2 Kings 3 – War Against Moab
The Moabite Stone (also called the Mesha Stele) was discovered in 1868 and contains a Moabite inscription that confirms many of the events of 2 Kings 3 but gives it a distinctly pro-Moabite spin.
A. Three kings gather against the Moabites.
1. (1-3) A summary of Jehoram’s reign, the son of Ahab.
Now Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel at Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not like his father and mother; for he put away the sacred pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless he persisted in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin; he did not depart from them.
a. Now Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel: Jehoram came from a family that was far beyond dysfunctional. His father Ahab was one of the worst kings the Northern Kingdom of Israel ever knew and his mother Jezebel was certainly the worst queen Israel ever knew.
b. But not like his father and mother: Jehoram was better than his father and mother, but he was still a wicked man. He was the ninth consecutive bad king over the Northern Kingdom, which never had a godly king.
i. “The ‘sins of Jeroboam’ that Jehoram perpetuated were not related to the worship of Baal but to the false worship of Yahweh under the calf (or ox) images that Jeroboam set up in Dan and Bethel. This was primarily a political strategy rather than a religious one.” (Dilday)
ii. “He appears to have been, in spiritual matters, one of those undecided, neutral characters, who puzzle most observers, and who never seem to know themselves just where they stand, or belong. He put away the Baal statue, made by his father Ahab, but never became a real believer in Jehovah.” (Knapp)
iii. Poole believed that Jehoram put away Baal worship out of bad motives – either because he was frightened when he remembered the judgment that came against his father Ahab and his brother Ahaziah, or because he wanted to impress Jehoshaphat so the Judean king would agree to an alliance. Elisha wasn’t impressed with Jehoram’s putting away of Baal (2 Kings 3:13).
2. (4-5) Moab’s rebellion.
Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheepbreeder, and he regularly paid the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. But it happened, when Ahab died, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
a. Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheepbreeder: The Moabites lived on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, and were under tribute to Israel. When King Ahab died, the king of the Moabites saw an opportunity to escape the taxation that the king of Israel forced upon him.
3. (6-8) Israel and Judah join together to fight Moab.
So King Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. Then he went and sent to Jehoshaphat king of Judah, saying, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to fight against Moab?” And he said, “I will go up; I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” Then he said, “Which way shall we go up?” And he answered, “By way of the Wilderness of Edom.”
a. He went and sent to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: Jehoshaphat was a godly king (1 Kings 22:41-43), who followed in the godly footsteps of his father Asa (1 Kings 15:9-15). Yet Asa fought against Israel (1 Kings 15:16) while Jehoshaphat made peace with the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 22:44).
b. Will you go with me to fight against Moab: Though greater Israel was long since separated by a civil war, the two nations (Judah and Israel) were now willing to come together to fight this common foe.
c. Then he said, “Which way shall we go up”: Jehoram of Israel asked Jehoshaphat of Judah for military advice because Jehoshaphat was more experienced in battle than Jehoram. The king of Judah advised Jehoram to attack Moab from the south, going through the very dry desert of the Edomites.
4. (9-10) The armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom are stranded in the desert without water.
So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom, and they marched on that roundabout route seven days; and there was no water for the army, nor for the animals that followed them. And the king of Israel said, “Alas! For the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.”
a. They marched on that roundabout route seven days: The combined armies of Judah, Israel, and Edom had to travel a considerable distance to attack Moab from the south.
i. “Verse 9 mentions the king of Edom, but we have already been told in 1 Kings 22:47 that there was no king in Edom at this time. So ‘king’ here must refer to a vice-regent appointed by the king of Judah.” (Dilday)
b. Alas! For the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab: Jehoram’s guilty conscience convinced him that this calamity was the judgment of God. His own sin made him think that everything that happened against him was the judgment of God.
B. Elisha speaks for the LORD.
1. (11-12) The godly Jehoshaphat seeks God’s word in the matter.
