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.
Verse 1. - Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat King of Judah. This note of time is not quite in accordance with the chronology of 1 Kings, which gives Jehoshaphat a reign of twenty-five years (1 Kings 22:42), Ahab one of twenty-two years (1 Kings 16:29), and Ahaziah one of two years (1 Kings 22:51), and makes Jehoshaphat's first year run parallel with Ahab's fourth (1 Kings 22:41), since thus Ahab's death-year would be Jehoshaphat's nineteenth, and Jehoram's accession-year, at the earliest, Jehoshaphat's twentieth. The difficulty may be removed by assigning to Ahab a reign of twenty instead of twenty-two years. On the mode of reconciling the statement of this place with that of 2 Kings 1:17, that Jehoram of Israel began to reign in the second year of Jehoram of Judah, see the comment upon that passage. And reigned twelve years.
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.
Verse 2. - And he wrought evil in the sight of the Lord - as did every other king of Israel both before him (1 Kings 14:16; 1 Kings 15:25, 34; 1 Kings 16:13, 19, 25, 30; 1 Kings 22:52) and after him (2 Kings 8:27; 2 Kings 10:31; 2 Kings 13:2, 11; 2 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 15:9, 18, 24, 28; 2 Kings 17:2) - but not like his father, and like his mother - i.e. Ahab and Jezebel, the introducers of the Baal-worship into Israel - for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made. It had not been said previously that Ahab had actually set up an image of Baal, but only that he had "built him a house in Samaria, and reared him up an altar," and that he "served him and worshipped him" (1 Kings 16:31, 32). But an image of the god for whom a "house" was built was so much a matter of course in the idolatrous systems of the East, that it might have seemed superfluous to mention it. The actual existence of the image appears later, when its destruction is recorded (2 Kings 10:27). It seems that Jehoram, at the commencement of his reign, took warning by the fates of his father and brother, so far as to abolish the state worship of Baal, which his father had introduced, and to remove the image of Baal from the temple where it had been set up. The image, however, was not destroyed - it was only "put away."
Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.
Verse 3. - Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not there from. The maintenance of the calf-worship was, no doubt, viewed as a political necessity. If the two sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel had been shut up, the images broken, and the calf-worship brought to an end, there would, as a matter of course, have been a general flocking of the more religious among the people to the great sanctuary of Jehovah at Jerusalem; and this adoption of Jerusalem as a spiritual center would naturally have led on to its acceptance as the general political center of the whole Israelite people. Israel, as a separate kingdom, a distinct political entity, would have disappeared. Hence every Israelite monarch, even the Jehovistic Jehu, felt himself bound, by the political exigencies of his position, to keep up the calf-worship, and maintain the religious system of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.
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.
Verses 4-27. - THE WAR WITH MOAB. The historian goes back to the origin of the war. He had already, in 2 Kings 1:1, mentioned the revolt of Moab at the death of Ahab; but he now recalls his readers' attention to the fact, and to some extent explains it and accounts for it. Moab had been treated oppressively - had been forced to pay an extraordinarily heavy tribute - and was in a certain sense driven into rebellion (vers. 4, 5). Jehoram, when he came to the kingdom, determined to make a great effort to put the rebellion down, and to re-establish the authority of Israel over the revolted people His relations with Jehoshaphat of Israel were so close that he had no difficulty in persuading him to join in the war. He was also able to obtain the alliance of the King of Edom. Thus strengthened, he made no doubt of being successful, and confidently invaded the country (vers. 6-9). The course of the war is then related (vers. 10-27).
But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
And king Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel.
Verse 6. - And King Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time - literally, the same day - and numbered all Israel; rather, mustered or reviewed (ἐπεσκέψατο, LXX.) all Israel. "Numbering" was forbidden (1 Samuel 24:1), and is not here intended, the verb used being פקד, and not מנה.
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.
