whenever it is merry, and filled with wine. The art of music has been prostituted to the service of Satan. It is for us to use singing in the service of God, and to make a conquest of it for our Redeemer. Worldlings want the minstrel to excite them; we want him to calm our hearts and still our spirits. That is his use to us, and we shall do well to employ the harper to that end. When the house is full of trouble, and your heart is bowed down, is it not well to say, “Bring me a minstrel, and let him sing to me the 27th Psalm: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.’” When we come to die we will breathe our last breath to music. Then will we say, “Bring me a harper,” and like Jacob and Moses we will sing ere we depart. Our song is ready. It is the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Suppose you have done with the minstrelsy which I have now mentioned, there is next the music of gospel doctrine. If these do not charm you, fetch a minstrel from experience. Think how God has dealt with you in times of sorrow and darkness long gone by, and then you will sing, “His mercy endureth for ever.” If you want music, there is yet a sweeter store. Go fetch a minstrel from Calvary. Commend me for sweetness to the music of the Cross. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Minstrelsy and inspiration

A Levite, likely, he meant, that played and sung some psalm of David. Such a one the prophet here calleth for, to dispel his grief, say some Hebrew doctors, for the loss of Elijah; from whose translation, till the then present occasion, the spirit of prophecy, say the same authors, rested not upon him. To compose his spirits, say some, much moved with indignation at Jehoram; for which purpose also the Pythagoreans, every night when they went to bed, played on an instrument. And Plato in his laws attributeth the same virtue to music. But besides this, the prophet’s mind might hereby be raised up to an expectation of God communicating himself. The way to be filled with the Spirit is to edify ourselves by psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. (J. Trapp.)


Good music brings restfulness, and it brings ideas; more, it seems to give one wisdom. George Eliot understood that so well. Hear a good deal of music--hear it, if you can, every day; it is better, even, for the imagination, than the noblest verse, because it gives wings to thought, and sets the fancy free, and opens the doors of the unreal world. (Walter Besant.)

The Church’s use of secular aids

We are apt to believe that the Spirit of God is a solitary agent acting by its own strength and conquering by its own power. We think of the beauties of holiness as themselves sufficient to inspire. Shall the hand of God work in unison with the harp of man! Shall the soul be aided to its vision of Divine glory by listening to the strains of a purely human melody and thrilling to the notes of an instrument with mundane strings! Elisha says “Yes,” he calls for a minstrel before prophesying. The minstrel was probably a man vastly inferior to himself, and was perhaps not a religious man at all; yet Elisha was not ashamed to use him for the service of God. Was he here again influenced by the memory of Elijah, by the tendency to imitate his master? Did he remember how that master was fed by ravens? Did he remember how the mightiest was supported by the ministration of the meanest? Did he remember how the mere secular forces of life had been made to serve the kingdom of God? I think it likely. Elisha must have felt that if the tempestuous soul of his master could be content to be fed by earthly streams, the quiet river of his own life might well be thus satisfied too. At all events he was content. He was satisfied to sun himself in a worldly beauty, to cheer himself into the work for God by a study of the work of man. At the time when he had nothing to draw with, he let the Samaritan bring the pitcher. In the hour when his alabaster box was broken, he allowed his costliest treasures to be carried in earthen vessels. And the Christian Church has ever followed the example of Elisha. The voice of the Church has ever increasingly been, “Bring me a minstrel!” She began without the minstrel--in the humble precincts of an upper room. But she found that she needed stimulus. She was marching as an army to battle, and, like an army marching to battle, she acquired a blast of music. Christianity has ascended the hill to the tune of trumpets on the plain; and the feet of the Christian soldier have moved in unison with the measure of an earthly melody. The religion of the Cross has proceeded up the dolorous way crowned with the flowers of the world’s field. It has availed itself of every secular aid. It has beautified the places of its worship. It has imparted human graces to its heavenly services. It has cultivated by natural art the voices of its choristers. It has sent its prophets to drink at the wells of worldly wisdom. It has given a literary form to its liturgies It has incorporated with its psalmody the sentiments of men not called inspired. (George Matheson, D. D.)

