2 Kings 3
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years.
Ch. 2 Kings 3:1-20. Jehoram king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah march against Moab. In the desert they obtain water through Elisha, who also promises them victory (Not in Chronicles)

1. the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat] How this year may be identified with ‘the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat’, which in 2 Kings 1:17 is the date assigned to Jehoram’s accession, is not clear. But see above on that passage.

And he wrought evil in the sight of the LORD; but not like his father, and like his mother: for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made.
2. And he wrought evil] R.V. And he did that which was evil. The change made frequently that the same Hebrew phrase may be regularly rendered by the same English.

but not like his father, and like his mother] Jehoram was not so far gone in evil as his brother Ahaziah had been. He kept indeed to the calf-worship of Jeroboam, but put down the Baal-worship which had been introduced by Jezebel from Phœnicia. The writer makes a difference, as might be expected, between the sin of Jeroboam, grievous though that was, and the grosser idolatry which had been practised in the two last reigns.

he put away the image [R.V. pillar] of Baal] The Hebrew word [maççebah] is first used of the stone (Genesis 28:18) which Jacob set up for a pillar at Bethel, and it seems likely, as it is used here and elsewhere in the accounts of Baal-worship, that these objects of worship were not figures, but of the nature of obelisks. They were probably for the most part of stone, though those mentioned as brought out of the house of Baal (2 Kings 10:26) and burned must have been of wood. Perhaps those under cover were made of wood, and overlaid with precious metals (cf. Hosea 2:8), while those out of doors were of stone.

that his father had made] This was no doubt some special pillar which the king had erected near his palace for his own and Jezebel’s worship. This open token of devotion to the idols of the nations Jehoram put away. But there remained pillars of Baal and a house of Baal still for Jehu to destroy. Jehoram found it difficult to go far in a reformation among persons given up as his subjects were to idolatry, and all the more difficult because his own father had been the founder and fosterer of the evil.

Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.
3. he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam] The calf-worship was the token of Israel’s separation from Judah, and had a political significance. Other kings beside Jeroboam would feel the danger of allowing the northern people to return to the temple at Jerusalem to worship. So a king who might be disposed for religious reforms would shrink from including the suppression of the calves in his programme.

which made [R.V. wherewith he made] Israel to sin] The A.V. is inconsistent, sometimes making the relative, in this oft-recurring phrase, refer to Jeroboam, sometimes to the sin. It is clear from 1 Kings 15:26, that there, where it is first found, it must refer to the sin, and so A.V. there translates ‘wherewith he made’. The other places have been made uniform in rendering in R.V.

And Mesha king of Moab was a sheepmaster, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool.
4. And Mesha king of Moab] This name for the king of Moab occurs in the first line of the Moabite stone. In that inscription the Moabite king mentions his successes against Omri and Omri’s successor and speaks of forty years as the time during which the conflict between Israel and Moab continued. Now Omri reigned six years (1 Kings 16:23) and Ahab’s reign lasted twenty-two years (1 Kings 16:29) while Ahaziah reigned one or two years more. Thus the whole period of forty years would not be covered unless we take in the reign of Jehoram. The Moabite inscription naturally represents only the Moabite successes, but the Scripture narrative shews that the victory over Omri had been followed by a defeat in the days of Ahab.

a sheepmaster] The LXX. transliterates the word writing Νωκήδ. It occurs only here and in Amos 1:1. The other Greek versions and the Targum give the meaning. The Moabite country by its character, valleys with fertile hill-sides and streams of water running through them, was eminently suited for a pastoral people; and from the nature of the tribute imposed it seems likely that all the wealth of the Moabites was in their cattle.

rendered unto the king of Israel] At the division of the kingdoms, Moab would fall to the share of the ten tribes, as it joined on to the south of the tribe of Reuben. Perhaps the tribute at first had not been so heavy as is here described, but had been increased on account of the struggles of Moab to throw off their yoke.

