2 Kings 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.


(1) Began to reign.—Literally, reigned.

The eighteenth year.—Comp. Note on 2Kings 1:17; 2Kings 8:16.

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) Wrought evil.Did the evil in the eyes, &c., i.e., maintained the illicit worship of the bullock at Beth-el (2Kings 3:3).

Like his mother.—Jezebel lived throughout his reign (2Kings 9:30), which explains why he did not eradicate the Baal-worship (2Kings 10:18-28).

For he put away.And he removed, scil., from its place in the temple of Baal. (Comp. 1Kings 16:31-32.) It must have been afterwards restored, probably by the influence of Jezebel. (Comp. 2Kings 10:26-27, and Notes.)

The image.Pillar. (Comp. 2Chronicles 34:4.) The LXX., Vulg., and Arabic read “pillars” (a different pointing); and the LXX. adds at the end, “and brake them in pieces.” This seems original. Ahab would be likely to set up more than one pillar to Baal.

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.1Kings 12:28, seq., 1Kings 16:2; 1Kings 16:26.

Therefrom.—Heb., from it (a collective feminine). So in 2Kings 13:2; 2Kings 13:6; 2Kings 13:11.

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) The revolt of Moab, continued from 2Kings 1:1. Ahaziah did not reign two full years, and his accident seems to have prevented any attempt on his part to reduce the Moabites.

Mesha.—The name means “deliverance, salvation,” and occurs on the monument set up by this king, describing his victories and buildings. (See Note on 2Kings 1:1.)

A sheep-master.—Heb., nôqēd (Amos 1:1). In Arabic, naqad means a kind of sheep of superior wool; naqqâd, the owner or shepherd of such sheep. The land of Moab is mountainous, but well watered, and rich in fertile valleys, and thus specially suited for pasture; and the Arabian wilderness lay open to the Moabite shepherds and their flocks.

Rendered.Used to render (waw conversive of the perfect); scil., year by year. This tribute is referred to in Isaiah 16:1.

With the wool.—Rather, in wool (an accusative of limitation). The word rendered “lambs” (kārîm) means lambs fatted for food. The expression “in wool,” therefore, relates only to the rams. Mesha’s annual tribute was paid in kind, and consisted of a hundred thousand fatted lambs and the fleeces of a hundred thousand rams. This was a heavy burden for a country no larger than the county of Huntingdon. (Comp. Mesha’s own allusions to the “oppression” of Moab by Omri and Ahab, 2Kings 1:1, Note.) The LXX. adds, ἐν τῇ ἐπαναστάσει (“in the revolt”); implying that the present rebellion was distinct from that of 2Kings 1:1, and that this tribute was imposed as an indemnity for the former revolt. The addition is probably due to a transcriber.

But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
(5) But.And.

When.—So some MSS. The ordinary text has, “about the time of Ahab’s death” (ke for be).

Rebelledi.e., refused payment of the annual tribute.

And king Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel.
(6) The same time.—Literally, in that day; which, in Hebrew, is a much less definite phrase than in English. The time intended is that when the Moabite refusal of tribute was received by Jehoram, who, on his accession, would demand it afresh.

Numbered.Mustered, made a levy of.

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) Wilt thou go.—So Ahab asks Jehoshaphat in 1Kings 22:4, and he replies as here, “I am as thou art,” &c. This indicates that the present section was originally composed by the same hand as 1Kings 20:1-34; 1Kings 22:1-37 (Thenius) Jehoshaphat assented, in spite of the prophetic censures of his alliance with Ahab and Ahaziah (2Chronicles 19:2; 2Chronicles 20:37); perhaps because he was anxious to inflict further punishment on the Moabites for their inroad into Judah (2 Chronicles 20), and to prevent any recurrence of the same (Keil).

Against Moab to battle?—Or, into Moab to the war?

And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
(8) And he saidi.e., Jehoram said.

Which way.—They might cross the Jordan, and attack the northern frontier of Moab, or they might round the southern end of the Dead Sea, and invade Moab from the side of Edom. The former was the shortest route for both kings. But Moab’s strongest defences were on the north frontier, and the allies would be liable to attacks from the Syrians in Ramoth-gilead (2Kings 8:28). The longer and more difficult southern road may have been chosen partly on these grounds, and partly because Jehoshaphat wished to march as far as might be within his own territory, and to get a contingent from Edom, which was at this time subject to him (1Kings 22:48), and perhaps to hold it in check. Moreover, the Moabites were less likely to be on their guard on the southern border, which was more difficult of access.

And he answered.Saidi.e., 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) The king of Edom.—A vassal king appointed by Jehoshaphat (1Kings 22:48).

