by Alfred Edersheim
Philologos Religious Online Books
The Reign of Ahab to the Decline of the Two Kingdoms
CHAPTER 9 - JEHOSHAPHAT, (FOURTH) KING OF JUDAH - JORAM, (TENTH) KING OF ISRAEL
The Allied Expedition against Moab - Recent Discovery of "the Moabite Stone" - Lessons of its Inscription - The March through the Wilderness of Edom - Want of Water - Interview with Elisha - Divine Deliverance - Defeat of Moab and Advance of the Allies - The Siege of Kir-haraseth - Mesha offers up his Son -
Withdrawal of the Allies.
(2 Kings 3:5-27.)
THE first public act of Elisha's wider ministry is connected with an event of which the most strange and unlooked-for confirmation has been brought to light within the last few years. When in August, 1868, the Rev. F. Klein, of the Church Missionary Society, was traveling in Moab, his attention was directed by a friendly Sheik to a black basalt stone, about three feet ten inches in height, two feet in width, and fourteen and a half inches in thickness. The stone bore an inscription of thirty-four straight lines (about one and a quarter inches apart), which on learned investigation was found to be in the ancient Phoenician characters. The place where this memorial-stone, or column, was found was Diban, the ancient Dibon, the northern capital of Moab, north of the river Arnon. So far as can be judged from the shapeless mass of ruins (comp. Jeremiah 48:18) that cover the twin hills on which the ancient city had stood, surrounded by a wall, "it was quite within the old city walls; near what, we presume, was the gateway, close to where the road has crossed it."* Whether it had originally stood there, is another and not easily answered question.**
* Canon Tristram, The Land of Moab, p. 134.
** Tristram, u.s.
Before referring to the important evidence derived from this discovery, we shall in a few sentences, give the melancholy history of this stone. It may teach us a lesson about "our unhappy divisions." The unexpected discovery of this stone led, in the first place, to jealousies for its coveted possession among the European communities in Jerusalem. In the end, in their eagerness to make as much profit as was possible out of these contentions, the Arabs quarreled among themselves - and broke up the stone. Happily, most of the fragments have been secured, and some "squeezes" on paper had previously been taken, so that all the important parts of the inscription can be read, and have - with but slight variations - been interpreted by critics of different countries.*
* The first to give it in English version was Dr. Neubauer, of the Bodleian Library.
Perhaps it may be convenient here to put down such parts of the inscription as are of importance to our present purpose, adding afterwards brief comments in explanation. The inscription begins as follows (we mark the original lines): -
1. I Mesha am son of Chemoshgad, King of Moab, the
2. Dibonite. My father reigned over Moab thirty years and I reign-
3. ed after my father. And I erected this stone to Chemosh at Kirkha [a stone of]
4. [sa] lvation, for he saved me from all despoilers, and made me see my desire upon all my enemies, upon Om-
5. [r] i, king of Israel. He afflicted Moab many days, for Chemosh was angry with his count-
6. [r] y. His son succeeded him, and he also said, I will afflict Moab. In my days he said [Let us go]
7. And I will see my desire on him and his house. And Israel [said], I will destroy with an everlasting destruction. Now Omri took (had taken) the land
8. Medeba and.... * occupied it.... the days of his son, forty years. And Chemosh [had mercy]
9. on it in my days, and I built Baal Meon, and made therein the tank, and I [built]
* The dots mark where I have not filled in the words missing in the inscription; the words within square brackets  where I have adopted those supplemented by previous writers. Comp. Sayce, Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments, pp. 91-93.
We cannot here continue this quotation, interesting as are the issues involved. What follows describes the reconquest by Mesha of various towns in the north of Moab, formerly occupied by Israel, their reconstruction and the dedication of captive women to "Ashtar-Chemosh" (Astarte-Chemosh), and of what are described as "vessels of Jehovah," to Chemosh - both at the taking of Nebo, in the northernmost part of Moab.
