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2 Kings 3:1-27
THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF JEHORAM'S REIGN OVER ISRAEL; HIS WAR WITH MOAB.
2 Kings 3:1
Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat King of Judah. This note of time is not quite in accordance with the chronology of 1 Kings, which gives Jehoshaphat a reign of twenty-five years (1 Kings 22:42), Ahab one of twenty-two years (1 Kings 16:29), and Ahaziah one of two years (1 Kings 22:51), and makes Jehoshaphat's first year run parallel with Ahab's fourth (1 Kings 22:41), since thus Ahab's death-year would be Jehoshaphat's nineteenth, and Jehoram's accession-year, at the earliest, Jehoshaphat's twentieth. The difficulty may be removed by assigning to Ahab a reign of twenty instead of twenty-two years. On the mode of reconciling the statement of this place with that of 2 Kings 1:17, that Jehoram of Israel began to reign in the second year of Jehoram of Judah, see the comment upon that passage. And reigned twelve years.
2 Kings 3:2
And he wrought evil in the sight of the Lord—as did every other king of Israel both before him (1Ki 14:16; 1 Kings 15:25, 1 Kings 15:34; 1Ki 16:13, 1 Kings 16:19, 1 Kings 16:25, 1 Kings 16:30; 1 Kings 22:52) and after him (2 Kings 8:27; 2Ki 10:31; 2 Kings 13:2, 2 Kings 13:11; 2Ki 14:24; 2 Kings 15:9, 2 Kings 15:18, 2Ki 15:24, 2 Kings 15:28; 2 Kings 17:2)—but not like his father, and like his mother—i.e. Ahab and Jezebel, the introducers of the Baal-worship into Israel—for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made. It had not been said previously that Ahab had actually set up an image of Baal, but only that he had "built him a house in Samaria, and reared him up an altar," and that he "served him and worshipped him" (1 Kings 16:31, 1 Kings 16:32). But an image of the god for whom a "house" was built was so much a matter of course in the idolatrous systems of the East, that it might have seemed superfluous to mention it. The actual existence of the image appears later, when its destruction is recorded (2 Kings 10:27). It seems that Jehoram, at the commencement of his reign, took warning by the fates of his father and brother, so far as to abolish the state worship of Baal, which his father had introduced, and to remove the image of Baal from the temple where it had been set up. The image, however, was not destroyed—it was only "put away."
2 Kings 3:3
Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not there from. The maintenance of the calf-worship was, no doubt, viewed as a political necessity. If the two sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel had been shut up, the images broken, and the calf-worship brought to an end, there would, as a matter of course, have been a general flocking of the more religious among the people to the great sanctuary of Jehovah at Jerusalem; and this adoption of Jerusalem as a spiritual center would naturally have led on to its acceptance as the general political center of the whole Israelite people. Israel, as a separate kingdom, a distinct political entity, would have disappeared. Hence every Israelite monarch, even the Jehovistic Jehu, felt himself bound, by the political exigencies of his position, to keep up the calf-worship, and maintain the religious system of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
2 Kings 3:4-27
THE WAR WITH MOAB. The historian goes back to the origin of the war. He had already, in 2 Kings 1:1, mentioned the revolt of Moab at the death of Ahab; but he now recalls his readers' attention to the fact, and to some extent explains it and accounts for it. Moab had been treated oppressively—had been forced to pay an extraordinarily heavy tribute—and was in a certain sense driven into rebellion (2 Kings 1:4, 2 Kings 1:5). Jehoram, when he came to the kingdom, determined to make a great effort to put the rebellion down, and to re-establish the authority of Israel over the revolted people His relations with Jehoshaphat of Israel were so close that he had no difficulty in persuading him to join in the war. He was also able to obtain the alliance of the King of Edom. Thus strengthened, he made no doubt of being successful, and confidently invaded the country (2 Kings 1:6-9). The course of the war is then related (2Ki 1:10 -27).
2 Kings 3:6
And King Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time—literally, the same day—and numbered all Israel; rather, mustered or reviewed (ἐπεσκέψατο, LXX.) all Israel. "Numbering" was forbidden (1 Samuel 24:1), and is not here intended, the verb used being פקד, and not מנה.
2 Kings 3:7
And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the King of Judah, saying. Jehoshaphat had originally allied himself with Ahab, and had cemented the alliance by a marriage between his eldest son, Jehoram, and Athaliah, Ahab's daughter (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chronicles 18:1). He had joined Ahab in his attack on the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:4-36), and had thereby incurred the rebuke of Jehu the son of Hanani (2 Chronicles 19:2). This, however, had net prevented him from continuing his friendship with the Israelite royal house; he "joined himself with Ahaziah" (2 Chronicles 20:35), Ahab's successor, and though their combined naval expedition met with disaster (1 Kings 22:48), yet he still maintained amicable relations with the Israelite court. Jehoram, therefore, confidently sought his active help when he made up his mind to engage in a war with Moab. 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, and my hones as thy horses. Compare the answer which the same king had made to Ahab, when requested to join him in his attack on the Syrians (1 Kings 22:4). The words were probably a common formula expressive of willingness to enter into the closest possible alliance. Jehoshaphat, it appears from 2 Chronicles 20:1-35, had, a little before this, been himself attacked by the united forces of Moab and Ammon, and brought into a peril from which he was only delivered by miracle. It was, therefore, much to his advantage that Moab should be weakened.
2 Kings 3:8
And he said, Which way shall we go up? Jehoram asked Jehoshaphat's advice as to the plan of campaign. There 'were two ways in which Moab might be approached—the direct one across the Jordan and then southward through the country east of the Dead Sea to the Amen, which was the boundary between Moab and Israel; and a circuitous one through the desert west of the Red Sea, and across the Arabah south of it, then northwards through Northern Edom, to the brook Zered, or Wady-el-Ahsy, which was the boundary between Moab and Edom. If the former route were pursued, Moab would be entered on the north; if the latter, she would be attacked on the south. Jehoshaphat recommended the circuitous route. And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom; probably for two reasons: Edom, though under a native king, was a dependency of Judah (1 Kings 22:47), and on passing through the Edomite country, an Edomite contingent might be added to the invading force; Moab, moreover, was mere likely to be surprised by an attack on this quarter, which was unusual, and from which she would not anticipate danger.
2 Kings 3:9
So the King of Israel went—as leader of the expedition, he is placed first—and the King of Judah—the second in importance, therefore placed second—and the King of Edom—the third in importance, therefore placed last. It is to be remarked that, when Edom was last mentioned, she was ruled by a "deputy," who received his appointment from the King of Judah (1 Kings 22:47). Now, apparently, she has her own native "king." The change is, perhaps, to be connected with the temporary revolt of Edom hinted at in 2 Chronicles 20:22. And they fetched a compass of seven days' journey. The distance from Jerusalem, where the forces of Israel and Judah probably united, to the southern borders of Moab by way of Hebron, Malatha, and Thamara, which is the best-watered route, and would probably be the route taken, does not much exceed a hundred miles; but its difficulties are great, and it is quite probable that the march of an army along it would not average more than fifteen miles a day. And there was no water for the host. The confederate army had reached the border of Moab, where they had probably expected to find water in the Wady-el-Ahsy, which is reckoned a perennial stream; but it was dry at the time. All the streams of these parts fail occasionally, when there has been no rain for a long time. And for the cattle that followed them; rather, for the beasts that followed them (see the Revised Version). The baggage-animals are intended (see 2 Chronicles 20:17).
2 Kings 3:10
And the King of Israel said, Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab! Jehoram first assumes, without warrant, that the expedition is one which Jehovah has sanctioned, and then complains that it is about to fail utterly. As he had made no attempt to learn God's will on the subject at the mouth of any prophet, he had no ground for surprise or complaint, even had the peril been as great as he supposed. God had not "called the three kings together;" they had come together of their own accord, guided by their own views of earthly policy. Yet God was not about to "deliver them into the hands of Moab," as in strict justice he might have done. He was about to deliver the three kings from their peril.
2 Kings 3:11
But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him? The Israelite monarch despairs at once; the Jewish monarch retains faith and hope. Undoubtedly he ought to have had inquiry made of the Lord before he consented to accompany Jehoram on the expedition. But one neglect of duty does not justify persistence in neglect. This he sees, and therefore suggests that even now, at the eleventh hour, the right course shall be taken. It may not even yet be too late. And one of the King of Israel's servants—i.e; one of the officers in attendance on him—answered and said, Here is Elisha. Apparently,-Jehoram was not aware of Elisha's presence with the army. He had to be enlightened by one of his attendants, who happened to be acquainted with the fact. We may suppose that Elisha had joined the army "at the instigation of the Spirit of God" (Keil), God having resolved to rescue the Israelites from their peril by his instrumentality, and at the same time to show forth his glory before the people of Moab. The son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah; i.e. who was accustomed to minister to Elijah's wants, and to attend upon him.
2 Kings 3:12
And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the Lord is with him; that is, "he is a true prophet; he can tell us the will of God." It is impossible to say how Jehoshaphat had acquired this conviction. Elijah's selection of Elisha to be his special attendant (1 Kings 19:19-21) was no doubt generally known, and may have raised expectations that Elisha would be the next great prophet. Jehoshaphat may have heard of the miracles recorded in 2 Kings 2:1-25. At any rate, he appears to have been firmly convinced of Elisha's prophetic mission, and to have accepted him as the authorized exponent of God's will at the time. So the King of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the King of Edom went down to him. Prophets were commonly summoned into the king's presence, or, if they had a message to him, contrived a meeting in some place where they knew he would be. That the kings should seek Elisha out and visit him was a great sign both of the honor in which he was held, and also of the extent to which they were humbled by the danger which threatened them.