They fetched a compass.Went round (scil., the Dead Sea) a journey of seven days. The confederates appear to have lost their way among the mountains of Seir. They would, in any case, be greatly delayed by the cattle which it was necessary to take with them for subsistence. It is evident from the context that the distress began after the Edomite contingent had joined.

For the host, and for the cattle that followed them.—The stopping is wrong. It should be, and there was not water for the army and for the cattle which followed them. “Them,” i.e., the kings. (Comp. Judges 5:15.) “The cattle,” i.e., the herds and flocks for the maintenance of the army.

The allies appear to have marched through the deep, rocky glen of El-Ahsy (or El-Qurâhy), between Moab and Edom. They expected to find water there, as is usually the case, even in the dry season; but on this occasion the water failed.

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) That.—Omit (, emphatically introducing the assertion).


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) But (and) Jehoshaphat . . . by him?—The same question is asked by Jehoshaphat in 1Kings 22:7.

By him.—Heb., from with him (mē’ôthô for mē’ittô, both here and in the parallel place—a mark of the same hand). Jehoshaphat is for “seeking Jehovah” through a prophet, in contrast with Jehoram, who at once despairs. (Comp. Amos 5:4; Amos 5:8; and Note on 1Chronicles 13:3; 2Chronicles 15:2.)

One of the king of Israel’s servants.—One of the king’s staff, who, like Obadiah (1Kings 18:3), was perhaps a friend of the prophets of Jehovah.

Here is Elisha.—The prophet must have followed the army of his own accord, or rather, as Keil suggests, under a Divine impulse, in order that, when the hour of trial came, he might point Jehoram to Jehovah as the only true God.

Which poured water on the hands of Elijah.—Was the personal attendant of that greatest of prophets. The phrase alludes to the well-known Oriental custom of the servant pouring water from a ewer on his master’s hands to wash them.

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) The king of Israel and Jehoshaphat.—All the versions except the Targum add, “the king of Judah.” Jehoshaphat said what follows either on the ground of Elijah’s reputation, or because the news of Elisha’s succession had already reached Judah.

The proper names, Shaphat and Jehoshaphat, are identical (He judgeth, i.e., Jah judgeth). (Comp. Ahaz and Jehoahaz.)

Went down to him.—From the royal tents, which were probably pitched on an eminence, so as to overlook the camp. The three kings go to consult the prophet as persons of ordinary station might do. This shows the estimation in which he was held. Keil says they were humbled by misfortune.

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) Unto the king of Israel.—As the leader of the confederacy; or as Elisha’s sovereign, who might be supposed to have brought the others to the prophet.

The prophets of thy fatheri.e., the Baal prophets (comp. 1Kings 18:19) and false prophets of Jehovah (1Kings 22:6; 1Kings 22:11). Elisha’s sarcasm indicates that the former had not been wholly rooted out.

Nay.—Heb., ‘al; Greek, μή. “Say not so;” or, “Repulse me not.” (Comp. Ruth 1:13.)

These three kings.—And not one (myself) only, emphasising the word three. Or else Jehoram would rouse compassion by the magnitude of the imminent disaster.

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) Before whom I stand.—As a minister. (Comp. 1Kings 17:1; 1Kings 18:15.)

Surely.—Kî (for); used as in 2Kings 3:10 (“I cry, alas!” “I thus swear,” for, &c.). Jehoshaphat is accepted because of his faithful dependence on Jehovah (2Kings 3:11). Jehoram still maintained or tolerated the cultus of Bethel and Dan. (See 2Kings 3:3.)

Regard the presence.—Literally, lift the face. (Comp. Genesis 19:21; Genesis 32:21.)

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) Bring me a minstrel.—Mĕnaggēni.e., a harper, player on a stringed instrument (nĕgînāh). Elisha called for music as a natural means of calming his perturbed spirit (2Kings 3:13-14). Composure and serenity of soul were essential, if the prophet was to hear the voice of God within. Cicero tells us that the Pythagoreans were wont to tranquillise their minds after the strain of thought with’ harp music and singing (Tusc. Iv. 2). (Comp. 1Samuel 10:5; 1Chronicles 25:1, Note.) The incident is a striking mark of the historical truth of the narrative.

And it came to pass.—Perfect with weak waw: a later idiom. (Comp. 1Samuel 17:48.)

The hand of the Lord came upon him.—Targum and some MSS., “the Spirit of the Lord;” but comp. 1Kings 18:46.

And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.
(16) Make.—Right (infinitive, equivalent to an energetic imperative).