Verse 7. - And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the King of Judah, saying. Jehoshaphat had originally allied himself with Ahab, and had cemented the alliance by a marriage between his eldest son, Jehoram, and Athaliah, Ahab's daughter (2 Kings 8:18; 2 Chronicles 18:1). He had joined Ahab in his attack on the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:4-36), and had thereby incurred the rebuke of Jehu the son of Hanani (2 Chronicles 19:2). This, however, had net prevented him from continuing his friendship with the Israelite royal house; he "joined himself with Ahaziah" (2 Chronicles 20:35), Ahab's successor, and though their combined naval expedition met with disaster (1 Kings 22:48), yet he still maintained amicable relations with the Israelite court. Jehoram, therefore, confidently sought his active help when he made up his mind to engage in a war with Moab. 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 hones as thy horses. Compare the answer which the same king had made to Ahab, when requested to join him in his attack on the Syrians (1 Kings 22:4). The words were probably a common formula expressive of willingness to enter into the closest possible alliance. Jehoshaphat, it appears from 2 Chronicles 20:1-35, had, a little before this, been himself attacked by the united forces of Moab and Ammon, and brought into a peril from which he was only delivered by miracle. It was, therefore, much to his advantage that Moab should be weakened.
And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
Verse 8. - And he said, Which way shall we go up? Jehoram asked Jehoshaphat's advice as to the plan of campaign. There 'were two ways in which Moab might be approached - the direct one across the Jordan and then southward through the country east of the Dead Sea to the Amen, which was the boundary between Moab and Israel; and a circuitous one through the desert west of the Red Sea, and across the Arabah south of it, then northwards through Northern Edom, to the brook Zered, or Wady-el- Ahsy, which was the boundary between Moab and Edom. If the former route were pursued, Moab would be entered on the north; if the latter, she would be attacked on the south. Jehoshaphat recommended the circuitous route. And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom; probably for two reasons: Edom, though under a native king, was a dependency of Judah (1 Kings 22:47), and on passing through the Edomite country, an Edomite contingent might be added to the invading force; Moab, moreover, was mere likely to be surprised by an attack on this quarter, which was unusual, and from which she would not anticipate danger.
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.
Verse 9. - So the King of Israel went - as leader of the expedition, he is placed first - and the King of Judah - the second in importance, therefore placed second - and the King of Edom - the third in importance, therefore placed last. It is to be remarked that, when Edom was last mentioned, she was ruled by a "deputy," who received his appointment from the King of Judah (1 Kings 22:47). Now, apparently, she has her own native "king." The change is, perhaps, to be connected with the temporary revolt of Edom hinted at in 2 Chronicles 20:22. And they fetched a compass of seven days' journey. The distance from Jerusalem, where the forces of Israel and Judah probably united, to the southern borders of Moab by way of Hebron, Malatha, and Thamara, which is the best-watered route, and would probably be the route taken, does not much exceed a hundred miles; but its difficulties are great, and it is quite probable that the march of an army along it would not average more than fifteen miles a day. And there was no water for the host. The confederate army had reached the border of Moab, where they had probably expected to find water in the Wady-el-Ahsy, which is reckoned a perennial stream (Robinson, 'Researches,' vol. it. p. 488); but it was dry at the time. All the streams of these parts fail occasionally, when there has been no rain for a long time. And for the cattle that followed them; rather, .for the beasts that followed them (see the Revised Version). The baggage-animals are intended (see ver. 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!
Verse 10. - And the King of Israel said, Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab! Jehoram first assumes, without warrant, that the expedition is one which Jehovah has sanctioned, and then complains that it is about to fail utterly. As he had made no attempt to learn God's will on the subject at the mouth of any prophet, he had no ground for surprise or complaint, even had the peril been as great as he supposed. God had not "called the three kings together;" they had come together of their own accord, guided by their own views of earthly policy. Yet God was not about to "deliver them into the hands of Moab," as in strict justice he might have done. He was about to deliver the three kings from their peril.
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.
Verse 11. - But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him? The Israelite monarch despairs at once; the Jewish monarch retains faith and hope. Undoubtedly he ought to have had inquiry made of the Lord before he consented to accompany Jehoram on the expedition. But one neglect of duty does not justify persistence in neglect. This he sees, and therefore suggests that even now, at the eleventh hour, the right course shall be taken. It may not even yet be too late. And one of the King of Israel's servants - i.e., one of the officers in attendance on him - answered and said, Here is Elisha. Apparently,-Jehoram was not aware of Elisha's presence with the army. He had to be enlightened by one of his attendants, who happened to be acquainted with the fact. We may suppose that Elisha had joined the army "at the instigation of the Spirit of God" (Keil), God having resolved to rescue the Israelites from their peril by his instrumentality, and at the same time to show forth his glory before the people of Moab. The son of Shaphat (comp. 1 Kings 19:16, 19), which poured water on the hands of Elijah; i.e. who was accustomed to minister to Elijah's wants, and to attend upon 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.
