2 Kings 3:1-27 – Jehoram of Israel Consults Elisha


2 Kings 3:1-27


Jehoram (849-843 B.C.E.) seeks Elisha’s counsel in the war against Moab.


The power of the prophetic word is clearly communicated in this strange narrative (vv. 4-27) that follows the typical Deuteronomistic censure of Jehoram, despite his removal of a pillar of Baal (vv. 1-3).

When King Mesha of Moab withheld tribute from Israel, Jehoram of Israel entered into an alliance with Judah and Edom to bring Mesha to terms (vv. 4-12). Elisha’s oracle addresses the double problem of these three kings: their need for water will be supplied and their planned attack of Moab will be successful (vv. 16-18). Indeed, they will go on to conquer every city, destroy the land, disrupt the water supply, and ruin the farmland (v. 19, in direct contradiction to Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Elisha’s announcement proved true: the water appeared; the Moabite army was routed and driven into the city of Kir-hareseth, the only part of the land not devastated by the Israelite forces (vv. 20-25). But then “great wrath came upon Israel, so that they withdrew,” allowing Moab to ultimately reestablish itself, as we read in the famous Mesha Stela also known as the Moabite Stone. The final verse seems to say that Mesha’s sacrifice of his son was effective and resulted in Moab’s deliverance (vv. 26-27)!

The twist at the end of the tale is a puzzler. Some considerations include:

  • Is it the wrath of Chemosh the god of Moab? This would solve the puzzle, but it is hardly possible in a historical survey of Israel devoted to the proposition that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4-6), Yahweh, not Chemosh.
  • Is it Yahweh’s wrath? Usually wrath emanates from God, but here it is simply “wrath” with no divine attachments, which counsels caution.
  • Whence the wrath in the first place? At first glance, it is the child sacrifice. But why would Mesha’s sacrifice of his son to Chemosh evoke Yahweh’s wrath against Israel?
  • Perhaps it is God’s wrath at Israel’s devastation of the land in violation of Deuteronomy 20:19-20, announced by Elisha and Jehoram’s lack of trust in God’s ability (v. 10, 13).
  • The story is highly reminiscent of 1 Kings 22, especially Jehoshaphat’s identical pledge of cooperation (2 Kings 3:7; 1 Kings 22:4) and Jehoshaphat’s request to hear from a prophet (2 Kings 3:11; 1 Kings 22:7).

The strong parallels with the story of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22 suggest that God is using another prophet to deliver a deceptive word that will lead to Israel’s (Jehoram’s) failure. God’s instruments in the book of “Kings” are actually the prophets.