Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
4 Kings (2 Kings) 3:1
Reign of Joram of Israel. - For the chronological statement in Kg2 3:1, see at Kg2 1:17. Joram or Jehoram was not so ungodly as his father Ahab and his Mother Jezebel. He had the statue or pillar of Baal, which his father had erected in Samaria, removed; and it was only to the sin of Jeroboam, i.e., the calf-worship, that he adhered. Joram therefore wished to abolish the worship of Baal and elevate the worship of Jehovah, under the image of the calf (ox), into the region of his kingdom once more. For the singular suffix ממּנּה see Ewald, 317, a. He did not succeed, however, in exterminating the worship of Baal. It not only continued in Samaria, but appears to have been carried on again in the most shameless manner (cf. Kg2 10:18.); at which we cannot be surprised, since his mother Jezebel, that fanatical worshipper of Baal, was living throughout the whole of his reign (Kg2 9:30).
4 Kings (2 Kings) 3:4
War of Joram, in Alliance with Jehoshaphat, against the Moabites. - Kg2 3:4, Kg2 3:5. The occasion of this war was the rebellion of the Moabites, i.e., the refusal to pay tribute to Israel since the death of Ahab. Mesha the (vassal-) king of Moab was a possessor of flocks, and paid to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams; not merely at the commencement of each new reign (Cler.), but as a yearly tribute (השׁיב, to bring again = to bring repeatedly, as in Num 18:9, etc.). This yearly tribute could not be exorbitant for the land of the Moabites, which abounded in good pasture, and was specially adapted for the rearing of flocks. The payment of tribute in natural objects and in the produce of the land was very customary in ancient times, and is still usual among the tribes of Asia.
(Note: Pecunia ipsa a pecore appellabatur. Etiam nunc in tabulis Censoriis pascua dicuntur omnia, ex quibus populus reditus habet, quia diu hoc solum vectigal fuit. Mulctatio quoque nonnisi ovium boumque impendio dicebatur. - Plinii h. nat. xviii. 3.)
נוקד signifies both a shepherd (Amo 1:1) and also a possessor of flocks. In Arabic it is properly the possessor of a superior kind of sheep and goats (vid., Boch. Hieroz. i. p. 483f. ed. Ros.). צמר may either be taken as a second object to השׁיב, or be connected with אילים htiw as an accusative of looser government (Ewald, 287, h.). In the first case the tribute would consist of the wool (the fleeces) of 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams; in the second, of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. In support of the latter we may quote Isa 16:1, where lambs are mentioned as tribute.
The statement concerning the rebellion of the Moabites, which has already been mentioned in Kg2 1:1, is repeated here, because it furnished the occasion for the expedition about to be described. Ahaziah had been unable to do anything during his short reign to renew the subjugation of Moab; Joram was therefore anxious to overtake what had been neglected immediately after his ascent of the throne. He went to Samaria ההוּא בּיּום, at that time, namely, when he renewed his demand for the tribute and it was refused (Thenius), and mustered all Israel, i.e., raised an army out of the whole kingdom, and asked Jehoshaphat to join in the war, which he willingly promised to do (as in Kg1 22:4), notwithstanding the fact that he had been blamed by prophets for his alliance with Ahab and Ahaziah (Ch2 19:2 and Ch2 20:37). He probably wished to chastise the Moabites still further on this occasion for their invasion of Judah (2 Chron 20), and to do his part by bringing them once more under the yoke of Israel, to put it out of their power to make fresh incursions into Judah.
