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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 3

 

 

Verses 1-3

A. The Reign of Jehoram, King Of Israel, Commences (2 Kings 3:1-3).

The introduction to the reign of Jehoram, king of Israel, follows the usual format, with the exception that he was an improvement religionwise on his father in that he removed the ‘pillar of Baal’ which his father had made. Possibly what had happened to his brother Azariah, and his brother’s encounters with Elijah, had given Jehoram pause for thought, especially as Baal had clearly been unable to prevent his death. But sadly he continued in all the sins of Jeroboam and therefore continued under the disapproval of YHWH.

Analysis.

a Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years (2 Kings 3:1).

b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, but not like his father, and like his mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal which his father had made (2 Kings 3:2 b).

a Nevertheless he clove to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel to sin. He did not depart from them (2 Kings 3:3).

Note that in ‘a’ we have details of Jehoram’s reign, and in the parallel the policy he followed in that reign. Centrally in ‘b’ we have the verdict on the king.

2 Kings 3:1

‘Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years.’

Jehoram of Israel was Ahaziah’s brother, and son to Ahab, and he began to reign ‘in Samaria’ in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, and in the second year of Jehoram of Judah’s co-regency with his father Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 1:17). Compare 2 Kings 8:16 where official co-regency is specifically implied. It would be five more years before Jehoshaphat died leaving Jehoram of Judah as sole king (2 Kings 8:16). Having two Jehorams reigning at the same time was confusing, and the confusion is added to by both also being called Joram, a diminutive of Jehoram (shortening the divine name Jeho- to Jo-). Jehoram of Israel reigned for twelve years

2 Kings 3:2

‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, but not like his father, and like his mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal which his father had made.’

It would appear that what had happened to his brother had intensely moved him, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. It would appear that Ahab, egged on by his wife, had added a stele of Baal (somewhat like the Milqart stele, and the ones found at Zenjirli and Hazor) to the altar and Temple of Baal. Jehoram could not in honour destroy the Temple of Baal because it was his mother’s sanctuary where she worshipped her father’s gods, and the pillars of Baal later destroyed by Jehu (2 Kings 10:26) were presumably hers. But he could destroy what had belonged to his father. It was at least a step in the right direction.

2 Kings 3:3

‘Nevertheless he clove to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, with which he made Israel to sin. He did not depart from them.’

Indeed had he then gone on to reform the worship at Bethel and Dan he might have been cautiously approved of. But he did not. He allowed that worship, and the ways that resulted from it, to continue without alteration.


Verses 1-27

1). The Reign of Jehoram king of Israel c. 852-841 BC: War With Moab (2 Kings 3:1-27).

The interlude of Elisha’s succession to Elijah having taken place in preparation for the future, the narrative now returns to the reigns of the kings of Israel. This interlude, deliberately excluded from the continuing narrative of the history of the kings (in that it comes after the record of Ahaziah’s death and before the record of Jehoram’s accession), is clear evidence that the prophetic author was not just giving us a history of the kings, something which as we have already seen has been made abundantly clear. Of equal importance to him were the prophets who affected the lives of the kings, and maintained the faith of the remnant in Israel and Judah, and here Elisha was being seen as ‘crowned’ before any mention of the crowning of Jehoram, throughout whose reign he would operate.

The commencement of the reign of Jehoram having now been described in the usual manner, the incident that follows, resulting from the invasion of Moab in order to counter a rebellion, nearly ended in catastrophe. It would be the first official call on Elisha by the king of Israel, which he made clear that he only heeded because of the presence of the godly Jehoshaphat. The relationship between prophet and king is being laid down immediately. Elisha acted to save the day, but the consequent victory was marred by the action of the king of Moab in sacrificing his son which ‘brought wrath on Israel’.

