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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. Jehoram the son of Ahab And brother of Ahaziah, who died prematurely from a fall from his upper chamber. 2Ki 1:2 ; 2 Kings 1:17. With this Jehoram, or Joram, as he is often called, the dynasty of Omri came to an end.

Eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat See note on 2 Kings 1:17.

Verses 1-3


The chronology of Jehoram’s reign is exceedingly involved and obscure. Some of the incidents recorded in the following chapters seem clearly out of their chronological order, and the miracles of Elisha, which were mostly wrought during this reign, appear to have been written with reference to their moral suggestions, and their inner relation to one another, rather than with reference to the order in which they actually occurred. Accordingly in our notes on these chapters we have made no attempt to discuss or decide these questions of chronology.

Verse 2

2. He put away the image of Baal Discountenanced, and at least partially abolished, the Baal worship that had gained such strength in Israel during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. At what particular period of his reign he did this does not appear, but perhaps it was after the war with Moab, and in consequence of the rebuke of Elisha given at 2 Kings 3:13.

Verse 3

3. He cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam That is, the calf-worship which Jeroboam established. His reformation was only partial. He turns from Tyrian idolatry, but worships still the idols at Beth-el and at Dan.

Verse 4

4. Sheepmaster The word is rendered shepherd in Amos 1:1, and, according to some writers, means literally a marker, and serves to designate a shepherd, because it was his custom to mark his sheep in order to distinguish them. Mesha was evidently rich in sheep, and the hills and valleys of Moab, like those of Gilead on the north, (Numbers 32:1,) were well adapted to the pasturage of numerous flocks and herds.

A hundred thousand lambs “Much curious information might easily be presented with respect to ancient, and even modern, tributes in cattle. A curious instance is that of the Cappadocians, of whom Strabo relates that they used to deliver every year, as tribute to the Persians, fifteen hundred horses, two thousand mules, and fifty thousand sheep. This Moabite tribute seems very heavy, and doubtless it was so felt by them while it lasted; but in the same degree was it valuable to the crown of Israel; and the internal taxation, to which resort must have been had to make up for this lapse of external revenue, doubtless made the expedition eventually undertaken for the purpose of reducing the Moabites highly popular in Israel.” Kitto.

A hundred thousand rams, with the wool Literally, A hundred thousand rams’ wool; that is, the wool of a hundred thousand rams. This number of rams would be, as many have remarked, a strange proportion for the number of lambs named; hence we understand with Thenius that the tribute was a hundred thousand fat sheep or lambs, ( כרים ,) and the wool of an equal number of rams, but not the rams themselves. Some understand that the tribute of both lambs and rams was paid in wool.

Verses 4-27


Peculiar interest has become attached to the biblical history of Mesha, king of Moab, by reason of the recently discovered (1870) inscription of this king on a monumental stone at Dibon. To this we have already made reference in the note on 1 Kings 16:23. In the inscription Mesha claims to have captured a city from the king of Israel, and to have had various successes and victories, which we may suppose probably occurred during the reign of Ahaziah. The chief value of the inscription is the confirmation it affords to the Old Testament history. For an account of the discovery of this Moabite monument, together with translations and commentary, see Recovery of Jerusalem, pp. 389-402; Bibliotheca Sacra, for 1870, pp. 625-646 .

Verse 5

5. When Ahab was dead Immediately after the death of Ahab Mesha had thrown off the yoke, but not until the reign of Jehoram was an effort made to subdue the revolt. Ahaziah’s sickness was the cause of this delay. See note on 2 Kings 1:1.

Verse 7

7. Sent to Jehoshaphat Whose son and successor, Jehoram, was brother-in-law to Jehoram king of Israel by marriage with Athaliah, daughter of Ahab. 2 Chronicles 21:6.

I will go up In spite of the reproof of Jehu (2 Chronicles 19:2) for assisting Ahab in the war against Syria, Jehoshaphat repeats in substance the same act of joining Jehoram in battle against Moab. Perhaps, however, the interests of the kingdom of Judah demanded that Jehoshaphat should engage in this war with Moab, for the expedition of the combined armies of Moab, Ammon, and Edom against Jehoshaphat, which is narrated in 2 Chronicles xx, had probably occurred before this time.

Verse 8

8. Through the wilderness of Edom That is, around the southern end of the Dead Sea, so as to attack the Moabites from the south. This was a longer and more difficult route than to have crossed the Jordan at the north end of the Dead Sea, and thence proceeded southwards; but it was probably chosen with the hope of taking the enemy by surprise, as the Moabites would hardly expect an attack from Israel in that quarter.

Verse 9

9. And the king of Edom One further object of journeying by the way of Edom may have been to secure the co-operation of this king, who was now at peace and in league with Judah, but who might have been strongly tempted to revolt if he had been ignored in this war for the subjugation of Moab.

No water for the host A calamity very likely to overtake a vast army in that desolate and barren section of the land.