an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool] R.V. the wool of an hundred thousand lambs, and of an hundred thousand rams. There is nothing in the Hebrew for ‘with’. The construction is: ‘he rendered these animals, the wool’. So that it seems best to take the last word as explanatory of what has preceded, and to understand that what the Moabite king gave of these numerous animals was the fleece only. The LXX. understood it so, and gives ἐπὶ πόκων, as we might say fleece-wise. That version however adds in the verse, without any warrant of the original, ἐν τῇ ἐπαναστάσει = in the revolt, as if to explain that this large payment had been made only on one occasion. But this is wholly without evidence, and the Hebrew would lead us to think that the payment was made every year, and this is implied in Isaiah 16:1, ‘Send ye the lamb’, i.e. the tribute of lambs. This being so, it is more likely that the fleeces were sent than the live stock. Indeed there would be little meaning in adding ‘the wool’ if the flocks were to be sent alive. It should be mentioned however that Josephus supports the A.V. saying μνριάδας εἴκοσι προβάτων σὺν τοῖς πόκοις.

But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
5. when Ahab was dead] The sickness of Ahaziah had no doubt prevented him from taking any step during his brief reign to suppress the revolt of Moab. It is probable that during Ahaziah’s time all those reconquests, that are mentioned in the Mesha tablet, were made by the Moabites, the king of Israel being able to offer no resistance.

And king Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel.
6. went out of Samaria the same time] R.V. at that time. The time indicated is probably the occasion of the first refusal of the tribute to Jehoram. He might perhaps regard the former refusal, which no doubt had been given to Ahaziah, as prompted by the knowledge that the king of Israel was weak and unfit for war, and so there was a good opportunity to strive for freedom. Hence he would wait till the season came round, and prepare his campaign when he found that he was to be treated with the same measure as his brother.

and numbered] R.V. mustered. The verb implies a good deal more than the mere numbering. It includes all the inspection necessary to find whether an army is ready for war. Hence the king gathered the troops outside Samaria. The word ‘muster’ is the rendering of one form of this verb in A.V. (Isaiah 13:4) but in most other passages ‘number’ is used for it. What Jehoram did was to gather together all the men of war from the ten tribes to a camp near Samaria and when all was arranged to start on his march.

And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab hath rebelled against me: wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, and my horses as thy horses.
7. And he went and sent] This Hebrew verb ‘to go’ is not un-frequently placed before another finite verb, without any special sense of moving from a place, but merely to express the idea of ‘setting about’ the act indicated by the following verb. Thus Exodus 2:1, ‘There went a man … and took to wife a daughter of Levi’. Cf. also Deuteronomy 31:1, ‘Moses went and spake’.

to Jehoshaphat] The close family alliance existing at the time between the royal families of Israel and Judah made this a not unnatural request. Cf. Ahab’s message to king Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:4). Jehoshaphat gives to Jehoram almost the same reply which he had given on the previous occasion to his father.

I will go up] The hill country of Moab was considerably more elevated than the lands on the west of the Jordan; not so mountainous as Gilead, but sufficient to justify the expression of Jehoshaphat, though Jehoram had not used the word.

And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
8. And he said, Which way shall we go up?] These are the words of Jehoram, who leaves to his ally, the elder monarch, the decision of the line of march. They might have crossed the Jordan to the north of the Dead Sea and so come upon Moab from the north, but they would have had more difficulty then in bringing the king of Edom and his army along with them. The LXX. has ‘Which way shall I go up?’

through the wilderness of Edom] It would seem from 1 Kings 22:47 (see note there) that the Edomite royal family had come to an end, and that Jehoshaphat claimed the rights over that land which had been held in former times by Solomon. Hence the ‘deputy’ spoken of in that passage as ‘king of Edom’ would be one set up and maintained on his throne by the king of Judah. We can see from this how the way through Edom would be easy and would commend itself to Jehoshaphat.

So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom: and they fetched a compass of seven days' journey: and there was no water for the host, and for the cattle that followed them.
9. So the king of Israel went] Josephus (Ant. IX. 3. 1) tells how Jehoram and his army were hospitably and magnificently received in Jerusalem before they started on their march.

and the king of Edom] The same author says that along with his own promise of help, Jehoshaphat had pledged himself to compel the king of Edom, his subject, to take part in the expedition. So by going this way the army not only found an uninterrupted line of march but additional forces also.

and they fetcht a compass [R.V. made a circuit] of seven days’ journey] This old English phrase for taking a roundabout road is found here and 2 Samuel 5:23; Acts 28:13. It is not easy to see why they should have gone so long a way about, when the country through which they were passing belonged to one of the allied kings. It might perhaps be necessary for the sake of finding provender. Josephus says that their guides led them wrong, but this is highly improbable. There must have been many persons among the Edomites who were familiar enough with all the ways into the neighbouring country of Moab.

and for the cattle] R.V. beasts. This change is made that there may be uniformity of rendering between this verse and verse 17.