Valley.Nahal, wady, torrent-bed, gully. According to Thenius, “the brook Zered” of Deuteronomy 2:13 is meant; the present Wady el-Ahsy, (or el-Hasa) which forms the natural southern boundary of Moab, and from which several gorges lead up into the Moabite highlands. (See Isaiah 15:7.)

Full of ditches.—Literally, pits, pits. (Comp. Genesis 14:10 : “Wells, wells of bitumen.”) The pits were to gather the water, which otherwise would soon have run away in the bed of the torrent (Jeremiah 14:3-4). The style of the oracle is stamped with the liveliness and originality of historic truth.

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) Ye shall not see wind.—Which in the east is the usual precursor of rain.

Yet that valley.And that wady. He says “that (hû’) valley,” meaning “the one of which I spoke” (2Kings 3:16). Contrast “this (zeh) valley,” i.e., “the one in which we are” (2Kings 3:16).

Your cattle.Miqneh: flocks and herds, as distinguished from “beasts” (bĕhēmāh), i.e., probably, 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) Is but a light thing.Will be a light thing (1Kings 16:31).

He will deliver the Moabites.—The contrary of Jehoram’s expectation (2Kings 3:10; 2Kings 3:13).

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 ye shall smite . . . shall fell . . .—These verbs are continuative of those in the last verse, i.e., they do not command a course of action, but foretell it. (Comp. 2Kings 8:12-13.) Taken as commands, they appear to conflict with Deuteronomy 20:19, where the felling of an enemy’s fruit trees for the purposes of siege-works is forbidden. Keil, however, explains that the law relates to Canaanite territory which the Israelites were to occupy, whereas Moab’s was an enemy’s country, and therefore not to be spared.

Fenced city . . . choice city.—There is a paronomasia, or play on words of similar sound, in the Hebrew: ‘îr mibçār . . . ‘îr mibhôr.

Every good tree—i.e., fruit-bearing trees.

Stop.Genesis 26:15; Genesis 26:18.

Mar.—Literally, make to grieve: a poetical expression. An unfruitful land is said to mourn (Isaiah 24:4; Jeremiah 12:4).

Every good piece of land.All the good demesne (literally, portion, allotment).

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.—Comp. 1Kings 18:29; 1Kings 18:36. A more exact definition of the time. The reckoning by hours was unknown before the captivity. According to the Talmud, the morning sacrifice was offered in the Temple the moment it became light. (Ewald assumes that “the meat offering” was offered on this occasion in the camp.) That help came to the distressed army just at the hour of morning worship was a striking coincidence. (This allusion to the law of Exodus 29:38, seq., may be an indirect hit at the northern kingdom.)

There came water.Water was coming from the way (direction) of Edom. It would seem that a sudden storm of rain had fallen on the mountains of Seir, at some distance from the camp (Josephus says at a distance of three days’ march); and the water found its natural outlet in the dry wady. Reuss thinks this explanation “superfluous,” in the face of “the author’s intention to describe a miracle;” but there are different kinds of miracle, and, in the present instance, the miraculous element is visible in the prophet’s prediction of the coming help, and in the coincidence of the natural phenomena with the needs of the Israelites. (Comp. 2Kings 7:1-2, seq.) [This statement seems to preclude also the naturalistic explanation founded on the meaning of the Arabic name of the locality. Hisyun, hasyun, hasan, mean water which gathers on a hard bottom under the sand in certain localities, and which the Arabs get at by scooping holes in the ground. See Lane, Arab. Eng. Lex. s.v.]

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 when . . . heard . . . they gathered.Now all the Moabites had heard . . . and had gathered themselves: literally, had been summoned, called together (Judges 7:23).

All that were able to put on armour.From every one girding on a girdle, and upwardsi.e., all of adult age, all who could bear arms. It was a levy en masse of the male population for the defence of the country.

Stood in.Had taken their stand on the frontier.

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.—The Moabite camp on the frontier mountains.

And the sun shone upon the water.—A parenthesis (now the sun had risen upon the water). The red sunrise tinged the water with the same colour.

On the other side.Min-nèged, “opposite,” “over against them” (2Kings 2:7; 2Kings 2:15). The sun rose behind the Moabites.

Red.—’Adōm. There may be an allusion to the red earth of the locality (Edom), which would further redden the water.

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.Have surely fought with (or destroyed) one another. LXX., ἐμαχέσαντο. The supposition was not improbable. Confederates of different races not seldom had been known to fall out among themselves (comp. Judges 7:22; 2Chronicles 20:23, and Note), and in this case the old enmity of Edom towards Israel, and the suppressed jealousies between Israel and Judah, made such a result very likely. The Moabites would know also that the wady had been waterless, so that their mistake was natural. When once their instinct for plunder was aroused they did not stop to think, but with a wild cry of “Moab, to the spoil !” they rushed in disorder upon the Israelite camp.

