Have you ever wondered what could have been in your life? Different decisions in life can lead you to those “what could have been” moments? I went to school and obtained my accounting degree. What would life have looked like if I had done that? What could have been if I never left California? We sometimes call this the “what if” game. We are going to look at the life of Jehoram, the king of Israel, and God is going to show us what could have been.
The Rebellion (3:1-8)
Jehoram is a wicked king, doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord. But we get a half-hearted commending of Jehoram. He was not quite as bad as his father Ahab and his mother Jezebel for he did remove the pillar of Baal that Ahab made. He is not the diehard Baal worshiper. But he clung to the sins of Jeroboam and the false worship that he established in Dan and Bethel. The details about Jehoram and what he does are important to understanding the message of this chapter. To start, Jehoram is a little better than his parents, but not enough to matter or move the needle. We are reminded by this connection to Ahab and Jezebel that the nation of Israel is under judgment for turning away from the Lord. This was confirmed in chapter 2 where we see Elisha rejected at Bethel.
The second detail is also important to what we are going to see. Verse 4 tells us that the king of Moab had been paying a staggering tribute to King Ahab. Moab paid 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. This is an astronomical amount that is being given. So when Ahab dies, Ahaziah becomes king but only reigns two years. So the next son of Ahab, Jehoram, becomes king, Moab sees this as its opportunity to get out from this burdensome tribute. So verse 5 records that Mesha the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
Jehoram follows in his father’s footsteps. He does not seek the Lord but immediately musters his armies to go fight against Moab. But he is going to call on Jehoshaphat the king of Judah to help him. In the past, Jehoshaphat helped Jehoram’s father fight against Syria, nearly to the loss of his own life. So Jehoram asks Jehoshaphat to help him like he helped his father. “Will you go with me to battle against Moab?” (3:7). Jehoshaphat’s response is the same as he gave to Ahab when he asked. (cf. 1 Kings 22:4). We are one so let us go to battle together. You will notice a difference in what happens this time, however. Last time said that they needed to inquire of the Lord before going out to battle (1 Kings 22:5). This time, neither Jehoram nor Jehoshaphat choose to inquire of the Lord. They simply gather their troops, make their battle plans, and go through the wilderness of Edom to attack Moab (3:8). The king of Edom likes that they are going to battle against Moab and so his troops joined with theirs and all three armies marched for seven days through the wilderness.
The Trouble (3:9-14)
For seven days they make their march but there was no water for the army or for the animals. They are in trouble. The king of Israel declares in verse 10 that the Lord has brought us out here to die by the hand of Moab. This is an interesting observation. Keep his concern in the back of your mind. In verse 11 Jehoshaphat spiritually wakes up and asks if there is a prophet of the Lord here that they can inquire of the Lord. Now that these kings and their armies are doomed as they have marched in the wilderness for a week, they now decide that they need to seek God’s will.
Before we go on, how often do we do this in our lives? How often do we see certain circumstances, make decisions, carry on with our plans, only to then realize the trouble we face and cry out to the Lord for rescue? How many times do we forge ahead in our lives, leaving God behind, only to try to come back to go when we are in trouble for our decision to ignore God’s will and teachings? So, before we condemn Jehoram and Jehoshaphat too much, we should consider how often we put ourselves in similar circumstances because we did not seek the will of the Lord before we pressed forward with our desires.
These three kings find themselves in deep trouble. The king of Israel says that they are doomed. The king of Judah says we need to find a prophet of the Lord. Curiously, it is one of the servants of the king of Israel who knows that Elisha is here and was a servant of Elijah (3:11). Jehoshaphat says that Elisha will possess God’s word and they travel to him.
When the three kings arrive, the response of Elisha is sharp. Elisha tells the king of Israel that he has no business to coming to him. Go to the prophets of your father and your mother. Since you walk in the ways of your parents and their false worship with their false gods, go ahead and consult them. Why do you think you are going to seek the Lord now? The king of Israel responds that the Lord has put us in this position to be given over into Moab’s hands. So we need to hear what God has to say since it is God who has put us in this predicament. Just like Jehoram, how many times do we only seek the Lord when we get into a jam but do not want God to be our guide for all of life? You see the fake spirituality of Jehoram.
Please notice that God sees through it. Elisha takes an oath in verse 14 that he would not see or speak to Jehoram if were not that God had some regard for Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. God has nothing to do with Israel. God will have nothing to do with Jehoram. You cannot come to the Lord only in your moments of desperation, but never at any other time in your life, and think that God is going to help you. God is not going to listen to or help those who try to use God like a lucky rabbit’s foot or some good luck charm. God is not your genie in the bottle to be called upon to grant your wishes when you need him. God will not help Jehoram. But God is only going to answer because of the king of Judah who is there. In essence, God would let Jehoram die in the wilderness as a judgment for his sinning. But because of the righteousness of Jehoshaphat, the Lord is going to answer.
The Prophecy (3:15-19)
Now we need to remember why these three kings have come to Elisha. They are in need of water for themselves, their armies, and their animals. They are about to die in the wilderness after traveling around through it. Elisha has a musician play and the word of the Lord gives his message through Elisha. In verses 16-17 God declares that he will make these dry valleys filled with pools of water. But it is going to happen in a miraculous way. The valley will be filled with water even though there will be no rain or wind. There is going to be so much water that you, your men, and your animals will drink.
But then God goes further with his message. Look at verse 18. It is too easy for God to give them water in the wilderness. God has done that for Israel in the past when they were in the wilderness with Moses. It is too easy for God to give water in a miraculous way. By the way, before we continue, please think about that. Do we think of God in this way? It is easy for the Lord to give overflowing water in the middle of nowhere. It is so easy that God says he must do more. He will also deliver Moab into their hands. Then Elisha goes about telling them what is going to happen. They are going to attack every fortified city and every choice city. They are going to cut down every good tree and stop up all the springs of water and ruin every good piece of land.
