1 In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years. 2 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. 3 Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it.
4 Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. 5 But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. 7 And he went and sent word to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to battle against Moab?” And he said, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” 8 Then he said, “By which way shall we march?” Jehoram answered, “By the way of the wilderness of Edom.”
9 So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them. 10 Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 11 And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 12 And 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.
13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.” – 2 Kings 3:1-14 ESV
When Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, died just two years into his reign, his brother Jehoram became the next king of Israel. And he proved to be just as evil as his father and brother. Yet, he did use his royal power to eliminate the worship of Baal in Israel. But “he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it” (2 Kings 3:3 ESV). He refused to remove the false gods that Jeroboam had erected in Dan and Bethel, and his failure to do so kept the spirit of idolatry and unfaithfulness alive in the land of Israel. Rather than call the people to repentance and encourage a return to Yahweh, Jehoram simply maintained the status quo, allowing the people to continue to place their hope in the golden calves Jeroboam had created.
But Jehoram soon found himself in need of divine assistance. His father, who had been a wicked and oppressive king, had managed to make a lot of enemies. One of them was the king of Moab. During his reign, Ahab had forced the Moabites to pay an annual tribute that consisted of “100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams” (2 Kings 3:4 ESV). But the Moabites found this annual levy to be onerous, and, as soon as the king of Moab heard of Ahab’s death, he refused to make any further payments.
Jehoram viewed this as a blatant act of rebellion against his authority as the king of Israel. His primary concern was not with the loss of the annual tribute but with the potential loss of respect he would face if he did not deal decisively with this blatant affront to his royal reputation. So, he determined to teach King Mesha of Moab a lesson. Jehoram mustered all the fighting men of Israel and then called on Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to come to their assistance. Jehoram wanted Jehoshaphat to provide troops and access through Judah’s land because he planned to attack Moab from the south.
King Jehoshaphat agreed to assist Jehoram, stating, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” ( 2 Kings 3:7 ESV). This was the second time that King Jehoshaphat threw in his lot with the king of Israel. Back when Ahab had been king, he had requested Jehoshaphat’s help in attacking the Syrian-held city of Ramoth-gilead. And Jehoshaphat had responded to Ahab with the very same words of commitment: “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1 Kings 22:4 ESV).
Surely, Jehoshaphat had learned a lesson from that first ill-fated alliance with the king of Israel. It had almost cost him his life and had ended with Ahab dying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of his chariot. But the king of Judah proved to be a slow learner. He agreed to Jehoram’s request, providing Israel with military assistance and unhindered access to Moab through the land of Judah. But because the southern approach to Moab would require Jehoram’s forces to pass through the land of Edom, he had successfully coerced the king of Edom to join their expedition.
For seven days, the combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom marched around the Dead Sea’s southern tip, an inhospitable region where rain was rare and fresh water was in short supply. And long before they were able to reach their final objective, they ran out of water. They were in the middle of a virtual wasteland, with no means of slaking the thirst of their troops, horses, or pack animals. This mighty military force had come to a screeching halt. And in a state of panic, Jehoram cried out, “The Lord has brought the three of us here to let the king of Moab defeat us” (2 Kings 3:10 ESV).
It’s interesting to note that in his greatest moment of need, Judah’s apostate king utters the name of yᵊhōvâ – Jehovah, the one true God of Israel. He doesn’t call on the golden calves of Jeroboam. He doesn’t mention Baal, the god his father and mother worshiped. Instead, he interpreted their dire circumstances as a divine judgment from the hand of Jehovah. He concluded that God was out to destroy them.
But King Jehoshaphat provided a voice of reason. Rather than assume the worse, he suggested that they seek the aid of a prophet of God to determine what God would have them do. Perhaps God was simply trying to get their attention. It appears Jehoshaphat suddenly realized that they had started this entire endeavor without seeking a word from the Lord. So, he strongly suggested that they do so now.
It just so happened that Elisha, the newly appointed prophet of God, had chosen to accompany the expedition. We’re not told why Elisha was there, but it seems reasonable to assume that his presence had been divinely decreed and ordained. He was there because God, in His providence, had planned it. The very man who had purified the brackish spring water outside the city of Jericho was there in their midst (2 Kings 2:19-22). In their greatest moment of need, when all seemed lost, God had placed His spokesman among them.
So, Jehoram and Jehoshaphat schedule a meeting with Elisha. But the prophet of God took full advantage of Jehoram’s predicament, chiding the idolatrous king of Israel for his apparent lack of faith in his own false gods.
“Why are you coming to me?” Elisha asked the king of Israel. “Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT
It was obvious that Jehoram put no stock in the golden calves of Jeroboam, and he had no faith that Baal or Asherah would come to their aid. And Elisha couldn’t resist the opportunity to rub the king’s nose in the mess he had made of Israel’s spiritual state. Jehoram, like all his predecessors, had stubbornly and arrogantly chosen to reject Yahweh. He had claimed to believe in a new god. But as soon as he found himself in a predicament that called for divine assistance, his faith became as false as his god.
In his desperation, Jehoram ignored the prophet’s stinging rebuke and declared his strong belief that this was all the work of Yahweh.
“No! For it was the Lord who called us three kings here—only to be defeated by the king of Moab!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT
Jehoram was convinced that their expedition was doomed to failure. The God of Elisha had it in for them, and there was nothing they could do about it. But there is no sense of repentance or remorse on Jehoram’s part. He does not confess his apostasy and refuses to acknowledge any guilt regarding his idolatry. In his mind, Yahweh was just another God who happened to oppose their plans. And if Jehoram could get Elisha to appeal to his God, perhaps they could be spared. Was there a sacrifice they could make to appease Elisha’s God? Could they do something to make Jehovah happy? Was there a way to get Yahweh to change His mind? That is all Jehoram was interested in and the only reason he was willing to consult with Elisha. And the prophet was not moved by Jehoram’s desperate cries for help. He knew that Jehoram’s interest in Yahweh was motivated by fear and not faith. The threat of divine judgment, while real, had done nothing to draw Jehoram back to God. And Elisha knew that the king of Israel remained unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God. He had no respect for Jehoram, but he agreed to intervene because Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, had been the one to suggest that they call on the name of Yahweh.
“As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah.” – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT
Here, in the desolate Dead Sea wilderness, the God of Israel was about to show up in might and power. As He had done so many times before, He would intervene in the lives of His rebellious people. In the midst of their unfaithfulness, the always faithful Yahweh would show up and rescue His unrepentant and undeserving people yet again.
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