In reply to Joram's question, "By which way shall we advance (against Moab)?" Jehoshaphat decided in favour of "the way through the desert of Edom." There were two ways by which it was possible to enter the land of the Moabites; namely, either by going above the Dead Sea, and crossing the Jordan and the boundary river Arnon, and so entering it from the north, or by going round the southern point of the Dead Sea, and advancing through the northern portion of the mountains of Edom, and thus entering it from the south. The latter way was the longer of the two, and the one attended with the greatest difficulties and dangers, because the army would have to cross mountains which were very difficult to ascend. Nevertheless Jehoshaphat decided in its favour, partly because, if they took the northern route, they would have the Syrians at Ramoth in Gilead to fear, partly also because the Moabites, from their very confidence in the inaccessibility of their southern boundary, would hardly expect any attack from that side, and might therefore, if assailed at that point, be taken off their guard and easily defeated, and probably also from a regard to the king of Edom, whom they could induce to join them with his troops if they took that route, not so much perhaps for the purpose of strengthening their own army as to make sure of his forces, namely, that he would not make a fresh attempt at rebellion by a second invasion of the kingdom of Judah while Jehoshaphat was taking the field against the Moabites.
But however cleverly this plan may have been contrived, when the united army had been marching round for seven days and was passing through the deep rocky valley of the Ahsy,
(Note: The usual route from southern Judaea to the land of the Moabites, which even the Crusaders and more recent travellers took, runs round the Dead Sea up to the mouth of the Wady ed Deraah or Kerak, and then up this wady to Kerak (vid., Rob. ii. p. 231). The allied kings did not take this route however, but went through the Wady el Kurahy or es-Safieh, which opens into the southern end of the Dead Sea, and which is called the Wady el Ahsy farther up in the mountains, by Seetzen (R. ii. pp. 355,356) erroneously the Wady el Hssa (Rob. ii. p. 488), a ravine through which Burckhardt passed with the greatest difficulty (Syrien, ii. p. 673). That they advanced by this route is a necessary inference from the fact, that when they first suffered from want of water they were on the border of the Moabitish territory, of which this very wady forms the boundary (Kg2 3:21; see Burckh. p. 674, and Rob. Pal. ii. p. 555), and the water came flowing from Edom (Kg2 3:20). Neither of these circumstances is applicable to the Wady el Kerak. - Still less can we assume, with O. v. Gerlach, that they chose the route through the Arabah that they might approach Moab from the south, as the Israelites under Moses had done. For it would have been impossible for them to reach the border of Moab by this circuitous route. And why should they go so far round, with the way through Edom open to them?)
which divided the territories of Edom and Moab, it was in the greatest danger of perishing from want of water for men and cattle, as the river which flows through this valley, and in which they probably hoped to find a sufficient supply of water, since according to Robinson (Pal. ii. pp. 476 and 488) it is a stream which never fails, was at that time perfectly dry.
In this distress the hearts of the two kings were manifested. - Kg2 3:10-12. Joram cried out in his despair: "Woe, that Jehovah has called these three kings, to give them into the hand of Moab!" (כּי, that, serves to give emphasis to the assurance; see Ewald, 330, b.) Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, had confidence in the Lord, and inquired whether there was no prophet there, through whom they could seek counsel of the Lord (as in Kg1 22:7); whereupon one of the servants of the Israelitish king answered that Elisha was there, who had poured water upon the hands of Elijah, i.e., had been with him daily as his servant, and therefore could probably obtain and give a revelation from god. Elisha may perhaps have come to the neighbourhood of the army at the instigation of the Spirit of God, because the distress of the kings was to be one means in the hand of the Lord, not only of distinguishing the prophet in the eyes of Joram, but also of pointing Joram to the Lord as the only true God. The three kings, humbled by the calamity, went in person to Elisha, instead of sending for him.
In order still further to humble the king of Israel, who was already bowed down by the trouble, and to produce some salutary fruit of repentance in his heart, Elisha addressed him in these words: "What have I to do with thee? Go to the (Baal-) prophets of thy father and thy mother! Let them help thee." When Joram replied to this in a supplicatory tone: על, no, pray (as in Rut 1:13), i.e., speak not in this refusing way, for the Lord has brought these three kings - not me alone, but Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom also - into this trouble; Elisha said to him with a solemn oath (cf. Kg1 17:1): "If I did not regard Jehoshaphat, I should not look at thee and have respect to thee," i.e., I should not deign to look at thee, much less to help thee.