Verse 12. - And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the Lord is with him; that is, "he is a true prophet; he can tell us the will of God." It is impossible to say how Jehoshaphat had acquired this conviction. Elijah's selection of Elisha to be his special attendant (1 Kings 19:19-21) was no doubt generally known, and may have raised expectations that Elisha would be the next great prophet. Jehoshaphat may have heard of the miracles recorded in 2 Kings 2. At any rate, he appears to have been firmly convinced of Elisha's prophetic mission, and to have accepted him as the authorized exponent of God's will at the time. So the King of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the King of Edom went down to him. Prophets were commonly summoned into the king's presence, or, if they had a message to him, contrived a meeting in some place where they knew he would be. That the kings should seek Elisha out and visit him was a great sign both of the honor in which he was held, and also of the extent to which they were humbled by the danger which threatened them.
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.
Verse 13. - 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. Despite Jehoram's self-humiliation, Elisha regards it as incumbent on him to rebuke the monarch, who, though he had "put away the image of Baal which his father had made," still "wrought evil in the sight of the Lord," and "cleaved to the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat" (2 Kings 2:2, 3). Jehoram must not be allowed to suppose that he has done enough by his half-repentance and partial reformation; he must be rebuked and shamed, that he may, if possible, be led on to a better frame of mind. "What," says the prophet, "have I to do with thee? What common ground do we occupy? What is there that justifies thee in appealing to me for aid? Get thee to the prophets of thy father" - the four hundred whom Ahab gathered together at Samaria, to advise him as to going up against Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:6) - "and the prophets of thy mother," the Baal-prophets, whom Jezebel, who was still alive, and held the position of queen-mother, still maintained (2 Kings 10:19) - "get thee to them, and consult them. On them thou hast some claim; on me, none." 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. A most soft and meek answer - one well calculated to "turn away wrath." "Nay," says the king; "say not so. Let not that be thy final answer. For it is not I alone who am in danger. We are three kings who have come down to thee to ask thy aid; we are all in equal danger; have respect unto them, if thou wilt not have respect unto me; and show them a way of deliverance."
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.
Verse 14. - 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. Jehoshaphat's conduct had not been blameless; he had twice incurred the rebuke of a prophet for departures from the line of strict duty - once for "helping the ungodly" Ahab at Ramoth-Gilead (2 Chronicles 19:2); and a second time for "joining himself with Ahaziah to make ships to go to Ophir" (2 Chronicles 20:36; comp. 1 Kings 22:48). Even now he was engaged in an expedition which had received no Divine sanction, and was allied with two idolatrous monarchs. But Elisha condones these derelictions of duty in consideration of the king's honesty of purpose and steady attachment to Jehovah, which is witnessed to by the authors both of Kings (1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 3:11) and Chronicles (2 Chronicles 17:3-6; 2 Chronicles 19:4-11; 2 Chronicles 20:5-21, etc.). He "regards the presence of Jehoshaphat," and therefore consents to return an answer to the three kings, and announce to them the mode of their deliverance. The adjuration wherewith he opens his speech is one of great solemnity, only used upon very special occasions (see 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 5:16), and adds great force to his declaration.
But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
Verse 15. - But now bring me a minstrel. A player on the harp seems to be intended. Music was cultivated in the schools of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3), and was employed to soothe and quiet the soul, to help it to forget things earthly and external, and bring it into that ecstatic condition in which it was most open to the reception of Divine influences. As David's harping refreshed Saul, and tranquillized his spirit (1 Samuel 16:23), so the playing of any skilled minstrel had a soothing effect on those possessing the prophetic gift generally, and enabled them to shut out the outer world, and concentrate their whole attention on the inward voice which communicated to them the Divine messages. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. By "the hand of the Lord" is meant the power of the Spirit of God, the Divine effluence, whatever it was, which acquainted the prophets with the Divine will, and enabled them to utter it.
And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.
