The Word Made Fresh
1Jehoram son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of the reign of Jehoshaphat of Judah. He was king for twelve years. 2The LORD saw that he was a wicked man, though not as bad as his father and mother. He did remove the Baal idol his father had made. 3Still, he did the same shameful things Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to do; he was not much better.
4During his reign king Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder who annually delivered to the king of Israel a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand rams’ wool. 5But when Ahab died, Mesha rebelled against Jehoram. 6King Jehoram left Samaria and summoned men from all over Israel. 7He sent a message to king Jehoshaphat of Judah, saying, “The king of Moab has rebelled against me; will you go with me to attack them?”
Jehoshaphat agreed, saying, “My men and my horses are yours. 8What route should we take?”
“Come through the Edom wilderness,” Jehoram responded. 9So, the three kings, from Israel, Judah, and Edom, joined their forces. They marched for seven days, but ran out of water for the men and the animals. 10The king of Israel moaned, “Oh, no! The LORD has brought us three kings together only to give us into the hands of the king of Moab!”
11Jehoshaphat said, “Is there a prophet of the LORD here who can ask the LORD what we should do?”
One of Jehoram’s attendants said, “Elisha son of Shaphat is nearby. He used to be Elijah’s companion.”
12“Surely he has access to the word of the LORD,” said Jehoshaphat. So the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom went to visit Elisha.
13Elisha said to Jehoram, “What do you want from me? Go ask your father’s prophets, or your mother’s.”
“No,” the king of Israel said. “It was the LORD who called us three kings together, but now it appears we will be given over to Moab.”
14“As sure as the LORD Almighty whom I serve lives,” said Elisha, “I wouldn’t bother with you at all except for the respect I have for king Jehoshaphat of Judah. 15Find a musician for me.” Then, while the musician played, the power of the LORD came over him. 16He said, “The LORD says, ‘You won’t see or feel wind or rain, but I will fill this dry creek bed with water for you and your animals.’ 18This is nothing to the LORD. But then the LORD will hand the Moabites over to you. 19You will overwhelm all the walled towns and major cities. You will cut down all the choice timber, and stop up all the wells, and ruin every fertile field by scattering stones over them.”
20As the sacrifice was being offered the next morning, water began to flow down from the direction of Edom until the countryside was flowing with water.
21When word reached the Moabites that the three kings were coming to attack them, their men, young and old, were called out to arm themselves, and they amassed at the border. 22Early the next morning when the sun shown on the water, to the Moabites it looked red as blood. 23They thought, “It’s blood! Those kings must have started fighting and killed each other! Let’s go take the spoils!” 24But as they came to Israel’s campsite, the Israelites attacked, and the Moabites retreated, and the Israelites pursued them into Moab.
25They conquered the cities and towns, and scattered stones over their fields. They plugged every well and cut down all the best timber. The Moabites’ last stand was at Kir-Hareseth, behind stone walls. The Israelites surrounded it and battered it with stones. 26When the king of Moab realized they were losing, he took seven hundred of his swordsmen to break through the enemy lines held by the Edomites, but they were unsuccessful. 27Then he took his oldest son, the one who would have come to the throne after him, and sacrificed him on the wall as a burnt offering.
The Israelites were sickened by the sight of it. They withdrew from the siege and returned to their own country.
1-3: These verses seem to be out of step with 1:17, where Jehoshaphat has already died when Jehoram comes to power in Israel. Jehoram is another bad king (all the kings of Israel were judged to have been bad because they had that rival temple in Samaria and the two golden calves). He did take down the pillar of Baal; nice of him, considering that his predecessor Ahaziah had died because he worshiped Baal-Zebub.
4-8: Now we learn the details of the Moabite rebellion mentioned in 1:1. Moab had indeed been required to deliver tribute to King Ahab, but when Ahab died, they decided they didn’t have to do that anymore. Their subservience is significant because Moab is located across the Dead Sea from Judah, and so we know that Israel was much more powerful than Judah, at least during these early years of their separation. For two years, during the reign of Ahaziah, the Moabites got away with it. But then Jehoram came to power and decided to restore Israel’s rule over them. He invites Jehoshaphat of Judah to be an ally, and Jehoshaphat offers his help. They decide to invade Moab by coming up from the south through Edom. This means that Jehoram’s Israelite army will have to march through the territory of Judah, which is the real reason he asks Jehoshaphat to join him.
9-12: The unnamed king of Edom also takes part in the invasion. They plan poorly, though, and run out of water. But, surprise! Elisha the prophet is nearby. They go to consult Elisha.
13-20: Elisha is in a grumpy mood and tells Jehoram to go to one of his own prophets. Jehoram insists that it is the LORD, Elisha’s God (and Jehoshaphat’s), who sanctioned the expedition. Elisha has no regard for Jehoram or the king of Edom, but out of respect for Jehoshaphat agrees to help them. We have seen what he can do with water and a little salt. Now he calls for a musician. The music causes him to enter a trance-like state in which he is able to attune himself to the LORD’s word. He announces that God will make pools form in the wadis (dry creek beds) without them seeing any rain, and that they will defeat Moab. The next morning water began to flow into the wadis; a phenomenon which can be caused by rainfall a long distance away in the highlands. The miracle, of course, is that Elisha could predict it.
21-27: The Moabites learn of the invasion force and sound the alarm. They gather their forces in the frontier on their border. Looking into the rising sun, they see the morning light reflecting red off the water-filled wadis and think it is blood. They conclude that the unlikely alliance of Israel, Judah, and Edom has fallen apart, and they have attacked one another. But when they reach the Israelite camp, Jehoram’s forces launch a counterattack and put them to flight. They ravage the country, destroying arable land, filling wells, and cutting the forests. They back the Moabites into Kir-Hareseth and lay siege to it. The king of Moab, in desperation, tries to break through the lines where the Edomites are stationed, but is unsuccessful. He then sacrifices his oldest son on top of the wall in sight of the invaders. They are so disgusted with the act that they withdraw back to their own lands.
The story in chapter four tells us that Judah and Israel (along with Edom) can be allies, whereas before the time of Jehoshaphat they were enemies. It also gives us a comparison of their religious leanings; Judah’s worship of the LORD and Israel’s worship of other gods. Judah will survive longer than Israel, and the scribes who penned these stories centuries later were certain that Israel’s worship of other gods contributed to their fate.