But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?” So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the LORD is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.
a. Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him: Both Jehoram and Jehoshaphat believed there was a spiritual, divine element to their current crisis. Jehoram believed that God was to be avoided because of the crisis, while Jehoshaphat believed that God should be sought because of the crisis.
b. Who poured water on the hands of Elijah: This is a wonderful title for any servant of God. Elisha was the humble and practical servant of Elijah. This was spiritual service that prepared him for further spiritual service.
c. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him: This was encouraging humility on the part of these three kings. Normally, kings demand that others come to see them. These three were willing to go to the prophet.
2. (13-15) Elisha agrees to speak with the three kings.
Then Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No, for the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” And Elisha said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you. But now bring me a musician.” Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
a. Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother: Elisha’s call was to continue the ministry of Elijah, and here he imitated Elijah’s plain speaking to powerful people. Elisha’s plain speaking struck the conscience of the king of Israel.
i. What have I to do with you: “The Hebrew idiom… is commonly employed to express emphatic denial (cf. 2 Samuel 16:10) or differences of opinion between the persons involved (cf. John 2:4).” (Patterson and Austel)
b. Were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you: It wasn’t that Elisha was against every king or powerful person. He was willing to speak to these three kings for the sake of Jehoshaphat, the godly king of Judah.
c. Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him: When Elisha wanted to become more sensitive to the leading and speaking of the Holy Spirit, he asked for the service of a musician. This demonstrates the great spiritual power in music.
i. “This he requires, that his mind, which had been disturbed and inflamed with holy anger at the sight of wicked Jehoram, might be composed, and cheered, and united within itself, and that he might be excited to the more fervent prayer to God, and joyfully praising him; whereby he was prepared to receive the prophetical announcement.” (Poole)
ii. “The way to be filled with the Spirit is to edify ourselves by psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.” (Trapp)
iii. “This nameless musician was endowed with God-given talents and he used them for the good of others. Surely it never occurred to him that by his music he would help win a military victory and have a dramatic effect on history. But when he shared his God-given ability, the power of God came upon the prophet.” (Dilday)
3. (16-19) The word from God.
And he said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’ For thus says the LORD: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.’ And this is a simple matter in the sight of the LORD; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. Also you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall cut down every good tree, and stop up every spring of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones.”
a. You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water: This was a strange promise from God. Water would be provided, but without any apparent rain or storm.
b. Make this valley full of ditches: God promised to send water to the valley, but they had to dig the ditches to catch what God would provide. They had to dig the ditches before the water was apparent, so they could benefit from it when it came.
i. “The dried-up river bed was to have many trenches (Hebrew ‘trenches trenches’) dug to retain the flash flood.” (Wiseman)
ii. When the kings returned from their visit to Elisha and told their commanders to have the men dig ditches, it must have been hard to hear. Thirsty, near-dead men in the middle of the desert don’t look forward to the hard work of digging ditches in dry ground. Yet this work was essential.
iii. This demonstrates the principle that God wants us to prepare for the blessing He wants to bring. Listening to Him, we are to anticipate His working and to get ready for it.
iv. Digging ditches was something the people of God could do. God didn’t ask them to do more than they were able to do. When God wants us to prepare for the blessing He will bring, He gives us things that we can really do.
v. “If we expect to obtain the Holy Spirit’s blessing, we must prepare for his reception. ‘Make this valley full of trenches’ is an order which is given me this morning for the members of this church; make ready for the Holy Ghost’s power; be prepared to receive that which he is about to give; each man in his place and each woman in her sphere, make the whole of this church full of trenches for the reception of the divine water-floods.” (Spurgeon)
vi. “But the most of people say, ‘Well, you know, of course, if God sends a blessing, we must then enlarge.’ Yes, that is the way of unbelief, and the road to the curse. But the way of faith and the road to the blessing is this: God has promised it – we will get ready for it; God is engaged to bless, now let us be prepared to receive the boon. Act not on the mere strength of what you have, but in expectation of that which you have asked.” (Spurgeon)
c. This is a simple matter in the sight of the LORD: The kings came to Elisha inquiring about water. God wanted to give them more than their immediate need. God wanted to give them more than immediate provision; He wanted to give them complete victory over their enemies.