Verse 16. - And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches; rather, full of pits (βοθύβους, LXX.). The object was to detain the water which would otherwise have all run off down the torrent-course in a very little time.
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.
Verse 17. - For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see - i.e., perceive - wind, neither shall ye see rain. Wind and rain usually go together in the East, especially when there is sudden heavy rain after a time of drought. What Elisha promises is a heavy storm of wind accompanied by violent rain, which, however, will be at such a distance that the Israelites will see nothing of it, but whereof they will experience the effects when the torrent-course that separates them from the Moabite country suddenly becomes a rushing stream as the rain flows off down it. Their "pits," or trenches, will retain a portion of the water, and furnish them with a sufficient supply for their wants. It was necessary that the storm should be distant, that the Moabites might know nothing of it, and so fall under the delusion (ver. 23), which led to their complete defeat. Yet that valley shall be filled with water. Travelers tell us that, in certain circumstances, it takes but ten minutes or a quarter of an hour for a dry water-course in the East to become a raging torrent quite impassable. That ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle - i.e., the animals which you have brought with you for food - and your boasts; i.e. your beasts of burden, or baggage-animals. Animals, except camels, suffer from drought even more than men, and die sooner. The Israelites do not appear to have ever employed camels.
And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.
Verse 18. - And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord. God, the Author of nature, has full control over nature, and it is an easy matter for him to produce at will any natural phenomena. It is otherwise when the stubborn element of the human will is brought into play. Then difficulty may arise. He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand. It would be better to translate, he will also deliver (see the Revised Version).
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.
Verse 19. - And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city. The LXX. omit the second clause, perhaps because they could not reproduce in Greek the assonance of the Hebrew, where the words for "fenced" and "choice" (מִבְצֶר and מִבְחור) have nearly the same sound. And shall fell every good tree. It has been said that the Law forbade this, and argued
(1) that Elisha did not here utter a command, but only a prediction (Pool), not bidding the Israelites to cut down the trees, but only telling them they would do so;
(2) that Elisha intentionally excepted the Moabites from the merciful provision of the Law (Deuteronomy 20:19, 20), having authority to do so, and regarding the Moabites as exceptionally wicked (Keil); and
(3) that the Mosaic Law was not observed under the kings, and that Elisha himself had forgotten the provision about fruit trees (Geddes). But a careful examination of the passage in Deuteronomy will show
(1) that there is no general prohibition of the cutting down of fruit trees, but only a prohibition of their being cut down for siege works;
(2) that the prohibition rests on prudential, not on moral, grounds, and is thus practically limited to cases where the conquest of the country attacked, and its occupation by the conquerors, are looked forward to. The words are, "When thou shalt besiege a city.... thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them." The destruction of the fruit trees in an enemy's country was a common feature of the wars of the period, and was largely practiced, both By the Assyrians and the Egyptians (see Layard's 'Monuments of Nineveh,' first series, p. 73; second series, pl. 40; 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 588; and 'Records of the Past,' vol. 2. pp. 5, 51, etc.). And stop all wells of water. The stoppage of springs and wells was another common practice in ancient times, often employed against enemies and aliens. The Philistines stopped the Hebrew wells in the days of Isaac (Genesis 26:18). Hezekiah stopped the springs of water outside Jerusalem, when he expected to be besieged By the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 32:3, 4). The Scythians, when Darius invaded their country, stopped all their own wells as they retired before him (Herod., 4:120). Arsaces III. partly stopped, and partly poi-ached, the Persian wells in his war with Antiochus the Great (Polyb., 10:28. § 5). The practice was regarded as quite legitimate. And mar every good piece of land with stones; literally, grieve every good piece of land. To clear the stones off a piece of ground was the first step towards preparing it for cultivation in the stony regions on either side of the Jordan. The clearance was generally effected by collecting the stones into heaps. When it was wished to "mar the land," the stones were there to be spread over it afresh.
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.