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) Smote the Moabites.—Who were unprepared for resistance.

But they went forward smiting . . . country.—The Hebrew text (Kethib) has, and he went (way-yābô, spelt defectively, as in 1Kings 12:12) into it (i.e., the land of Moab), and smote (literally, smiting an infinitive for a finite form) Moab. This is better than the Hebrew margin (Qeri), and they smote it (i.e. Moab), or the reading of some MSS. and the Targum and Syriac, “and they smote them, and smote Moab,” which is tautologous. The original reading is perhaps represented by that of the LXX., καὶ ἐπάταξαν εἰσπορευόμενοι καὶτύπτοντες τὴν Μωαβ, “and they entered the country, destroying as they went on.” (In Hebrew the participles would be infinitives.)

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) And they beat down the cities.—Rather, And the cities they would overthrow, describing what happened again and again.

On every . . . filled it.—Literally, And every good plot, they would cast each man his stone, and fill it; and every fountain of water they would stop, and every good tree they would fell. All this as Elisha foretold, 2Kings 3:19.

Only in Kir-haraseth left they the stones thereof.—Literally, as margin, until one left her stones in Kir-harèseth. This clause connects itself with the opening statement, “And the cities they would overthrow (or, kept overthrowing) until her stones were left in Kir-harèseth,” i.e., the work of destruction stopped before the walls of this, the principal strong-hold of the country. In the other cities the invaders had not left one stone upon another.

Kir-haraseth.—Called “Kir-moab,” Isaiah 15:1, and “Kir-hères,” Isaiah 16:11. The Targum on Isaiah 15 calls it “Kerak (castle) of Moab,” and it still bears that name. It stands upon a steep cliff of chalk.

Howbeit the slingers went about it.And the slingers went round, surrounded it.

And smote iti.e., shot at the men on the walls with deadly effect.

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) The battle was too sore for him.—The garrison was giving way under the destructive fire of the slingers.

To break through even unto the king of Edom.—Because the Edomite contingent seemed to be the most vulnerable point in the allied army, or because he hoped that these unwilling allies of Israel would allow him to escape through their ranks.

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) Then.And.

His eldest soni.e., the despairing king of Moab took his own son and heir.

Offered him for a burnt offering.—To Chemosh, without doubt, by way of appeasing that wrath of the god which seemed bent on his destruction. (Comp. the words of Mesha’s inscription: “Chemosh was angry with his ląnd.” Note, 2Kings 1:1.) There is a reference to such hideous sacrifices in Micah 6:7, “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions?” In dark times of national calamity the Hebrews were prone, like their neighbours, to seek help in the same dreadful rites. (Comp. the case of Manasseh, 2Chronicles 33:6; see also Psalm 106:37-39.) From the cuneiform records we learn that the sacrifice of children was also a Babylonian practice. (Amos 2:1 refers to a totally different event from that recorded in the text.)

Upon the wall.—Of Kir-haraseth. This was done that the besiegers might see, and dread the consequences, believing, as they would be likely to do, that the Divine wrath was now appeased.

And there was great indignation against Israel.—Or, And great wrath fell upon Israel. This phrase always denotes a visitation of Divine wrath. (Comp. 2Chronicles 19:10; 2Chronicles 24:18.) The manifestation of wrath in the present case was apparently a successful sortie of the Moabite garrison, whose faith in this terrible expedient of their king inspired them with new courage, while the besiegers were proportionally disheartened. The result was that “they (i.e., the allied forces) departed from him (raised the siege), and returned to the land” (of Israel). Why did Divine wrath fall upon Israel rather than upon Moab? upon the involuntary cause rather than the voluntary agents in this shocking rite? If the wrath of Jehovah be meant, we cannot tell. But, as the present writer understands the words of the text, they rather indicate that the object of the dreadful expiation was attained, and that the wrath of Chemosh fell upon the Hebrew alliance. It is certain that belief in the supremacy of Jehovah did not hinder ancient Israel from admitting the real existence and potency of foreign deities. (See Note on 1Chronicles 16:25-26; 1Chronicles 17:21; and comp. Numbers 21:29; Judges 11:24.) This peculiar conception is a token of the antiquity of the record before us. In the second half of Isaiah the foreign gods are called non. entities.

After the events described in this verse we may suppose that Mesha’s successes continued, as described on the stone of Dibon. (See Note on 2Kings 1:1.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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