A GANG of undisciplined youths had ridiculed Elisha on his way to Bethel, and had spoken scornfully of the prophet Elijah. (II Kings 2:22-23.) Right after Elisha had told them that a divine curse should be on them because of what they had said, two angry bears ran out of a nearby wood and into the startled crowd.
Moab Refuses Tribute
There were screams of terror and pain as the animals snapped and clawed at the darting, leaping, scrambling group. The bears were both females. Possibly their rage came about because their cubs had been molested by those unruly youths. In any event, their anger was so great that they seriously injured forty-two of the youngsters before returning to the forest, growling sullenly. Some of the screaming youths were able to walk back to Bethel. Those unable to walk were soon attended by people who were attracted by the yells of fright and pain. Elisha's travels next took him to other places after he had gone to Bethel, and he eventually returned to Samaria in God's service. (II Kings 2:24-25.) Jehoram, the new king of Israel, came to the throne just in time to meet trouble. Ever since Solomon's reign, the nation of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, had paid yearly tribute to Israel by sending a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand shorn rams, whose wool was brought along with them. Mesha, king of Moab, felt that the time had come to refuse to pay this tribute. When it was long overdue, and when Jehoram had received no answer to his reminders to Mesha that Israel wouldn't allow Moab to be rebellious in the matter, Jehoram decided to take his army to Moab to force that nation into sending the sheep and wool. (II Kings 1:1; 3:1-5.) But there was something that greatly bothered Jehoram. He was afraid that his army would be chased back to Samaria — or perhaps even farther — by the Moabites. He needed help. Just as his father Ahab had done, he went to Jehoshaphat to ask him to send along the army of the nation of Judah to help the ten-tribed nation of Israel. "If we don't take care of this matter now," Jehoram told Jehoshaphat, "the Moabites will consider us weak and eventually they will invade our countries." In spite of his doleful experience when he had joined Israel in battle against the Syrians, Judah's King Jehoshaphat seriously considered going with Jehoram against Moab. (Jehoshaphat also had a son named Jehoram.) It wasn't long before he agreed to add his army to that of Jehoram. He suggested to the king of Israel that the best route to Moab would be the route around the Dead Sea at the south end. (II Kings 3:6-8.) Besides, that would take them through the land of Edom, which was ruled by a deputy who was under the authority of the king of Judah and would help him. (I Kings 22:44-47.) Jehoram had also expected that country to join him and Jehoshaphat against Moab, even though in the past Moab and Edom (sometimes called Seir), had banded together against Judah. (II Chronicles 20:10-11.) The deputy who was king of Edom, seeking to please the more powerful Jews and Israelites, offered to add his military power to that of the other two kings. With soldiers of three kingdoms moving against Moab, a quick victory over the rebels seemed a certainty.
Three Befuddled Kings
However, misfortune came to the three armies. Their guides got the roads mixed up and led them on a roundabout journey of seven days through the desert. There had been no rain around the southern region of the Dead Sea for many months. The march through here was a miserable one because water rations for both men and animals had to be painfully cut and finally ran out. There was no hope of coming to water until the armies reached the Zered River, which was the boundary line between Edom and Moab. (II Kings 3:8-9.) It was quite a shock to everyone to arrive at the valley of the Zered River and find that the river bed was completely dry! The soldiers and animals could hardly be expected, in the heat, to carry on with any kind of physical exertion for more than a day or two unless water were found quickly. "It begins to appear as though God has a plan to get us together so that our combined thousands of men will fall into the hands of the king of Moab," the king of Israel unhappily confided to Jehoshaphat. "I can't believe that God would have a reason to do such a thing," Jehoshaphat observed. "Perhaps we should try to find out what God's will is. For that, we would have to consult a true prophet. Probably there isn't one within miles of here." "There is a man who for some reason has come with us from Samaria," one of Jehoram's officers remarked. "He