Verse 20. - And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered - i.e. about sunrise, which was the time of the morning sacrifice - that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom. The Wady-el- Ahsy drains a portion of Southern Moab, and also a considerable tract of Northern Edom. The nocturnal storm had burst, not in the Moabite country, where it would have attracted the attention of the Moabites, but in some comparatively distant part of the Idumaean territory, so that the Moabites were not aware of it. Josephus says that the storm burst at a distance of three days' journey from the Israelite camp ('Ant. Jud.,' 9:3. § 2); but this can only be his conjecture. And the country was filled, with water. By "the country" (ha-arets) must be meant here the bed or channel of the water-course. This was suddenly filled with a rushing stream, which, however, rapidly ran off, leaving the water-course dry, excepting where the pits had been made by the Israelites. But this supply was ample for the army.
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.
Verse 21. - And when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them. The Hebrew has no pluperfect tense; but the verbs have here a pluperfect force. Translate, When all the Moabites had heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they had gathered all that were able, etc. The muster of the troops had long preceded the storm. They gathered all that were able to put on amour; literally, there had been gathered together all that girded themselves with girdles; i.e. all the male population of full age. And upward - i.e., and all above the age when the girdle was first assumed - and stood in the border; took up a position near the extreme border of their territory, on the northern bank of the Wady-el-Ahsy.
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:
Verse 22. - 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. The red hue of the water is ascribed by Ewald to "the red tinge of the soil" in the part of Edom where the rain had fallen ('History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 88); by Keil, to "the reddish earth of the freshly dug trenches," or pits ('Commentary on 2 Kings,' p. 305); but the only cause of the redness mentioned either in Kings or in Josephus is the ruddy hue of the sunrise. A ruddy sunrise is common in the East, more especially in stormy weather (see Matthew 16:3); and the red light, falling upon the water in the pits, and reflected thence to the opposite side of the wady, would quite sufficiently account for the mistake of the Moabites, without supposing that the water was actually stained and discolored. The Moabites concluded that the red-looking liquid was blood, from knowing that the wady was dry the day before, and from not suspecting that there had been any change in the night, as the storm which had caused the change was at such a distance.
And they said, This is blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.
Verse 23. - And they said, This is blood. Even Ewald recognizes here "a historical background for the narrative." The idea of such a mistake could scarcely have occurred to a romancer. The kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another. There were rivalries and jealousies subsisting between Judah, Israel, and Edom, which made it quite possible that at any time open quarrel might break out among them. Edom especially was, it is probable, a reluctant member of the confederacy, forced to take her part in it by her suzerain, Jehoshaphat. The Moabites, moreover, had recently had personal experience how easily the swords of confederates might be turned against each other, since their last expedition against Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1-25) had completely failed through such a sudden disagreement and contention. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil. If their supposition were correct, and the kings had come to blows, and the hosts destroyed each other, Moab would have nothing to do but to fly upon the spoil, to strip the slain, and plunder the camp of the confederates. A disorderly rush took place for this purpose (see Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9:3. § 2).
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.
Verse 24. - And when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up. The first rush of the main body would be upon the camp, where they would expect to find the richest spoil. It was near at hand; and the occupants kept themselves concealed in it, expecting the disorderly attack which actually took place. They then "rose up," and fell upon the crowd of assailants, who were off their guard, and expecting nothing less. A confused rout followed. And smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them. Josephus says, "Some of the Moabites were cut to pieces; the others fled, and dispersed themselves over their country." But they went forward, smiting the Moabites even in their country. There are two readings here, ויבו and ויכו. The former is to be preferred, and is to be pointed וַיָּבו (for וַיָּבוא, as in 1 Kings 12:12). This gives the meaning of the text. The marginal translation follows the Keri וַיַּכוּ, which is (as Keil says) "a bad emendation."
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.