Now anyone who knew the Law of Moses should take a step back when they heard these words. There is something wrong with the prophecy that Elisha has given. Listen to what God had declared about Israel going to war before going into the promised land.
When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls. (Deuteronomy 20:19–20 ESV)
God had also instructed Israel not to go to war with Moab when they came into the land (Deuteronomy 2:9). Yet we are at a crossroads moment where declares what is going to happen. They are going to war with Moab and they are going to have victory, but victory in a way that God had not wanted Israel to attack in the past. It is a curious prophecy that is given at this moment and no one seems to catch the wording.
The Rescue (3:20-27)
The next morning water came from all directions and land was filled with water, just as God said would happen. When the Moabites get up early in the morning to fight, the sun was shining on the water in such a way that they thought the water looked as red as blood. They are so convinced from the distance that the water looked like blood that they believe a great battle happened the day before and it is the blood of the armies that is flowing down this river. Thinking that the three kings have turned on each other and their blood was flowing down the river, they rise up to go and plunder the bodies. Of course, they are wrong about their assessment. The kings and their armies have not died. So when the Moabites come on the Israel camp, the Israelites rose up and fought them back and the Moabites fled. Then they invade Moab and do exactly what God said they would do. They destroyed towns, threw stones on all the good fields, stopped up every spring of water, and cut down every good tree. The king of Moab took 700 swordsmen with him to try to just break through the enemy lines to kill the king of Edom, but he failed even to do this. It seems like a glorious victory for Israel and Jehoram. But look at verse 27.
The king of Moab took his firstborn son who was to succeed him as king and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. Great wrath came against Israel and Israel withdrew and returned to their own land. There are a number of ways that this final verses has tried to be understood. The first suggestion is that Israel was so filled with wrath for what the king of Moab did that Israel retreated and returned home. However, the Hebrew wording typically refers to divine wrath against wrongdoers, not personal indignation. It seems unlikely that the meaning is that Israel was so upset by seeing this that they left. The second suggestion is that the Moabites were so furious against Israel when they saw their king offer his son on the wall. The problem with this is that if God was with Israel, it would not matter what the king of Moab did nor it would not matter how mad the Moabite armies became. God would still give victory. The only other suggestion is to read it as most of the translations have rendered verse 27. The wrath against Israel is from God. Therefore, Israel retreats and goes back to its own land.
The whole text identifies the wickedness of Israel. Jehoram’s reign is no different than his brother’s or his parents’ reigns. Jehoram has no interest in seeking the will of the Lord. Elisha confirms that God is done with Israel completely. Judgment is due on Jehoram and on Israel. Do not forget that God said that judgment was going to happen in the generation after Ahab only because, for a moment, Ahab repented. God is ready for Jehoram to die by Moabite hands or by thirst in the wilderness. The wrath is great against Israel. Everything Israel does is against the will and command of the Lord. But God is going to give Jehoram water in the wilderness, even though he is in rebellion. God is even going to go further than that. It was too easy of a thing to give water. God wants to display his glory even further. God is going to give Jehoram victory against the Moabites, pushing them back into their own land and putting them back into subjugation.
Why? Why is God going to give Jehoram, a wicked king ruling over a wicked nation that has no regard for Elijah or Elisha, victory? Only because the Lord had regard for the king of Judah. It is only because the king of Judah had gained some favor with the Lord that the Lord will provide this exodus rescue. Because of the king of Judah, water will flow in desert. Because of the king of Judah, the water will look like it turned to blood, sending the Moabite armies into their hands. Because of the king of Judah, the nations that rise up against God’s people are subjugated.
God was showing how much he could have done for Israel. But there was a problem. Their sins had kept them from enjoying God’s blessings. Because they did not seek the Lord, they were under judgment. Because they would not submit their lives to God’s will, they were missing out on all that God could have done for the king, for the people, and for the nation. I want us to see how we are like Jehoram and like Israel. The wrath of God stands against us because we have rejected the ways of the Lord. So why does God do good to anyone on earth? God does good still because he has regard for the righteous king of Judah, Jesus. Only because of Jesus can we find any blessings. Only because of Jesus can we have victory. Only because of Jesus can we be set free from sin. Only because of Jesus can God flow his blessings to us.
But we are to see something. Our sins interfere with what God could accomplish. Jehoram was supposed to see what could have been if he was not under God’s wrath. Jehoram missed what God was doing. He did not look to God as anything more than the God of last resort to be looked to only in times of trouble. So he is turned away from full life and full victory because the wrath of God remained on him and the people of Israel. His sins interfered with what God could have done for Jehoram and for Israel.
Look at all God can do for you if you would simply give your life to him and follow his ways. As we think about having bold faith, I want us to think about how much more God could be with us if we would choose to fully give our lives to him. Our sins interfere with what God could accomplish if we would seek and listen to the Lord. Think about the relationship we could have with the Lord if we would tear down our idols from our lives and from our hearts. Think about how transformed we could be if we would courageously fight against the sins and the traps of life that entangle us. Jesus was constantly telling people that he had so much to give to them if they would completely turn to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14 ESV)
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. (John 6:27 ESV)
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:9–10 ESV)
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53–56 ESV)
Jesus kept saying that you do not have life because you have not immersed your life in him. Your sins are blocking you from giving yourself to him and enjoying true life. Is Jesus the air that you breathe? Is he your very life that you eat and drink? Or is your god of convenience rather than the Lord of all the earth? Jesus calls us to get out of the boat and walk on water, trusting the life he will give you.