A Royal Flop II Kings 3
A Royal Flop
II Kings 3
Jehoram ascended Ahab’s throne and did nothing to stop the downward trajectory his ancestor accelerated. Ahab reigned poorly over a doomed dynasty. Jehoram perpetuated a losing legacy. He did let go of some of Ahab’s idols but “clung” (covenant word used for sticking to the agreement) to a predecessor’s lifeless gods. The One True and Living God wants us to cling to Him. He especially expects this clinginess of kings who rule over God’s people. Instead, these Israelite kings were glued to the pagan gods of the surrounding culture.
There is an obvious royal tone to II Kings 3. The word king is used 22 times. The verbal form is used another three times. We might expect royal power to be the theme of this chapter. Instead the theme is royal weakness. Even a coalition of three kings can’t accomplish its simple goal of reining in one rebel king.
King Jehoram faced rebellion from the outset of his reign. Kings accumulate wealth and influence through expansionist policies. Growing in strength often requires domination. Subjugated rulers pay tribute to conquering kings. Moab served Israel for many years. But under the leadership of Jehoram Moab rebelled and Jehoram lost valuable tribute in the form of sheep and sheep products. As is a ruler’s prerogative he organized the nation to answer the rebellion militarily. He also brought together a royal coalition. He solicited the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and the king of Edom who controlled the path to Moab.
Three kings set out to teach the ruler of Moab a lesson. Instead of glorious victory they encounter drought. A dehydrated soldier is ineffective as are thirsty beasts. Water shortage is devastating to an active army and one important way God teaches us about control. Specifically, who is in control. Especially of life and death. When faced with this loss of control due to an utter inability to produce water the king of Israel senses the antagonism of the Lord. Is his defeatist attitude a symptom of his idolatry? He’s sure God is against him and he’s correct, and it’s because of the trust factor. He trusts in gods other than the Lord who has often proven He can supply water for thirsty people.
Jehoshaphat has the right question. Where can we find a prophet of the Lord? Ironically, a nameless servant of Israel’s king has the right answer. And that answer is Elisha. God’s spokesperson. Steward of the Word of the Lord. Provider of life’s necessities.
Jehoram gets no love from Elisha. He’s told to consult false prophets seeing that’s his preference. Jehoshphat gets a nod from Elisha. His pact with Israel and Edom doesn’t please the Lord but he does have the sense to consult the true God in adversity. The king of Edom seems irrelevant.
God, in His mercy promises water and assures a victory. Pools of water are provided that appear without rain. The troops and the beasts drink and prepare for battle. When Moab hears enemy footsteps the king responds by preparing for battle. He and his soldiers rise in the morning. They’re at the border. Looking out as the sun shines brightly on the waters they badly misinterpret what they see. They mistakenly believe that the members of the royal coalition have turned on one another. Because the water God provided looks like blood Moab confidently marches forward thinking the troops will conduct a mopping-up action. This poor judgment leads to an initial defeat. Further disaster ensues when he falsely judges Edom to be the weak link. He attacks and is driven back. In desperation The king of Moab proves to be radicalized by offering his oldest son and heir on the wall as a sacrifice. The drastic action creates an atmosphere of fear and everyone returns home.
The ending is sad, confusing and so unsatisfying. But at the same time strangely enlightening. Here are kings in action accomplishing little. All that power on display and who wins? No one. Who proves to be wise? A slave and a prophet. Who proves to be resourceful? A slave and a prophet. Who proves to have an answer? A slave and a prophet. Good thing we’ve entrusted our lives to a king willing to become a slave for our sakes. A king who satisfies our thirst. A king who can be trusted. A king who rules and will rule forever with real power and authority we can depend on.