Verse 25. - And they beat down the cities - i.e. destroyed them - leveled them with the ground - and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone (see ver. 19 and the comment ad loc.), and filled it [with stones]. And they stopped all the wells of water, and felled all the good trees - i.e. the fruit trees, δένδρα ἥμερα (Josephus) - only in Kir-haraseth left they the stones thereof; literally, until in Kir-haraseth - i.e., in Kir-haraseth only - left he the stones thereof. He (i.e. the commander, or the army) went on destroying and leveling the cities, until he came to Kir-haraseth, which proved too strong for him. There he was obliged to leave the stones untouched. Kir-haraseth, which is not mentioned among the early Moabite towns, nor even upon the Moabite Stone, and which is therefore thought to have been a newly constructed fortress (Ewald), was, in the later times, one of the most important of the strongholds of Moab (see Isaiah 15:1; Isaiah 16:7, 11; Jeremiah 48:36). It was sometimes called Kir-Moab, "the fortress of Moab." At what time it got the name of Kerak is uncertain; but we find it spoken of as Kerak-Moab by Ptolemy (about A.D. ), and by Stephen of Byzantium (about A.D. ). It was a place of much importance in the time of the Crusades. The situation is one of great strength. The fortress is built upon the top of a steep hill, surrounded on all sides by a deep arid narrow valley, which again is completely enclosed by mountains, rising higher than the fort itself. It is undoubtedly one of the strongest positions within the territory anciently possessed by the Moabites. Howbeit the slingers went about it, and smote it. Ewald thinks that by "slingers" are meant, not mere ordinary slingers, but persons who worked more elaborate engines, as catapults and the like ('History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 89, note, Eng. trans.). He is undoubtedly correct in saying that "all sorts of elaborate modes of attacking fortifications were very early known in Asia;" but it is very questionable whether the Hebrew word used (הַקַּלָּעִים) can mean anything but "slingers" in the usual sense. The LXX. translate by σφενδονῆται. The situation is one which would allow of "slingers," in the ordinary sense, sending their missiles into the place, and grievously harassing it.
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.
Verse 26. - And when the King of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him - i.e. that he could not hope to maintain the defense much longer, but would be forced to surrender the fortress - he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the King of Edom. Perhaps he regarded the King of Edom as the weakest of the three confederates, and the least likely to offer effectual resistance; perhaps he viewed him as a traitor, since Edom had been his ally a little earlier (2 Chronicles 20:10, 22), and wished to wreak his vengeance on him. But they could not. The attempt failed; Edom was too strong, and he was forced to throw himself once more into the beleaguered town.
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.
Verse 27. - Then he took his eldest son, that should have reigned in his stead - the throne of Moab being hereditary, and primogeniture the established law (cf. Moabite Stone, lines 2 and 3, "My father reigned over Moab thirty years, and I reigned after my father") - and offered him for a burnt offering. Human sacrifice was widely practiced by the idolatrous nations who bordered on Palestine, and by none more than by the Moabites. A former King of Moab, when in a sore strait, had asked, "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:7); and there is reason to believe that a chief element in the worship of Chemosh was the sacrifice of young children by their unnatural parents. The practice rested on the idea that God was best pleased when men offered to him what was dearest and most precious to them; but it was in glaring contradiction to the character of God as revealed by his prophets, and it did violence to the best and holiest instincts of human nature. The Law condemned it in the strongest terms as a profanation of the Divine Name (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:1-5), and neither Jeroboam nor Ahab ventured to introduce it when they established their idolatrous systems. The King of Mesh, undoubtedly, offered the sacrifice to his god Chemosh (see Moabite Stone, lines 3, 4, 8, 12, etc.), hoping to propitiate him, and by his aid to escape from the peril in which he found himself placed. HIS motive for offering the sacrifice upon the wall is not so clear. It was evidently done to attract the notice of the besiegers, but with what further object is uncertain. Ewald thinks the king's intention was to" confound the enemy by the spectacle of the frightful deed to which they had forced him," and thus to "effect a change in their purposes" ('History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 90); but perhaps it is as likely that he hoped to work upon their fears, and induce them to retire under the notion that, if they did not, Chemosh would do them some terrible injury. And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed. It seems necessary to connect these clauses, and to regard them as assigning cause and effect. The deed done aroused an indignation against Israel, which led to the siege being raised. But an indignation on whose part? Keil thinks, on God's. But could God be angry with Israel for an act of the King of Moab, which they had no ground for anticipating, and which they could not possibly have pro-vented? especially when the Israelites had done nothing to cause the act, except by carrying out God's own command to them through his prophet, to "smite every fenced city and every choice city" (ver. 19). The indignation, therefore, must have been human. But who felt it? Probably the Moabites. The terrible act of their king, to which they considered that Israel had driven him, stirred up such a feeling of fury among the residue of the Moabite nation, that the confederates quailed before it, and came to the conclusion that they had best give up the siege and retire. They therefore departed from him - i.e. the King of Mesh - and returned to their own land; severally to Edom, Judea, and Samaria.