The passage divides up into four subsections:

A. Introduction To The Reign of Jehoram, King Of Israel (2 Kings 3:1-3).
B. Mesha of Moab Seeks To Free Moab From Being Tributary To Israel (2 Kings 3:4-7).
C. The Invasion Plan Goes Wrong And The Invaders Find Themselves In Jeopardy Through Lack Of Water With The Result That Jehoshaphat Desires The Advice Of A Prophet Of YHWH (2 Kings 3:8-14).
D. YHWH’s Provision For The Alliance Forces And The Subjugation Of Moab Which Has However An Unfortunate Consequence In Mesha’s Child-Sacrifice (2 Kings 3:15-27).


Verses 4-7

B. Mesha of Moab Seeks To Free Moab From Being Tributary To Israel (2 Kings 3:4-7).

We know from the Moabite Stone that Moab had been tributary to Israel from the time of Omri, but that Mesha was growing in power as Israel declined, and had already begun attempts to throw off Israel’s yoke, and impose his own on parts of Israel in Transjordan, while Ahab was busy with fighting the Assyrians and dealing with the Aramaeans. (The Moabite Stone was, of course, written from Moab’s point of view, emphasising only the victories as was usual with inscriptions). It would appear, however, that meanwhile he was continuing to pay tribute to Israel so as not to invite repercussions. Now he felt that he was strong enough to cease to pay tribute, and it was that action that stirred Jehoram of Israel into action. As a result of it Jehoram of Israel entered into an alliance with Jehoshaphat.

Analysis.

a Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master, and he rendered to the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams (2 Kings 3:4).

b And it came about, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel (2 Kings 3:5).

c And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel (2 Kings 3:6).

b And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me against Moab to battle?” (2 Kings 3:7 a).

a And he said, “I will go up. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (2 Kings 3:7 b).

Note that in ‘a’ Mesha supplied the king of Israel with large numbers of lams and rams, and in the parallel Jehoshaphat supplied him with people and horses. In ‘b’ the king of Moab rebelled against Israel, and in the parallel Jehoram of Israel informed Jehoshaphat of the fact. Centrally in ‘c’ the king of Israel gathered his host for the invasion.

2 Kings 3:4

‘Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep-master, and he rendered to the king of Israel the wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams.’

Mesha was king over Moab, a country prolific in the production of sheep, making Mesha a kind of glorified sheep-master. The term was, however, used at Ugarit of the chief priest. Thus Mesha may here be being seen as the sacral ‘shepherd’ of his people (compare Amos 1:1), with a play on the idea in relation to the tribute. While the large totals simply indicate ‘a huge number’ it should be noted that they were not said to have been paid yearly, and this may well indicate that he saw this as representing his total tribute of lambs and rams over the whole period of his subjugation (the verb suggests continual rendering). Whichever way it was, as far as he was concerned it was enough. When he looked back and considered how much Moab had paid to Israel through the years he felt that it was time it ceased. He had already commenced his belligerent attitude in the time of Ahab, by retaking Moabite cities, and now he went the whole hog. Recognising that the death of Ahab and the injury to Azariah had weakened Israel he withheld tribute, feeling that he was now strong enough to do so with some safety.

‘The wool of a hundred thousand lambs, and of a hundred thousand rams.’ Lambs would not normally be sheared so that this may indicate that they were handed over with their wool still on them, although it may signify the wool of second year lambs. The same may have been the case with the rams, handed over for breeding purposes, ‘the wool’ being intended to include the lamb/ram.

2 Kings 3:5

‘But it came about, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.’

Thus some time after the death of Ahab Mesha ‘rebelled against Israel’. In other words he withheld tribute, and possibly increased his attacks on Israelite territory.

2 Kings 3:6

‘And king Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time, and mustered all Israel.’

Mesha’s other previous activities had been annoying, but this was the last straw, and once Jehoram was settled on his throne he determined to bring Mesha to heel. Consequently he mustered the host of Israel (‘all Israel’). Most armies in that region were composed of farmers (or shepherds and suchlike) who temporarily became soldiers (even though for many conditions were such that they were not short of experience in fighting, especially those who lived near the borders), although in larger countries these were often supplemented by a small permanent army.

