The prophet Elisha stood in readiness for whatever work the Lord had prepared for him. And the call to it came sooner and in another form than could have been expected! Jehoram now reigned over the Northern Kingdom of Israel, filling the place of his brother Ahaziah, whom we met in chapter 1. Sadly, Jehoram followed in the footsteps of his parents, Ahab and Jezebel. A more contemptible sovereign never ruled over Israel. He was boastful and rash before danger arose, but he was cowardly and desponding at the first appearance of serious difficulty; he was always wavering between boastfulness and utter despondency.
At this time, both Judah and Israel (but especially the latter) had terribly declined from the state of prosperity that had been enjoyed under the reigns of David and Solomon. Neighboring countries that had been laid under tribute were gradually regaining their independence; and there was the danger that before long, they would impose their own rule upon a nation which had lost its strength when they turned away from their God. But as long as the determined hand of Jezebel tightened the reins in the trembling hold of Ahab, such efforts could not be made unchallenged. However, the ill-fated battle of Ramoth-Gilead led to very serious consequences for the kingdom of Israel. As soon as the tidings of the defeat and death of Ahab reached Moab, its king – hitherto a tributary to Israel – resolved to cast off his allegiance. During the weak reign of King Ahaziah, no attempt was made to bring Moab under subjection again. But when Jehoram came to the throne, measures were taken to do just that.
Jehoram decided to solicit the alliance of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, in this endeavor. Jehoshaphat had foolishly joined in alliance with Ahab at the battle of Ramoth-Gilead, and it had nearly cost him his life! It is possible that the fact that Jehoram had “put away the image of Baal” may have seemed to be sufficient grounds to Jehoshaphat for another alliance – especially since, on political grounds, it was evidently in the best interests of Judah to suppress rebellion on the part of vassal-kings. The success of Moab’s rebellion might prove to be a dangerous example to the Edomites (who were tributaries to Judah). But it is painful to find that Jehoshaphat again entered into the very same terms in which his former sinful friendship with Ahab had been expressed.
When the two armies joined, Jehoram asked Jehoshaphat to propose a plan for the campaign. The course suggested by the king of Judah was certainly the most prudent in the circumstances. As Edom stood to Judah in the same relation as Moab to Israel, it would have been dangerous to leave a doubtful ally on the flank and rear. To march through Edom, and then to march with Edom’s deputy-king against Moab, would not only swell the forces of the allies; but it would also show the people of Edom that rebellion would certainly not remain unpunished. This prudent scheme, however, very nearly proved to be the destruction of the expedition.
At first, all seemed prosperous. The armies advanced through the wilderness of Edom, traversing the fiery desert for seven weary days. The fierce sun was above, burning sand was underneath, the withering wind blew across the fearful pathway, and there was not a drop of water for man or beast. There was not a cloud indicating the blessed approach of rain! To all appearances, the allied armies were a sure prey to the enemy lying in wait for them!
Jehoram was the first to break the silence. “Alas! that Jehovah hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!” he complained. And was this all? This wicked king now acknowledged Jehovah, but only as an enemy who was seeking vengeance and laying snares! There is an almost incredible amount of folly and profanity about this cowardly monarch. He was the first to plan the expedition, and now he was the first to despond; he was the first to ignore Jehovah, but now he was the first to tremble and anticipate a long-merited doom. This is often the way in which unrepentant sinners view the Lord; yet they forget that He does not delight in judgment, but rather in mercy!
But now the difference appeared between weak but pious Jehoshaphat, and weak but ungodly Jehoram. How the conscience of the former must have reproved him! How he must have recalled to mind the rash words with which he had entered into this alliance! But under similar circumstances, what should one of God’s children do? Surely not despair! “To whom shall we go?” Jesus alone has “the words of eternal life.” Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not here a prophet of Jehovah, that we may inquire of Jehovah by him?” Why had this not been done before this alliance was entered upon? But even now, it was not too late; for it is never too late to go to the Lord! Alas! We have erred, strayed, and sinned; we are very undeserving and ill-deserving. Nevertheless, we may always return to the Lord – like the prodigal son, like Zacchaeus, like Saul of Tarsus – even if we are worse than any or all of them! “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
To the question of Jehoshaphat, one of the servants of King Jehoram replied by directing the inquirer to Elisha. God always has His instruments in readiness. Often, and for His most important purposes, they are of the humblest character. We do not know who this servant may have been, nor what strange “accident” may have brought him into the presence of the king at that very moment. Yet all the tangled web of his life had been so carefully orchestrated by the Lord for this one great purpose. How little do we know of the purposes of God! A person’s position may be the humblest – even that of a poor, uneducated servant. His lot may seem strangely cast in not-very-pleasant places. Yet God may have a very great work for him! We must patiently and believingly wait for His perfect timing. The song which you may have taught your child, the prayer that you may have offered, or the lesson that you may have given may come back many years afterwards – perhaps long after you have fallen asleep, all unconscious of the work you have done, and possibly thinking that you have lived in vain!