Verse 11

11. A prophet of the Lord Observe the different disposition of the two kings. Jehoram despairs; Jehoshaphat inquires of Jehovah. The idolatries of his father and mother had utterly unsettled the religion of Jehoram, but Jehoshaphat still cleaves to the God of Israel.

Here is Elisha It seems that this prophet had accompanied or followed the host, and though not in the camp, was near at hand. He had probably been instructed by the Lord to follow the host, so as to be ready to make known Jehovah’s will and power.

Poured water on the hands of Elijah An Oriental expression denoting the usual office and work of a servant. After a meal in which knives and forks are not used “washing the hands and mouth is indispensable, and the ibriek and tusht their pitcher and ewer are always brought, and the servant, with a napkin over his shoulder, pours water on your hands. If there is no servant, they perform this office for each other. Great men have those about them whose special business is to pour water on the hands.” Thomson.

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Verse 12

12. Went down to him They do not presume to summon Elisha into their presence, but, humbled in spirit, all three of the kings go down to him, thereby showing their respect and reverence for him, and their confidence in his gift of prophecy. He probably sat waiting for them in some neighbouring valley.

Verse 13

13. Get thee to the prophets of thy father A proper respect for the true God of Israel demanded that Jehoram should then and there receive a severe rebuke, for though he had put away the idols of his father, (2 Kings 3:2,) he had not returned to the pure worship of Jehovah.

Nay Reproach me not, (such is the purport of his words,) for we all seem to be about to fall into the power of Moab.

Verse 15

15. Bring me a minstrel The power of music to quell the passions, to tranquillize the mind, and to bring the soul into a devotional frame, is no strange fact. See note on 1 Samuel 16:16. The prophets of the schools carried with them instruments of music to aid them in their prophesying, (1 Samuel 10:5;) and here Elisha, whose spirit was ruffled by the presence of the idolatrous Jehoram, calls to his aid the sound of music, that its soft tones may bring his soul into harmony with the inner world of spiritual vision.

The hand of the Lord came upon him The expression often occurs in Ezekiel to denote the imparting of Divine energy, which qualified the prophet for his holy work.

Verse 16

16. Make this valley full of ditches More literally, Make this valley pits, pits. The valley was one of the broad water courses at the southern end of the Dead Sea, and was at that time dry. These pits were to catch and hold the water which was about to come from the distant hills of Edom.

Verse 17

17. Not see wind, neither… rain A storm of wind usually precedes a heavy rain; but in this case the storm was to occur so far away from the Israelitish encampment that they would see nothing of it.

Verse 19

19. Fell every good tree This is by no means a mere prophecy, as Wordsworth says; a simple prediction of what the allied armies would inflict on Moab; but a command as plain and positive as that by which he had formerly authorized the destruction of the idolatrous Canaanites. So utter a destruction of the Moabites did the Lord now authorize that he even suspended the law of Deuteronomy 20:19, which forbade the destruction of the fruit-trees of the enemy. The Israelites were not to occupy the land of Moab, as they did the land of the Canaanites, and therefore they had no need to spare the fruit-trees for their own use. But this felling of the good trees would be to the surviving Moabites a memorable woe. Their ruined cities they might speedily rebuild, and unstop their wells, or dig new ones, and clear the land of stones, but years must pass before new fruit-trees could be reared.

Mar… land with stones Literally, Grieve the land. That is, afflict, disfigure, and injure the land by casting stones upon it so as to make it sterile. A vast host like that led by these three kings could speedily cover a field with stones.

Verse 20

20. When the meat offering was offered That is, at sunrise. “Miraculous manifestations of God’s mercy often take place at stated times of prayer, and thus God’s approval of such appointments is shown.” Wordsworth.

There came water by the way of Edom There had been during the night a sudden and heavy fall of rain off among the mountains of Edom, where the valley in which the pits were dug took its rise; and so in the early morning the floods came rushing down, and filled all the pits and the bed of the valley with water.

Verse 22

22. Saw the water… red as blood “As the suddenly appearing mass of waters was effected in a natural way by a violent rain in the distance, so also the illusion, that was so fatal to the Moabites, is explained in a natural way, indicated even in the text. From the red earth of the pits the water collected in them had assumed a reddish colour, which was considerably increased by the rays of the rising sun falling upon it, so that, seen from the distance, it must have appeared like blood. But the Moabites might be the less disposed to think of an optical illusion, as by their familiar acquaintance with the region they knew that the wady had at that time no water, and they had seen or learned nothing of the rain which had fallen far from them in the Edomite mountains.” Keil.

Verse 23

23. They have smitten one another The self-destruction of the allied armies of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, (see 2 Chronicles 20:22-25,) was still fresh in the minds of the Moabites; and knowing the enmity and jealousy existing between Judah and Israel, and confident that the Edomites were no fast friends of either party, they very naturally imagined, from the sight of what appeared so much blood, that the different kings had fallen out among themselves and destroyed each other.

To the spoil They supposed it only remained for them to go, as did Jehoshaphat on that former occasion, (2 Chronicles 20:25,) and gather up the precious jewels and other spoil from among the dead bodies.

Verse 25

25. Cast every man his stone A vast host could in this way quickly even bury a field with stones. Compare note on 2 Kings 3:19.

Stopped all the wells “Wells, dug at great expense, were regarded as very valuable possessions. Isaac was a great well-digger, prompted thereto by the necessity of his vast flocks. To stop up wells was the most pernicious and destructive species of vengeance, the surest way to convert a flourishing country into a frightful wilderness.” Thomson.

Kir-haraseth Called also Kir-haresh, (Isaiah 16:11,) Kir-heres, (Jeremiah 48:31,) and Kir of Moab, (Isaiah 15:1.) Its modern name is Kerak. The spot has been visited and described by several travellers. It was the chief city of the Moabites, and is situated on a plateau of high land ten miles east of the southern end of the Dead Sea, and some three thousand feet above the level of its waters. It occupies the top of a steep hill, and is surrounded on all sides by deep and narrow valleys, beyond which tower up lofty hills, cutting off all prospect in the distance except towards the northwest, where the deep Wady Kerak opens a prospect to the Dead Sea, and, in a clear day, even to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The city is still enclosed by a partially ruined wall, flanked by seven massive towers.

Slingers went about it, and smote it From the surrounding hills, which overlook the city, they could hurl stones so as to smite many of the inhabitants.

Verse 26

26. To break through unto the king of Edom He probably expected to receive less opposition from the king of Edom than from the other kings, and the Edomite forces were probably the weakest of the three armies that were encamped against the city.

Verse 27

27. Took his eldest son His own son; not, as some have said, the son of the king of Edom. Amos 2:1, has no reference to this occasion.

Mesha’s eldest son, and heir of the throne, must have been the dearest idol of his heart, and his sacrifice shown the utter despair to which he was driven. The rabbies say, that in his despair the king of Moab asked his servants how Israel could work such miracles, and was told that it was owing to Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son at the command of God. He accordingly hastened to offer up his firstborn son, hoping to receive like favours of Heaven.

Offered him… upon the wall In sight of his own people and of all the hosts of the besiegers. The offering was doubtless made to the Moabitish god Chemosh, not to the God of Israel. Mesha supposed that his misfortunes were owing to the vengeance of his gods, whom he had in some way offended, and by this costly sacrifice he sought to propitiate them. Human sacrifices were common among many of the ancient heathen nations. The story of Iphigenia sufficiently shows the existence of the practice among the Greeks. It prevailed also among the Carthaginians, the Phenicians, and most of the nations in and around Palestine. Causing children to pass through fire to Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Deuteronomy 18:10) is an allusion to this abominable custom. Diodorus Siculus relates, that “when Agathocles was going to besiege Carthage the people, seeing the extremities to which they were reduced, ascribed their misfortunes to the anger of their god, in that they had latterly spared to offer him children nobly born, and had fraudulently put him off with the children of slaves and foreigners. To make an atonement for this crime two hundred children of the best families in Carthage were at once offered in sacrifice, and no less than three hundred of the citizens voluntarily sacrificed themselves.” Philo, in a fragment preserved by Eusebius, says: “It was a custom among the ancients, on occasions of great distress, for the rulers of a city or nation, instead of leaving the entire population to destruction, to sacrifice the beloved of their children as a ransom to the vengeful deities.”

There was great indignation against Israel That is, according to some interpreters, there was great wrath on the part of the besieged Moabites against Israel for having driven them to such a terrible extremity. But why should Moabitish indignation against Israel cause the latter to abandon the siege? Keil, on the contrary, understands that this indignation was the wrath of God against Israel, first for having driven Mesha to such an extremity as to occasion his offering a human sacrifice, and then for abandoning the siege and leaving the city un-subdued. But this absurdly assumes that God was angry with Israel partly for doing the very thing he had, by his prophet, commanded them to do; (see note on 2 Kings 3:19;) and surely Israel could not justly be held responsible for the immolation of Mesha’s son. Then, further, the text clearly makes Israel’s abandoning of the siege the consequence, not the cause, of the indignation. It is better, therefore, to take the word here rendered against, ( על ,) in the sense of over. The meaning then would be: Great indignation an intense feeling of horror at the sight of the terribly loathsome spectacle on the wall of Kir-haraseth came over Israel; that is, pervaded the whole Israelitish army.

Departed from him From the king of Moab. They were so deeply disgusted with the king’s horrible sacrifice that they felt no longer willing to stay and complete the subjugation of his capital, but turned away in utter loathing and contempt. Whether they were justifiable in thus abandoning the siege, the sacred writer does not say.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Kings 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/2-kings-3.html. 1874-1909.
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