2 Kings 3:7

‘And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me against Moab to battle?” And he said, “I will go up. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

Jehoram of Israel also appealed to Jehoshaphat, who had regularly been Israel’s ally during the reign of Ahab, for assistance, presumably on the basis of their treaty. Jehoshaphat’s son (also Jehoram) was married to Jehoram of Israel’s sister. So Jehoram of Israel had no hesitation in asking him for assistance in subduing Moab. Jehoshaphat was very willing, and assured Jehoram of Israel that all his forces were at his disposal. He no doubt recognised that there would be good spoil to be had for all.


Verses 8-14

C. The Invasion Plan Goes Wrong And The Invaders Find Themselves In Jeopardy Through Lack Of Water With The Result That Jehoshaphat Desires The Advice Of A Prophet Of YHWH (2 Kings 3:8-14).

The alliance decided that they would invade Moab by going round the bottom of the Deed Sea and approaching Moab from the south, although even then avoiding the usual route. By this means they avoided the strings of forts that Moab had renewed and established. But the route that they took meant travelling through the wilderness of Edom, and this resulted in great hardship due to lack of water. This was something that affected both the army themselves, their chariot horses and the herds which provided food and milk to the army, and their resulting condition was such that as they approached Moab (and were unable to turn back to face the return journey through the same wilderness) they foresaw disaster and defeat staring them in the face.

This moved Jehoshaphat to request that they consult a prophet of YHWH, and the result was that Elisha was called on. This was interesting as it demonstrates that 1). Jehoshaphat expected Jehoram to have a prophet of YHWH available, and 2). that Elisha was somehow available, probably accompanying the troops with some of the sons of the prophets in order to use the opportunity to bring home the message of YHWH to the Israelite army. War presented an evangelistic opportunity. It may, however, be that he had also tagged along because he had had an intimation from YHWH of what would happen.

Analysis.

a And he said, “Which way shall we go up?” And he answered, “The way of the wilderness of Edom.” So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom, and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey, and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts which followed them (2 Kings 3:8-9).

b And the king of Israel said, “Alas! for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab” (2 Kings 3:10).

c But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here a prophet of YHWH, that we may enquire of YHWH by him?” And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Kings 3:11).

d And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of YHWH is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him (2 Kings 3:12).

c And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Get yourself to the prophets of your father, and to the prophets of your mother” (2 Kings 3:13 a).

b And the king of Israel said to him, “No, for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab” (2 Kings 3:13 b).

a And Elisha said, “As YHWH of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look towards you, nor see you” (2 Kings 3:14).

Note that in ‘a’ the alliance of kings of Israel, Judah and Edom, advanced on Moab from the south, and in the parallel it was because the king of Judah was among them that Elisha would help them. In ‘b’ the king of Israel surmised that the three had been gathered together in order to be delivered into the hands of the king of Moab, and in the parallel he declared the same to Elisha. In ‘c’ Jehoshaphat asked whether there was no prophet of YHWH to guide them, and was informed that Elisha was available, and in the parallel Elisha refused to acknowledge that the king of Israel deserved such guidance. Let him look to the gods that he and his house had chosen. Centrally in ‘d’ Jehoshaphat acknowledged Elisha as a true prophet of YHWH and both kings went to consult him.

2 Kings 3:8

‘And he said, “Which way shall we go up?” And he answered, “The way of the wilderness of Edom.”

These words, of course, summarise what was probably a lengthy process as different alternatives were discussed. The initial question was, ‘which way shall we go?’, and the final decision was to take ‘the way of the wilderness of Edom’.

2 Kings 3:9

‘So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom, and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey, and there was no water for the host, nor for the beasts which followed them.’

The ‘king of Edom’ is now seen as incorporated in the alliance. Edom was ruled by Jehoshaphat’s deputy (1 Kings 22:47), but Israel would be keen to demonstrate their gratitude for his support, and they demonstrated this by calling him by the courtesy title ‘king’ (melek). (Compare how Herod the Tetrarch was often called ‘king’ for a similar reason). Like many courtesies it cost nothing but could make a great difference to his cooperation. A ‘seven day journey’ indicated a longer journey in contrast to a ‘three day journey’ (see Genesis were these two descriptions regularly occur). It does not indicate the actual length of time taken, but the ‘average’ time taken. Had they taken the shorter route it would have been called a ‘three day journey’. The point was that they made a wide circuit, coming at Moab from the south-east, in other words from an unexpected, and relatively undefended, angle. But it was a miscalculation because due to the weather, and the terrain, and the length of time taken, combined with the size of their forces, it meant that they had great difficulty in finding sufficient water, either for themselves or their horses and cattle. (That was partly why the approach was relatively undefended. Only desert tribes came from that angle).

