This week we go to 2 Kings 3:16- and another of those hinge verses:
And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.
Thumbnail story: Jehoram has just become King in Israel. Now, every one of the Kings of Israel "did evil in the sight of the Lord". This is the so-called "Northern Kingdom" the ten tribes that split from Judah after Solomon's death and were known from their capital as Samaria. Denied access to the Temple to worship, the first King Jeroboam had set up golden calves in Bethel and Dan and began a long history of idolatry. And Jehoram saw the worst of it- he was the second son of Ahab and Jezebel to become king; but the writer gives him a bit of a pass by saying, "he wrought evil in the sight of the LORD; but not like his father, and like his mother: for he put away the image of Baal that his father had made." Of course considering who his father and mother WERE, he could have hardly done worse.
Now as he becomes king, the tributary state of Moab revolts from his rule.
And as you might guess from the map, he was going to want to ask for some help, which brought him to Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. Now Jehoshaphat was a King who sought after God, and God prospered him, in fact, 2 Chronicles tells us, "And the fear of the LORD fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat. " So not surprisingly at all, Jehoram went to him- and, in fact, deferred to him:
2Ki 3:7 And he went and sent to Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, saying, The king of Moab hath rebelled against me: wilt thou go with me against Moab to battle? And he said, I will go up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, and my horses as thy horses.
2Ki 3:8 And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom.
Edom being a "client state" of Judah, which then would add a third army to the attack. Looking at the map, though, you see that this meant passing over the ruins of Sodom, the salt desert below the Dead Sea, and very soon, the armies were within sight of Moab- but out of water and dying of thirst. After seven days, they found themselves in a dry valley whose brook only flowed during cloudbursts. At this point, the faithless Jehoram cried out that the armies had been assembled only to be delivered to Mesha, King of Moab. Jehoshaphat, who should have thought about this sooner, asked if there was a prophet in the land they could quickly summon- and that brings Elisha into the picture. So now we can start to unpack the many lessons involved in "digging a ditch".
Lesson one: Did you hear the one about the heretic, the Christian, and the agnostic? Jehoshaphat, for all his zeal for the Lord, had let cockiness and the fear in which everyone held him make him sloppy. Here he stood, allied with not only a pagan king (that of Edom), but the apostate King of Israel. 800 years later, Paul would say:
14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.
Especially noting the bold passage about idols. Now perhaps if God had been consulted PRIOR to this debacle, they might not have been in it so deep- or Jehoshaphat might have told Jehoram, "Go fish." But Jehoshaphat had been getting "the worship of kings" for a while now- and he was paying for reading his press releases.
And the worst of it was allying with Jehoram at all. Elisha entered the camp, and made that point on no uncertain terms:
2Ki 3:13 And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay: for the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.
2Ki 3:14 And Elisha said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.
"What, Jehoram? You don't have priests of Baal to go to?" Remember, Elisha had a double-portion of the Spirit of Elijah- the same Spirit that would fill John the Baptist in later days. And you remember what John had to say about insincere seekers of God:
Matt 3:21 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
The left-handed compliment Jehoshaphat then receives probably tells him pretty well the mistake he had made.
Lesson two: Calm and center
Even with that, Elisha was full of righteous rage, both at the apostasy of Jehoram and the stupidity of Jehoshaphat. But Jesus bids us to "remember what kind of Spirit we are to be"; and so knowing, Elisha knows he must calm down and let God do the talking:
2Ki 3:15 But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.
2Ki 3:16 And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.
Music is connected to the seeking of God many times in the Bible; starting at least with David playing for the heaven-abandoned Saul. Reinforced by God's Word, Elisha explained to them God's plan.
Lesson three: And this is going to work how?
Elisha sets the armies to what seemed a stupid task: digging ditches and cisterns in the desert. In fact, filling the valley with them. Because God was going to give them water. And more than just water:
2Ki 3:17 For thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts.
2Ki 3:18 And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.
And they were probably thinking, "what, are the Moabites going to trip and fall into holes? By the time they get here, the holes will be filled with our corpses for thirst!" But God had a plan, and it was a bit ironic. See, Moab's god was Chemosh, and Chemosh had among his attributes the heat, the burning fire of the sun- and was to be appeased when angry by the blood of human sacrifice. And it was going to be "by Chemosh" that God would destroy them.
Lesson Four: Idolaters are fools
So says Isaiah:
44:9 How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
so they are all put to shame.
10 Who but a fool would make his own god—
an idol that cannot help him one bit?
11 All who worship idols will be disgraced
along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
who claim they can make a god.
And so it would happen to Moab. In the morning, water rose up from Edom and filled the valley- the trenches, ditches, and pools they had dug- with water. And as the armies refreshed themselves, the Moabites looked east in the first light and saw red:
2Ki 3:22 And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood:
2Ki 3:23 And they said, This is blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!
The red rays of the rising sun lit the water- and Moab couldn't believe there could possibly be water in the valley without a storm, it HAD to be blood. And they ran on to their own destruction. So, in a way, Chemosh had destroyed them. At least, that's what Mesha thought. The allied armies destroyed Moab down to the capital city of Dibon. Mesha took one more stab- one that would confuse OUR understanding of what happened- an attack towards the Edomite army that failed. Which left Mesha with but one chance.
We need to keep in mind here, that God had done what He had purposed, Moab had been destroyed. What wasn't on His agenda was the glorification of Israel. So Mesha, pinned in his city, placated Chemosh the only way he knew how:
2Ki 3:27 Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.
Apparently the sight of the burnt offering disgusted the allies so much, they saw the whole thing as damned from the start, and went home grumbling that Israel had ever brought them into it.
And so, the enterprise that none of them should have entered into got none of the allies what they wanted. Both Jehoram and Jehoshaphat would die shortly after another alliance against Syria. Moab would rise again, and seek revenge against Edom for not turning against the Hebrews in this battle. The way our story is written, some people translate the ending as Moab having captured the son of the King of Edom and sacrificed him, because of the prophecy of Amos 2:
Amo 2:1 Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime...
This was among the most difficult of bunny trails that I have searched. Most commentators agree that this referred to a later moment, as the "king" of Edom was only a deputy appointed by Israel.
Thus it couldn't be a "successor" to the "throne" of Edom. Most believe that a later vengeance occured, and the bones of the King of Edom were dug up and ritually burned to deny him an afterlife. Me, I'm not so convinced. But it is hardly a moment to draw a lesson from, as very soon later, both Moab and Edom, along with Ammon, would turn against Judah- in fact while Jehoshaphat still reigned. But God sent a prophet by the name of Jahaziel, son of Zechariah (2 Chr 20), who told them do not fear, the Lord was fighting this battle as well; and the next morning, the three allies turned on each other, and all Jehoshaphat had to do was spend three days looting the remains.
The one thing you can get as a lesson from this postscript is, Jehoshaphat won when he let God do his fighting; when he listened to Jehoram, he got into trouble. In other words,
Lesson five: To God belongs the battle.
And that is for us as much as him; we face an enemy greater than ourselves. But behind us is a Father who loves us, a God who is undefeated. We do well to listen to what Jahaziel told Judah:
2 Chr 20 :17"...This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.” 18Then Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.