A ray of hope broke upon the soul of Jehoshaphat. Jehoram followed him moodily to the prophet, and the king of Edom probably followed wonderingly. It was an intense relief to find Elisha in the immediate vicinity of the camp! When troubles are around us, and we see no way of escape; and when our consciences condemn us for backsliding from the Lord – what comfort it is to discover that the precious Word of God is still near us, with its message of pity and forgiveness always meeting our needs!
In Elisha’s presence, there stood the proud, idolatrous son of Ahab and Jezebel; the abashed, pious Jehoshaphat; and the wondering, perplexed deputy-ruler of Edom. Nevertheless, there would be no compromise on the part of the prophet before these earthly monarchs! But before anything could be done, it was necessary that matters should be placed on their proper footing. Elisha was not a magician to do miracles at a king’s command, in order to suit his whims or necessities. God delivers His own people; and if the wicked share in the blessing, they must not imagine that He approves of their evil deeds. “What have I to do with thee?” Elisha asked Jehoram. “Get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother!” In other words, “If your religion has been real, let it help you to the end.” Indeed, there was not a trace of repentance in the king of Israel. He had not come to seek mercy, but only water!
The prophet indignantly turned from Jehoram. He would not cast pearls before swine by attempting to reason with such a person. It is only our duty to speak the truth plainly, and then leave the results to the Lord. Besides, it was not for the sake of Jehoram, but for that of Jehoshaphat, that the prophet had been sent to the camp! And here we mark how gracious is the watchful care of the Lord over His people. Even when they have strayed from Him, as the king of Judah had done, His eye pities and His hand saves them! And sometimes also, for their sakes, He deals mercifully with the unrighteous.
But before Elisha delivered his message, he called for a musician. His spirit had been ruffled and troubled; and in that state of mind, he was not fit to either receive the Divine light or to reflect it. When the music ended, the prophet’s spirit was restored to a calm. “Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain,” he said; and yet full relief would come. And this was only “a little thing in the sight of the Lord,” for the Moabites would be overthrown before the Israelites. Meanwhile, the armies were to immediately fill the valley with ditches, and wait for the result. God wishes us to employ means; yet success does not lie in the means, whether likely or unlikely – but in the blessing of the Lord!
Morning came, and with it came the solemn time of the Jews’ early sacrifice – as well as the sound of running water, coming nearer and nearer! Down Edom’s steep and rocky mountain-sides, it rushed along the dry river-beds; and then it rolled full and rapid into the valley, and filled the ditches. What wonder and relief! And now that the sun had risen higher and poured down his golden light, his glory was reflected on the water until its color seemed to be changed; and in the distance, it shone almost like blood. The scouts of Moab saw this and reported it, and the leaders of Moab imagined that they understood it all! They reasoned that in the distress of thirst and in the face of death, the alliance between Judah, Israel, and Edom had been broken up. So they began to go over to the Israelite camp – imagining that they would find nothing except dead bodies and booty. But unexpectedly to the Moabites, the soldiers of Israel arose like a refreshed giant! A panic and headlong flight ensued. Smoking ruins and devastation covered the land. At last, the Moabites made a stand at Kir-haraseth, their capital city; but the city was hardly pressed by the pursuers! The king of Moab chose a hand-picked band of 700 warriors and attempted to cut his way through the portion of the army where the Edomites were encamped – supposing that this part of his enemies’ camp would be the weakest. But the attempt proved unsuccessful; and being diminished in numbers and desperate, the king and his followers had to seek safety again within the walls of the city. And since he was not a worshiper of the Lord – the only One Who could have helped him in his distress – he publicly offered his own son as a sacrifice to his idol that he imagined he must have offended. And thus the campaign was brought to an end.
Lord Jesus, we thank You for being the Reconciler between God and ourselves, and for extending to us – even in our rebellion – Your hands of grace and mercy! Amen.
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Moabite Stone image from The Art Bible, 1896
sunrise photo by mitchell | Lightstock.com