3:1-3 These formal statements mark the beginning of Joram’s record. Joram was bad, but not as bad as Ahab and Jezebel. He suppressed Baalism by removing Baal’s sacred pillar (probably a short sacred stone rather than a column; but see 10:26), but there were still hundreds of priests of Baal when he died.
3:4-5 Finally, the text returns to the Moabite rebellion (1:1). Moab, Edom, and Judah were all subject to Israel. At this point Israel was a much smaller “empire” than what had been overseen by Solomon in the southern kingdom, although Ahab had regained some trade privileges in Damascus (1Kg 20:34). Mentioning this rebellion at 2Kg 1:1 and 3:4-5 puts Ahaziah’s unfaithfulness and Elijah’s departure clearly in the context of this war. Chapter 2 showed that God’s miraculous power was still available. When the story of this rebellion is brought into the picture, the message is clear that Moab’s rebellion succeeded because of Israel’s continued unfaithfulness and the people’s rejection of God’s great works.
3:6-7 King Joram mobilized all Israel and both of his remaining vassal kings, Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom (v. 9). Jehoshaphat used essentially the same statement of political self-subjection to Joram that he had earlier used with Ahab: my people as your people, my horses as your horses (1Kg 22:4).
3:8 The choice of the invasion route was particularly deliberate. Moab lay directly across the Dead Sea from Judah. Moab was most directly approached from the north, but the Moabite Stone indicates that Moab may have concentrated their military power in the north. The choice to attack Moab from the south through Edom thus evaded the Moabite strong points and helped to assure Edom’s involvement in the campaign.
3:9-10 For all their intentionality in choosing the direction of attack, the indirect route of the invading army might be better described as “wandering around.” The combined three armies faced total disaster. The circumstances (no water) seem more compatible with wandering around in the dry wadis of Edom rather than the relatively open areas of the Arabah.
3:11-12 Once again, Jehoshaphat pointed a king of Israel toward seeking counsel from the Lord (cp. 1Kg 22:5). Two surprising facts then emerged. The first was that the man of God, Elisha, was there. God providentially worked to make the miracles of Elisha available for the armies. But the familiarity between Elisha and the king’s household is even more surprising. This resembles the surprise one feels when learning that one of Jesus’s disciples was on close terms with the household of a hostile high priest (Jn 8:15-16). God sometimes ordains surprising relationships in order to further his purposes.
3:13 The man of God boldly stated God’s attitude toward the apostate Joram. This structurally highlighted the apostasy of Israel and God’s mercy in delivering the nearly helpless kings. For a king with as little faith in God as Joram exhibited, it was hubris to say, it is the Lord who has summoned these three kings.
3:14-18 God responded only because of the godly Jehoshaphat. Elisha’s musician provided the setting in which he could attend to God rather than being distracted. The result was that Elisha received and communicated God’s word, giving instructions for receiving God’s deliverance. Once again miraculous works revealed God’s character and power, but Israel continued to reject his miraculous works.
3:19 God’s command to devastate Moab contrasted with his command to care for the land of Palestine (Dt 20:19). Once again, the reader is struck by the severity of God. We should not expect to easily understand or explain God’s judgments.
3:20-24 Moab, fully mobilized, attacked and was defeated. The full details of how this worked are not clear, but it is no surprise that three invading armies were able to defeat Moab.
3:25 Then the combined armies devastated Moab, except for the capital city, Kir-hareseth, modern Kerak. This devastation was also a blow to the north-south caravan route that passed through Transjordan and particularly through the Moabite capital.
3:26-27 Finally the devastation came to the point at which the king of Moab offered his own crown prince and heir as a human sacrifice. The lesson of these two chapters is clear: God’s miraculous power could bring unfaithful Israel to the verge of victory, but God could also take that victory away. Whether from battle fatigue in foreign lands, shock at the desperate step the king of Moab took in sacrificing his son, superstitious fear of the magic power that such a sacrifice aimed to produce, or from seeing the wrath (whether of the Moabites or of God Almighty; the text is unclear), the coalition withdrew, and Moab remained independent, though thoroughly devastated.