Verse 16

2 Kings 3:16

Make this valley full of ditches.

Preparation for revival

In this story there were no less than three powerful kings, surrounded by numerous hosts of valiant men, marching forth, as they supposed, to easy victory., but when the water failed they themselves had failed in their enterprise. Moab may well be feared when there is no water for Israel, and for Judah, and for Edom. But oh, beloved, this is only a picture of the Church which has not constant supplies of God’s refreshing grace, and of the Christian community from which the favour and the Spirit of the living God have been withdrawn. There may be riches and learning, there may be numbers and influence, there may be talent and organisation, but if there be not the Spirit of all grace, and the helpful influences that come from Him, these other things may prove but hindrances instead of helps. I notice in the story that though the kings were powerless, they were not prayerless. There is hope for any heart that has not forgotten the way to the mercy-seat, and for any child that still believes in, and practises the holy art of prayer.

It is man’s part to make the trenches. He set all the people of Israel, and Judah, and Edom to dig the ditches, that presently His power might be seen in filling them.

1. It is God’s wont to use ordinary instruments. Sometimes, indeed, He goes out of His own beaten track, He is not necessarily confined to any one course; still, He is a God of order, and does everything accordingly. Nor have I forgotten that when Jesus was amongst men, He acted on the same principle exactly. He took the loaves and fishes of the lad, and multiplied them into a sufficient meal for the multitude.

2. Moreover, preparation for the coming blessing is essential. Suppose in this instance God had sent the water, but there had been no previous preparation for conserving it, it would have been virtually wasted. If there had been no trenches dug, the water would have speedily disappeared; there would have been a momentary refreshing, but nothing more. God will not have His gifts wasted. He outpours His blessings that they may secure the best possible results. This trench-making is not an inapt illustration of Christian effort. I know there are some hearts that will not receive God’s blessing until there has been a good deal of digging in them first. There is nowhere to store it, no place to contain it. Their prejudices must be dug away, their doubts and fears must be uprooted. Digging is hard and difficult work, especially for those who are not used to it. I have found digging to be hard back-breaking work, but it is not so hard as is the labour of trying to get men’s hearts right before God. There is something delightfully individual about this digging, inasmuch as every one can have a hand in it. You may not all be able to lead the hosts, but you can all have your spade and mattock with which to dig a ditch in your own immediate neighbourhood. It is humble work this; it is not like storming a citadel, or rushing on the foe, but it is just as necessary. Pick and shovel can be consecrated as surely as sword and spear. Do not be ashamed of delving for Christ, and of digging for Jesus.

It is God’s part to fill the trenches with water. Do not omit your duty; but do not attempt His. There are some who go to this extreme. They want to “get up” a revival. Revivals that are worth having are not got up, they are brought down; they are the work of the Spirit of God.

1. Mark how mysteriously the water came. There was no sound of wind which generally precedes the rainstorm. There was no falling of the rain overnight. From whence did the water come? Was there some rock in the desert, struck as by the hand of God, that gushed its waters forth, as Horeb’s did long years ago? When and where He pleases He does His sovereign will. I notice that the water came by the way of Edom--a most unlikely source. Let it come by way of Edom if it will, so long as it comes from God.

2. The Lord sent this blessing in spite of the sinners that were in the camp. They often hinder God’s work, but sometimes He seems to set them aside, as if to say, “My time to work is come, and even Jehoram and the abominations of Baal shall not prevent, and for Jehoshaphat’s sake, I will save this people, and do them good.”

3. How copious was the supply, when it did come. It filled the whole of the valley; the deepest trenches were filled to the brim, and the longest had enough to fill them from end to end. Oh, that some such favour might come to us, till heart and home are filled with blessing, and the whole Church rejoices in the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts, and in the saving power of His grace, effecting wonders far and wide.

4. And this, mind you, was only the beginning of good things. God called it “a little thing” to fill the valley with water. “He will deliver the Moabites also into your hands,” the prophet said. There are surprises in store for those who trust in God, and do their part.

