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7. The Victory Over Moab (2 Kings 3:16-27)


Though this study concerns the battle against the Moabites, let’s not forget that the subject and focus of this series concerns the life and ministry of Elisha as he ministered among God’s people that they might know God and His provision and purposes in life. Elisha was truly a man of God, a godly man who might be describe as a man for all seasons. Godliness, as stressed previously, consists of taking God seriously. It involves meaning business with God in all aspects of life, in every decision, in every situation, in every problem, and in every relationship but always in accord with God’s Word, which is His guide for both the source, means and description of godliness. Godliness is also complete devotion to God in a way of life that not only puts God first (Matt. 6:33; 22:37), but brings the power of God to bear on the situations of life so that we can experience God’s deliverance according to His purposes.

We all face variegated problems, testings, and trials that require faith and God’s wisdom that we might make biblical decisions that honor God, promote godly growth, and bring deliverance according to the will of God (Jam. 1:2-5). Vital to the whole process are men of God teaching and building others in the Scripture and in their relationship with God (2 Tim. 2:1-2). Elisha was just such a person. Not only was he the head teacher in a school of prophets, but he was sent out by the Lord to herald the Word to others, including kings. As we have seen, Jeroboam was faced with one of those testings of life God uses to get our attention, correct our path, and draw us to Himself, but rather than turn to the Lord, Jeroboam sought help in his own strategy of a human alliance with King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king of Edom. As it usually happens, when we walk by our own wisdom, these kings quickly ran into another trial, the problem of finding no water for their armies and livestock. Jehoshaphat, being a godly king, woke up to the fact of the real problem; they had not sought the wisdom and provision of God and suggested they seek God’s direction and help through a prophet of the Lord. Not by accident, but by the providence and the grace of God, Elisha, a man for all seasons, just happened to be in the area.

Elisha Proclaims God’s Message

16 And he said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Make this valley full of trenches.’ 17 For thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not see wind nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts. 18 And this is but a slight thing in the sight of the LORD; He shall also give the Moabites into your hand. 19 Then you shall strike every fortified city and every choice city, and fell every good tree and stop all springs of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.’”

People often think of godliness in terms of moral living (behavior) and religious living--keeping the Ten Commandments, or the Beatitudes, or keeping a set of do’s and don’ts, or going through the motions of religious rituals. But we can be moral and religious, even busy in God’s work and yet be anything but godly. True godliness will result in Christian character and actions, but by itself such is not necessarily godliness. Godliness is an attitude of devotion that stems from knowing God through His Word. It is the fruit of a Word-filled, Spirit-filled life because it is the ministry of the Spirit using God’s Word who is God’s change agent, the one who forms the character of Christ in a believer’s life.27

Jerry Bridges in his book, The Practice of Godliness, suggests that this attitude consists of three essential elements: (a) the fear of God--reverential awe and trust; (b) the love of God; and (c) the desire for God. And the point is all three of these focus on God. Godliness is a mental attitude then, one which results in a disciplined kind of life, one which seeks God as the force, source, and course of life. Godly behavior (Christian character) is thus a result of true godliness, otherwise we become burdened in God’s work and frustrated and discouraged in the Christian walk. As Bridges rightly says,

So often, we try to develop Christian character and conduct without taking the time to develop God-centered devotion. We try to please God without taking time to walk with Him and develop a relationship with Him. This is impossible to do.28

But how is such a devotion to God, a God-focused mental attitude developed? In God’s Word, of course. The Word of God is His ‘training manual’ which focuses us on God and brings devotion to Him.

Titus 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness . . .

1 Timothy 4:6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Psalm 138:1-2 A Psalm of David. I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. I will bow down toward Your holy temple, And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.

When we down grade the importance and priority of the Bible to our lives, we automatically down grade or shrink God in our thinking and reduce His importance. Like Jeroboam, we then think we can handle things ourselves and we go off half cocked.

As verse 16 shows with the words, “Thus says the lord,” this is precisely where the prophets of old stood in their ministry to men whether kings or widows. They were the heralds of God’s Word, His messages to men, messages which were designed to teach them about God and bring godliness into their lives. Again, this emphasis is designed to stress how important it was for Elisha to prepare his own heart that he might accurately hear and deliver God’s Word. He simply did not take the Lord for granted. He was truly a godly man.

The Principle of Old Testament Analogies

As we consider the battle with the Moabites, and for the purpose of relating this to our own lives by way of application, it would be helpful to recall what Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11. There he tells us that the life of Israel and God’s dealings with the nation are full of spiritual analogies and illustrations of spiritual truth for the church today. As we study the Old Testament pages of Scripture within the context, primary purpose, and historicity of each passage (i.e. according to the grammar, context, historical background), we should also look for these spiritual analogies, at least by way of application within the passage. There are several in our passage.