C. The defeat of Moab.
1. (20) God meets their need for provision when mysterious water flows through the camp.
Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water.
a. Suddenly water came by way of Edom: It seems that God sent an intense downpour in the nearby mountains, and this caused a flash flood though the desert of Edom.
b. The land was filled with water: The water was available only because they were obedient to dig the ditches. The ditches collected the water from the flash flood.
i. If Israel and Judah had disobeyed God’s word and failed to dig the ditches, God’s blessing would have passed them by. God told them to get ready and prepare to receive and catch His blessing. God often moves us to do things that may or may not make much sense for the moment, but they are things that will prepare us for what He will do in the future.
ii. The measure of water available to these thirsty men was directly connected to how faithful they were to dig the ditches. The more ditches and the bigger the ditches, the more water was provided. Though it was hard and unpleasant work, the more they did, the more blessing they received.
iii. The ditches were not the blessing, and they were not the victory, though they were essential parts of both the blessing and the victory. When God wants us to do something to prepare for blessing, we should not confuse the preparation with the blessing itself. Without the miraculous blessing of God, the ditches meant nothing.
2. (21-25) The Moabites attack the camp of the three kings.
And when all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to bear arms and older were gathered; and they stood at the border. Then they rose up early in the morning, and the sun was shining on the water; and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood. And they said, “This is blood; the kings have surely struck swords and have killed one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!” So when they came to the camp of Israel, Israel rose up and attacked the Moabites, so that they fled before them; and they entered their land, killing the Moabites. Then they destroyed the cities, and each man threw a stone on every good piece of land and filled it; and they stopped up all the springs of water and cut down all the good trees. But they left the stones of Kir Haraseth intact. However the slingers surrounded and attacked it.
a. The Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood: The ditches caught the water and saved the armies of these three kings from dehydration. They were also the means of confusion and defeat to the enemies of the people of God. When they saw the sun shining on the water collected in the ditches, they thought it was blood, from the three kings fighting each other.
b. So when they came to the camp of Israel, Israel rose up and attacked the Moabites, so that they fled before them: God used the ditches in a completely unexpected way to supply the need and to defeat the enemy.
i. The whole account of God’s provision in the desert gives many principles that apply to Christian leadership.
· Like digging ditches, leadership is hard work.
· Like digging ditches, leadership is done with faith in the future.
· Like digging ditches, leadership is blessed beyond reasonable expectation.
· Like digging ditches, leadership must use delegation.
· Like digging ditches, leadership matters nothing without a miracle.
· Like digging ditches, the work of leadership often feels like work without reward.
· Like digging ditches, the work of leadership comes from God’s revelation.
· Like digging ditches, the work of leadership will be criticized or doubted.
· Like digging ditches, leadership means not accepting the present state of dryness.
· Like digging ditches, the work of leadership often seems unimpressive or unspectacular.
· Like digging ditches, the work of leadership is purposely used and relied on by God.
c. And cut down all the good trees: “But surely fruit trees are not intended here; for this was positively against the law of God, Deuteronomy 20:19-20.” (Clarke)
3. (26-27) The king of Moab’s desperate move.
And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him seven hundred men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel. So they departed from him and returned to their own land.
a. He took his eldest son who would have reigned in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall: This shows how desperate the king of Moab was following his defeat on the field of battle. He did this to honor his pagan gods and to show his own people his determination to prevent defeat.
b. So they departed from him and returned to their own land: The radical determination of the king of Moab convinced the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom that they could not completely defeat Moab. They left content with their near-complete victory.
i. “Sickened by the maddened spectacle of senseless human sacrifice, the allies lifted the siege and returned to their homes.” (Patterson and Austel)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission