Moab Revolts (3:1-27)
An officer told Jehoshaphat that Elisha was nearby; he added that Elisha used to pour water on the hands of Elijah (verse 11)—that is, he used to be Elijah’s servant. So the three kings went and found Elisha.
13 Elisha said, in effect, to Joram king of Israel, “I have nothing to do with you. Don’t come to me; go instead to the prophets of Ahab and Jezebel.” But Joram replied that it was Elisha’s Lord who had delivered them into the hands of Moab (because of lack of water), so it was fitting to ask the Lord’s prophet how they might escape.
14-19 For the sake of Jehoshaphat, a descendant of David, Elisha agreed to consult the Lord. The Lord, through Elisha, told the kings to dig ditches in the desert. He added that these ditches would soon be filled with water and that Moab would be thoroughly defeated (verses 17-19).
20-25 The Lord’s words soon came true. The ditches filled with water—perhaps with rain water running down from the hills of Edom. To the Moabites, the water appeared red in color, and they mistook it for blood being shed by the forces of the three kings, who they supposed were fighting among themselves. (After all, they were sure there could be no water in that desert.) Perhaps the water looked red because of the red soil beneath it, or because of the reddish glow of the morning sun. Or perhaps the Lord had simply caused the Moabites to see a red color.
The Moabites, thinking they would easily overcome the three kings, rushed to attack; but they were, of course, overcome themselves. Then the three kings and their forces invaded Moab and destroyed everything in sight. The fleeing Moabites retreated into their capital city, Kir Hareseth (verse 25).
26 In desperation, the king of Moab tried to break through the lines of Israel and Judah and reach the king of Edom, who was presumably in the rear of the attacking force. Moab’s king hoped that Edom would join him; he assumed that Edom, being a subjugated nation itself, would be happy for the chance to free itself from Israelite oppression. But the king’s plan failed; he couldn’t get through.
27 Then, in even greater desperation, Moab’s king sacrificed his eldest son to Chemosh, the chief god of the Moabites; by such a sacrifice, the king hoped to entice Chemosh to come to his aid. The son was sacrificed in plain sight on top of the city wall of Kir Hareseth. Then, says the writer, the fury against Israel was great, and the Israelites withdrew to their own land.
Evidently, when the Moabites saw their king sacrificing his son, they renewed their determination to fight against the Israelites. The Israelites, for their part, may have been disconcerted by the sight of Moab’s king killing his own son. Regardless of how we are to understand the word fury, something led the Israelites to withdraw. Even so, their mission had been accomplished: Moab, having been almost destroyed, could now be brought back into subjection once more.
Let us note the larger meaning behind the events of this chapter. Israel and Judah went off to war without consulting appealed to God. And God delivered not God; soon, because of lack of water, they only Judah but apostate Israel as well. came close to being defeated. The godly hoshaphat appealed to Elisha, and Elisha grace and mercy to His chosen people.