And the king of Israel said, Alas! that the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!
10. Alas, that [R.V. for] the Lord hath called] Thus R.V. conforms to the rendering of A.V. in verse 13. The lamentation is caused by what Jehoram thinks will be their fate. And the conjunction, which can be rendered ‘for’ or ‘that’ seems to be here used to express the ground for the lament. Josephus makes Jehoram cry unto God, asking of what evil they had been guilty that He had brought them thither to give them up without a battle into the hand of Moab.

But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD, that we may inquire of the LORD by him? And one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah.
11. Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord] He made the same enquiry before the march to Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:7). The prophets who would be in attendance on Jehoram would be those connected with the worship of the calves. It is however interesting to note that Jehoram ascribes to the Lord Jehovah the calling together of the armies for this expedition. We see from this how the calf-worship was not felt to be in direct opposition to the true worship. The presence of Elisha with the host shews also that there was something which a prophet of the Lord found to warrant his presence with the army. The promptness too with which he is mentioned indicates that he was well known and honoured by some who were about the king’s person.

Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah] The sort of service here indicated marks one who had been in constant attendance on his master, who therefore understood his feelings, and had thus grown to understand on what occasions Jehovah might be appealed to. Hence the confidence of Jehoshaphat, ‘The word of the Lord is with him’.

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.
12. is with him] This expression seems to imply a more than ordinary participation of the divine Spirit. The more usual phrase is ‘The word of the Lord came to’ (cf. Genesis 15:1; 1 Samuel 15:10 &c.). And even the ‘sons of the prophets’ recognized that Elijah and after him Elisha were preeminently endowed with gifts from God.

went down to him] Such a man was not to be lightly summoned, and at such a crisis all reverence would be shewn to one on whose words it seemed that the chance of relief greatly depended. It may be that the phrase ‘go down’ is used here also because the tents of the kings would stand above the host. Josephus tells us that the tent of Elisha was outside the camp, which is very improbable. Bp Hall remarks here: ‘It was news, to see three kings going down to the servant of him who ran before the chariot of Ahab. Religion and necessity have both of them much power of humiliation. I know not whether more. Either zeal or need will make a prophet honoured’.

And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay: for the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.
13. What have I to do with thee?] An expression equivalent to a command to be gone. Cf. Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28; John 2:4.

the prophets of thy father] It would be no easy task, however willing Jehoram might be, to put down at once the worship of Baal. We know indeed that this was not done. Only the special outward mark, ‘the pillar of Baal’ (verse 2), which indicated the royal attachment to the idolatrous rites, and stood perhaps in the king’s own ground, was put down. Jehoram would be forced to trust to the power of opinion to banish the worship completely. It is so much more easy to encourage wrong than to get rid of it. Hence to Elisha the acts of Jehoram would seem very fainthearted, and he would be held for a sharer in the ways of Ahab and Jezebel.

Nay] i.e. Send me not away thus. And in his next sentence he admits that the orderer of all these events is Jehovah, and confesses by implication that to Him only can they look for aid.

And Elisha said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.
14. As the Lord of hosts liveth] Probably the use of this expression is due to the circumstances. Jehovah, set before the Jews as the Lord of the armies both of heaven and of earth, would be fitly spoken of by this title at this time. There were three armies together all reduced to the greatest straits, and brought to sue for help to the prophet of the Lord. It was a fit opportunity for pointing out that though armies may be gathered, yet the issue of their undertaking is in His hands alone. He is the living God, all others are no gods.

were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat] Thus the prophet continues the same thought. Jehovah, the Lord of hosts, is specially the protector of His people. When they are in danger, and cry to Him, He heareth them. And the prophet is the representative of God. Jehoshaphat joins in the appeal, and for his sake mercy is extended to the less deserving also.