2 Kings 3:10

‘And the king of Israel said, “Alas! for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” ’

The situation became so desperate that the king of Israel foresaw disaster. He visualised a severely weakened army being at the mercy of the Moabites. Note his reference to YHWH. His destruction of the Baal pillar indicated that he gave at least some allegiance to YHWH, even though Elisha would not be impressed by it.

2 Kings 3:11

‘But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here a prophet of YHWH, that we may enquire of YHWH by him?” And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.”

Jehoshaphat was, however, a man of stronger faith. And he asked whether there might be a prophet of YHWH present through whom they could make enquiries of YHWH. One of the courtiers of the king of Israel was aware that Elisha was with the troops. Elisha was at this stage clearly not well known, apart from in prophetic circles, and was described in terms of the relationship that he had had with Elijah. Everyone by now knew about Elijah! The fact that the king of Israel did not know of his presence demonstrates that he had not been taken along officially.

‘Poured water on the hands of Elijah.’ That is, was his personal servant, which would be evidence that he was a respected prophet.

2 Kings 3:12

‘And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of YHWH is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.’

In Jehoshaphat’s mind the close connection with Elijah established the fact that ‘the word of YHWH is with him’. Elijah’s reputation was by now legendary, and any close servant of his must be a reliable prophet. So the three kings went to seek out Elisha in order to consult him.

2 Kings 3:13

‘And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Get yourself to the prophets of your father, and to the prophets of your mother.”

When Elisha saw the king of Israel approaching and gathered that he wanted to consult him, he demonstrated his opinion of him by wanting nothing to do with him. If he wanted prophetic help let him got to ‘the prophets of his father, and the prophets of his mother’. This is the second time we have seen Jezebel especially mentioned (compare 2 Kings 3:2), indicating the importance of her influence on the kingdom. And she was still alive and consulting her prophets, while seemingly, to Elisha’s knowledge, Jehoram had also not disbanded his father’s prophets, even though he might not have used them. His excuse was probably loyalty to his mother’s wishes in this regard.

2 Kings 3:13

‘And the king of Israel said to him, “No, for YHWH has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” ’

But the king was determined not to take ‘no’ for an answer, and he rejected Elisha’s refusal on the grounds that there was no point in consulting the prophets of Baal and Asherah when it was clearly YHWH who had delivered Israel into the hand of Moab. Jehoram was in the sad position that the influence of his father and mother had directed him towards Baal worship whereas he himself paid more honour to YHWH. But it should be noted that it was a limited faith as is evidenced by his attitude towards the syncretistic sanctuaries of Jeroboam. A wholehearted faith in YHWH could only have led to restrictions on the influence of Jezebel. But it was wholehearted enough for him to recognise in what was happening the hand of YHWH.

2 Kings 3:14

‘And Elisha said, “As YHWH of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look towards you, nor see you.” ’

Elisha’s reply was to indicate that had it not been that the godly Jehoshaphat was involved with them, he would not have even deigned to notice them. But in the presence of Jehoshaphat, a faithful servant of YHWH, he would be willing to speak. The implication from this was that YHWH was willing to help because of His love for Jehoshaphat.


Verses 15-27

D. YHWH’s Provision For The Alliance Forces And The Subjugation Of Moab Which Has However An Unfortunate Consequence In Mesha’s Child-Sacrifice (2 Kings 3:15-27).