In lines 1-9, first clause of the inscription, Mesha relates the subjugation of Moab by Omri, the father of Ahab, and the deliverance of that country, which he ascribes to Chemosh. This we suppose to have been connected with the retreat of the allied armies from Kir-haraseth, and their evacuation of the country (2 Kings 3:25).*
* The common view is that the "Inscription" refers to the rebellion of Mesha in the time of Ahaziah, and (in the lines not copied by us) to a supposed later occupation of Jahaz (which some even locate south of the Arnon) either by Ahaziah or Joram, who was afterwards driven from it by Mesha (Comp. Sayce, u.s. p. 95; Schlottmann in Riehm's Bibl. Hand-W.II). But: 1. There is not a trace of any such supposed invasion of Moab either by Ahaziah, or, still less, by Joram before his allied expedition with Jehoshaphat and Edom. 2. Joram could not have penetrated to Jahaz, which assuredly was not south but north of the Arnon, in the territory of Reuben (Joshua 13:18), without having taken the whole north of Moab - of which there is not a trace in the Bible - while the contrary is indicated in the "Inscription." 3. The reprisals upon Edom, also referred to in the "Inscription," must have taken place after the allied expedition, since before that Edom was in league with Moab (2 Chronicles 20:2, 22, 23). All these difficulties are avoided in the view taken in the text.
From all this we infer that the land of Moab, which had apparently recovered its independence during, or immediately after, the reign of Solomon, was, at least in part, reconquered by the warlike Omri. And from the list of towns which in other parts of the inscription Mesha mentions as having been retaken, we conclude that Omri had invaded Moab from the north, while afterwards the allied armies entered it from the south. Accordingly a number of places are named as such which the king of Israel had fortified and Mesha recaptured. All these towns are north of the Arnon. The deep gorge, and the rapid current of that river, would render its passage by a hostile army extremely difficult. Hence the invading army of Omri seems to have been arrested by that obstacle, and Jahaz, which lay north of the Arnon, is the most southern point mentioned in the inscription, as held and fortified by the king of Israel.
But while Northern Moab was thus occupied by Israel, the southern part of the country seems to have preserved its independence during the reign both of Omri and of Ahab. After the death of the latter, "Moab rebelled" (2 Kings 3:5), under the leadership of their brave king Mesha - a name which is connected with the word "deliverance." He styles his father Chemosh-Gad, which is a compound of the names of the two gods, Chemosh and Gad (the latter the god of fortune). The first intimation of the movement for the recovery of their independence seems to have been the sudden invasion of Judaea by Moab, in alliance with the Ammonites and a tribe of Edomites (2 Chronicles 20). Probably the Moabites had not yet felt themselves sufficiently strong for an attack on the Israelitish stronghold in Northern Moab, and accordingly resolved on making a raid across the undefended boundary of Judah, while at the same time they sought to combine into an anti-Israelitish alliance all the tribes along the eastern line of Palestine. We know that through the Divine help to Jehoshaphat, this expedition signally failed, while in the mutual slaughter which ensued the Edomite allies of Moab were the first to suffer. Hence, the projected anti-Israelitish league was not only broken up, but Edom was drawn into what seems to have been a Palestinian counter league, the pathetic story of which is connected with the so-called "Moabite stone." It is impossible to find words for the varied feelings which rise as we realize that after the lapse of 2,500 years a monumental stone should in such unexpected manner have been found to bear testimony to Holy Scripture, and especially to its record of that event from which Mesha dates the recovery of the independence of Moab,* - all the more that he ascribes the glory of it to Chemosh, his god.**
* As I understand it, the Inscription traces in the first six lines the state of Moab under Omri and Ahab. For reasons easily understood, reference is not made to the straits to which Kir-haraseth was reduced, while at the same time, and very significantly, emphasis is laid on the help given by Chemosh. Similarly the withdrawal of the Jewish expedition is passed over, and the Inscription goes on to record how (after their withdrawal) Mesha gradually recovered, town by town, all Northern Moab, how he rebuilt the various towns, and finally also made reprisals on Edom.
** The language of the Inscription illustrates, perhaps better than anything else, the heathen notion of national deities, how Moab regarded Chemosh as the rival god of that of Israel, and how true even to national thought are those expressions in the Old Testament which represent national calamity or deliverance as clue to the anger or favor of God. In using such expressions the prophets and sacred historians appealed to what were, so to speak, admitted facts in popular consciousness.
When from the Moabite inscription we turn to the Biblical narrative, we learn that Mesha, like his predecessors, had been under heavy annual tribute to Israel, which was paid in kind. We read that he "was a sheepmaster." The extensive downs of Moab were covered by numberless flocks, and the tribute which he had to pay consisted of "a hundred thousand lambs, and a hundred thousand wethers - the wool." The wording in the original is not very clear, but as the term used for "lambs" generally designates "fed lambs," we conclude that if it is intended to convey that the wool formed the tribute, it must have been that of "the wethers," and that to this the hundred thousand fed lambs were added. It need scarcely be said that this tribute ceased when Mesha cast off the yoke of Israel.
The events previously related will sufficiently account for the anxiety of Jehoshaphat that the growing power of Moab should be checked, and a counter league formed effectually to oppose the common enemies of Palestine. As regards any religious scruples to an alliance with Israel, he may have argued that Joram was not like Ahaziah, nor even like Ahab (2 Kings 3:2), and that since God Himself had given such signal victory over Moab, a common invasion of their land might even be pleasing in His sight. We rarely fail to find a satisfactory or even a religious reason for doing that on which we set our hearts. But it does seem strange, that the answer which Jehoshaphat returned to the invitation of Joram to join him in the campaign against Moab should have been precisely the same as that which he had given on the disastrous occasion when Ahab asked him to go up against Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:4). Perhaps, however, it was a common mode of expression in such circumstances, or else the sacred historian may have wished to emphasize the folly and wrong of Jehoshaphat's conduct by using the same terms as formerly in the unhappy alliance with Ahab. The plan agreed upon by the two monarchs was to make invasion of Moab from the south. This, not only in order to ensure the co-operation of the king of Edom, who had now joined the anti-Moabite league, and to protect their rear and their communications, but also for important strategic reasons. Northern Moab was, indeed, subject to Israel, but the Arnon marked the boundary, and no prudent commander would attempt to force such a position as the line of the Arnon in the face of a general like Mesha. On the other hand, by fetching "a seven days' compass," and advancing front the south and through Edom, alike their retreat was covered and supplies would be secured. And if Mesha could be drawn into the wilderness which separated Edom from Southern Moab, and belonged partly to the one, partly to the other country, the whole of Moab might be overrun, and the invading army from the south join hands with the Israelitish garrisons north of the Arnon.
But once more the incapacity, if not the treachery, of Edom defeated the plans of the allies. Mesha refused to be drawn into the wilderness of Edom. As we understand it, his army was posted on the Moabite side of the boundary, which is here formed by the Wady 'el Ahsa,* while higher up it passes into the Wady Tufileh.
* It has been objected that Wady'el Ahsa is a permanent watercourse. But this has not been ascertained in regard to all seasons of the year. Besides it may have been some branch or side wady of 'el Ahsa. At any rate the narrative implies that the allied armies had expected to find water, and were disappointed.
We suppose that it was here, or in some other dried-up wady close by, that the allies, who were now suffering from want of water, suddenly found themselves in presence of an enemy that swarmed the tangled brushwood and thicket around. Unable to cross the Wady and engage the enemy, who seemed ubiquitous, or to retreat into the wilderness, the position of the allies seemed, humanly speaking, hopeless.
It was in these circumstances that the grand difference in principle between the king of Israel and pious Jehoshaphat appeared, as it always does in seasons of trial and decision between the servants of the LORD and those of "strange gods." Joram could descry nothing but impending ruin, and his only thought concerning Jehovah was that He had brought the three kings together for their destruction. Jehoshaphat, though often and sadly failing through weakness of character, was yet true in the inmost direction of his heart. In his distress he instinctively turned to the LORD for guidance. His inquiry for a "prophet of Jehovah" brought out two facts of infinite comfort: that Elisha, known as the attendant of Elijah,* was - no doubt by Divine direction - present in the camp; and that there was one in the following of the king of Israel - probably one of the superior officers - who knew of it, being evidently in sympathy with that which the prophet represented, as Obadiah had been in the days of Ahab (1 Kings 18:3).
* He who "poured water" on his hands.
We read that the three kings went to the tent of Elisha. This not merely from apprehension that he might refuse to come to them, nor yet from humility; but probably because they may have dreaded the effect upon the host of such words as formerly Micaiah had spoken in similar circumstances (1 Kings 22:17-28). The reception which this incongruous company of kings met at the hands of the prophet was certainly not encouraging. On the other hand, an appeal for help addressed to the prophet of Jehovah by the heathen king of Edom and the son of Ahab seemed to treat the prophetic office as if it had involved heathen magic and divination, just as Balak of old had sought to employ Balaam against Israel. To an appeal of such a character Elisha could not have listened; it should - as he told the king of Israel - be addressed to the prophets of Baal. How truly Elisha had judged Joram appears from his answer, when with almost incredible dullness, he once more urged - presumably as the reason for his coming - that Jehovah, the God of the prophet, and the old enemy of the house of Ahab, had brought these kings together for their destruction. With such an one it was impossible to argue, and the prophet turned from him to the king of Judah, for whose sake alone he would consent to continue the interview, or would seek the guidance and help of the LORD.
It has been assumed by a certain school of critics that when Elisha next called for a minstrel, it was to rouse in himself the prophetic faculty, or else that such was the common mode of producing prophetic inspiration. But for the latter assertion there is not a tittle of evidence,* while, as regards the former, alike Biblical (1 Samuel 16:16) and heathen testimony** go to prove that the purpose for which music was employed was to soothe, not to excite the mind.
* Assuredly, 1 Samuel 10:5 does not afford such; it only records the fact that such prophetic communities employed music, not that they incited themselves thereby to prophesy - if indeed, the term prophesy in that connection means the same as in our passage.
** Bochart has collated many passages to that effect (Hieroz. 1. 2, 44) from which Bahr selects the following (from Cicero): "They" (the Pythagoreans) "were wont to recall their minds from strain of thought to quietness by means of singing and flutes."
It was not otherwise in the present instance. From the agitation of his interview with Joram Elisha was restored by the minstrel to quietness, and thus prepared for receiving the Divine communication. This was twofold: it gave promise of deliverance from the present straits and of complete victory over Moab. The people were directed to make the Wady full of pits - and then, without sound of wind, or sight of rain, would the Wady be filled with water, and the host set free from their present straits. But this was only preparatory. A complete victory would be granted to them, and in their victorious progress they would destroy all fenced cities and absolutely lay waste the enemy's country. It is not ours to vindicate the work of warfare here indicated, although not prescribed (v. 19).*
* Some critics have regarded ver. 19 as only a prediction of what they would do. But in such a case it seems difficult to distinguish between a prediction of certain acts and at least an implied sanction of them.
It seems to be opposed to the express Divine direction in Deuteronomy 20:19, 20. In judging of it some considerations must, however, be kept in view. First and foremost we have to remember the spirit of the times. Nor is the time so far distant when a mode of warfare not very unlike this was common in an enemy's country. As a matter of fact, this mode of laying waste a hostile country seems to have been general at that time among all nations. Accordingly it is frequently represented on the Assyrian monuments,* and referred to in classical writings.**
* Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, p. 588; Monuments, 1st Ser. pl. 73; 2nd Ser. pl. 40.
** As Canon Rawlinson reminds us, in the Speaker's Commentary, by Herodotus and Polybius. Even Deuteronomy 20:19, 20 seems to imply this was the common mode of warfare.
It may be of interest here to recall two points which might otherwise be overlooked. It will be remembered that the inscription on the "Moabite stone" makes the following special reference to this mode of warfare: "In my days he said, [Let us go,] and I will see my desire on him and his house. And Israel (said), I will destroy with an everlasting destruction." Thus the Moabite stone to a certain extent bears testimony to the very words which Elisha had used. Again, it may be doubted whether, if Israel had not adopted this mode of warfare, the retreat of the allied army from Kir-haraseth would not have been followed by a most formidable Moabite invasion into Palestine. As it was, the repair of the havoc wrought in his country must have engaged all the energies of Mesha. And to this work of necessary restoration and recuperation the closing part of the Moabite inscription bears testimony.
We return to the narrative of what happened on the morrow of the interview with Elisha. As directed by the prophet, pits had been dug - as we imagine, either in the rear or along the sides of the camp of Israel, although we know too little of the actual circumstances to venture on any more detailed statement. However it may have been, the Divine prediction by Elisha was literally fulfilled. Once more it all happened in the orderly succession of events, while, if viewed by itself, the issue would seem, as in the highest sense it was, miraculous. And this indeed holds true of the record of most Biblical miracles, that they are the statement of effects, without the assignment or explanation of the causes that led up to them. In the present instance, it was no doubt a sudden storm that had burst in the mountains of Moab which sent a rush of water down the Wady by which Israel was camped. The prophetic historian, who loves to connect Jehovah's deliverance with the loved services of the sanctuary, reminds us that it was "when the meat-offering was offered," that "there came water by the way of Edom," - to disappear as suddenly as it had come, when the object had been served.
The Israelites in their camp had seen it, and hastened to quench their thirst. The Moabites also saw it, but to them it seemed as the eastern sun shone on the water in the pits, reddened as it was by the color of the soil, that they were gazing on pools of blood. Their late expedition into Judah suggested a ready explanation of the strange sight. Perhaps their superstition might lead them to imagine that Chemosh, of whose help we read so much in the Moabite inscription, had now granted to Moab a success precisely similar to that of Judah. The kings were destroyed - they had smitten one another: now, therefore, Moab to the spoil!
Meantime, the commanders of the allied army would naturally keep their men within their camp, so as to allow the disorderly rush of Bedawin, intent on spoil, to cross the Wady and approach them quite closely, before suddenly sallying forth to inflict indiscriminate slaughter. Mesha was too wary to risk another defeat of the same kind. He retreated before Israel, evacuating every fortified town, till he reached the stronghold of Kir-haraseth, where he resolved to make a final stand. The Jewish army slowly followed the retreating enemy, destroying every town and laying waste the country around. Their progress was arrested at the walls of Kir-haraseth. As we consider the situation of that fortress, we scarcely wonder that the allies found themselves unable to do more than harass the garrison by posting sharpshooters on the hills around ("the slingers went about it"), and attempt to reduce it by hunger. The position of Kir-Moab, "the fortress of Moab," (Isaiah 15:1),* Kir-hareseth (Isaiah 16:7), Kir-haresh (Isaiah 16:7), or Kir-haraseth - for it bears all these names, which seem to mean "fortress of brickwork," - has been ascertained beyond reasonable doubt.
* Isaiah 15 and 16, should be studied in connection with the history of Moab.
The Chaldee paraphrast designates it (Isaiah 15:1) Keraka deMoabh, which exactly answers to the modern name Kerak. A continuous ascent from the south, amidst Alpine scenery, leads up to Kerak, which lies 3,720 feet above the Mediterranean. From the last crest, whence there is a magnificent prospect far away, we look down into the "Wady of Kerak, some 1800 feet of nearly sheer precipice on the opposite side."*
* Canon Tristram, u.s. p. 67. But in our description use has also been made of the account of Badeker-Socin in Riehm's Hand-worterb.
Along that Wady winds among rocks the road, so narrow that a few resolute men could hold it against an army. As the Wady widens, the ground is cultivated "with olives, figs, pomegranates, and a few vineyards and patches of corn." Soon Kerak itself is seen, towering high aloft. To reach it, we must first descend into the valley. Then an hour's climb up the opposite cliff brings the traveler to an arched tunnel of about eighty yards in length, through which he emerges into the city of Kerak.
The plateau on which the town stands is almost level, and measures from 800 to 1000 yards on each face of the triangle which the city forms, and of which the north-eastern side is the longest. Here, and to a less degree at the south-west angle, the plateau is connected with the heights which surround Kerak on every side. But everywhere else the town is cut off from the encircling range by "Wadies (in part) from 1000 to 1500 feet deep, with steeply scarped or else rugged sides."* If we imagine this isthmus of rock, jutting into and rising above a sea of deep Wadies, itself surrounded by a broad wall with towers and other defenses, and crowned by a city to which there were only two entrances, each through a tunnel in the side of the cliff - we can form a picture of Kir-haraseth, as it appeared to the Jewish host that gazed on it from the heights around.
* Comp. Tristram, u.s.
But although the allied army could not reduce the city, "the slingers" posted on the overlooking heights might inflict serious losses on the garrison. In fact, the place would soon have become untenable. In these circumstances Mesha endeavored, at the head of 700 swordsmen, to cut his way through the besieging army in the direction where the king of Edom was posted - either because this was the weakest point in the camp of the allies, or probably because he may have expected less resistance in that quarter. Driven back into the city, the frenzy of despair seized him. The idea underlying sacrifice was in heathen worship also that of substitution, though not as provided by the mercy of God, but in order to appease His wrath. It was not the infinite compassion and love of God which provided a ransom, but the despair of mercy and goodness that suggested such means as the last hope of expiation. Hence that which was nearest and dearest to a man was offered up to propitiate, if possible, a god who was not known to be full of compassion. And so the king of Moab now took his eldest son, who should have succeeded him on the throne, and in sight of besiegers and besieged offered him on the wall as a burnt offering. Thus would he conciliate Chemosh; thus also would he show his devotion to his country. It was a horrible, sickening spectacle, which made deepest impression on all onlookers - friend as well as foe. The undertaking on which Israel had engaged its allies became hateful to all - and the allied army retired from before Kir-haraseth. So ended the campaign against Moab,