He then sent for a minstrel, to collect his mind from the impressions of the outer world by the soft tones of the instrument, and by subduing the self-life and life in the external world to become absorbed in the intuition of divine things. On this influence of music upon the state of the mind, see the remark on Sa1 16:16, and Passavant's Untersuchungen ber den Lebens-magnetismus, p. 207 (ed. 2). - As the minstrel was playing, the hand of the Lord came upon him (והיה according to the later usage for ויהי, as in Sa1 17:48, etc.; compare Ewald, 345, b., and יהוה יד as in Kg1 18:46), so that he said in the name of the Lord: "Make this valley full of trenches (עשׂה, inf. abs. for the imperative; for גּבים גּבים see Ges. 108, 4); for thus saith the Lord, ye will see neither wind nor rain, and this valley will be filled with water, that ye may be able to drink, and your flocks and your cattle." גּבים are trenches for collecting water (vid., Jer 14:3), which would suddenly flow down through the brook-valley. This large quantity of water came on the (following) morning "by the way of Edom" (Kg2 3:20), a heavy fall of rain or violent storm having taken place, as is evident from the context, in the eastern mountains of Edom, at a great distance from the Israelitish camp, the water of which filled the brook-valley, i.e., the Wady el Kurahy and el Ahsy (see at Kg2 3:9) at once, without the Israelites observing anything either of the wind, which always precedes rain in the East (Harmar, Beobb. i. pp. 51, 52), or of the rain itself. מקניכם are the flocks intended for slaughtering, בּהמתּכם the beasts of burden.
Elisha continued: "and this is too little for Jehovah (the comparative force of נקל is implied in the context, especially in the alternating combination of the two clauses, which is indicated by ו...ו, see Ewald, 360, c.): He will also give Moab into your hand, and ye will smite all the fortified and choice cities, fell all the good trees (fruit-trees), stop up all the springs of water, and spoil all the good fields with stones." מבצר and מבחור are intended to produce a play upon words, through the resemblance in their sound and meaning (Ewald, 160, c.). In the announcement of the devastation of the land there is an allusion to Deu 20:19-20, according to which the Israelites were ordered to spare the fruit-trees when Canaan was taken. These instructions were not to apply to Moab, because the Moabites themselves as the arch-foes of Israel would not act in any other way with the land of Israel if they should gain the victory. הכאב, to add pain, is a poetical expression for spoiling a field or rendering it infertile through the heaping up of stones.
The water came in the morning at the time of the morning sacrifice (see Kg1 18:36), to indicate that the Lord was once more restoring His favour to the people on account of the sacrifice presented to Him in His temple.
The help of God, which preserved the Israelitish army from destruction, also prepared destruction for the Moabites. Kg2 3:21-23. On hearing the report of the march of the allied kings, Moab had raised all the men that were capable of bearing arms, and stationed them on the frontier. In the morning, when the sun had risen above the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite to them like blood, and said: "That is blood: the (allied) kings have destroyed themselves and smitten one another; and now to the spoil, Moab!" Coming with this expectation to the Israelitish camp, they were received by the allies, who were ready for battle, and put to flight. The divine help consisted, therefore, not in a miracle which surpassed the laws of nature, but simply in the fact that the Lord God, as He had predicted through His prophet, caused the forces of nature ordained by Him to work in the predetermined manner. As the sudden supply of an abundance of water was caused in a natural way by a heavy fall of rain, so the illusion, which was so fatal to the Moabites, is also to be explained in the natural manner indicated in the text. From the reddish earth of the freshly dug trenches the water collected in them had acquired a reddish colour, which was considerably intensified by the rays of the rising sun, so that when seen from a distance it resembled blood. The Moabites, however, were the less likely to entertain the thought of an optical delusion, from the fact that with their accurate acquaintance with the country they knew very well that there was no water in the wady at that time, and they had neither seen nor heard anything of the rain which had fallen at a great distance off in the Edomitish mountains. The thought was therefore a natural one, that the water was blood, and that the cause of the blood could only have been that their enemies had massacred one another, more especially as the jealousy between Israel and Judah was not unknown to them, and they could have no doubt that Edom had only come with them as a forced ally after the unsuccessful attempt at rebellion which it had made a short time before; and, lastly, they cannot quite have forgotten their own last expedition against Judah in alliance with the Edomites and Ammonites, which had completely failed, because the men composing their own army had destroyed one another. But if they came into collision with the allied army of the Israelites under such a delusion as this, the battle could only end in defeat and in a general flight so far as they were concerned.
The Israelites followed the fugitives into their own land and laid it waste, as Elisha had prophesied (Kg2 3:25 compared with Kg2 3:19). The Chethb ויבו־בהּ is to be read בהּ ויּבו (for ויּבוא as in Kg1 12:12): and (Israel) came into the land and smote Moab. The Keri ויּכּוּ is a bad emendation. הכּות is either the infinitive construct used instead of the infin. absolute (Ewald, 351, c.), or an unusual form of the inf. absol. (Ewald, 240, b.). עד־השׁאיר, till one (= so that one only) left its stones in Kir-chareseth. On the infinitive form השׁאיר see at Jos 8:22. The suffix in אבניה probably points forward to the following noun (Ewald, 309, c.). The city called חרשׂת קיר here and Isa 16:7, and חרשׂ קיר in Isa 16:11 and Jer 48:31, Jer 48:36, i.e., probably city of potsherds, is called elsewhere מואב קיר, the citadel of Moab (Isa 15:1), as the principal fortress of the land (in the Chaldee Vers. דמואב כרכּא), and still exists under the name of Kerak, with a strong castle build by the Crusaders, upon a lofty and steep chalk rock, surrounded by a deep and narrow valley, which runs westward under the name of Wady Kerak and falls into the Dead Sea (vid., Burckhardt, Syr. pp. 643ff., C. v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 271,272). This fortress the allied kings besieged. "The slingers surrounded and smote it," i.e., bombarded it.
When the king of Moab saw that the battle was too strong for him, he attempted to fight a way through the besiegers with 700 men with drawn swords (להבקיע, lit., to split them) to the king of Edom, i.e., on the side which was held by this king, from whom he probably hoped that he should meet with the weakest resistance.
But when this attempt failed, in his desperation he took his first-born son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice upon the wall, i.e., in the sight of the besiegers, not to the God of Israel (Joseph. Ephr. Syr., etc.), but to his own god Camos (see at Kg1 11:7), to procure help from him by appeasing his wrath; just as the heathen constantly sought to appease the wrath of their gods by human sacrifices on the occasion of great calamities (vid., Euseb. praepar. ev. iv. 16, and E. v. Lasaulx, die Shnopfer der Griechen und Rmer, pp. 8ff.). - "And there was (came) great wrath upon Israel, and they departed from him (the king of Moab) and returned into their land." As על קצף היה is used of the divine wrath or judgment, which a man brings upon himself by sinning, in every other case in which the phrase occurs, we cannot understand it here as signifying the "human indignation," or ill-will, which broke out among the besieged (Budd., Schulz, and others). The meaning is: this act of abomination, to which the king of the Moabites had been impelled by the extremity of his distress, brought a severe judgment from God upon Israel. The besiegers, that is to say, felt the wrath of God, which they had brought upon themselves by occasioning human sacrifice, which is strictly forbidden in the law (Lev 18:21; Lev 20:3), either inwardly in their conscience or in some outwardly visible signs, so that they gave up the further prosecution of the siege and the conquest of the city, without having attained the object of the expedition, namely, to renew the subjugation of Moab under the power of Israel.