5. Remember also, when this blessing came! It was in the early morning when the meat offering was offered. God wrought many of His marvellous acts when either the morning or the evening sacrifice was being offered. ‘Twas then that Elijah called upon his God, who answered him by fire. ‘Twas then that Ezra rose up from his heaviness. It was then that Daniel was touched by the hand of Gabriel. Nor can I forget that when Jesus Christ was sacrificed, our offering for sin, the rocks rent, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and many that slept arose out of their graves. Ah! there is a lesson for us here. The blessing comes at the time of sacrificing. (T. Spurgeon.)

Make this valley full of ditches

Many useful lessons might be gathered from this narrative if we had but time. Upon the very surface we are led to observe the weakness of man when at his utmost strength. Three kings, with three armies well-skilled in war, were gathered to subdue Moab, and lo, the whole of the leaguered hosts were brought to a dead-lock and a standstill by the simple circumstance that there was a want of water. How easily can God nonplus and checkmate all the wisdom and the strength of mankind! We may also learn here how easily men in times of difficulty which they have brought upon themselves, will lay their distress upon providence rather than honestly see it to be the result of their own foolish actions. Hear the King of Israel cast the blame upon Jehovah: “For the Lord has called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” Providence is a most convenient horse to bear the saddles of our folly.

Our present position. The armies of these kings were in a position of abject dependence; they were dying of thirst; they could not supply their need; they must have from God the help required, or they must perish. This is just the position of every Christian church. So dependent is the Christian Church upon the Holy Ghost, that there never was an acceptable sigh heaved by a penitent apart from him; never did holy song mount to heaven except he gave it wings; never was there true prayer or faithful ministry except through the power and might of the Holy Ghost. Sinners are never saved apart from the Spirit of God.

Our duty as the prophet tells it to us. The prophet did not tell the kings that they were to procure the water--that, as we have already said, was out of their power--but he did say, “Make this valley full of ditches,” that when the water came there might be reservoirs to contain it. If we expect to obtain the Holy Spirit’s blessing, we must prepare for his reception. Before the Nile begins to rise, you see the Egyptians on either side of the banks making ready first the deep channel, and then the large reservoir, and afterwards the small canals, and then the minor pools, for unless these are ready the rising of the Nile will be of little value for the irrigation of the crops in future months; but when the Nile rises, then the water is received and made use of to fertilise the fields; and so, when the treasury of the Spirit is open by His powerful operations, each one of us should have his trench ready to receive the blessed flood which is not always at its height. Have you never noticed the traders by the river’s side? If they expect a barge of coals, or a vessel laden with other freight, the wharf is cleared to receive it. Have you not noticed’ the farmer just before the harvest-time--how the barn is emptied, or the rick yard is made ready for the stacks? Men will, when they expect a thing, prepare for the reception of it; and, if they expect more than usual, they say, “I will pull down my barns and build greater, that I may have where to bestow my goods.” The text says to us, “Prepare for the Spirit of God.” Do not pray for it, and then fold your arms and say, “Well, perhaps He will work”; we ought to act as though we were certain He would work mightily--we must prepare in faith.

1. Prepare for a blessing: prepare largely. “Make this valley full of ditches,” not make one, trench, but as many as possible. For God, when He worketh, worketh like a God. Expect great things from a great God. “Make this valley full of ditches.” Have a holy covetousness of the Divine blessing. Never be satisfied with what God is doing in the conversion of souls; be grateful, but hunger after more.

2. Moreover, prepare at once--trot dig trenches in a month’s time, but “make this valley full of ditches” now.

3. Furthermore, prepare actively. Ditchmaking is laborious work; God is not to be served by child’s-play, or sham work with no toil in it. When a valley is to be trenched throughout its whole length, all the host must give themselves to the effort, and none must skulk from the toil. I believe with all my heart in the Spirit of God; but I do not believe in human idleness. Celestial power uses human effort. The Spirit of God usually works most where we work most. “Make this valley full of ditches,” a little more plainly and pointedly. If we are to have a blessing from God, we are every one of us to have a trench ready to receive it. “Well, how shall I have mine ready?” one says. My answer is, have large desires for a blessing: that is one trench you can all dig. Next, add to these desires, faithful, vehement, and importunate prayers. Furthermore, if desires and prayers are good, yet activity is even more so. Every Christian who wanteth to have a blessing for himself or for others, must set to work by active exertion, for this is the word, “Make this valley full of ditches.” One thing more, and I leave this point. With all the work that the Church does in making the valley full of ditches, we must take care that we do it in a spirit of holy confidence and faith. These ditches were to be dug, not because the water might come, but because they were sure it would come.

Divine operations. Observe how sovereign the operations of God are. When Elijah wanted rain, there was a cloud seen, and he heard a sound as of abundance of rain, and by and by the water descended in floods; but when God would send the water to Elisha, he heard no sound of rain, nor did a drop descend. I know not how it was that the trenches were filled. Whether adown some deep ravine, the ancient bed of a dried-up torrent, God made the mighty flood to return, as He did along the bed of Kishon of old, I do not know, but by the way of Edom the waters came obedient to the Divine command. God is not tied to this or that mode of form.

1. As the blessing comes sovereignly, so it comes sufficiently: there was enough for all the men, for all the cattle, and all the beasts. They might drink as they would, but there was quite enough for all.

2. Observe, that this flood came very soon, for the Lord is a punctual paymaster. Moreover, it came certainly; there was no mistaking it, no doubting it; and so shall God’s blessing wait upon the earnest prayers and faithful endeavours of Christian people--a blessing such as the greatest sceptic shall not be able to deny, such as shall make the eyes of timidity to water, while he says to himself, “Who hath begotten me these?”

The Lord bade His servant tell them that not only should there be water, but he said, “This is but a light thing in the sight of God. He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.” Greater things are behind, and are to be expected. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 20

2 Kings 3:20

And it came to pass in the morning there came water by the way of Moab.

Defeat of the Moabites

The threefold preparation for this miraculous interposition.

1. The preparation of supplication. The kings, in their need, “inquired of the Lord” (2 Kings 3:11) by means of His prophet. The act implies an application for the help of Jehovah. Preparation for the reception of special blessing by means of supplication is a law of God’s kingdom. The prayer of the leper made way for Christ’s miraculous healing (Matthew 8:2-4); the beseeching entreaty of the Syro-Phenician woman brought down the blessing she desired (Luke 7:24-30). The supplication (Acts 2:14) of the Early Church was the preparation for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Supplication is the placing of the wood in order upon the altar in readiness for the descent of fire from heaven.

2. The preparation of the prophet’s mind for the reception of the Divine direction. “When the minstrel played, the hand of the Lord came upon him” (2 Kings 3:15). The soul that has to bear the message of God to others needs to rise into some degree of harmony with the mind of God, to partake in some measure of the holy calm which belongs to Him. Music prepares the heart of the good man to receive, and hence to be the bearer of special help from the Divine Spirit.

The miracle itself. That the flowing in of the water was miraculous is evident because it came without rain, where there were no natural springs, and in fulfilment of Elisha’s prophecy. In the New Testament the supernatural Divine workings are classified into “signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (Hebrews 2:2).

The twofold effect of the miracle. It was the occasion of life to one army and of death to the other. The one was brought about by the supernatural interposition, the other by a natural, though mistaken, inference. The cloud that was the help of Israel at the Red Sea, became the destruction of the Egyptians. (Sermon Outlines.)

Attracted by grace

I noticed on one of our streets during the frost, when the pipes were all congealed and frozen and waterless, that the water authorities opened the main pipe early in the morning. The inhabitants got up that frosty morning, they turned the tap, but no water flowed. Then the neighbours began to tell one another that in a certain street the main pipe was flowing, and the bairns got their pitchers and buckets and flagons, and the women put their shawls over their heads in their hurry, and the domestics were sent out with the utensils from the kitchen. The cry had gone out that the water was flowing, and on that frosty morning they gathered round the main pipe. What brought them? Just the real flowing of real water. That was the reason of the crowd. If Christians were to experience freshly and literally and truly the grace of God, thousands would flock into every assembly in the city, and in the land, just drawn and won by the reality of the grace of Christ. (J. Robertson.)