I would not look toward thee, nor see thee] There is no sense employed with less labour to the possessor than that of sight. Hence the expression here used implies that Elisha would not have made the faintest effort for Jehoram’s sake alone.

But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
15. But now bring me a minstrel] Of the power of music over the mind we have examples in the history of Saul (1 Samuel 16:23) and also of the use of music by the companies of prophets (1 Samuel 10:5). But neither of these instances illustrates the case of Elisha as here described. It was not employed to calm his own angry spirit, and he was alone, whereas the prophetic band in 1 Samuel 10:5 were marching in a body, and chanting some religious hymns or service. From the result described here, viz. that the hand (that is, the influence and spirit) of the Lord came upon him, we may conclude that this was what Elisha wished for, and we may suppose that while the music went on his thoughts took shape, and found vent in prayer, till at length he was prompted inwardly what to say. A striking instance of the power of music.

the hand of the Lord] The phrase is most frequently employed in the Pentateuch and the historical books to signify God’s power exerted in punishment. Cf. Exodus 9:3, ‘The hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle’. See also Deuteronomy 2:15; Joshua 22:31; Jdg 2:15. But it is also used of the divine power which strengthened and supported Elijah, 1 Kings 18:46, and several times in Ezekiel of the spirit by which the prophet was possessed (cf. Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 33:22; Ezekiel 37:1). The passage Ezekiel 33:22 may be best quoted in illustration of the case of Elisha: ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me in the evening … and had opened my mouth … and my mouth was opened and I was no more dumb.’ As to Ezekiel, so here to Elisha there was given what he should speak. Josephus says ‘he became inspired’.

And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.
16. Make this valley full of ditches] R.V. trenches. The valley was a torrent bed which in the time of rain would become suddenly flooded with the water from the steep sides, and from the watershed above. This would soon run away, and the excavations mentioned here seem to have been meant to dam up the water, and prevent its rapid escape, that so the army might be supplied for a good while if necessary.

For thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts.
17. For thus saith the Lord] Both the order to dig trenches, and the promise of water are prefaced in this solemn manner. It is no order of his own which the prophet delivers.

Ye shall not see wind] The verb ‘see’ is used elsewhere of what is not visible but experienced by the other senses. So Exodus 20:18, ‘All the people saw the thunderings … and the noise of the trumpet’. After a drought wind is in the East the general precursor of rain. Cf. 1 Kings 18:41; 1 Kings 18:45.

neither shall ye see rain] The prophet’s language here implies that the cause of the coming supply of water would be rain falling elsewhere. Natural powers will bring the rain, though it shall fall at a distance from the camp, so that neither Moab nor the invading armies shall be aware of its falling.

that ye may [R.V. and ye shall] drink] Thus giving a strictly literal rendering.

your cattle] These were the animals brought with them to be killed as occasion required for food. The beasts, next mentioned, are the beasts of burden.

And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.
18. And this is but a light thing] For the expression cf. below ch. 2 Kings 20:10. What God gives, He gives to the full. He will not only guide the forces of nature so that the bodily wants of the armies shall be supplied, but will crown their expedition with success.

And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.
19. and shall fell every good tree] Some persons have seen in Elisha’s language here a contradiction to Deuteronomy 20:19, where in the siege of a city the Israelites are forbidden to cut down the fruit trees. But in that place the reference is to the trees of Canaan, where the people were themselves to settle and live. The land of Moab was not to be occupied by them, therefore they were bidden to destroy everything in it. In Deuteronomy it is expressly said, ‘Thou shalt not destroy them, for thou mayest eat of them’.

stop all wells [R.V. fountains] of water] As water in the east is mostly reached by digging, what is here meant is that all such places should be filled up, so that the work of obtaining water might have all to be done over again. The R.V. gives ‘fountains’ in verse 25 also.

Mark every good piece of land] The verb, when used elsewhere, signifies ‘to give, or have, pain’. So Job 5:18, ‘He maketh sore’. Ezekiel 13:22, ‘I have not made sad’. The LXX. translates here, ‘ye shall render useless’. The expression is somewhat poetical, representing the land as mourning because it is rendered unfruitful. But a similar figure, though not the same word, is found Jeremiah 12:4, ‘How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither?’

