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2 Kings 3:1-27 – Jehoram of Israel Consults Elisha

Summary

Jehoram (849-843 B.C.E.) seeks Elisha's counsel in the war against Moab.

Analysis

The power of the prophetic word is clearly communicated in this strange narrative (vv. 4-27) that follows the typical Deuteronomistic censure of Jehoram, despite his removal of a pillar of Baal (vv. 1-3).

When King Mesha of Moab withheld tribute from Israel, Jehoram of Israel entered into an alliance with Judah and Edom to bring Mesha to terms (vv. 4-12). Elisha's oracle addresses the double problem of these three kings: their need for water will be supplied and their planned attack of Moab will be successful (vv. 16-18). Indeed, they will go on to conquer every city, destroy the land, disrupt the water supply, and ruin the farmland (v. 19, in direct contradiction to Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Elisha's announcement proved true: the water appeared; the Moabite army was routed and driven into the city of Kir-hareseth, the only part of the land not devastated by the Israelite forces (vv. 20-25). But then "great wrath came upon Israel, so that they withdrew," allowing Moab to ultimately reestablish itself, as we read in the famous Mesha Stela also known as the Moabite Stone. The final verse seems to say that Mesha's sacrifice of his son was effective and resulted in Moab's deliverance (vv. 26-27)!

This twist at the end of the tale is a puzzler. Several considerations follow:
•    Is it the wrath of Chemosh the god of Moab? This would solve the puzzle, but it is hardly possible in a historical survey of Israel devoted to the proposition that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4-6), Yahweh, not Chemosh.
•    Is it Yahweh's wrath? Usually wrath emanates from God, but here it is simply "wrath" with no divine attachments, which counsels caution.
•    Whence the wrath in the first place? At first glance, it is the child sacrifice. But why would Mesha's sacrifice of his son to Chemosh evoke Yahweh's wrath against Israel?
•    Perhaps it is God's wrath at Israel's devastation of the land in violation of Deuteronomy 20:19-20, announced by Elisha and Jehoram's lack of trust in God's ability (v. 10, 13).
•    The story is highly reminiscent of 1 Kings 22, especially Jehoshaphat's identical pledge of cooperation (2 Kings 3:7; 1 Kings 22:4) and Jehoshaphat's request to hear from a prophet (2 Kings 3:11; 1 Kings 22:7).

The strong parallels with the story of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 suggest that God is using another prophet to deliver a deceptive word that will lead to Israel's (Jehoram's) failure. God's instruments in the book of "Kings" are actually the prophets.

2 Kings 3:1-27

Jehoram Reigns over Israel

3In the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, Jehoram son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria; he reigned for twelve years. 2He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, though not like his father and mother, for he removed the pillar of Baal that his father had made. 3Nevertheless he clung to the sin of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to commit; he did not depart from it.

War with Moab

4 Now King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder, who used to deliver to the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs, and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. 5But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. 7As he went he sent word to King Jehoshaphat of Judah, ‘The king of Moab has rebelled against me; will you go with me to battle against Moab?’ He answered, ‘I will; I am with you, my people are your people, my horses are your horses.’ 8Then he asked, ‘By which way shall we march?’ Jehoram answered, ‘By the way of the wilderness of Edom.’

9 So the king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom set out; and when they had made a roundabout march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that were with them. 10Then the king of Israel said, ‘Alas! The Lord has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.’ 11But Jehoshaphat said, ‘Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?’ Then one of the servants of the king of Israel answered, ‘Elisha son of Shaphat, who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah, is here.’ 12Jehoshaphat 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.

13 Elisha said to the king of Israel, ‘What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s.’ But the king of Israel said to him, ‘No; it is the Lord who has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.’ 14Elisha said, ‘As the Lord of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I have regard for King Jehoshaphat of Judah, I would give you neither a look nor a glance. 15But get me a musician.’ And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him. 16And he said, ‘Thus says the Lord, “I will make this wadi full of pools.” 17For thus says the Lord, “You shall see neither wind nor rain, but the wadi shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your cattle, and your animals.” 18This is only a trifle in the sight of the Lord, for he will also hand Moab over to you. 19You shall conquer every fortified city and every choice city; every good tree you shall fell, all springs of water you shall stop up, and every good piece of land you shall ruin with stones.’ 20The next day, about the time of the morning offering, suddenly water began to flow from the direction of Edom, until the country was filled with water.

21 When all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to put on armour, from the youngest to the oldest, were called out and were drawn up at the frontier. 22When they rose early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red as blood. 23They said, ‘This is blood; the kings must have fought together, and killed one another. Now then, Moab, to the spoil!’ 24But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and attacked the Moabites, who fled before them; as they entered Moab they continued the attack.* 25The cities they overturned, and on every good piece of land everyone threw a stone, until it was covered; every spring of water they stopped up, and every good tree they felled. Only at Kir-hareseth did the stone walls remain, until the slingers surrounded and attacked it. 26When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom; but they could not. 27Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him, and offered him as a burnt-offering on the wall. And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

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10 February 2011

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