2 Kings 3:13
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. Despite Jehoram's self-humiliation, Elisha regards it as incumbent on him to rebuke the monarch, who, though he had "put away the image of Baal which his father had made," still "wrought evil in the sight of the Lord," and "cleaved to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat" (2 Kings 2:2, 2 Kings 2:3). Jehoram must not be allowed to suppose that he has done enough by his half-repentance and partial reformation; he must be rebuked and shamed, that he may, if possible, be led on to a better frame of mind. "What," says the prophet, "have I to do with thee? What common ground do we occupy? What is there that justifies thee in appealing to me for aid? Get thee to the prophets of thy father"—the four hundred whom Ahab gathered together at Samaria, to advise him as to going up against Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:6)—"and the prophets of thy mother," the Baal-prophets, whom Jezebel, who was still alive, and held the position of queen-mother, still maintained (2 Kings 10:19)—"get thee to them, and consult them. On them thou hast some claim; on me, none." And the King of Israel said unto him; Nay: for the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab. A most soft and meek answer—one well calculated to "turn away wrath." "Nay," says the king; "say not so. Let not that be thy final answer. For it is not I alone who am in danger. We are three kings who have come down to thee to ask thy aid; we are all in equal danger; have respect unto them, if thou wilt not have respect unto me; and show them a way of deliverance."
2 Kings 3:14
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's conduct had not been blameless; he had twice incurred the rebuke of a prophet for departures from the line of strict duty—once for "helping the ungodly" Ahab at Ramoth-Gilead (2 Chronicles 19:2); and a second time for "joining himself with Ahaziah to make ships to go to Ophir". Even now he was engaged in an expedition which had received no Divine sanction, and was allied with two idolatrous monarchs. But Elisha condones these derelictions of duty in consideration of the king's honesty of purpose and steady attachment to Jehovah, which is witnessed to by the authors both of Kings (1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 3:11) and Chronicles (2 Chronicles 17:3-6; 2 Chronicles 19:4-11; 2 Chronicles 20:5-21, etc.). He "regards the presence of Jehoshaphat," and therefore consents to return an answer to the three kings, and announce to them the mode of their deliverance. The adjuration wherewith he opens his speech is one of great solemnity, only used upon very special occasions (see 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 5:16), and adds great force to his declaration.
2 Kings 3:15
But now bring me a minstrel. A player on the harp seems to be intended. Music was cultivated in the schools of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3), and was employed to soothe and quiet the soul, to help it to forget things earthly and external, and bring it into that ecstatic condition in which it was most open to the reception of Divine influences. As David's harping refreshed Saul, and tranquillized his spirit (1 Samuel 16:23), so the playing of any skilled minstrel had a soothing effect on those possessing the prophetic gift generally, and enabled them to shut out the outer world, and concentrate their whole attention on the inward voice which communicated to them the Divine messages. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. By "the hand of the Lord" is meant the power of the Spirit of God, the Divine effluence, whatever it was, which acquainted the prophets with the Divine will, and enabled them to utter it.
2 Kings 3:16
And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches; rather, full of pits (βοθύβους, LXX.). The object was to detain the water which would otherwise have all run off down the torrent-course in a very little time.
2 Kings 3:17
For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see—i.e; perceive—wind, neither shall ye see rain. Wind and rain usually go together in the East, especially when there is sudden heavy rain after a time of drought. What Elisha promises is a heavy storm of wind accompanied by violent rain, which, however, will be at such a distance that the Israelites will see nothing of it, but whereof they will experience the effects when the torrent-course that separates them from the Moabite country suddenly becomes a rushing stream as the rain flows off down it. Their "pits," or trenches, will retain a portion of the water, and furnish them with a sufficient supply for their wants. It was necessary that the storm should be distant, that the Moabites might know nothing of it, and so fall under the delusion (2 Kings 3:23), which led to their complete defeat. Yet that valley shall be filled with water. Travelers tell us that, in certain circumstances, it takes but ten minutes or a quarter of an hour for a dry water-course in the East to become a raging torrent quite impassable. That ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle—i.e; the animals which you have brought with you for food—and your boasts; i.e. your beasts of burden, or baggage-animals. Animals, except camels, suffer from drought even more than men, and die sooner. The Israelites do not appear to have ever employed camels.
2 Kings 3:18
And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord. God, the Author of nature, has full control over nature, and it is an easy matter for him to produce at will any natural phenomena. It is otherwise when the stubborn element of the human will is brought into play. Then difficulty may arise. He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand. It would be better to translate, he will also deliver (see the Revised Version).
2 Kings 3:19
And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city. The LXX. omit the second clause, perhaps because they could not reproduce in Greek the assonance of the Hebrew, where the words for "fenced" and "choice" (מִבְצֶר and מִבְצוֹר) have nearly the same sound. And shall fell every good tree. It has been said that the Law forbade this, and argued
(1) that Elisha did not here utter a command, but only a prediction (Pool), not bidding the Israelites to cut down the trees, but only telling them they would do so;
(2) that Elisha intentionally excepted the Moabites from the merciful provision of the Law (Deuteronomy 20:19, Deuteronomy 20:20), having authority to do so, and regarding the Moabites as exceptionally wicked (Keil); and
(3) that the Mosaic Law was not observed under the kings, and that Elisha himself had forgotten the provision about fruit trees (Geddes).
But a careful examination of the passage in Deuteronomy will show
(1) that there is no general prohibition of the cutting down of fruit trees, but only a prohibition of their being cut down for siege works;
(2) that the prohibition rests on prudential, not on moral, grounds, and is thus practically limited to eases where the conquest of the country attacked, and its occupation by the conquerors, are looked forward to. 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." The destruction of the fruit trees in an enemy's country was a common feature of the wars of the period, and was largely practiced, both By the Assyrians and the Egyptians. And stop all wells of water. The stoppage of springs and wells was another common practice in ancient times, often employed against enemies and aliens. The Philistines stopped the Hebrew wells in the days of Isaac (Genesis 26:18). Hezekiah stopped the springs of water outside Jerusalem, when he expected to be besieged By the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 32:3, 2 Chronicles 32:4). The Scythians, when Darius invaded their country, stopped all their own wells as they retired before him (Herod; 4.120). Arsaces III. partly stopped, and partly poi-ached, the Persian wells in his war with Antiochus the Great (Polyb; 10.28. § 5). The practice was regarded as quite legitimate. And mar every good piece of land with stones; literally, grieve every good piece of land. To clear the stones off a piece of ground was the first step towards preparing it for cultivation in the stony regions on either side of the Jordan. The clearance was generally effected by collecting the stones into heaps. When it was wished to "mar the land," the stones were there to be spread over it afresh.
2 Kings 3:20
And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered—i.e. about sunrise, which was the time of the morning sacrifice—that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom. The Wady-el-Ahsy drains a portion of Southern Moab, and also a considerable tract of Northern Edom. The nocturnal storm had burst, not in the Moabite country, where it would have attracted the attention of the Moabites, but in some comparatively distant part of the Idumaean territory, so that the Moabites were not aware of it. Josephus says that the storm burst at a distance of three days' journey from the Israelite camp ('Ant. Jud.,' 9.3. § 2); but this can only be his conjecture. And the country was filled, with water. By "the country" (ha-arets) must be meant here the bed or channel of the water-course. This was suddenly filled with a rushing stream, which, however, rapidly ran off, leaving the water-course dry, excepting where the pits had been made by the Israelites. But this supply was ample for the army.
2 Kings 3:21
And when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them. The Hebrew has no pluperfect tense; but the verbs have here a pluperfect force. Translate, When all the Moabites had heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they had gathered all that were able, etc. The muster of the troops had long preceded the storm. They gathered all that were able to put on amour; literally, there had been gathered together all that girded themselves with girdles; i.e. all the male population of full age. And upward—i.e; and all above the age when the girdle was first assumed—and stood in the border; took up a position near the extreme border of their territory, on the northern bank of the Wady-el-Ahsy.
2 Kings 3:22
And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood. The red hue of the water is ascribed by Ewald to "the red tinge of the soil" in the part of Edom where the rain had fallen; by Keil, to "the reddish earth of the freshly dug trenches," or pits; but the only cause of the redness mentioned either in Kings or in Josephus is the ruddy hue of the sunrise. A ruddy sunrise is common in the East, more especially in stormy weather (see Matthew 16:3); and the red light, falling upon the water in the pits, and reflected thence to the opposite side of the wady, would quite sufficiently account for the mistake of the Moabites, without supposing that the water was actually stained and discolored. The Moabites concluded that the red-looking liquid was blood, from knowing that the wady was dry the day before, and from not suspecting that there had been any change in the night, as the storm which had caused the change was at such a distance.
2 Kings 3:23
And they said, This is blood. Even Ewald recognizes here "a historical background for the narrative." The idea of such a mistake could scarcely have occurred to a romancer. The kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another. There were rivalries and jealousies subsisting between Judah, Israel, and Edom, which made it quite possible that at any time open quarrel might break out among them. Edom especially was, it is probable, a reluctant member of the confederacy, forced to take her part in it by her suzerain, Jehoshaphat. The Moabites, moreover, had recently had personal experience how easily the swords of confederates might be turned against each other, since their last expedition against Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1-25) had completely failed through such a sudden disagreement and contention. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil. If their supposition were correct, and the kings had come to blows, and the hosts destroyed each ether, Moab would have nothing to do but to fly upon the spoil, to strip the slain, and plunder the camp of the confederates. A disorderly rush took place for this purpose (see Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9.3. § 2).