First Corinthians 10:8 has a specific reference which ties in directly to the 2 Kings passage by way of the people of Moab. A number of Israelites had died as result of seduction by Moabite women as Balaam had suggested to the king of Moab.

The first analogy: Because of their historical acts against Israel, the Moabites stand as an illustration of the enemies that always stand opposed to the believer and his walk with God, particularly by way of seduction through the lusts of the flesh (Num. 22:1-6ff; 25:1; 31:16; 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11 and Revelation 2:14). But how was this seduction accomplished? It was often accomplished through false prophets like Balaam who merchandised his gifts. He was a man who was controlled by greed and covetousness. Balaam, who taught the Moabites how to cause Israel to stumble, is mentioned three times in the New Testament as a warning to us (2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14). So the Moabites are analogous to those enemies who stand as a threat to our walk with God and our devotion to Him.

The second analogy, as already intimated, is found in Elisha’s repeated statement, “Thus says the Lord,” in verses 16 and 17. Here God was revealing Himself and His plan directly through the prophet. God gave special revelation to Elisha to show the three kings what they were to do and what in turn was to inspire their faith and devotion as these miraculous events were designed to develop their concepts of God.

According to the analogy, today we have a completed revelation, the inspired Word of God; this is our “thus says the Lord” book and the means by which we learn about God and about ourselves. In it we learn of God’s will, deliverance, love, and care; and about the means God uses to develop our devotion to Him so that we may know, fear or reverence Him, and love and desire Him (Rom. 10:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet 2:2). There can be no godliness, no devotion to God, no deliverance, no ability to find God’s will, etc. apart from the principle of “thus says the Lord” (2 Tim. 2:15).

Verses 16-18 describe what God would do to solve the problem of no water and simply declares that the Moabites would be delivered into their hands, but without telling them how.

The First Instruction and Promise From the Lord (vss. 16-17)

“Make this valley full of trenches.” Why trenches? To hold the water which the Lord would miraculous bring apart from any natural means as such as rain or a thunderstorm accompanied by strong wind (vs. 18). This portrays the provision of the Holy Spirit whom God gives, miraculously, apart from human works or natural means to fill our lives with His power, to refresh and enable us for spiritual combat (cf. John 7:37-39 with Isa. 44:3; Eph. 3:16-18; Gal. 5:16).

The provision of water in this miraculous way became a guarantee, an incentive to obedience by illustrating God’s power and the means of the defeat of the Moabites. How like God’s miraculous provision of the Spirit, whom the Lord likened to rivers of living water (John 7:37-39), as our means of deliverance and incentive to obedience. Victory would be theirs if they were obedient to their human responsibilities of digging the ditches. This would demonstrate their dependence on the Lord, a change from their former self-dependence which, without the Lord’s help, had already failed them. The valley was probably the valley of the Zered on Moab’s southern boundary. “The Israelite armies were encamped in the broad valley (the Arabah) between the highlands of Moab on the east and those of Judah on the west, just south of the Dead Sea.”29

The Explanation and Promise (vs. 18)

“This (referring to the miraculous provision) is but a slight thing in the sight of the Lord” called their attention and ours to a vital principle. God’s provision whether providing for our daily needs or against the enemies that stand opposed to His glory and our walk with Him is never a question of the sufficiency of God’s ability. Nothing is too small or too great for Him to handle.

So verse 18b immediately gives the promise, “He shall also give the Moabites into your hand.” In this we see the ‘as so’ concept of Scripture. As He would miraculously provide the water, so He would deliver the Moabites into their hands. For some other illustrations of this principle in Scripture, compare the following:

Joshua 1:5 Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you (emphasis mine).

Joshua 8:2 And you shall do to Ai and its king just as you did to Jericho and its king; you shall take only its spoil and its cattle as plunder for yourselves (emphasis mine).

Romans 8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

Though “as” and “so” are not used in Romans 8:31-32, the concept is nevertheless evident.

The Second Instruction and Responsibility of the Armies (vs. 19)

The problem or issue is never God’s power or provision. The real issue is our trust and obedience to the truth of His Word or acting in faith on the promises of God. Would they dig the ditches and would they follow the instructions given in verse 19?