claims to be a prophet of God who has been trained under the prophet Elijah. His name is Elisha." (II Kings 3:10-11.) "Elisha?" Jehoshaphat echoed with sudden interest. "He is indeed a man of God. Take us to him at once!" "As you know, we need water very badly," Jehoram reminded Elisha when he and the two kings met with the prophet. "We hope that you can contact God and ask Him where and how we can get enough water to allow us escape from this dry land." There was an awkward silence as Elisha stared at the king of Israel. "Why do you come to me to ask for help?" the prophet finally spoke. "Why don't you look to the pagan prophets of Ahab your father and Jezebel your mother? There are still many of them in your employ." "I'm not asking just for myself and my men," Jehoram continued, intending to be diplomatic. "I'm asking also for the king of Edom and the king of Judah and their armies. If we can't find water, all of us will be taken by the Moabites." "Should I ask God for help for a ruler who continues to allow idolatry in his land?" Elisha asked. "As for your ally, the king of Edom, he doesn't believe that the God of Israel is the only real God. You know that He is, yet you turn to idols at times and allow your people to do the same." Jehoram didn't have any more to say. He could have decided then to renounce idols and demand of his people, if he ever got back to his country, that they do the same. But he hesitated to take the step, even in the face of probable defeat and death. He was relieved by the prophet's next words. "I don't want to see the king of Judah continue in this trouble, inasmuch as he is a man who strives for the right ways. I shall ask God what should be done," Elisha declared. "First, though, bring me a harpist if you have one with you. I must relax from my tensions. Music can help me do that." (II Kings 3:14-15.) The eager Jehoram lost no time in carrying out the prophet's request. A skilled harpist was available. In those times kings generally took musicians with them wherever they went, including war campaigns. Elisha listened to soothing music for a while, then retired to a private place to contact God.
The Answer Comes
Later, he told the three kings God's answer. "BECAUSE ONE MAN — Jehoshaphat — HAS CHARACTER, God will deliver you all. He will send plenty of water," concluded Elisha. The prophet told the kings they should instruct their men to start digging ditches immediately from the river outward into the lower places in the narrow valley of the Zered River. And they should build levees around these areas to catch pools of water. "God has informed me that this valley will soon receive plenty of water for your men, your horses and the animals you have brought with you for food," Elisha explained. "You won't see any wind or rain, but water will come in time to save you. And this is only a small thing. God will also help you overcome the Moabites. You shall take their cities, destroy the valuable trees, plug their wells and ruin their fields as a punishment for their sins." (II Kings 3:16-19.) The kings were happy when they heard the news. Jehoshaphat thanked God at once. Jehoram hesitantly and somewhat awkwardly joined him. The king of Edom stood silently not far off. He couldn't express thanks to a deity he didn't know. Besides, he wasn't convinced that the prophet knew what he was talking about. All the rest of that day and that night men worked busily at digging ditches and pools close to and joining the dry river bed. Before dawn arrived, the area was a maze of trenches and pools on the Israelites' side of the channel where the water ordinarily flowed. At sunrise the work was halted so that morning sacrifices could be made to God, according to Jehoshaphat's practice. When the morning sacrifices were finished, lookouts stationed east of the military camp of the three kings began shouting excitedly something about water. Water was roaring in muddy turbulence down the dry river bed, and startling the Israelites and Edomites by its sudden presence. It spread far beyond the usual width of the river, quickly filling the trenches and pools. In a little while the flood crested and the amount of water gradually dwindled, leaving millions of gallons of precious water in the depressions the soldiers had dug. Even before the sediment had fully settled, men rushed in to gulp the water. Then they brought their animals to it, and filled their empty leather water containers. After that, they jumped into the ditches for refreshing baths. By that time they were greatly in need of rest, and so were ordered to their tents to sleep. (II Kings 3:20.)