2 Kings 3:24
And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up. The first rush of the main body would be upon the camp, where they would expect to find the richest spoil. It was near at hand; and the occupants kept themselves concealed in it, expecting the disorderly attack which actually took place. They then "rose up," and fell upon the crowd of assailants, who were off their guard, and expecting nothing less. A confused rout followed. And smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them. Josephus says, "Some of the Moabites were cut to pieces; the others fled, and dispersed themselves over their country." But they went forward, smiting the Moabites even in their country. There are two readings here, ויבו and ויכו. The former is to be preferred, and is to be pointed וַיָּבוֹ (for וַיָּבוֹא, as in 1 Kings 12:12). This gives the meaning of the text. The marginal translation follows the Keri וַיַּכוּ, which is (as Keil says) "a bad emendation."
2 Kings 3:25
And they beat down the cities—i.e. destroyed them—leveled them with the ground—and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone (see 2 Kings 3:19 and the comment ad loc.), and filled it [with stones]. And they stopped all the wells of water, and felled all the good trees—i.e. the fruit trees, δένδρα ἥμερα (Josephus)—only in Kir-haraseth left they the stones thereof; literally, until in Kir-haraseth—i.e; in Kir-haraseth only—left he the stones thereof. He (i.e. the commander, or the army) went on destroying and leveling the cities, until he came to Kir-haraseth, which proved too strong for him. There he was obliged to leave the stones untouched. Kir-haraseth, which is not mentioned among the early Moabite towns, nor even upon the Moabite Stone, and which is therefore thought to have been a newly constructed fortress (Ewald), was, in the later times, one of the most important of the strongholds of Moab (see Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 16:7, Isaiah 16:11; Jeremiah 48:36). It was sometimes called Kir-Moab, "the fortress of Moab." At what time it got the name of Kerak is uncertain; but we find it spoken of as Kerak-Moab by Ptolemy, and by Stephen of Byzantium. It was a place of much importance in the time of the Crusades. The situation is one of great strength. The fortress is built upon the top of a steep hill, surrounded on all sides by a deep arid narrow valley, which again is completely enclosed by mountains, rising higher than the fort itself. It is undoubtedly one of the strongest positions within the territory anciently possessed by the Moabites. Howbeit the slingers went about it, and smote it. Ewald thinks that by "slingers" are meant, not mere ordinary slingers, but persons who worked more elaborate engines, as catapults and the like. He is undoubtedly correct in saying that "all sorts of elaborate modes of attacking fortifications were very early known in Asia;" but it is very questionable whether the Hebrew word used (הַקַּלָּעִים) can mean anything but "slingers" in the usual sense. The LXX. translate by σφενδονῆται. The situation is one which would allow of "slingers," in the ordinary sense, sending their missiles into the place, and grievously harassing it.
2 Kings 3:26
And when the King of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him—i.e. that he could not hope to maintain the defense much longer, but would be forced to surrender the fortress—he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the King of Edom. Perhaps he regarded the King of Edom as the weakest of the three confederates, and the least likely to offer effectual resistance; perhaps he viewed him as a traitor, since Edom had been his ally a little earlier (2 Chronicles 20:10, 2 Chronicles 20:22), and wished to wreak his vengeance on him. But they could not. The attempt failed; Edom was too strong, and he was forced to throw himself once more into the beleaguered town.
2 Kings 3:27
Then he took his eldest son, that should have reigned in his stead—the throne of Moab being hereditary, and primogeniture the established law (cf. Moabite Stone, lines 2 and 3, "My father reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father")—and offered him for a burnt offering. Human sacrifice was widely practiced by the idolatrous nations who bordered on Palestine, and by none more than by the Moabites. A former King of Moab, when in a sore strait, had asked, "Shah I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:7); and there is reason to believe that a chief element in the worship of Chemosh was the sacrifice of young children by their unnatural parents. The practice rested on the idea that God was best pleased when men offered to him what was dearest and most precious to them; but it was in glaring contradiction to the character of God as revealed by his prophets, and it did violence to the best and holiest instincts of human nature. The Law condemned it in the strongest terms as a profanation of the Divine Name (Le 2 Kings 18:21; 2 Kings 20:1-5), and neither Jeroboam nor Ahab ventured to introduce it when they established their idolatrous systems. The King of Mesh, undoubtedly, offered the sacrifice to his god Chemosh (see Moabite Stone, lines 3, 4, 8, 12, etc.), hoping to propitiate him, and by his aid to escape from the peril in which he found himself placed. HIS motive for offering the sacrifice upon the wall is not so clear. It was evidently done to attract the notice of the besiegers, but with what further object is uncertain. Ewald thinks the king's intention was to" confound the enemy by the spectacle of the frightful deed to which they had forced him," and thus to "effect a change in their purposes"; but perhaps it is as likely that he hoped to work upon their fears, and induce them to retire under the notion that, if they did not, Chemosh would do them some terrible injury. And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed. It seems necessary to connect these clauses, and to regard them as assigning cause and effect. The deed done aroused an indignation against Israel, which led to the siege being raised. But an indignation on whose part? Keil thinks, on God's. But could God be angry with Israel for an act of the King of Moab, which they had no ground for anticipating, and which they could not possibly have pro-vented? especially when the Israelites had done nothing to cause the act, except by carrying out God's own command to them through his prophet, to "smite every fenced city and every choice city" (2 Kings 3:19). The indignation, therefore, must have been human. But who felt it? Probably the Moabites. The terrible act of their king, to which they considered that Israel had driven him, stirred up such a feeling of fury among the residue of the Moabite nation, that the confederates quailed before it, and came to the conclusion that they had best give up the siege and retire. They therefore departed from him—i.e. the King of Mesh—and returned to their own land; severally to Edom, Judea, and Samaria.
2 Kings 3:1-3
Half-repentances not accepted by God.
Jehoram was better than his father and his mother, very considerably better than his brother (l Kings 22:52, 53). He "put away the image of Baal that his father had made," lowered the Baal-worship from the position of the state religion to that of (at the most) a tolerated cult, and professed himself a worshipper of Jehovah. But his heart was not whole with God. He "cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat; and departed not therefrom." At Dan and Bethel the golden calves still received the homage of both king and people; priests, not of the blood of Aaron, offered the sacrifices of unrighteousness before the insensible images; and ritual practices were maintained which had no Divine sanction. Jehoram's reformation stopped half-way. He repented of what Ahab and Jezebel and Ahaziah had done, but not of what Jeroboam had done. His was a half-hearted repentance.
I. HALF-HEARTEDNESS IS FROM FIRST TO LAST CONDEMNED BY SCRIPTURE. "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21); "Oh that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always!" (Deuteronomy 5:29); "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19); "No man can serve two masters … ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24); "Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10); "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15,Revelation 3:16). God's true servants are those whose heart is whole with him (Psalms 78:37), who are "faithful in all his house" (Numbers 12:7), who "fear him, and walk in all his ways, and love him, and serve him with all their heart and all their soul' (Deuteronomy 10:12).
II. HALF-HEARTEDNESS CONTAINS WITHIN ITSELF THE GERMS OF WEAKNESS AND OF FAILURE. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). Changefulness, vacillation, infirmity of purpose, inconsistency, half-repentances, half-resolves, are sure to result in failure and inability to effect anything. No policy is successful unless it is thorough. No character is calculated to impress others, or carry through any important work, or leave its mark on the world, but one that is firm, strong, sincere, consistent, thorough-going. Haft-measures are of little service. Half-resolves are almost worse than absence of all resolve. Half-repentances stand in the way of real change of heart and amendment of life. Haft-hearted rulers are apt to "ordain something good here and there, or abolish something bad, while they perceive still more which their duty would require them to remove, but they cannot bring themselves to do it, from motives of policy which are not pure, or pleasing to God" (Lange). Such halt-heartedness, while it angers God, is not even expedient, with reject to men, in the long run.
2 Kings 3:4, 2 Kings 3:5
Rebellion not to be entered upon with a light heart.
We are not sufficiently acquainted with the position of Moab under Israel, or with the extent of the Moabite resources, or with the grounds of just complaint which they may have had, to determine whether this particular rebellion was justifiable or no. But we can clearly see from the narrative that rebellion is a very grave matter, one to be very carefully considered, and only to be adventured upon under a combination of circumstances that very rarely occurs.
I. THERE MUST BE GREAT AND SERIOUS GRIEVANCES. Whether the tribute exacted by Israel from Moab was excessive and unduly burdensome, or even absolutely intolerable, depends on the actual wealth of the country in flocks and herds, which is a point whereon we have no sufficient information. But it is clear that a tribute may be excessive; nay, may be so oppressive as to justify revolt. There is a point beyond which a country's resources cannot be strained, and no subject people is bound to wait until the last straw has broken its back. Systematic insult and injury, determined misgovernment without prospect of alleviation, severe oppression, absolutely exhaustive taxation, are grievances against which a subject people may fairly rebel, and appeal to the arbitrament of arms. But the weight of the grievances endured is not the only factor in the equation.
II. THERE MUST ALSO BE A REASONABLE PROSPECT OF SUCCESS. Probably ten rebellions have been crushed for one that has succeeded. It is difficult to calculate chances beforehand; and hope is apt to "tell a flattering tale." To have a good cause is certainly not enough, fortune being too often on the side, not of justice and right, but of "big battalions." No cause could be much better than that of the gladiators who revolted under Spartacus; but Rome crushed them, and quenched the flames of their rebellion in blood, within the specs of two years from the time of its breaking out. The war of the Fronds was equally justifiable from a moral point of view; but it was hopeless from the first, and ought never to have been adventured on. On the other hand, the rebellion of the Jews against Antiochus Epiphanes, and that of the Swiss against Gessler, which might well have seemed hopeless to those who initiated them, succeeded. The issue in every case is in the hand of God, with whom, as Judas Maccabaeus said, "it is all one to deliver with a great multitude or a small company; for the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host, but strength cometh from heaven" (1 Macc. 3:18, 19). Still, in every case, probabilities ought to be seriously weighed, consequences thoughtfully considered. In nine cases out of ten, it is better to "bear the ills we have than fly to others that we know not of." War is such a terrible evil, the source of such incalculable mischief and wretchedness, that almost everything should be borne before the appeal is made to it.