Verse 19 describes how the three kings were to carry out God’s judgment upon the land to render it completely inoperative and defeat the Moabites. This stresses the completeness of God’s provision against the enemies of His people if they will simply appropriate His provision and be obedient to His Word. Cutting down all the good trees would make it difficult for the Moabites to have fruit to eat and would mean they would have little shade. Stopping up all the springs would limit the Moabites’ water supply, and putting large stones in the fields would retard cultivation and lessen their productivity.30

The Defeat of the Moabites

20 And it happened in the morning about the time of offering the sacrifice, that behold, water came by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water. 21 Now all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them. And all who were able to put on armor and older were summoned, and stood on the border. 22 And they rose early in the morning, and the sun shone on the water, and the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red as blood. 23 Then they said, “This is blood; the kings have surely fought together, and they have slain one another. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!” 24 But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites arose and struck the Moabites, so that they fled before them; and they went forward into the land, slaughtering the Moabites. 25 Thus they destroyed the cities; and each one threw a stone on every piece of good land and filled it. So they stopped all the springs of water and felled all the good trees, until in Kir-hareseth only they left its stones; however, the slingers went about it and struck it.

In these verses we have (a) the supply of water (b) the obedience of the three kings and their armies and (c) the partial defeat of Moab. But there is one thing that is of special significance (vs. 20), and that is the timing of the provision of the water.

Special note is made of the fact that the water did not come until the time of the morning offering (vs. 20). As the Old Testament offerings pointed to the Savior, waiting until the time of the morning offering may well portray the suffering Savior followed by His gift of the Holy Spirit whom He likened to rivers of living water (John 7:37-39). Water was not given until this time in keeping with the principal that the Holy Spirit could not be given until the Lord had died, risen and was ascended. Such blessings of grace only come through the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 7:37-39; 14:17-30; 15:26; 16:7). The basis of the gift of the Holy Spirit and all victory is the death, resurrection, ascension and session of the Lord, the victorious Savior.

My friends, if it were not for the historic coming, sinless life, death, resurrection, ascension and session of our Savior, the only spirit we could receive would be the evil spirit of the satanic world system. Today the world wants to deny the historic person and finished work of Jesus Christ. In its place it seeks deliverance and religious experiences on its own without God’s Word and the Christ of Scripture. What it gets instead are evil spirits. There is no salvation or true deliverance apart from the death of Jesus Christ, but there are a lot of counterfeits.

What happened in verse 20 may well illustrate the common experience of flash flooding in the otherwise dry wadis which was common enough in arid portions of the world. Living in certain parts of Texas, I have seen flooding along rivers and streams where there was not a drop of rain, but the water came from rain miles up stream. We must not, however, attribute this event simply to the normal occurrences of the weather, for “not only the timing of the heaven-sent waters, but the total effect of their arrival bespeak the miraculous fulfillment of Elisha’s prophetic message.”31

These waters were to spell death for the Moabites. Viewing that same water, reddened by the soil and gleaming all the redder in the rising eastern sun, the enemy mistook it for blood and, surmising that the three former antagonists had had a falling out that had led to their near mutual extermination, they rushed to the Israelite camp intent on plunder. Too late they realized their mistake. The disorganized Moabite soldiers were met by the well-stationed allies who not only turned them back but, in turn, invaded Moab, effecting a great destruction. The Moabites fell back in disarray as far as Kir Hareseth, where they determined to make a final stand.32

Concerning this, Thomas Constable writes in the Bible Knowledge Commentary:

The border where the Moabites were stationed early in the morning was the boundary between Moab and Edom east and south of the Dead Sea. Not expecting water, the Moabites assumed that the water shining in the sunlight was blood. So the Moabite army erroneously concluded that the Israelites, Judahites, and Edomites had had a falling out and had slaughtered each other—not an unrealistic possibility. Rather than advancing with weapons drawn for battle they ran to plunder the “dead” soldiers’ armor and weaponry. But instead, they ran into the waiting ranks of their enemies. Defenseless, the Moabites . . . fled before the Israelites. The Israelites, and presumably their allies with them, invaded Moab, slaughtered the people, destroyed many towns, and did to the fields, springs, and trees what God had instructed (cf. 2 Kings 3:19). But Kir Hareseth, the major city, could not be taken. It was situated at the end of a valley and successfully resisted the attacks of the stone slingers surrounding it.33

The Consequences of Idolatry

26 When the king of Moab saw that the battle was too fierce for him, he took with him 700 men who drew swords, to break through to the king of Edom; but they could not. 27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land.

In verse 26-27 we see two attempts by the idolatrous king of Moab to escape total defeat. The first is by means of breaking through to the king of Edom. Apparently he either assumed he could induce Edom to turn against Israel and Judah or he assumed this was the weakest link in the three-nation alliance. Either way he was badly mistaken and his attempt failed because the real strength of this alliance through the ministry of Elisha now lay in the power of God.