Verse 27

2 Kings 3:27

Then he took his eldest son . . . and offered him for a burnt offering.

A king’s sacrifice

The King of Moab’s sacrifice a picture of the world’s sacrifices. The King of Moab was besieged in Kirharaseth by the allied armies of Israel, and Judah, and Edom. Finding himself hard pressed, he resolved upon a sortie, in hopes of regaining the open country. Selecting seven hundred of the choicest of his troops, he headed an assault against the lines of the King of Edom, but was driven back. Turning in despair to his counsellors, says a Jewish legend, he inquired how it was that such feats of valour could be done by the men of Israel, and how such miracles were wrought in their behalf; to which his counsellors replied, that they sprang from Abraham, who had an only son, and offered him in sacrifice to God. “Then I, too, have an only son,” said the King of Moab. “I also will go and offer him up as a sacrifice to my god;” upon which, as it is stated in sacred history, “he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall.” It is not probable that the explanation of the Rabbis is correct. More than likely, as already has been hinted, the act of Mesha was done out of pure, blind, debasing superstition--as a peace-offering or bloody propitiation to the Moabitish war-god, Chemosh. Philo tells us it was a custom among the ancients, in times of great national disaster, instead of all being devoted to destruction, for those who had the rule in either town or country to give up the well-beloved child of their families to be put to death, as a ransom price to secure the favour of the gods (cf. Tennyson’s poem, “The Victim.” In a time of plague and famine the gods, when consulted, answer--

The king is happy in child and wife.

Take you his nearest; take you his dearest: give us a life.

Cf. also the speech of Caiaphas in John 11:49; John 11:1); and, doubtless, this was the custom in accordance with which the sheep-master offered up his son. Thus it was a picture of the way in which the unbelieving world has all along endeavoured to make peace with God. “How shall I obtain forgiveness? how ever shall a man be justified before God?” is the universal cry of the human heart; and thousands upon thousands in every age have answered it like Mesha: “By giving the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul.” In heathen lands how many myriads of little children have fallen victims to this foul superstition? As if the guilt already incurred by a sinner could be wiped away by the simple process of contracting more! Let us thank God that even those among us who have not yet obtained forgiveness have been delivered from this miserable delusion. At the same time, there is room for inquiring if the dregs, at least, of that very superstition which made a victim of the son of Mesha on the wall of Kirharaseth, be not remaining with us. Do we not sometimes offer, as our atoning sacrifice, with a view to purchase heaven’s favour, if not the fruit of our bodies, the fruit of our souls--our good deeds, our moral lives, our excellent dispositions, our prayers, our praises, etc.? They are as much a sacrifice of superstition as was that of Mesha. The only difference is, that Mesha’s sacrifice was offered to an idol; whereas ours is presented to the living God. If there be another point of difference, it is this, that Mesha knew no better, whereas we are well assured that all such sacrifices are vain. (T. Whitelaw, M. A.)

Sacrifice of the first-born

One of the most striking evidences of the widespread conviction among the Israelites of the efficacy of the sacrifice of the first-born son, whether infant or grown, is afforded by the story of the sacrifice of the son of the King of Moab. Each town or nation believed in the existence of its own special god, to whom it stood in a peculiar relation. At times it became necessary to strengthen the hands of that god, as it were, against the gods of hostile nations, who seemed to be too strong for him, or to arouse his interest, which seemed in some way to have been alienated or diverted. He may be offended, because he had not received that which was his due. Or it might be that the god was not able to withstand the power of other gods his adversaries. The King of Moab was sore pressed. As a last resort, whether to appease his deity, Chemosh, or to strengthen Chemosh’s hands against the gods of his adversaries, the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom, Mesha sacrificed on the wall of the city, in sight of the allied hosts, his son and the heir to the throne. The Israelites, Jews, and Edomites who beheld the sacrifice were filled with terror, knowing the meaning and power of this sacrifice, and believing that it would so arouse and strengthen the god of Moab that he would become almost if not quite irresistible. (J. P. Peters, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/2-kings-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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