III. THERE SHOULD BE A REASONABLE CONVICTION THAT THE ADVANTAGES OF SUCCESS WILL OUTWEIGH THE EVILS OF THE STRUGGLE NECESSARY FOR ACHIEVING IT. An oppressed nationality will, perhaps, always expect this to be the case, and will turn a deaf ear to those who urge the prudential consideration. But it may be worth attending to nevertheless. It will be too late, if the discovery be made after the struggle is over, that "le jeu ne valait pus la chandelle." A nation may, after long years of bitter conflict, shake off a foreign yoke, but may emerge from the strife so weakened, so exhausted, so impoverished, that its new life is not worth living. The evils of the struggle are certain; the benefits of independence are problematical. Subject nationalities should consider well, before they break into revolt, not only the chances of success, but the probable balance of loss and gain supposing that ultimately success is achieved.
2 Kings 3:6-12
Faith and unfaith tested by danger and difficulty.
Jehoshaphat and Jehoram are associates, allies, brothers-in-arms. They are united in one cause, have one object, one aim. And they fall into one and the same danger and difficulty. A failure of water at the spot where they had fully expected to find it brings them and their armies into peril of almost instant destruction. But how differently are they affected under the same circumstances! Jehoram at once despairs, sees no way out of the difficulty, has no plan, no counsel, to suggest. Far from flying to God for succor, he only thinks of him to reproach him. Jehovah, he says, has called three kings together, only to deliver them into the hand of Moab. The reproach is as unfounded as it is useless. Jehovah had not called the three kings together. He had not been consulted on the subject of the expedition, and he had not spoken. The three kings had come together of their own free will, and of their own mere motion. And Jehovah was not about to deliver them into the hand of Moab, but was about to give them a great victory over Moab—a victory which would prevent Moab from causing any further trouble for half a century (2 Kings 13:20). But Jehoram, being the embodiment of unfaith, is blind, hopeless, and helpless. It is otherwise with Jehoshaphat, who all his life "has prepared his heart to seek God" (2 Chronicles 19:3). Danger and difficulty draw forth what is best in him, rouse him out of a sort of trance of religious indifference into which he had fallen, and cause him to fall back upon Jehovah as the only sure Refuge in time of trouble, and to ask, "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?" Jehoshaphat's faith makes him both hopeful and helpful. He suggests a course which leads to a happy result. Bat for him, so far as appears, the danger might have terminated in disaster.
2 Kings 3:13-19
The servant of God in the presence of the great of the earth.
Three lessons may be learnt from the conduct of Elisha before the confederate kings.
I. A LESSON OF ZEAL FOR GOD. Elisha does not allow himself to be abashed by the earthly grandeur and dignity of his visitors, or to be rendered yielding and complaisant by the compliment which they have paid him in seeking him out, instead of summoning him to their presence. As the servant and minister of God, he is always in a grander presence than theirs ("As the Lord God liveth, before whom I stand," 2 Kings 3:14); and as God's mouthpiece he is entitled to be approached, even by the most exalted of human dignitaries, as a superior. Out of zeal for God he asserts himself, and adopts a tone of rebuke, remonstrance, and almost contempt, which would have ill befitted a subject, had he not been acting in the capacity of God's prophet and representative.
II. A LESSON OF FEARLESSNESS. Oriental kings are not accustomed to rebuke, and are apt to resent it. They have despotic, or quasi-despotic power, and can visit with very severe pains and penalties those who provoke them. Ahab imprisoned Micaiah the son of Imlah, and fed him with "the bread of affliction and the water of affliction" (1 Kings 22:27); Jezebel sought Elijah's life (1 Kings 19:2); Joash was privy to the murder of Zechariah the son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20). In openly rebuking Jehoram, his sovereign, on account of his idolatry, Elisha showed a boldness and a fearlessness that were at once surprising and admirable. He evidently "did not fear what flesh could do unto him' (Psalms 56:4).
III. A LESSON OF PREPAREDNESS FOR DIVINE EFFLUENCES. Elisha, having exhibited his zeal for God and his fearlessness of man, had finally to address himself to the special needs of the occasion. Three kings had applied to him to know the will of God with respect to a certain difficult conjuncture. He did not yet know it. How could he bring himself into the frame of mind best fitted to receive an effluence from on high? He regarded music as, under the circumstances, the best preparation. His example teaches us
(1) that music has religious uses;
(2) that it is of the utmost importance to prepare ourselves, if we would have the Divine Spirit speak to our own spirits. Men often complain that they derive no benefit from sacramental and other ordinances. May not the reason be that they do not prepare themselves aright? The Holy Spirit will not enter into our hearts unless they are made ready for his august presence.
2 Kings 3:21-25
God's enemies rewarded after their deserving.
Whether or no the Moabites were, humanly speaking, justified in their attempt to shake off the Israelitish yoke, and re-establish their independence, at any rate they were, as a nation, distinctly hostile to Jehovah and his laws, and must be counted as among God's enemies. Their Chemosh cannot be reckoned as an adumbration of the true God; he is rather an adumbration of the evil and malignant spirit. A people that delights in human sacrifice, and offers to its deities tender and innocent children, drowning their cries with the loud din of drums and tom-toms, must have depraved its conscience by long persistence in evil, and departed very far indeed from original righteousness. Moab, moreover, had, from the time of Balak, determinately set itself at once to oppose the Israelites, whenever opportunity offered, by armed force, and also to corrupt and deprave them morally and religiously. The Moabites had recently made what seems to have been an entirely unprovoked attack upon Jehoshaphat, and had stirred up the Ammonites and Edomites to do the same (2 Chronicles 20:1-15). They had already suffered one chastisement for this wrong-doing, at the hand of God (2 Chronicles 20:22-24); but God's anger against them was not yet fully appeased. The rebellion on which Mesha had adventured led now to a further chastisement—Moab was ravaged from one end of the country to the other, the towns were taken and demolished, the fruit trees cut down, the good land "marred," only Kir-haraseth was left unharmed; and even there the inhabitants suffered greatly. Moab was severely punished; but, as usually, God's justice was tempered with mercy. She was not crushed; she was not destroyed. If we may believe Mesha, she gradually recovered and rebuilt her towns. After fifty years of depression she was able to resume her raids into the land of Israel (2 Kings 13:20), and it was not till the establishment of the Roman supremacy over the East that, having filled up the measure of her iniquities, she ceased to exist as a nation.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWWIN
2 Kings 3:1-3
The continuity of evil.
How hard it is to get rid of the power of evil! Ahaziah had sought after strange gods. He had served Baal with all his corruptions. Jehoram his brother, who succeeds him, is a little better. "He put away the image of Baal which his father had made." Perhaps he was frightened by Ahaziah's fate as the consequence of his sin, and by the fire from heaven which had consumed the two captains and their fifties for their defiance of the Most High. But still "he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin." Both Ahaziah and Jehoram had been trained in evil by their father and mother. The whole land had been contaminated by the influence of Ahab and Jezebel. How true are the poet's words, "The evil that men do lives after them!" Beware of leaving evil influences behind you.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 3:4-12
Forgetting God, and its results.
We see from these verses how very partial was Jehoram's reformation. He put away the image of Baal, but he experienced no change of heart. Outward observances of religion, outward conformity to God's Law, are of little use, if the heart is not right within. Observe how Jehoram shows his entire forgetfulness or disregard of God.
I. BY HIS MUSTERING OF THE PEOPLE. The King of Moab had risen in rebellion against him. What is Jehoram's first act? Is it to seek help or guidance from God? No; he goes forth and musters all Israel. He relied for safety upon the strength of his army. He forgot the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." He forgot the judgments that had come upon Ahaziah for his disregard of God.
II. BY SEEKING HUMAN HELP AND GUIDANCE. He goes and seeks the help of Jehoshaphat King of Judah. "Wilt thou go up with me to battle?" From him also he seeks guidance. "Which way shall we go up?" There is no word of turning to God for direction. How very like the manner in which we act still! We seek guidance anywhere but from God. We ask of public opinion, of men of the world, of godless neighbors, "Which way shall we go up?" No wonder that our plans are so often failures, and that anxiety and trouble fill our hearts. Far better that we should turn to the Lord, as Moses did, and say, "If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence." Where God's guidance is not sought, God's blessing cannot be expected. So Jehoram found. He and Jehoshaphat were joined by the King of Edom, and, as the three kings and their armies journeyed through the wilderness, there was no water for the host and for the cattle that followed them. Jehoram thinks of God then. He remembers there is such a thing as an overruling providence. But how does he think of him? Only to throw upon God the blame of his own actions. He says, "Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!" So we have heard men blame God for the consequences of their own acts. Like Jehoram, they will have none of God's counsel, they follow their own way, and then they grumble at God because he lets them eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. Then, in their trouble and difficulty, Jehoshaphat inquires for a prophet of the Lord. Jehoram never thought of it. Elisha is discovered, and the three kings do not wait to send for him, but go down in person, and together, to consult with him. What a beautiful testimony that is which Jehoshaphat bears to Elisha, "The word of the Lord is with him"! That was the secret of Elisha's power.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 3:13-15
Elisha and the minstrel.