The second attempt is seen in verse 27 and sadly it did appear to be effective, but only because of the incomplete obedience of the three kings. Idolatry which has its source in the demonic powers of Satan, a murderer and hater of mankind, often included human sacrifice, especially the offering of children. In fact, “defeat in battle was regarded by pagan Near Eastern warriors as a sign that their gods were angry with them. To propitiate his god, Chemosh (1 Kings 11:7, 33; 2 Kings 23:13), Mesha offered his firstborn son, the heir to his throne, as a human sacrifice on top of the city wall.”34 See also 2 Kings 16:3; Jeremiah 7:31; Numbers 21:29; Jeremiah 48:7, 46.

The statement, “And there came great wrath against Israel,” is difficult and is viewed differently. In his notes, Ryrie says, “The Israelites were so frightened at what an aroused Moabite army might do that they retreated.”35 Most commentaries, however, see the wrath as a reference to a stunning indignation over such a gross act that it caused the three armies to go home. “Wrath” is the Hebrew q#x#P, can mean indignation and in this context even “righteous indignation.” “Against,” the Hebrew preposition u^l, “above, upon, against, beside, concerning, over,” could be used with a word like “wrath, indignation” to express great feelings of emotion by emphasizing the person or persons who are the subject of the emotion and who feel the emotion acting upon them, i.e., great indignation came upon Israel, they were appalled by this act so much so they turned and went home--stunned.

The king of Moab, seeing his defeated army and ransacked land, tries to flee; the Edomites prevent him. He then sacrifices his oldest son on the city wall to Chemosh, the Moabite god. The horror and consternation upon seeing this sacrifice causes the three armies to withdraw rather than to wipe out such evil and desecration of children. Moab is not brought under Israel’s domination. Later the Moabites attack Judah and Israel (2 Kings 13:20; 24:2; 2 Chron. 20). Had Elisha’s instructions been carried out, these later attacks may have been avoided.36

By way of application, two things should be noted here:

First, failure to follow through on the principles and imperatives of Scripture have negative consequences. As mentioned above in the Evangelical Commentary, the failure of the alliance to complete the destruction opened the way for later attacks. The principles, promises, and imperatives of Scripture are not given to make life miserable and take away our fun. Rather, they are given to bring maximum blessing and happiness and to protect us from the sad results of our own foolishness.

Second, the act of child sacrifice illustrates the results of ungodliness, idolatry, and what happens when people turn away from the revelation of God. When men turn away from the Lord, they are turned over to the vile imaginations of their own depraved hearts and all the escape and defense mechanisms that the human mind can imagine. This includes the gamut from the mental escapes routes--resentment, criticism, hiding, rationalization, etc., to the lower forms of man’s sinfulness like homosexuality and idolatry in its various forms even leading to the murder of children. The Moabite king rationalized this would appease his god and deliver his city. Today babies are aborted and the rationalization is that the mother has the right to such a choice; it’s her body, it is reasoned, and it would relieve her of a great deal of stress and responsibility.

In this passage we see the extreme consequences of idolatry, but the principle is the same--wrong relations with God (indifference to Him) always leads to wrong relations with people--family, friends, neighbors, etc.--and many other frightful and degrading sins.

Here again we can see how important it was for Elisha to be there and available, to deal with his own heart to make sure he was in the right spiritual condition so he could carefully hear and deliver God’s message. Elisha did not take the Lord for granted--he took God seriously. He was truly a godly man with a timely word from God.

How about us? Before we make that call, before we witness or talk to that person, before we begin to prepare that Sunday school lesson, or come to Bible class etc., do we take God seriously and prepare our hearts? This is why we should be hungry to hear God’s Word so that it enhances our focus on the Lord and our devotion to Him that He might be our Force, Source and Course in all of life.

27 Compare Galatians 4:19 and note the passive voice in the words, “be formed in you.” The Galatian believers were trying to be spiritual by religious works or by their own human effort (cf. 3:1-5). So in chapter 5 the Apostle points them to the need for walking by means of the Spirit as the means of Christ formed in one's life, the fruit of the Spirit.

28 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 1983, p. 18.

29 NIV Study Bible Notes, Zondervan Publishing, electronic version 2.5. 1994,

30 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, OT Edition, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, editors, Victor Books, electronic version, Logos Research Systems.

31 NIV Bible Commentary, Kenneth Barker and John Kohlenberger III, consulting editors, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994, electronic media, version 2.5.

32 Ibid.

33 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, OT Edition, John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, editors, Victor Books, electronic version, Logos Research Systems.

34 Ibid.

35 Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995, p. 583.

36 Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, electronic media.

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