And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.
20. when the meat offering was offered] R.V. about the time of offering the oblation. The term meat offering has become misleading to modern English readers, because it would now imply that flesh of some kind formed a part of the offering; whereas the oblation [minchah] here spoken of consisted (see Leviticus 2:1) of fine flour, oil and frankincense. Hence R.V. has rendered the word very frequently ‘meal offering’, and in some places as here, where there was no need to be specific, by ‘oblation’. The time of the offering was as soon as possible after day-dawn. In a similar manner the time selected by Elijah (1 Kings 18:36) for offering his prayer to God on Carmel was at the time of the offering of the evening oblation. Thus in both cases God’s intervention was linked to the worship at Jerusalem. ‘Elijah fetched down his fire at the hour of the evening sacrifice, Elisha fetched up his water at the hour of the morning sacrifice. God gives respect to His own hours for the encouragement of our observation. If His wisdom hath set us any peculiar times, we cannot keep them without a blessing’ (Bp Hall).

by the way of Edom] The fall of rain, to which the supply of water was due, would thus be unknown to the Moabites even more than to the Israelites. Josephus describes the rain as having fallen in abundance at a distance of three days’ journey (Ant. IX. 3. 2).

And when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered all that were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood in the border.
21. And [R.V. Now] when all the Moabites heard] By the circuitous journey which the armies had made their march would be less observed, and it would only be at the time of their appearance on the frontier that the object of their expedition would become known. But the casting off the yoke of Israel, and the freeing of their land from such a burdensome tribute made the war popular in Moab, and all were prepared to do their duty against the invaders.

come up] See above on verse 7.

they gathered all that were able to put on armour] R.V. they gathered themselves together, all &c. The verb is literally, ‘they called themselves together’. The expression indicates the enthusiasm with which each man appealed to his neighbour. ‘To put on armour’ is literally ‘to gird themselves with a girdle’, for to the girdle the weapon was attached.

and stood in the border] This would naturally be a height dividing their country from the land of Edom.

21–27. The Moabites attack the allied armies, but are defeated. The king of Moab sacrifices his eldest son (Not in Chronicles)

And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood:
22. they rose up early in the morning] When the rays of the sun would be shining obliquely on the water, and would cause it to have an unusual colour.

the water on the other side] R.V. over against them. See above on 2 Kings 2:7as red as blood] This would be partly due to the slanting rays of the sun, and partly perhaps to the redness of the land through which the water had flowed. It was impossible for the Moabites to think what they saw to be water, for no signs of rain had been observable.

And they said, This is blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.
23. the kings are surely slain [R.V. destroyed], and they have smitten one another] R.V. each man his fellow. The Moabites knew of the contests which had been between Israel and Judah in times past, and might readily fancy that the peace which had been made between Ahab and Jehoshaphat had now been broken through some difference during the expedition. They would also know that the Edomite vassal of Judah was likely to seize the first opportunity to strike a blow for independence. Their own wish too was no doubt father to the thought. Hence their impetuous rush down upon the enemy.

And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them: but they went forward smiting the Moabites, even in their country.
24. the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites] The hasty and irregular manner in which the Moabites rushed forward, with no thought but of an easy booty, gave the Israelites an opportunity which otherwise they would not have had. Before their assailants could gather themselves for resistance they were able to put them to a confused flight. And the discovery of their mistake would paralyse the Moabites and make victory certain for Israel and their allies.

but they went forward smiting the Moabites, even in their country] R.V. they went forward into the land smiting the Moabites. The Hebrew text presents some difficulty here. The word which R.V. has represented by ‘into the land’ is literally ‘into it’. But as Moab (translated Moabites) has been mentioned in the previous clause the pronoun may fairly be referred to it. The verb ‘they went forward’ is not of the usual form and for יכאו = יכו the marginal reading of the Massoretic text suggests יכו = they smote, and this the margin of A.V. translates, ‘and they smote in it, even smiting’. But the suggestion seems unnecessary. The LXX. read יכו for they give εἰσῆλθον εἰσπορευόμενοι, apparently having taken the preposition and pronoun בה for the verb בוא.

