Man's Extremity is God's Opportunity
2 Kings 3:9-17, 20
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…

This expedition, begun without consulting God, soon landed the allies in dire straits.


1. The failure of water. The host must have been a large one, and they had much cattle with them for sustenance. For some reason, the journey occupied seven days, and the desert was waterless. They were in the same distress that the Israelites were in centuries before under Moses (Exodus 17:1-3; Numbers 20:1-5); but they had not the same right to rely on Divine help. When, at the end of seven days, they arrived at a valley where water might be looked for - probably "the brook Zered" (Deuteronomy 2:13) - their condition became desperate.

2. God's hand recognized. Jehoram recognized, when it was too late, that it was not Moab who was fighting against him in this expedition, but God. "Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!"

(1) How readily God can humble man's pride, and bring to nothing his best-laid schemes! We are reminded of Napoleon's march against Moscow, and of the annihilation of his army by the severities of a Russian winter.

(2) God's hand is often recognized in trouble, when it is not in prosperity.

(3) God frequently leads men into distress, that they may be convinced of their folly in neglecting him, and may be led to seek his help (Psalm 107.).


1. Jehoshaphat's inquiry. The King of Israel abandoned himself to despair, but Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?" Had he inquired of the Lord at the beginning, he would not now have been in this difficulty. But:

(1) It was better to inquire late - if haply it might not be too late - than not to inquire at all A good man only needs to be convinced of his errors to endeavor to repair them. A touch of the rod of chastisement turns back his heart to God, whom he may have been forgetting. To whom else shall he go? God alone can help.

(2) Even the sinner, if convinced that God is contending with him, should not delay repentance through remembrance of past sins. If he has never prayed before, let him do it now. But, alas! repentances of this kind are too often insincere - the mere fruit of present fear - and are not followed up by change of life.

2. The three kings and the prophet.

(1) Jehoshaphat's question elicited the fact that Elisha the son of Shaphat was in the camp or near it. It was a servant of the King of Israel that gave this information, so that even in this ungodly king's household there were some true worshippers (cf. 1 Kings 18:3, 4). This servant, though in a humble position, did the greatest service possible to his king and nation. But for his information, the armies of three kingdoms might have been annihilated. In like manner, it was "a little captive maid" who directed Naaman to the prophet (2 Kings 5:2, 3).

(2) Jehoshaphat felt at once they had the right man - "The word of the Lord is with him." Pretenders, false prophets, hypocrites, are of no avail when real trouble comes. It is the genuine prophet that is needed then. Elisha must have followed the camp by Divine direction, to give this aid in the hour of extremity - another evidence that the events of this expedition, like all other events, were being shaped by an overruling Providence.

(3) The kings at once repair to Elisha. They did not ask him to come to them, but, as suppliants, "went down" to him. It was a strange sight - the three kings standing before this prophet of the Lord, whom, at other times, two of them at least would have disdained to consult. But it was now felt that Elisha alone stood between them and death. He, the man of God, was, like his master before him - "the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" - under God, the protector and salvation of the nation. There come seasons when religion gets the homage paid to it, which its importance at all times deserves.

3. Help only for the sake of Jehoshaphat. Elisha's spirit seems to have been strangely perturbed by the visit of these three kings. He was roused in part by scorn at a king like Jehoram, who ordinarily paid no respect to religion, coming to ask his aid in the pinch of physical distress. It is Elijah's fire which glows in him for the moment, as he sternly asks, "What have I to do with thee?" and bids the humbled monarch get him to the prophets of his father (the calves-prophets) and the prophets of his mother (the Baal-prophets), to see what they could do for him. But Jehoram knew that the prophets of the calves or of Baal could in that extremity give him little help. He deprecates Elisha's anger, only to he told that, but for the sake of Jehoshaphat, the prophet would neither look towards him nor see him.

(1) It is character, not rank, which God regards. Jehoram harps upon the string that, if nothing is done, "three kings" will perish. He seems to fancy, with the French lady, that God will think twice before casting off persons of that quality. But Elisha undeceives him. Only because the good Jehoshaphat is in the company will God show any mercy to him.

(2) The ungodly often reap great benefits from association with the good. Jehoram now found this to his advantage.

(3) There will come a time of exposure for all "refuges of lies." Elisha laid bare the folly of trusting to the idol-prophets, and Jehoram felt the truth of his rebuke. So will it be with all vain imaginations (Isaiah 28:14-18).


1. Holy minstrelsy. The discomposed state of Elisha's mind was not fitted for the reception of "revelations of the Lord." If God would speak, passion must be stilled. To this end, he called for a minstrel, that by the soothing, subduing effect of sacred melody, his soul might be restored to a calm condition. It is a wonderful power that resides in music; we do well in God's service to take advantage of it. "The noblest passages in ' Paradise Lost' were composed as Milton's daughter played to her father on the organ." Music gives wings to the soul, reveals to it the existence of a world of harmony, touches and harmonizes it to like "fine issues."

2. A labor of faith. As the minstrel played, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he gave directions to make the valley full of trenches. As yet there was not the slightest sign of water, nor would there be any. The work was to be done in entire dependence on the word of God that water would be sent. This is faith - acting on God's bare word of promise. All that night the laborers toiled, and when the morning came, the valley was seamed with trenches, and studded with pits, to hold the yet invisible supply of the life-giving water.

3. Streams from Edom. In the morning, true to the Divine promise, the wished-for water came.

(1) It came without visible sign. The people who looked for it saw neither wind nor rain, but simply "there came wafer by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water." Yet there is no necessity for supposing a supernatural creation of water, for God does not work without means, when means are available. The bursting of a waterspout, or heavy rains, at some distance, would give rise to the phenomenon. There was doubtless a providential preparation for the deliverance, as there was a providential design in the distress.

(2) It came at the time of the morning oblation. The deliverance was thus connected with the service in the temple - Jehovah's true sanctuary. As it was for Jehoshaphat's sake the deliverance was granted, so a token was now given that it was the religion of Judah to which God had respect. The hours of prayer are fit seasons for the conferring of blessing (cf. Daniel 9:21).

(3) It came in great abundance. When God gives he gives plentifully. "The country was filled with water." It is so with the supply God has given for the thirst of the world - those living waters of which we do so wisely to drink (John 7:37, 38). Such events as these pledge to us the fulfillment of Divine promises (Isaiah 44:3). The psalmist says, "The rain also filleth the pools" (Psalm 84:6). - J.O.

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom; and they made a circuit of seven days' journey. There was no water for the army, nor for the animals that followed them.

Worldly Rulers - Men in Trial Seeking Help from a Godly Man
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