YHWH’s reply indicated that they had to dig trenches throughout the valley in a kind of irrigation system as though there was a likelihood of water coming down from the mountains of Edom. Then His promise was that, even though they experienced no signs of rain, the channels would become full of water. Thus he required of the thirsty and exhausted soldiers a positive act of faith. And when they exercised that faith He responded. Furthermore on top of that He would deliver the forces of Moab into their hands, on which they were to (and would have anyway) carry out the usual method of punishment on a consistently rebel tributary, by felling the ‘good trees’ (fruitbearing and useful ones), clogging up the springs, and scattering stones over any good agricultural land. The trees would take years to replace, the springs would have to be cleared out again before they could be useful, and it was easier to sow stones than to remove them. It would be a lesson to Moab on what happened to ‘naughty boys’.

As a result of YHWH’s activity this was accomplished quite easily, until it was suddenly brought to a halt (with Moab meanwhile having been devastated) when in a last ditch attempt to save what was probably his capital city Mesha sacrificed his firstborn son and heir as a burnt offering on the wall (presumably to Chemosh, the god of Moab) in full view of the besieging enemy. The horror of this in Israelite eyes so disturbed the armies of Israel that they recognised in it a signal that YHWH’s anger would be directed on them if they proceeded further, and they thus immediately withdrew from the siege and returned to their own country, their mission on the whole accomplished.

There is an important lesson in this for all of us who follow Christ, for we too are under God’s Kingly Rule, and are called on to endure through difficult times for the sake of His kingdom. But we learn here that if we trust in Him, then however difficult times may become, we can be sure that He will provide us with spiritual water, and give us victory over the great Enemy.

Analysis.

a “But now bring me a minstrel.” And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of YHWH came on him, and he said, “Thus says YHWH, make this valley full of trenches. For thus says YHWH, You will not see wind, nor will you see rain, yet that valley will be filled with water, and you shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts” (2 Kings 3:15-17).

b “And this is but a light thing in the sight of YHWH. He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand” (2 Kings 3:18).

c “And you will smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and will fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones” (2 Kings 3:19).

d And it came about in the morning, about the time of offering the oblation, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water (2 Kings 3:20).

e Now when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered themselves together, all who were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood on the border (2 Kings 3:21).

d And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone on the water, and the Moabites saw the water over against them as red as blood, and they said, “This is blood. The kings are surely destroyed, and they have smitten each man his fellow. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil” (2 Kings 3:22).

c And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them, and they went forward into the land smiting the Moabites, and they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land they cast every man his stone, and filled it, and they stopped all the fountains of water, and felled all the good trees, until only in Kir-hareseth did they leave its stones. However, the slingers went about it, and smote it (2 Kings 3:24-25).

b And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew sword, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not (2 Kings 3:26).

a Then he took his eldest son who should have reigned instead of him, and offered him for a burnt-offering on the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him, and returned to their own land (2 Kings 3:27).

Note that in ‘a’ Elisha called for a minstrel, and promised great blessing on the allies through the provision of abundant water, and in the parallel the king of Moab called for his eldest son and offered him as a sacrifice with the result that there was wrath on Israel. The contrast is deliberate. All Elisha required was a little music in order to attune his mind, and YHWH would do the rest. The king of Moab had to go to desperate straits to get help from his god. In ‘b’ the Moabites would be delivered into their hand, and in the parallel the battle was too sore for Moab. In ‘c’ detailed disaster was forecast on Moab, and in the parallel it happened just as described. In ‘d’ the area was filled with water, and in the parallel the water was seen by the Moabites who mistook its significance and as a result acted foolishly. In ‘e’ all Moab united to fight off the alliance.

2 Kings 3:15

“But now bring me a minstrel.” And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of YHWH came on him.’

There is a deliberate contrast in the story between Elisha’s simple requirement of a minstrel to help him get into the prophetic mood, and the grossly unacceptable method of the ‘shepherd and high priest of Moab’ in offering his own son and heir as a burnt offering. On the one hand peace, quiet and faith. On the other anger, desperation and excessive measures.

The call for a minstrel was probably to quieten Elisha’s spirit so that he could hear the voice of YHWH. And it was necessarily successful. For when the minstrel played the hand of YHWH came on Elisha, and he received YHWH’s instructions. In view of the fact that there is no indication anywhere of Elisha going into ecstasy, or needing to do so, it would be purely gratuitous to read it in here. Elisha in fact expected constantly to receive communications from YHWH in the normal course of his life (2 Kings 4:27).

2 Kings 3:16

‘And he said, “Thus says YHWH, make this valley full of trenches.” ’

Then he declared what YHWH had commanded that they should do. They were to make the valley full of irrigation trenches. YHWH required from these exhausted thirst-ridden men an act of faith. And then He would act. (He often brings us to the end of ourselves before He does so).

Alternately the ditches might have been dug in the dry Wadi bed to hold the water as it rapidly flooded past (otherwise it would be come and gone), once YHWH had provided the water.

2 Kings 3:17

“For thus says YHWH, You will not see wind, nor will you see rain, yet that valley will be filled with water, and you shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts.”

And if they were willing to respond then it was His guarantee that although they would see neither wind or rain, the irrigation trenches would become full of water, sufficient both for them and for their horses and cattle. And His intention behind this was not only that they might have abundant water available, but also so that it would deceive the enemy.

2 Kings 3:18

“And this is but a light thing in the sight of YHWH. He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand.”

What was more this provision of water would not only satisfy their needs but would also guarantee the defeat of the enemy, for as a consequence YHWH would deliver the Moabites into their hands.

2 Kings 3:19

“And you will smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and will fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.”

Then they would be in a position to carry out the usual punitive measures by cutting down all useful trees, blocking up springs, and sowing stones on all good agricultural land in order to render it relatively unusable, as a punishment for consistent rebellion. It would be an indication that Moab was utterly defeated. (The Moabite stone actually itself gives us instances of atrocities which had brought such deserts on Moab).

Deuteronomy 20:19 forbade the cutting down of fruit trees in normal cases. But that may only have applied to the region around Canaan, perhaps in view of the fact that that was the area which was ‘YHWH’s inheritance’. Certainly the later Arabs would cut down the palm groves of another defeated Arab tribe, and that may have been the custom in Moab and Ammon which had close contact with Arabs, and have already been carried out to a limited extent by Mesha. (Compare Numbers 22:1-6 where the Moabites and the Midianites worked in close liaison).

2 Kings 3:20

‘And it came about in the morning, about the time of offering the oblation, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.’

We are left to assume that the soldiers responded willingly and dug their irrigation trenches, and it was as well that they did so, for that night rains poured down on the mountains of Edom, out of sight of the armies, and flowed down eastwards into the lower ground where they were encamped, and all their channels were filled with water.

The fact that this was seen to occur around the time of the morning offering in the Temple was a clear indication to them that this was from YHWH. He was responding to the faith and offerings of His people.

2 Kings 3:21

‘Now when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered themselves together, all who were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood on the border.’

Meanwhile news of the advancing armies had reached Moab as at some time the armies were spotted either by travellers or shepherds, and the result was that they hurriedly mustered all their forces, down to the youngest who was able to put on armour, and came to the relatively unprotected border that they had thought safe from attack. They were ready to fight for their lives before this grim advancing foe.

2 Kings 3:22

‘And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone on the water, and the Moabites saw the water over against them as red as blood, and they said, “This is blood. The kings are surely destroyed, and they have smitten each man his fellow. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.” ’

But when morning came they rose up early knowing well that the battle might commence at any time, but as they looked out over the wilderness of Edom the sun shone on the (unsuspected) water and it looked to them like pools of blood. What else could have covered the whole area in that ‘red liquid’, (made red by the red earth of Edom combined with the early morning sun)? They no doubt also saw the disorganised movement of men and cattle taking advantage of the newly received water, which could well have appeared to them like men fighting each other. So in their view there could only be one conclusion, and that was that, driven mad by the desert heat and extreme thirst the enemy armies had quarrelled with each other and were smiting each other, covering the ground with blood. To them this was good news and they congratulated themselves on the fact that their god Chemosh had presumably caused the opposing armies to destroy each other. Now therefore it was time to arouse themselves and take the spoil.

2 Kings 3:24

‘And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them, and they went forward into the land smiting the Moabites.’

So instead of remaining in their defensive positions, they swarmed out towards the camp of Israel, each wanting to get there first in order to gather the spoils. It was not the best way in which to approach the army that was waiting for them, also unable to believe their ‘good luck’ as they saw the disorganised amateur army approaching in a disjointed manner. Forewarned by their sentries, they were able to gather themselves and meet the unsuspecting Moabites head on. There could only be one result. The astounded Moabites, not really prepared for a serious battle, were utterly defeated and fled before them, followed closely on their heels by the avenging enemy who thus easily entered their territory, smiting the Moabites as they went. Initial victory had been even easier than expected, thanks, as they were later to learn, probably from prisoners, to the misconception with which YHWH had filled their enemy.

2 Kings 3:25

‘And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land they cast every man his stone, and filled it, and they stopped all the fountains of water, and felled all the good trees, until only in Kir-hareseth did they leave its stones. However, the slingers went about it, and smote it.’

Victory was total and complete, with the devastated Moabites not in a position to put up much further resistance, and they thus broke down their cities, scattered stones on their agricultural land, filling it with stones, (many obtained from the walls and buildings of the cities that they dismantled), stopped up their springs and felled all their useful trees. We may assume that Kir-hareseth (‘the city of the wall’) was the city in which the king of Moab holed himself up (2 Kings 3:27), for that would explain why it was left alone, while having an abundance of sling stones poured into it.

2 Kings 3:26

‘And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew sword, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not.’

The king of Moab saw that his army had suffered total defeat, and with seven military units, sought to break a way through the enemy to the king of Edom, who would in their view be in charge of the weakest section of the enemy front. This may have been with a view to capturing him in order to give them a parleying position from their refuge behind the walls of their capital city, or simply with the hope of breaking through and escaping the avenging armies (possibly by fleeing to Ammon) in order to fight again another day. But the effort failed. The Edomites were too strong for them.

2 Kings 3:27

‘Then he took his eldest son who should have reigned instead of him, and offered him for a burnt-offering on the wall. And there was great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.’

Holed up in Kir-haroseth Mesha saw only one desperate course open to him. Chemosh was not noted for accepting child-sacrifice. That was more the forte of Molech (Melech) the god of the neighbouring fierce Ammonites. But desperate times called for desperate measures (indeed his call may have been to Molech although in the Moabite Stone his allegiance was very much towards Chemosh, whom he saw as revelling in the slaughter of Moab’s enemies) and he offered his firstborn son as a burnt offering on the walls of the city in full view of the enemy.

It was at huge cost to himself. But it worked. For one reason or another Israel was seen as having come under ‘great wrath’ (or ‘great dismay’) with the result that they abandoned the siege and returned to their own land.

It is not likely that the ‘great wrath’ refers to the wrath of the people of Moab, for they were totally defeated and it is not likely that even when spurred on by such news they could gather a sufficient army to trouble the Israelites (unless their brother Ammonites joined them, and if so why is it not mentioned?). The ‘great wrath’ was probably ‘experienced’ by the Israelites as they saw the extremes to which they had driven the king of Moab. The horror of child sacrifice, which may well have been unknown in Israel since the time of David, or even of Samuel and Saul, may have been so great to them that they could only see it as bringing down on them the wrath of YHWH if they remained (or even of Chemosh, for most Israelites were not full-scale Yahwists, having been misled by Jeroboam’s false sanctuaries, and therefore probably continued to believe in the effectiveness of local gods when acting in their own area, compare Judges 11:24), seeing themselves as responsible for the child-sacrifice having taken place. Some see the Hebrew used for ‘great wrath’ (its usual meaning) as here having the significance of ‘great dismay’ on the basis of Aramaic usage. But either way it was enough to end the final siege, although that did not save Moab as a whole. Mesha would hopefully mend his ways in future, with his land almost indefensible (all the forts had been torn down).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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