When the kings come down to see him, at first Elisha is filled with just indignation. He rebukes the King of Israel for his godlessness, and says, "What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother." And then, when Jehoram repeats his profanity of throwing the blame upon God, Elisha protests that, but for the presence of Jehoshaphat King of Judah, he would have nothing more to do with him. But he has God's people to think of, and God's message, and so, in order to calm his mind and bring him into a fit state to deliver God's message, he says, "Bring me a minstrel" (the Hebrew word means one who played upon the harp). "And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him." And then Elisha delivers to them that command of God by obeying which the armies obtained at once refreshing and safety, strength and victory. We learn here—
I. THE USE OF MEANS IN GENERAL. The kings had not taken the right way to obtain success. In setting out on their expedition they had used no means to obtain God's guidance. They trusted in the arm of flesh, and leaned to their own understanding. Then at last, when in a difficulty, in distress for want of water, and in danger of being defeated by their enemies, they think then of some means of obtaining God's help. It was no harm for them to look to the state of their armies, and to take the best military advice, they could get, provided they had first of all sought direction from God. But this they had not done. Elisha acts very differently. He seeks to put his mind into a fit state to receive and deliver God's message.
1. We ought to use means to bring our souls into fellowship with God. There are few persons, no matter how godless, no matter how worldly, who do not cherish the hope of getting to heaven and being with God hereafter. But when are they going to prepare for heaven? Many professing Christians lead practically godless lives. They seldom or never read the Word of God. They never pray to God—in any real sense of the word, at least. Are they in a fit state to enter God's heaven? When, then, is the preparation to be made? Death-bed preparation is a rare thing, and at best a very mean thing, though one would rather see a poor sinner turning to his God at the eleventh hour than not at all. Unless you are converted, you are never fit to enter heaven. "Prepare to meet thy God." Use the means which God has given you to obtain the salvation of your soul. Strive to enter in at the narrow door. Look to Jesus as your Savior. Search the Scriptures, for in them eternal life is to be found. They are able to make you wise unto salvation. Go where you will get blessing. Here is one means which Christ himself recommends to every sinner, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. The same exhortation is applicable to Christian people. Use the means to bring your souls into fellowship with God, to obtain the touch of God's hand. Use every means to promote the spiritual life of yourselves and others. How important for parents and children is the observance of family prayer! Many a conversion, many a consecration of a young life to God, can be traced to the words read, to the earnest pleadings offered up, at the family altar.
Happy that home where God-fearing parents
" … their secret homage pay,
And proffer up to heaven the warm request
That he who stills the raven's clam'rous nest,
And decks the lily fair in flow'ry pride,
Would in the way his wisdom sees the best
For them and for their little ones provide;
But chiefly in their hearts with grace Divine preside."
2. We ought to use also the best means for carrying on God's work. The Church must not despise the use of means. What progress is made in facilities for carrying on the business of the world! What rapid communication! What gigantic efforts made to push commercial enterprises! And is the Church of Christ to be the only body that is asleep? Is there no need for activity, for earnestness, for push, in the concerns of eternity? While immortal souls are perishing, while so many fields are white to harvest, ought we not to be up and doing? There are methods that it is no advantage for the Church to adopt, But the Church of Christ should avail itself of every lawful means to advance the Redeemer's kingdom. It should use the press far more than it does. It should advertise far more than it does. It should do anything and everything in the way of enterprise that will bring the gospel to the people, and that will bring the people to the gospel. It must go out into the streets and lanes of the city, to the highways and hedges of the country, and compel the people to come in. The Church that knows best how to use the means which modern civilization has placed at its disposal, is the Church that will do most, with God's blessing and the presence of his Spirit, to advance the kingdom of Christ. We must seek to use everything and win everything for Jesus. Some persons say that ministers are so often talking about money. There is so much money devoted to the service of the devil and of sin and of pleasure every week, that it is the minister's duty to try to win a little of it for Christ. If he spoke about it every Sunday it would not be one whir too often. Let us use the means if we want to win the world for Jesus. Let us not think that anything will do for him. Let us not give to the Lord that which costs us nothing.
II. THE USE OF MUSIC IS PARTICULAR. When Elisha said, "Bring me a minstrel," it was because he believed the harper's music would be a real help to him in experiencing God's presence and in doing God's work. And he was right. For "it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him." There are many uses of music in the Christian life.
1. Music is an inspiration for work and warfare. Why is it that our regiments go forth to battle accompanied by their bands of music? Is it not that they may be inspirited and cheered by martial and triumphant strains? Is there no place, then, for inspiring music in the Christian life? Are there not times when our spirits flag, and we are easily discouraged? At such times how inspiriting is a joyful song of praise!
2. Music is also a soother of the spirit. So it was here in Elisha's case. So it was in the case of King Saul. When David played before him on his harp, the evil spirit went from him, and the troubled mind became at peace. We read also in the account of the Last Supper of our Lord, just before his agony at Gethsemane and on the cross, that "when they had sung an hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Who can doubt that the spirits both of Master and disciples were soothed and tranquillized as their hearts and voices joined together in the hymn of praise?
3. Music is largely the occupation of the redeemed in heaven. St. John tells us in the Revelation, "And I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and the four living creatures, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth." The sweetest earthly music we have ever heard, the largest and best-trained chorus of human voices, will give us but a faint conception of the sweetness and grandeur of the heavenly music. Mozart or Mendelssohn, Handel or Beethoven, never in their loftiest flights conceived a strain so thrilling as the song around the throne of God. Considering, therefore, the power of music, considering the uses to which it may be put on earth and the help it renders to true devotion, considering the place assigned to it in heaven,—it may fairly be claimed that music should be more cultivated by the Christian Church. While we do not go to church for a musical performance, we should have in our churches the very best music it is possible to have. It is often the very worst. The best music ought not to be left to the service of the devil and of the world. To preach the gospel is our great work. Yea; but there is no special merit in preaching the gospel unless you try to get the people to come and hear it. There is really no reason why we should not preach the gospel, and have attractive services and bright music at the same time. Martin Luther said, "One of the finest and noblest gifts of God is music. This is very hateful to the devil, and with it we may drive off temptations and evil thoughts. After theology, I give the next and highest place to music. It has often aroused and moved me so that I have won a desire to preach. We ought not to ordain young men to the office of preacher, if they have not trained themselves and practiced singing in the schools." Luther was not far wrong. Our congregations should devote more time to the practice and preparation of congregational psalmody. Young ladies, young men, with musical gifts and accomplishments—why not consecrate them to the service of Jesus?
"Sing at the cottage bedside;
They have no music there,
And the voice of praise is silent
After the voice of prayer.
"Sing of the gentle Savior
In the simplest hymns you know,
And the pain-dimmed eye will brighten
As the soothing verses flow.
Sing! that your song may silence
The folly and the jest,
And the 'idle word' be banished
As an unwelcome guest.
"Sing to the tired and anxious—
It is yours to fling a ray,
Passing indeed, but cheering,
Across the rugged way.
"Thus, aided by his blessing,
The song may win its way
Where speech had no admittance,
And change the night to day."
2 Kings 3:16-25
The valley full of ditches.
Two troubles had come upon Israel at this time. The kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom were gone forth to battle against the King of Moab. Strife is an evil between nations or individuals. It takes years for a nation to recover from the devastating effects of war. Terrible is the destruction of life and property which war causes. To the horrors and perils of war in this case was added a fresh difficulty. Their armies, passing through the desert, had no water to drink. Under the burning heat, they suffered fearfully from thirst. We know how greatly our own troops suffered from lack of water in Egypt and the Soudan. Dr. Livingstone, in his travels, has given us an idea of what it is to be without water in the desert. When he saw his children almost perishing of thirst before his eyes, he had a new idea of the value of water. It was no wonder, then, that, with the soldiers weak and languishing from thirst, with no water either for them or for their horses and cattle, they began to despair and regard defeat as certain. But the Prophet Elisha was sent for, as we have seen, and, on being consulted by the kings of Israel and Judah, he said, "Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts. And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand." We have here—
I. A STRANGE COMMAND. "Make this valley full of ditches."
1. It was a strange command that ditches should be dug in a desert place. But so it is also in the spiritual kingdom. God often chooses the most unlikely places and the most unlikely persons for the operations of his grace. Is it not a fact that, in thinking of the spread of the gospel, and in engaging in Christian work, we are too much guided by human calculations? We judge too much by outward appearances. We forget that God's ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts. People have sometimes refused to give to certain missions because they did not think there was any use in sending the gospel to the particular people for whom the mission was intended. Is God's arm shortened that it cannot save? It is time for us as Christian Churches and as Christian people to work wherever God gives us the opportunity, even though it should be in the most unlikely and unpromising sphere. God calls us, wherever we are, to dig up wells in the valley.
2. Further, it was a strange command, because there was no appearance of rain at the time, and there was no river at hand from which the wells could be supplied. Why dig wells when you don't know where the water is to come from? We live in a utilitarian age. Men like to have a reason for everything. They like to be assured of a return for their labor. Consequently, even professedly Christian men are disposed to question the utility of many of God's commands. Why rest on the sabbath more than on any other day? Why attach any peculiar sanctity to the sabbath? Why not worship God at home, or walk in the fields, instead of going to church? We might show the benefit to the nation of religious observances and of religious teaching. We might show the benefit to the individual of assembling with others for devotional exercises instead of merely worshipping God in private or even in the home. But it is enough here to notice that God has commanded these duties. That ought to be enough to convince any intelligent being, any religious being. God gives no command for which there is not a good reason. I may not see the reason. I may not see the benefit that will result from it. But I am convinced by reason, by conscience, by history, by human experience, that whatever the command may be, a real benefit follows the obedience of it, and real unhappiness and suffering the disobedience of it.
3. One other thought this strange command of God suggests—God wants us to be fellow-workers with him. God could have sent the water and provided a place of storage for it without the assistance of the Israelites here. But he does not choose to do so. He says, "Make the valley full of ditches." When modern missions to the heathen first began to be spoken of about a century ago, those who advocated them were met on every side, and in many a church, from pulpit and from pew, from prelate and from presbyter, with the objection that God could save the heathen without their instrumentality. It is obvious that those who reasoned thus about God's method of converting the world had read their Bible to very little purpose. We find human agency, as a rule, accompanying Divine grace. Christ's own command is clear, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … and, lo! I am with you always." How do we stand in regard to the commands of God? Is there any command that we are deliberately and constantly disobeying? It ought to be the daily prayer of every Christian, "Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight."
II. SUBMISSIVE FAITH. It is clear from the narrative that the men of Judah did as God had commanded them, and made the valley full of ditches. These Hebrew soldiers gave a good example of submissive practical faith.
1. They might have reasoned—Better to be going forth against our enemies than to be wasting our time digging these trenches. So men reason when they hurry forth to their work in the morning without waiting to give God thanks for the rest of the night, and to ask his blessing upon the work of the day. Is it any wonder that the life is so dry, and that things so often seem to go wrong, when we do not take time to dig up wells for God's blessing? Is it any wonder that the Churches are so unfruitful, that conversions are so infrequent, that revivals are so rare, that there is not more spiritual power in the preaching of the Word, that the influence exercised upon the world around us is so slight, when, with all the attention to congregational machinery and church order, there is so little attention to congregational prayer? It is a fine sight to look at the great engines of a steamer when in motion, and admire the beautiful mechanism of cylinder and crank and piston. But all that elaborate and powerful machinery would be utterly useless unless the steam was there to set it in motion. Let us have our church machinery and organization as perfect as may be, but let us remember that the secret of power is behind and beyond it all. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." The Hebrew soldiers did not think the time lost which they spent in preparing the way for God's blessing.
2. They might have reasoned—Better to move further on where we shall have water than to spend our labor in this desert place. So Christians are sometimes disposed to reason. Ministers grow weary of seeing no fruit of their labors. Sunday-school teachers grow weary of their class. But if all the workers in God's vineyard had reasoned in that way, and abandoned any sphere of labor because it seemed unfruitful or because they were weary of waiting, the gospel would have made very little progress in the world.
3. They might have reasoned—If we're to be saved, we shall be saved. It is not likely that digging up trenches in the valley will deliver us out of the hands of the Moabites. So the sinner reasons when he is urged to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan, for his soul's destruction, prompts him with objections to the plan of salvation. But objections to the plan of salvation can no more alter it than any suggestions which a man of science might make could alter the course of nature. The way of salvation is clear. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shelf be saved." Is it not better for us, as these soldiers did, to take God's plan, to believe that whatever he commands is for our good, to accept his loving offers of salvation purchased for us by the precious blood of his beloved Son, and to yield ourselves to him as willing servants, doing the will of God from the heart?
III. STREAMS OF REFRESHING AND SAFETY. "And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water." Not more eagerly do the weary watchers watch for morning than those languid soldiers watched for the coming of the water. It was a welcome sight. So it is with the blessings of the gospel. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled,"
"As dew upon the tender herb,
Diffusing fragrance round,
As showers that usher in the spring
And cheer the thirsty ground,—
So shall his presence bless our souls,
And shed a joyful light,
That hallowed morn shall chase away
The sorrows of the night."
And then also the streams that filled the trenches proved to be streams of safety. When the Moabites arose in the morning, and looked over to the place where the Israelites were encamped, they only saw the glare of the sun upon the water as red as blood. They had probably no idea that water could be there. And so they said, "This is blood; the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another." They thought they had nothing to do but plunder the deserted camp of the Israelites, and the result was that the Israelites gained an easy victory, and were delivered out of the hand of their enemies. It is the same with the blessings of the gospel. The gospel which satisfies also saves the soul. And it satisfies because it saves. Herein all human religion and philosophies fail. They may point out a high ideal, but they give us little help to attain it. They may point out the evil of sin, but they cannot strengthen us to overcome it or deliver us from its power. And all they can offer us is only for the present life. But the gospel not only puts before us the high ideal, but enables us through Divine grace to attain to it. It not only shows us the guilt of sin, but it points us to the cleansing blood. It not only shows us the evil of sin, but gives us the victory over it through Christ Jesus our Lord. It not only gives us blessings for the present life, but secures to all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ the life of heaven, life with God, life that shall never end. Make the valley full of ditches. Open your heart to receive this satisfying, saving gospel Children of God, if you want God's blessing to flow in upon you in reviving, refreshing streams, prepare the way for it. Dig up wells in the desert. Value your Sundays, your opportunities for private prayer, the house of God, the prayer-meeting. You need them all to refresh your souls and to revive your spiritual life amid the parching, chilling influences of the world. And then in your short life do what you can to make channels through which blessings may flow to others. In this aspect, what a privilege it becomes to help missions, to built! churches and schools, and to take part in every effort for the benefit and enlightenment of others! You may never see the streams of blessing flow, but at any rate you will have dug the channels for them. Such labor is not in vain in the Lord.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 3:26, 2 Kings 3:27
The heartlessness of heathenism.
1. Heathenism blights the natural affections. Christianity honors and sanctifies them.
2. Heathenism disregards human life. What sacrifice of life by cannibalism, under the car of Juggernaut, in the suttees of India! What disregard of human life in the exposure of Chinese infants, in the aged and the sick left alone to die on the banks of the Indian rivers! Christianity has changed all this. It takes high views of human life. The body is the dwelling-place of an immortal soul. Care for the sick and for the dying is due to the influences of the gospel. Where are the hospitals, the philanthropic movements, of heathenism or of agnosticism? Even for the comforts of the present life we owe much to Christianity.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 3:1-5
Evil-the same in principle, though not in form.
"Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel," etc. Two subjects are here illustrated.
I. THAT WHILST THE FORMS OF EVIL MAY CHANGE, THE PRINCIPLE MAY CONTINUE RAMPANT. "And he [that is, Jehoram] wrought evil in the sight of the Lord; but not like his father, and like his mother." 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 uncivilized ancestors sinned appear gross and revolting to us; nevertheless, our sins are not the less real and heinous in the sight of God. Our civilization hides the revolting hideousness, but leaves its spirit perhaps more active than ever. Your father's prominent sin, perhaps, was that of drunkenness, but though you touch not the inebriating cup, you sin in other forms—the forms, perhaps, of vanity, avarice, ambition, etc.
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. Religiously, you may destroy a superstitious organization, and yet leave the spirit of religious superstition, intolerance, and pride, even more vigorous than ever, to assume other forms. So of political institutions. 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.
II. 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. "And Mesha King of Moab was a sheep master, and rendered unto the King of Israel a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand rams, with the wool. But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the King of Moab rebelled against the King of Israel." Moab was a tributary to the kingdom of Israel, and contributed largely to its revenue, not in cash, but in cattle, or in wool, but not the less valuable on that account. But now a rebellion had broken out, and a serious revolt was threatened. Why was this? Matthew Henry ascribes it to the neglect of Ahaziah, the former king, the brother of Jehoram. lie made no attempt to avoid such a catastrophe. Ah! sins of omission entail serious evils. The neglect of one generation brings miseries on another. The neglect of parents often brings ruin on the children. Negative sins are curses. "We have left undone the things we ought to have done;" and who shall tell the result on all future times?—D.T.
2 Kings 3:6-12
Worldly rulers-men in trial seeking help from a godly man.
"And King Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel," etc.
I. Here we have WORLDLY RULERS IN GREAT TRIAL. "And King Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel. And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the King of Judah, saying, The King of Moab hath rebelled against me." The revolt of Moab threatened the ruin of Jehoram and his empire, and he, smitten with alarm, numbers, or rather, musters, all Israel, and hurries to Jehoshaphat to seek his aid. They, with their armies, go forth to meet in battle their enemy on a seven days' journey, enduring the privation of water for themselves and their cattle. At the end of their journey, disheartened and exhausted, they reached a crisis of terrible anxiety and danger. Worldly rulers have their trials. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." What terrible ends in past ages kings have come to! and today all the thrones of Europe seem to be tottering to their fall. Providence destines that a man who aspires to the highest office must pay a terrible price for it. The trials of high office, added to the natural trials of man as man, are often overwhelming. Here we have worldly rulers in great trial—
II. SEEKING HELP FROM A GODLY MAN. "But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him? And one of the King of Israel's servants answered and said, Here is Elisha," etc. Mark the cry, "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord?" The question is answered, and the three kings—those of Israel, of Judah, and of Edom—go in earnest quest of him. They "went down to him." This:
1. Proved their instinctive belief in the existence of one God, the Maker and Manager of worlds. Man always, in overwhelming distress, turns away from his systems and theories, and looks up to the Everlasting One.
2. Proved their faith in the power of a truly good man with that God. This is common; skeptics and worldlings on their death-beds are continually sending for those to visit them whom they believe to be men of God. The evil must ever bow before the good. What an illustration we have of this in the case of the two hundred and seventy-five men on board the ship tossed in the dangerous tempest on her way from Caesarea to Rome, with the Apostle Paul on board! Paul was a poor prisoner in chains, and the passengers were made up of soldiers and merchants and men of science; but to whom did they look in the turmoil? Paul, who at the outset, when "the south wind blew softly," was nothing in that vessel, became the moral commander during the tempest. Amidst the wild roaring of the elements, the cries of his fellow-voyagers, the crashes of the plunging ship, the awful howl of death, in all he walked upon the creaking deck with a moral majesty, before which captain, merchant, soldier, and centurion bowed with loyal awe. So it has ever been; so it must ever be. The good show their greatness in trials, and in their trials, the evil, however exalted their worldly position, are compelled to appreciate them. How often do the world's great men on death-beds seek the attendance, sympathies, counsel, and prayers of those godly ones whom they despised in health!—D.T.
