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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years.
In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat - This date agrees exactly with the statements that Jehoshaphat began to reign in the fourth year of Ahab 1 Kings 22:41, and Ahaziah in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat 1 Kings 22:51.
2And 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.
On the "evil" done by Ahab, see especially 1 Kings 16:30-34. Jehoram, warned by the fate of his brother (2 Kings 1:4 note), began his reign by a formal abolition of the Phoenician state religion introduced by Ahab - even if he connived at its continuance among the people 2 Kings 10:26-27; and by a re-establishment of the old worship of the kingdom as arranged by Jeroboam.
3Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom.
4And 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.
Moab, the region immediately east of the Dead Sea and of the lower Jordan, though in part suited for agriculture, is in the main a great grazing country. Mesha resembled a modern Arab Sheikh, whose wealth is usually estimated by the number of his flocks and herds. His tribute of the wool of 100, 000 lambs was a tribute in kind, the ordinary tribute at this time in the East.
Mesha is the monarch who wrote the inscription on the "Moabite stone" (2 Kings 1:1 note). The points established by the Inscription are:
1. That Moab recovered from the blow dealt by David 2 Samuel 8:2, 2 Samuel 8:12, and became again an independent state in the interval between David's conquest and the accession of Omri;
2. That Omri reconquered the country, and that it then became subject to the northern kingdom, and remained so throughout his reign and that of his son Ahab, and into the reign of Ahab's son and successor, Ahaziah;
3. That the independence was regained by means of a war, in which Mesha took town after town from the Israelites, including in his conquests many of the towns which, at the original occupation of the holy land, had passed into the possession of the Reubenites or the Gadites, as Baal-Meon Numbers 32:38, Kirjathaim Numbers 32:37, Ataroth Numbers 32:34, Nebo Numbers 32:38, Jahaz Joshua 13:18, etc.;
4. That the name of Yahweh was well known to the Moabites as that of the God of the Israelites; and
5. That there was a sanctuary of Yahweh at Nebo, in the Trans-Jordanic territory, where "vessels" were used in His service.
5But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
6And king Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel.
7And 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.
The close alliance between the two kingdoms still subsisted. Jehoram therefore sends confidently to make the same request with respect to Moab that his father had made two years before with respect to Syria (marginal reference). Jehoshaphat consented at once, notwithstanding that his former compliance had drawn upon him the rebuke of a prophet 2 Chronicles 19:2. Perhaps Jehoram's removal of the Baal-worship 2 Kings 3:2 weighed with him. He had himself been attacked by the Moabites in the preceding year; and though the attempt had failed, Jehoshaphat would feel that it might be renewed, and that it was important to seize the opportunity of weakening his enemy which now offered itself.
8And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
The readiest and most natural "way" was across the Jordan near Jericho into the Arboth-Moab, and then along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea to Moab proper, the tract south of the Arnon. But the way chosen was that which led to the Edomite country, namely, round the southern extremity of the Dead Sea, and across the Arabah, or continuation of the Jordan and Dead Sea valley. Thus would be effected a junction with the forces of Edom, which had resumed its dependence on Judah, though the year before it had been in alliance with Moab 2 Chronicles 20:22; and they would come upon the Moabites unprepared.
9So 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.
Seven days' journey - The distance of the route probably followed is not much more than 100 miles. But the difficulties of the way are great; and the army might not be able to move along it at a faster rate than about 15 miles a day.
No water - The kings had probably expected to find sufficient water for both men and baggage animals in the Wady-el-Ahsy, which divides Edom from Moab, and which has a stream that is now regarded as perennial. But it was dried up - quite a possible occurrence with any of the streams of this region.
10And the king of Israel said, Alas! that the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!
11But 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.
A prophet of the Lord - i. e. of Yahweh. It was necessary to inquire thus definitely, as there were still plenty of prophets who were only prophets of Baal 2 Kings 3:13.
Here is Elisha - Jehoram appears to have been ignorant of his presence with the host, and one of his "servants," or officers, answered Jehoshaphat's inquiry.
Which poured water - An act signifying ministration or attendance (compare John 13:5 ff).
12And 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.
13And 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.
Jehoram's humility in seeking 2 Kings 3:12 instead of summoning Elisha, does not save him from rebuke. His reformation 2 Kings 3:2 had been but a half reformation - a compromise with idolatry.
Nay: for the Lord hath called ... - The force of this reply seems to be - "Nay, reproach me not, since I am in a sore strait - and not only I, but these two other kings also. The Lord - Yahweh - is about to deliver us into the hand of Moab. If thou canst not, or wilt not help, at least do not reproach."
14And 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.
15But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
Music seems to have been a regular accompaniment of prophecy in the "schools of the prophets" (marginal reference), and an occasional accompaniment of it elsewhere Exodus 15:20.
16And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.
Ditches - Or "pits" Jeremiah 14:3. They were to dig pits in the broad valley or wady, wherein the water might remain, instead of flowing off down the torrent course.
17For 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.
No rain was to fall where the Israelites and their enemies were encamped; there was not even to be that all but universal accompaniment of rain in the East, a sudden rise of wind (compare 1 Kings 18:45; Psalm 147:18; Matthew 7:25).
Cattle, and your beast - The former are the animals brought for food. The latter are the baggage animals.
18And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.
19And 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.
Ye shall fell every good tree - This is not an infringement of the rule laid down in Deuteronomy 20:19-20. The Israelites were not forbidden to fell the fruit trees in an enemy's country, as a part of the ravage of war, when they had no thoughts of occupying the country. The plan of thus injuring an enemy was probably in general use among the nations of these parts at the time. We see the destruction represented frequently on the Assyrian monuments and mentioned in the inscriptions of Egypt.
And stop all wells of water - The stoppage of wells was a common feature of ancient, and especially Oriental, warfare (compare Genesis 26:15-18).
Mar ... with stones - The exact converse of that suggested in Isaiah 5:2. The land in and about Palestine is so stony that the first work of the cultivator is to collect the surface stones together into heaps. An army marching through a land could easily undo this work, dispersing the stones thus gathered, and spreading them once more over the fields.
20And 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.
When the meat offering was offered - i. e. about sunrise, when the morning sacrifice was offered. Compare 1 Kings 18:29.
There came water by the way of Edom - The Wady-el-Ahsy drains a considerable portion of northern Edom. Heavy rain had fallen during the night in some part of this tract, and with the morning a freshet of water came down the valley, filling the pits.
21And 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.
And stood in the border - On the north side of the wady, ready to defend their territory.
22And 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:
23And they said, This is blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.
The sun had risen with a ruddy light, as is frequently the case after a storm (compare Matthew 16:3), nearly over the Israelite camp, and the pits, deep but with small mouths, gleaming redly through the haze which would lie along the newly moistened valley, seemed to the Moabites like pools of blood. The preceding year, they and their allies had mutually destroyed each other 2 Chronicles 20:23. It seemed to them, from their knowledge of the jealousies between Judah, Israel, and Edom, not unlikely that a similar calamity had now befallen their foes.
24And 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.
25And 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.
Kir-Haraseth, also Kir-Hareseth, is identified almost certainly with the modern Kerak, a strong city on the highland immediately east of the southern part of the Dead Sea. It was the great fortress of Moab, though not the capital, which was Rabbath or Rabbah. It was an important strong-hold at the time of the Crusades, and is still a place of great strength. Kir seems to have meant "fortress." It is found in Cir-cesium, Car-chemish, etc.
Kir-Haraseth resisted all the attempts to dismantle it; but the slingers found places on the hills which surrounded it, from where they could throw their stones into it and harass the garrison, though they could not take the town.
26And 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.
To break through, even unto the king of Edom - Either because he thought that the king of Edom would connive at his escape or to take vengeance on him for having deserted his former allies (2 Kings 3:8 note).
27Then 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.
Compare the marginal reference. Mesha, when his sally failed, took, as a last resource, his first born son, and offered him as a burnt-offering to appease the manifest anger of his god Chemosh, and obtain his aid against his enemies. This act was thoroughly in accordance with Moabitish notions.
And there was great indignation against Israel - Either the Israelites were indignant with themselves, or the men of Judah and the Edomites were indignant at the Israelites for having caused the pollution of this sacrifice, and the siege was relinquished.