Meanwhile, off to the north, the Moabite army was on its way south to meet the invaders. Mesha, king of Moab, had long since learned of what was going on. His plan was to let the enemy come into Moab, where his army would be at an advantage as far as the terrain was concerned. His men were familiar with every rise, gully, hill, ravine and wady, and were skilled in the art of ambush and sniping. The Moabite army arrived at the border almost in time to see their enemies camped in the Zered valley. Next morning, as the sun came up through an unusual haze, the Moabites anxiously looked away to their enemies' camp. They could see no sign of life or movement. They couldn't know that soldiers there were resting after a long night of vigorous work. They considered it unlikely that an army would be sleeping so late. While the Moabites tried to decide what was happening, the sun went higher, appearing quite red because of recent dust storms caused by the drought. At a certain point the redness was reflected in the water-filled ditches and pools. "The ground down there is covered with blood!" an officer shouted. "Our enemies must have been fighting among themselves!" Though this was an absurd observation, to the excited Moabites it was the only explanation for the reddish appearance of the area around the camp of their enemies. As the minutes passed, and none could be seen milling about in the distant camp, the Moabites became surer that the invaders had quarreled and had killed one another. Mesha conferred with his officers. They believed that the lack of activity on the part of the Israelites and Edomites couldn't have to do with some kind of trickery. "Then go to the enemy and seize their arms and belongings," Mesha ordered. (II Kings 3:21-23.) Knowing that the Israelites, especially, would have left much valuable booty, the Moabite soldiers set off hastily. It developed into a race to determine who would get to the enemy camp first for the best of the spoils. The nearer the Moabites came, the more they were convinced that only dead men, if any, were within the tents. They whooped and shouted with glee, quite unaware of how foolish they were being. Israelite and Edomite guards, weary from working all night, were brought to their senses by the shouts. They leaped to their feet and screamed warnings to those deep in sleep in the tents. The half awake occupants came charging out just in time to face the Moabites, who were so surprised that they turned and rushed back toward their country. Many of them lost their lives before they could get out of the Israelite camp. Others were chased far into their home territory. During the strong pursuit of the Moabites, the Israelites and Edomites swarmed through Moabite towns and villages, destroying buildings, taking spoils, plugging up wells, tossing tons of stones into fertile fields and chopping down the best of the trees of the land, thus carrying out the penalty God had decreed through Elisha. (II Kings 3:24-25.)
A Last Desperate Stand
When the invaders arrived at Kir-haraseth, the capital of Moab, they found matters more difficult. Kir-haraseth was encased by high, solid walls, within which Mesha and the remainder of his army had taken quick refuge. The Israelites and Edomites tightly surrounded the city and began an assault against its walls. Mesha knew that the Moabites would be lost if they continued. Desperate, he called together seven hundred of his top swordsmen from among his elite guard. "You will go with me to cut through the enemy just outside the gate and reach the spot not far beyond where the king of Edom is stationed," the Moabite king instructed them. "If we destroy that unfaithful wretch, who used to be my ally, the Edomites might give up. At the same time we'll be getting the attention of the Israelites, so that our men on the wall will have an opportunity to drop stones on the ones who are trying to shatter the wall base." Mesha and his picked warriors rushed out of Kir-haraseth through suddenly opened gates that clanged shut like a giant trap as soon as the last man was outside. Savage fighting took place at once as the Edomites closed in. Mesha and his men battled furiously, downing many soldiers, but they weren't able to fight their way to where the king of Edom stood in his chariot. Only after most of his warriors had lost their lives did Mesha order what remained of his men back to the gate, which was opened just long enough to admit the retreating Moabites. (II Kings 3:26.) Personally defeated in battle, and knowing that his enemies would eventually break through the wall of his strongest city, Mesha had only one hope left. He would appeal to Chemosh (Molech), his pagan god of protection. To gain the greatest favor from this imagined deity, a pagan worshipper had to make a great sacrifice. Sacrificing to a non-existent god was foolish and futile. But in this case the sacrifice was terribly tragic. The offered object had to be a human being, and preferably a child! While the allied invaders were regrouping themselves after the sudden sally by the defenders, the Moabite king and some of his officers appeared on the wall above the main gate. The assault crews were ordered to cease action, because it was expected that Mesha was about to make a declaration or request. (II Kings 3:27.) To the surprise of the onlookers, wood was quickly piled before Mesha and set on fire. The king of Moab stretched his arms toward the flames and smoke, loudly and passionately uttering something. Then men appeared dragging a struggling young man in bright clothing. Some of the Edomites recognized him as Mesha's oldest son, who apparently was about to be sacrificed!