2 Kings 3:13-27
Aspects of a godly man.
"And Elisha said unto the King of Israel, What have I to do with thee?' etc. Elisha was confessedly a godly man of a high type, and these verses reveal him to us in three aspects.
I. AS RISING SUPERIOR TO KINGS. When these three kings—Jehoshaphat the King of Judah, Jehoram the King of Israel, and the King of Edom—approached Elisha, was he overawed by their splendor? or was he elated by their visit? No. He was no flunkey; no true man ever is. Here are his sublimely manly words, "What have I to do with thee?"
1. He rebukes Jehoram for his idolatry. "Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother." "In your prosperity you Israelite kings have been serving these false gods, and you have despised me as the servant of the true God. Why come to me now in your distress? Go and try what they can do for you." What courage in this poor lonely man, thus calmly to confront and honestly to rebuke a monarch! Ah me! where is this courage now? The loudest professors of our religion in these times will too often 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, 2 Chronicles 17:6), and that influenced the great Elisha to interpose on his behalf. "Them that honor me I will honor," saith the Lord. A godly man is the only true independent man on this earth; he can "stand before kings" and not be ashamed, and rebuke princes as well as paupers for their sins. Whither has this spirit fled? We are a nation of sycophants. Heaven send us men!
II. 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 spiritualized in soul. The power of music, especially the music which is the organ of Divine ideas, has in every age exerted a soothing and elevating influence on the human soul. By the harp David expelled the evil spirit from the heart of Saul. "Buretti declares music to have the power of so affecting the whole nervous system as to give sensible ease in a large variety of disorders, and in some cases to effect a radical cure: particularly he instances sciatica as capable of being relieved by this agency. Theophrastus is mentioned by Pliny as recommending it for the hip gout; and there are references on record by old Cato and Varro to the same effect. AEsculapius figures in Pindar as healing acute disorders with soothing songs."
"Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels diseases, softens every pain,
Subdues the rage of poison and of plague,
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song."
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.
III. AS BECOMING THE ORGAN OF THE SUPERNATURAL.
(1) Through him God made a promise of deliverance. "For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain," etc. (2 Kings 3:17-19).
(2) Through him God effected their deliverance. "And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites," etc. (2 Kings 3:24, 2 Kings 3:25). Thus the Almighty made this godly man both to foretell and fulfill his plans. We would remind those who are skeptical of this, and 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. What wonders he works through the sun, the atmosphere, etc.! Science teaches that even through worms he prepares the soil of this earth to produce food for man and beast. £ But inasmuch as man is confessedly greater than the material universe—for he is the offspring of the Infinite, and participates in the Divine nature—it cannot be absurd to regard him in a preeminent sense as an organ of the supernatural.
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.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 3:1-3
Jehoram; or, qualified evil.
The successor of Ahaziah was Jehoram, another son of Ahab and Jezebel. It is said, however, concerning him, that, though he did evil, it was not like his father and mother, for he removed from its place the image of Baal which they had impiously set up. Nevertheless, he upheld the worship of the calves—the distinguishing sin of the northern kingdom.
I. THERE ARE DEGREES IN SIN. Some go greater lengths in transgression than others. It is fight and dutiful to note even distinctions of this kind, and give every one his due. We may be thankful when even a less form of evil is substituted for a worse one. The impartiality and discrimination of the Bible, even among those whose actions it must condemn, is a proof of its fidelity.
II. PARTIAL REFORMS ARE POSSIBLE WHICH DO NOT TOUCH THE ROOT OF SIN. Jehoram so far profited by the experience of his predecessors that he withdrew his countenance from the Baal-worship. This was a real reform, and he gets credit for it. So, many men take certain steps in the direction of reform—breaking off particular evil habits, intemperance, perhaps, or profane swearing—who yet get no further. They are able to do this. It is gratifying to see them do it. But it leaves the root of the matter untouched.
III. QUALIFIED EVIL IS EVIL STILL. The foundation of Jehoram's character was still evil—" he wrought evil in the sight of the Lord." This is the great fact which God looks at, and in the light of which he judges us. Herod "did many things" to please John the Baptist, but his bad heart remained unchanged (Mark 5:20). The cardinal necessity of the heart is renewal—regeneration—the founding of the life on a spiritual basis.—J.O.
2 Kings 3:4, 2 Kings 3:5
King Mesha's rebellion.
The general causes of this rebellion are considered on 2 Kings 1:1. The victories recorded on the Moabite Stone as achieved by the favor of Chemosh belong probably to the earlier stages of the revolt. They can hardly have followed the crushing destruction of verses 24, 25. Prior, also, to the expedition of this chapter, must be placed the attempt to overwhelm Jehoshaphat by the combined forces of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, etc. (2 Chronicles 20:1-37.), which seems to be the invasion described in Psalms 83:1-18. The language alike of the history and of the psalm in the description of that invasion—which, like the present struggle, ended in supernatural defeat—shows how dangerous an enemy an independent kingdom of Moab would have been to Judah, and how necessary it was, in the interests of the covenant nation, that this rival power should, on its first upspringing, he effectually broken. Jehoram's action was overruled to bring about this effectual humbling of Moab, though, for his own humiliation, Moab does not seem ever to have been brought again under the yoke of Israel; Great as were the severities of the war, they were not greater than Moab, as a conquering power, meted out to others (see Moabite Stone), and would still have meted out had she been victor.—J.O.
2 Kings 3:6-8
The alliance of the three kings.
No time was to be lost, if the King of Israel was to check the progress of this formidable rebel, who, from the inscription on his stone, appears to have had some remarkable successes.
I. JEHORAM'S PROPOSAL.
1. Jehoram's first step was to muster for the expedition the whole army of Israel. His trust was in chariots and horses. How little they could do for him, apart from God's help, was soon to be made manifest.
2. He next sent a message to Jehoshaphat, inviting him to accompany him. This shows, at least, that he took a sufficiently serious view of the difficulty of his enterprise. He did not enter on it lightly. Perhaps also he had the inward feeling that it would be likelier to go well with him if this godly king were on his side. A wicked man is always glad when he can get a good one to lend his countenance to any of his doings.
II. JEHOSHAPHAT'S CONSENT. This was at once and freely given. Jehoshaphat had refused partnership with Ahaziah (1 Kings 22:49). But:
1. Jehoram was a man of less impious character.
2. The war seemed just.
3. He had to secure the safety of his own kingdom. This had already been menaced, and would no doubt be menaced again, if Mesha continued his victorious career.
4. There was further the unfortunate bond of kinship—Jehoram's sister Athaliah being married to Jehoshaphat's son. Entanglements with the wicked lead into many a snare. Jehoshaphat's chief error was in deciding on his own responsibility, and not doing first what he was glad enough to do after—" inquire of the Lord." How many troubles we often get into through simply neglecting to seek Divine guidance! Secular things ought to be made the subjects of prayer as much as spiritual things. "In everything by prayer and supplication," etc. (Philippians 4:6).
III. THE WAY BY EDOM. Which way would they take? Jehoshaphat urged that they should go by the wilderness of Edom, that is, round the foot of the Dead Sea. This route would be the longer, but it enabled Moab to be attacked from a safer side, and had the further advantage that it would secure to the allies the services of the deputy-king of Edom, who, as a vassal of Jehoshaphat, could not refuse to accompany them (1 Kings 22:47; 2 Kings 8:20). The Edomites had, indeed, but lately joined in the confederacy against Judah, but they were now probably burning to be avenged on the Moabites, who, in that expedition, had proved to be their worst enemies (2 Chronicles 20:23). Thus providence overrules the passions of men to work out its own ends.—J.O.
2 Kings 3:9-17, 2 Kings 3:20
Man's extremity is God's opportunity.
This expedition, begun without consulting God, soon landed the allies in dire straits.
I. THE STRAITS OF THE ARMY.
1. The failure of water. The host must have been a large one, and they had much cattle with them for sustenance. For some reason, the journey occupied seven days, and the desert was waterless. They were in the same distress that the Israelites were in centuries before under Moses (Exodus 17:1-3; Numbers 20:1-5); but they had not the same right to rely on Divine help. When, at the end of seven days, they arrived at a valley where water might be looked for—probably "the brook Zered" (Deuteronomy 2:13)—their condition became desperate.
2. God's hand recognized. Jehoram recognized, when it was too late, that it was not Moab who was fighting against him in this expedition, hut God. "Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!"
(1) How readily God can humble man's pride, and bring to nothing his best-laid schemes! We are reminded of Napoleon's march against Moscow, and of the annihilation of his army by the severities of a Russian winter.
(2) God's hand is often recognized in trouble, when it is not in prosperity.
(3) God frequently leads men into distress, that they may be convinced of their folly in neglecting him, and may be led to seek his help (Psalms 107:1-43.).
II. THE APPEAL TO ELISHA.
1. Jehoshaphat's inquiry. The King of Israel abandoned himself to despair, but Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?" Had he inquired of the Lord at the beginning, he would not now have been in this difficulty. But:
(1) It was better to inquire late—if haply it might not be too late—than not to inquire at all A good man only needs to be convinced of his errors to endeavor to repair them. A touch of the rod of chastisement turns back his heart to God, whom he may have been forgetting. To whom else shall he go? God alone can help.
(2) Even the sinner, if convinced that God is contending with him, should not delay repentance through remembrance of past sins. If he has never prayed before, let him do it now. But, alas! repentances of this kind are too often insincere—the mere fruit of present fear—and are not followed up by change of life.
2. The three kings and the prophet.
(1) Jehoshaphat's question elicited the fact that Elisha the son of Shaphat was in the camp or near it. It was a servant of the King of Israel that gave this information, so that even in this ungodly king's household there were some true worshippers (cf. 1 Kings 18:3, 1 Kings 18:4). This servant, though in a humble position, did the greatest service possible to his king and nation. But for his information, the armies of three kingdoms might have been annihilated. In like manner, it was "a little captive maid" who directed Naaman to the prophet (2 Kings 5:2, 2 Kings 5:3).
(2) Jehoshaphat felt at once they had the right man—"The word of the Lord is with him." Pretenders, false prophets, hypocrites, are of no avail when real trouble comes. It is the genuine prophet that is needed then. Elisha must have followed the camp by Divine direction, to give this aid in the hour of extremity—another evidence that the events of this expedition, like all other events, were being shaped by an overruling Providence.
(3) The kings at once repair to Elisha. They did not ask him to come to them, but, as suppliants, "went down" to him. It was a strange sight—the three kings standing before this prophet of the Lord, whom, at other times, two of them at least would have disdained to consult. But it was now felt that Elisha alone stood between them and death. He, the man of God, was, like his master before him—"the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof"—under God, the protector and salvation of the nation. There come seasons when religion gets the homage paid to it, which its importance at all times deserves.
3. Help only for the sake of Jehoshaphat. Elisha's spirit seems to have been strangely perturbed by the visit of these three kings. He was roused in part by scorn at a king like Jehoram, who ordinarily paid no respect to religion, coming to ask his aid in the pinch of physical distress. It is Elijah's fire which glows in him for the moment, as he sternly asks, "What have I to do with thee?" and bids the humbled monarch get him to the prophets of his father (the calves-prophets) and the prophets of his mother (the Baal-prophets), to see what they could do for him. But Jehoram knew that the prophets of the calves or of Baal could in that extremity give him little help. He deprecates Elisha's anger, only to he told that, but for the sake of Jehoshaphat, the prophet would neither look towards him nor see him.
(1) It is character, not rank, which God regards. Jehoram harps upon the string that, if nothing is done, "three kings" will perish. He seems to fancy, with the French lady, that God will think twice before casting off persons of that quality. But Elisha undeceives him. Only because the good Jehoshaphat is in the company will God show any mercy to him.
(2) The ungodly often reap great benefits from association with the good. Jehoram now found this to his advantage.
(3) There will come a time of exposure for all "refuges of lies." Elisha laid bare the folly of trusting to the idol-prophets, and Jehoram felt the truth of his rebuke. So will it be with all vain imaginations (Isaiah 28:14-18).
III. THE DIVINE DELIVERANCE.
1. Holy minstrelsy. The discomposed state of Elisha's mind was not fitted for the reception of "revelations of the Lord." If God would speak, passion must be stilled. To this end, he called for a minstrel, that by the soothing, subduing effect of sacred melody, his soul might be restored to a calm condition. It is a wonderful power that resides in music; we do well in God's service to take advantage of it. "The noblest passages in ' Paradise Lost' were composed as Milton's daughter played to her father on the organ." Music gives wings to the soul, reveals to it the existence of a world of harmony, touches and harmonizes it to like "fine issues."
2. A labor of faith. As the minstrel played, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he gave directions to make the valley full of trenches. As yet there was not the slightest sign of water, nor would there be any. The work was to be done in entire dependence on the word of God that water would be sent. This is faith—acting on God's bare word of promise. All that night the laborers toiled, and when the morning came, the valley was seamed with trenches, and studded with pits, to hold the yet invisible supply of the life-giving water.
3. Streams from Edom. In the morning, true to the Divine promise, the wished-for water came.
(1) It came without visible sign. The people who looked for it saw neither wind nor rain, but simply "there came wafer by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water." Yet there is no necessity for supposing a supernatural creation of water, for God does not work without means, when means are available. The bursting of a waterspout, or heavy rains, at some distance, would give rise to the phenomenon. There was doubtless a providential preparation for the deliverance, as there was a providential design in the distress.
(2) It came at the time of the morning oblation. The deliverance was thus connected with the service in the temple—Jehovah's true sanctuary. As it was for Jehoshaphat's sake the deliverance was granted, so a token was now given that it was the religion of Judah to which God had respect. The hours of prayer are fit seasons for the conferring of blessing (cf. Daniel 9:21).
(3) It came in great abundance. When God gives he gives plentifully. "The country was filled with water." It is so with the supply God has given for the thirst of the world—those living waters of which we do so wisely to drink (John 7:37, John 7:38). Such events as these pledge to us the fulfillment of Divine promises (Isaiah 44:3). The psalmist says, "The rain also filleth the pools" (Psalms 84:6).—J.O.
2 Kings 3:10
An evil conscience.
"And the King of Israel said, Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings," etc.!
1. Trouble awakens the evil conscience.
2. The evil conscience takes the darkest view of the actions of God.
3. The evil conscience is glad to shelter itself by associating with others. (See excellent remarks in Krummacher.)—J.O.
2 Kings 3:18-27
The defeat of Moab.
This also was foretold by Elisha as a mercy from the Lord, in comparison with which the supply of water was "a light thing." If these are God's "light things," surely we need not fear to ask from him all that we require. Our sin is, not in asking too much, but in asking too little (John 16:24). "He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).
I. LOST THROUGH ILLUSION. The manner in which the defeat of the Moabites was brought about is very remarkable. The defeat was caused:
1. Through illusion. Their forces—"all that were able to put on amour, and upward"—were mustered on the mountains opposite, ready for battle on the morrow. As the morning sun rose, its red beams, falling on the pools of water in the valley, gave the water the appearance of blood—an effect to which the red soil may have contributed. This startling appearance the Moabites—who knew nothing of the unlooked-for supply of water—interpreted in their own way. They said, "This is blood," and concluded—remembering a recent experience of their own (2 Chronicles 20:1-37.)—that the attacking forces had fallen out, and destroyed each other.
2. Through over-haste and over-confidence. The cry was at once raised, "Moab, to the spoil!" and, casting aside all precautions, the people flew down, to find themselves in the power of their enemies. How many defeats are sustained in life from the same causes! We eagerly snatch at first appearances, which are often so deceptive; we hurry to the fray, without faking due precautions or counting the cost; we are confident in our strength or numbers as sufficient to bear down all opposition, if by chance we should be surprised. Therefore we fail. God often snares men through their own illusions. Haman went to Esther's banquet under the illusion that it was the road to highest honor, and found it the way to death (Esther 5:11, Esther 5:12; Esther 7:1-10.). Of the wicked it is said, "For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
II. THE MERCILESS PURSUIT. The passage describing this pursuit is a terrible illustration of the severities of war. They were, perhaps, under the circumstances, not needless severities, but they are nonetheless extreme and painful to think of.
(1) The Moabites were pursued into their own country, and cut down in the pursuit.
(2) The cities were leveled to the ground.
(3) The good land was made useless by every man casting on it a stone, till it was covered with stones.
(4) Even fruit trees were cut down, and wells stopped.
(5) There remained only the city of Kir-haraseth, which, on its elevated plateau, defied direct assault; but it they besieged, while the slingers, taking their station on the surrounding eminences, galled it with their missiles. The words of the prophet in verse 19 are perhaps prediction, not command, but it may be inferred that he gave the policy pursued his sanction. The object was so effectually to cripple the power of Moab that it would not be able to lift up the head for many a day to come.
1. The most direct lesson we can learn from the passage is the dreadfulness of war. Wherever or however waged, wars are a source of incalculable misery. Even just wars entail a loss of life, a destruction of wealth, and a waste of the means of production and of human happiness, which may well make the heart of the lover of his species sicken.
2. An indirect lesson to be gleaned from verse 25 is the power of little things—"every man his stone." By each man bringing but a single stone, the ground was covered, and the end aimed at attained. The power was wielded here for destruction, but it may be wielded as well for good. Each doing his individual part—though that in itself is little—great results will be achieved.
3. We do well to carry into moral warfare the same thoroughness as is here displayed in physical warfare. Not content with operating on individuals, let us strike at causes and sources—stopping the wells of poisonous influence, etc.
III. THE LAST TRAGIC ACT. The war was brought to a sudden and unlooked-for termination.
1. The fearful sacrifice. Beaten into his last stronghold, driven to desperation, the King of Moab, having made an unsuccessful sortie with seven hundred men, resolved on an act which, he rightly judged, would strike horror into the hearts of his enemies, while it might also propitiate his god. He took his eldest son, the heir to his throne, and offered him up for a burnt offering on the wall.
(1) The fact that he performed the sacrifice upon the wall would seem to show that he had in view as much the effect to be produced on the spectators as the possible effect to be produced on Chemosh.
(2) The deed was awful and inhuman—perhaps, from Mesha's point of view, not without its nobler and patriotic side—but in itself most detestable. We have need to be thankful for a purer religious faith, which teaches us that God does not delight in such unnatural and cruel acts (Micah 6:6-9).
2. Repulsed by horror. "There was," we read, "great indignation against [or, 'upon'] Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land." The meaning seems to be that the ghastly act produced a universal horror, which turned into indignation against Israel as the original authors of the expedition which had so dreadful an end. There is an element of superstition in all men, and sudden revulsions of feeling, caused by an act that powerfully impresses the imagination, are not uncommon. The Israelites themselves so far sympathized with the emotion of horror which brought upon them the indignation of the Moabites, of neighboring tribes, perhaps also of the Edomites and others among their own allies, that they gave up the thought of proceeding further. This seems a more natural explanation than either
(1) that the indignation meant is that of Jehovah; or
(2) that it is the wrath of Chemosh (!); or
(3) the subjective horror of the Israelites themselves.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany