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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "The Work of Elisha." To view all parts, click the link below.
Before leaving on the long trip in 2009, I had been invited to speak at a Bible study group in Colorado Springs. So we made arrangements to drive to Colorado on the way home from Sacramento. After stopping in Ely, Nevada overnight, we continued our journey through Utah.
On the east side of Utah, we began to see signs advertising Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.
The advantage of driving long distances is that it gives me a lot of quiet time to pray, discern, and ponder the things that God is doing—especially when we are on a mission. In this case, when I saw signs pointing to Moab, it occurred to me that the fourth sign of Elisha involved King Mesha of Moab.
So on June 22 we took a short detour and turned south to go to Moab, and there we spent the night, made an appropriate declaration, and thus fulfilled the fourth sign of Elisha.
The Rebellion of Moab
The story begins in 2 Kings 3:4, 5, 6,
4 Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder and used to pay the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams [as a yearly tribute]. 5 But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 And King Jehoram went out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel.
King Jehoshaphat of Judah joined the king of Israel in the attempt to subdue Moab and to bring them back under Israelite control. The plans to invade Moab were drawn up, and they decided to attack from “the way of the wilderness of Edom” (2 Kings 3:8). Edom, of course, means red, so I took note that the beautiful stone mountains and natural arches at Arches National Park were red. It was as if we too were traveling through the wilderness of Edom to get to Moab.
King Jehoshaphat of Judah was a godly king, but he had allied himself with King Ahab (1 Kings 22:4) in the battle where Ahab was killed. Later, he allied himself with Ahab’s son, Jehoram, in the battle to subdue Moab (2 Kings 3:7), which he justified on the grounds of fleshly kinship with the Israelites. Jehoshaphat told Jehoram, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”
Jehoshaphat’s ungodly alliances with Israel were problematic. In both cases, Jehoshaphat wanted to know the word of the Lord from a true prophet, but he never asked if he ought to form such an alliance in the first place. In his earlier alliance with Ahab, he inquired of Micaiah (1 Kings 22:7, 8) and was told that the false prophets would deceive them with a lying spirit so that Ahab would be killed in battle. Jehoshaphat remained in the alliance, and many of the soldiers of Judah were killed in battle, though the king himself was spared.
We should note that years earlier, when Moses was leading Israel to the plains of Moab to prepare for the Jordan crossing, we read in Deuteronomy 2:9,
9 Then the Lord said to me [Moses], “Do not harass Moab, nor provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession, because I have given Ar to the sons of Lot as a possession.”
The “sons of Lot” were Moab and Ammon. Deuteronomy 2:19 adds,
19 “When you come opposite the sons of Ammon, do not harass them nor provoke them, for I will not give you any of the land of the sons of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot as a possession.”
Nonetheless, the king of Israel had taken possession of Moab in order to enrich themselves by taxing them with a yearly tribute of 100,000 sheep and wool as well. The occupation of Moab itself was a violation of God’s instructions to Moses. So Jehoram’s cause was not according to the will of God, and Jehoshaphat had allied himself with Israel in its ungodly desire.
The Righteous and their Flaws
In Jehoshaphat’s alliance with Jehoram against the king of Moab, the godly king again sought the word of God from a prophet. They found Elisha. 2 Kings 3:14 says,
14 Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look at you nor see you.”
Elisha disapproved of Jehoram’s war project, and Jehoshaphat ought to have seen this. Yet though he is on record as being a righteous king, Jehoshaphat often opposed the will of God. The lesson here is that even those considered “righteous” can be—at the same time—unrighteous in their hearts and in their actions.
The same, of course, was true of Lot himself, the father of Moab and Ammon. He was rescued by Abraham’s men when he was taken captive by the kings of Shinar, and again by angels before God destroyed Sodom. 2 Peter 2:7 calls him “righteous Lot,” but yet he was not listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11.
We see, then, how a genuine believer can also remain outside the will of God. Though God calls such people “righteous,” it does not mean that God approves of all that they do. Moab and Ammon were divinely protected through the word given to Moses—for the sake of Lot—but this did not mean that they followed the true God.
As we see from 2 Kings 3, although the kings of Israel and Judah inflicted much damage upon the Moabites, they failed to subdue King Mesha. Mesha then erected a monument that was discovered by archeologists in 1868. It is now called the Moabite Stone, or the Mesha Stele.
The Moabite Stone was written in the first person by King Mesha himself. It gave glory to King Mesha’s god, Chemosh, for Moab’s successful rebellion against Israelite domination. Hence, it provides us with an archeological confirmation of the biblical account from two different perspectives.