And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all the wells of water, and felled all the good trees: only in Kirharaseth left they the stones thereof; howbeit the slingers went about it, and smote it.
25. cast every man his stone] Thus ensuring that the ground should be made, for a long time to come, useless for the pasturage of flocks.

only in Kirharaseth left they the stones thereof] R.V. until in Kirhareseth only they left the stones thereof. It will be seen from the margin of A.V. that the R.V. approaches more nearly to the literal sense of the Hebrew. What is meant to be expressed is that the only town of which the stone walls were allowed to remain was this capital city of Moab. Probably it was the only city with any solidity of walls. A pastoral people, such as the Moabites were, have very little need for fenced towns. Kirhareseth (for so the name is pointed) is the same which in Isaiah 15:1 is called Kir of Moab, and in Jeremiah 48:31; Jeremiah 48:36 Kir-heres. As Kir signifies ‘wall’ or ‘fortress’, there appears much probability that this was the only very great stronghold in the land, though Ar of Moab is mentioned as a fortified town (Numbers 21:28; Isaiah 15:1). The other village-like settlements were easily dismantled, and their stones served to strew and ruin the pastures. All that was attempted on the stronger place was to clear its walls of their defenders by means of slingers.

And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the king of Edom: but they could not.
26. he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords] R.V. sword. In this phrase the singular is of the more frequent occurrence in A.V. The Moabite king desired to cut his way through the besiegers and so to escape, and he made the attempt in the direction of the king of Edom’s troops, either because that was the weaker side of the allied host, or else because he thought he might be received by the Edomite king, and that they together might turn against the combined forces of Israel and Judah. Josephus suggests the former reason, saying he made his sally where the guard was relaxed. The expression ‘break through unto the king of Edom’ seems to hint that he thought to find there an ally.

Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.
27. his eldest son] i.e. his own eldest son, not as has been explained by some, the eldest son of the Edomite king. His thought was to offer such a sacrifice as would be most acceptable. Hence he gave what was most precious to him. And the offering was made to his own god, Chemosh (see Numbers 21:29). Among the heathen human sacrifice was not uncommon, and some have thought that from the sight of such offerings Abraham was brought to contemplate the sacrifice of Isaac as required of him to prove that he was not less devoted to Jehovah’s service than the heathen people to their idolatry.

upon the wall] This was no doubt done to shew to the Israelites that every means had been taken by him to secure the aid of the local divinity against his assailants. Such a sacrifice they might think could hardly fail of obtaining the help sought by it.

And there was great indignation [R.V. wrath] against Israel] The word rendered ‘wrath’ or ‘indignation’ is nearly always used of the wrath of God against offenders. But it appears difficult to take it in that sense here. God’s promise through Elisha was that Israel should conquer, and they were bidden to smite every fenced city and every choice city. Therefore unless we conceive that underlying God’s message there was conceived some point beyond which they were not to go, and that the forcing of the king to offer his son was of this character, it is hard to see how they could be held to blame and worthy of God’s wrath. They were in no position to know what the king intended, nor, when they saw him on the wall, to prevent his sacrifice. It seems better therefore to take ‘wrath’ in this place to signify ‘wrath of men’. The word is found in Ecclesiastes 5:17, ‘All his days he eateth in darkness, and is sore vexed and hath sickness and wrath’ (R.V.). This can be either of what the man feels himself, or of what others feel towards him. Taking the latter sense, the meaning here would be that in the minds of the men of Judah and Edom there rose indignation that they had been brought to partake in an expedition which led to such a dreadful sacrifice. If we apply the word to the feelings of the Israelites themselves, we get the sense that they were grieved and angry at so terrible a result, and so hastened to leave the dreadful scene. The margin of R.V., ‘There came great wrath upon Israel’, alludes to the anger of God, but it seems, as the preposition is ‘against’, to be better to understand that the allies were grieved at having shared in so disastrous a warfare. Josephus says the kings pitied the need which the Moabite monarch had felt when he offered up his child, and so withdrew.

and they departed from him] i.e. from the king of Moab. This seems to shew that it was the horrible act of the king which made them ready to be gone at once. It was not the land which they left. Had no such sacrifice as is here described taken place they would have prosecuted the siege according to the prophet’s word. But now they withdrew in horror.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

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