The armies of Israel and Judah found no water in their march through the wilderness of Edom. (2 Kings 3:9). After a week of marching without finding water, this water shortage threatened to kill them before the war even started. That was the point where they decided to call upon Elisha for instructions from God. It appears that Elisha had been led to go with them, though he remained anonymous until he was needed.
2 Kings 3:16-19 says,
16 He said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Make this valley full of trenches.’ 17 For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, both you are your cattle and your beasts. 18 This is but a slight thing in the sight of the Lord; He will also give the Moabites into your hand. 19 Then you shall strike every fortified city and every choice city and fell every good tree and stop all springs of water and mar every good piece of land with stones.”
The next day, at the time of the morning sacrifice, “water came by the way of Edom [“red”], and the country was filled with water” (2 Kings 3:20). This gave the Israelites plenty of water for the army and their horses and cattle (food supply). The Moabites looked at this from a distance, and the water appeared to be red like blood. Perhaps the flood of water had picked up a reddish tint from the red rock in the wilderness of Edom.
The Moabites, thinking that the water was blood, assumed that the Israelites were being slaughtered. So they marched out of their fortress and attacked the Israelite camp. The Moabites were surprised to find the Israelite army intact and refreshed. Israel beat the Moabites, and the Moabite army fled back to their fortress.
The Israelites then “destroyed the cities; and each one threw a stone on every piece of good land and filled it. So they stopped all the springs of water and felled all the good trees” (2 Kings 3:25). Thus, they fulfilled Elisha’s prophetic word.
One of the laws of war, however, found in Deuteronomy 20:19, 20 declared,
19 When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down… 20 Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down….
Why, then, did Elisha prophesy that they would cut down “all the good trees”? Was that not unlawful according to God’s laws of war? There are at least two possible answers. First, the prophet may have meant (by “good trees”) only those trees that did not bear fruit. The text is not entirely clear. Secondly, Elisha may have been prophesying what the Israelite army would do, rather than giving them instructions per se.
Whatever the case, the Israelite army apparently took Elisha’s prophecy as a word from God. Most likely, they were unfamiliar with the law of God, having been ruled by ungodly kings and having worshiped the golden calves for two generations. It is likely, then, that the Israelites cut down all the trees, including those bearing fruit.
As we often see with prophecy even today, Elisha’s prophecy was unclear. The prophecy required some knowledge of the law in order to fulfill it in a lawful manner. Many people receive prophecy but misunderstand it, and so they try to fulfill in an unlawful manner. A prime example of this today is when God speaks in glowing terms about “Israel.” Men assume that God is speaking of the modern state of Israel, when, in fact, God’s definition of Israel is not the same as theirs.
The Strange Outcome of the Moabite War
The Moabite fortress was being threatened by the armies of Israel and Judah. Their situation was desperate. Finally, King Mesha turned to his god, Chemosh, and offered his oldest son—the heir to the throne—as a burnt offering. This was done on the top of the wall in plain view of the Israelites. 2 Kings 3:27 says,
27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land.
It took an act of spiritual warfare, complete with human sacrifice, to turn the tide of war and to break the siege. We are not told the precise nature of this “great wrath against Israel,” but we see that it effectively ended the siege. The Moabite Stone is equally obscure, speaking of the House of Omri (i.e., Israel),
“I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has gone to ruin, yes, it has gone to ruin for ever!”
We see that God gave victory to Israel, but He would not allow them to continue ruling Moab. The Israelites were acting unlawfully, and this is what turned the tide of battle in favor of Moab. To this day, any time the church engages in spiritual warfare in an unlawful manner—especially by ignoring the laws of war—their victory is partial at best, and sometimes they suffer defeat.
Dealing with the Fourth Sign of Elisha
On June 22, 2009 we were led to drive to Moab, Utah—a land of red rocks—to obtain the full victory that the Israelites failed to achieve in the 2 Kings 3:27. We declared our resolve to be lawful in our warfare and not to try to take territory that was not given to us by God. We declared that we would not ally ourselves with the ungodly, but that we would look to God alone as our strength in battle. Finally, we declared our intention to refrain from cutting down fruit-bearing trees, because “the trees are men” (Deuteronomy 20:19, literal rendering), and fruit-bearing trees are those who bear the fruit of the Spirit.
In this way, we knew that when God would lead us in spiritual warfare, we could always be victorious, even if the enemy were to empower themselves with human sacrifice. This detour to Moab was important before continuing on to Colorado Springs, where we were to finish the final act of spiritual warfare against the spirit of Pan, that is, the second “bear.”
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "The Work of Elisha." To view all parts, click the link below.