In 2 Kings 3, the historian informs us that Jehoram, the brother of the short-lived Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:2) and another son of the infamous Ahab (2 Kings 1:17), ascends the throne only to continue Israel’s downward trajectory into evil. “But,” the historian adds, “not like his father, and like his mother” (2 Kings 3:2). Jehoram’s vileness would be different, as he’s seen tearing down the idols of Baal his father had erected — but don’t get your hopes up for reform (2 Kings 3:3). Any notion that Jehoram’s leadership would prove advantageous for Israel’s spiritual well-being are dashed in a flash. Although his perversion was “different” than his parents’, his résumé was still marred with the blight of “cleaving” to the trademark scourge of Israel’s post-Solomon monarchs, i.e., “the sins of Jeroboam” (cf. 1 Kings 15:26; 16:19; 22:52). Baal might’ve been “put away,” but he was merely replaced with another image, another idol. A different form of paganism is still paganism. A different idol is still idolatry. Yahweh was still relegated to the sidelines of Israelite life and culture.
With Ahab out of the picture, though, Mesha the king of Moab determines the time is right for the Moabites to be a free people (2 Kings 3:4–5). Moab, you see, was a feudal district that had been under Israelite control since the days of King David (2 Sam. 8:2). But after generations of paying homage and tribute to kings for whom they harbored no loyalty, the Moabites decide to revolt against the transitioning Israelite government and win their independence. This, of course, sends Jehoram for a loop. He certainly didn’t want to be viewed as a weak ruler, nor did he want to be remembered as the monarch who lost control of Moab. Instead of seeking counsel with Israel’s One True God, however, Israel’s king scurries about to conduct a military census to count all of Israel’s men (2 Kings 3:6). Much to his dismay, perhaps, he found out that his numbers wouldn’t be sufficient. Such is why he urges an old “family friend,” Jehoshaphat king of Judah, to go into battle with him against his revolutionaries (2 Kings 3:7).
Jehoshaphat, you might remember, is the same Judean king who previously rushed into an ill-advised war with King Ahab and the Syrians (1 Kings 22). Here, he is seen repeating nearly the same gullible pattern, aligning himself with one of Ahab’s sons (2 Kings 3:7; cf. 1 Kings 22:4). Despite how well-intentioned he was, Jehoshaphat was a king who couldn’t get out of his own way. For all of his upstanding accomplishments, he was never more than an arm’s-length away from wicked leaders, the likes of which he should’ve distanced himself from. His kingly career is, therefore, riddled with some good counsel but even more pitiful choices. He’s sort of a sympathetic character, in that way. But, as we’ll see shortly, naïve Jehoshaphat turns out to be the most crucial figure in this entire narrative.
They determine to march on Moab by passing through “the wilderness of Edom,” around the southern shoreline of the Dead Sea (2 Kings 3:8). This would allow for an opportunity to add some Edomite soldiers to the ranks (what with Edom being a district under Judean rule). It would also allow for their counter-strike to occur in a more vulnerable region. But as tactical as that might’ve been, it wasn’t very practical, with the three armies soon seeing their water supply completely dry up (2 Kings 3:9). This devastates Jehoram, who sees this as a sure sign of God’s judgment. “Alas!” he cries, “that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab!” (2 Kings 3:10).
Jehoshaphat, though, comes through with a healthy dose of wisdom. “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord,” he asks, “that we may enquire of the Lord by him?” (2 Kings 3:11; cf. 1 Kings 22:7). If Yahweh’s going to get the blame, he should at least be consulted first. “We should at least ask him what the deal is before jumping to conclusions,” we might render Jehoshaphat’s words. Such is when one of Jehoram’s servants chimes in, reminding them all that there was still a prophetic representative of Yahweh in their midst, Elisha, son of Shaphat (2 Kings 3:11–12). The three kings, then, make haste to consult the prophet. But upon getting an audience with him, they are greeted with the most unexpected welcome.
The Word of Yahweh is not a trifling thing that can be visited only when it’s convenient. It’s a book of life, for all of life, that imparts life to those who believe in it and the God of it.
Elisha throws them off by greeting them with a sarcastic, “Why are you here?” (2 Kings 3:13–15). “Why this sudden interest in what Yahweh has to say?” he asks. You get the sense that Elisha resents Yahweh’s Word being regarded as nothing more than a fire extinguisher, the sole purpose of which is to be used in emergency situations. The Word of Yahweh is not a trifling thing that can be visited only when it’s convenient. It’s a book of life, for all of life, that imparts life to those who believe in it and the God of it.
Elisha’s terse demeanor went even further, as he suggests that the only reason he had any patience at all for the likes of Jehoram was because of the company he kept (2 Kings 3:14). The three dumbfounded kings were, then, even more perplexed when Elisha summoned “a minstrel” to come and play for him (2 Kings 3:15). “We don’t have time for a concert!” they surely protested. “Don’t you know what’s going on out there? We gotta revolution on our hands!” To be sure, the prophet’s request seems wholly out-of-place. Why is he sending for a musician in a war-room? For however bizarre this bidding sounded, though, Elisha was demonstrating exactly what it meant to live “according to the word of the Lord.” By calling for a minstrel to come and play, he bore witness to the fact the worship of Yahweh comes before anything and everything else, even calamity. It’s reminiscent of the psalmist’s priority in Psalm 46, when he sings, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). That is a truth worthy of our praise, not just in disastrous situations but in all of life.
During the worship, “the hand of the Lord” came upon Elisha. When the music ceased, he delivered Yahweh’s words to the three kings. “Make this valley full of ditches,” he declared (2 Kings 3:16). And we are obliged to pause in order that we might make sense of this befuddling command. Remember the jam in which these armies find themselves: they have no water. They’re marching towards certain conflict with the bloodthirsty revolutionaries of Moab, but the successful defense of their domain is all but squandered because their water supply had evaporated. And the prophet’s word was, “Dig.” A heavy dose of frustration no doubt descended on that chamber. It didn’t make sense that the solution to the soldiers’ dehydration would be a valley full of ditches. And, what’s more, it definitely didn’t make sense for those same exhausted soldiers to expend more energy staying up all night digging those ditches. This prophecy defied reason and logic.
Yahweh not only assures them of refreshment but guarantees their victory (2 Kings 3:17–19).
As if that weren’t enough, Elisha augments their bewilderment with even more head-scratching words: “Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water” (2 Kings 3:17). The trench digging would commence without any accompanying sign that rain would actually come. It’d be one thing if Elisha’s words were uttered under grey skies with thunderclouds on the horizon. But I imagine this scene occurring under clear, blue skies, with nary a cloud in sight. Elisha’s prophecy sounded more than a little absurd. His words, however, were certain and steadfast — precisely because they came from Yahweh alone.
These desperate kings then receive the most astounding oracle: Yahweh not only assures them of refreshment but guarantees their victory (2 Kings 3:17–19). A dire need of water? That’s a walk in the park for the One True God. “That’s a piece of cake for Yahweh,” we might translate Elisha’s words (2 Kings 3:18). “In fact,” he continues, “Yahweh’s gonna throw in sweeping success over your enemies just for good measure.” “He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand” — as if his people’s triumph in battle was merely the icing on a miraculous cake. All of which, I think, gives us a glimpse of the extent of Yahweh’s omnipotence. No one else in the universe can claim that quality. Yahweh’s power is both unlimited and unrivaled. His might cannot be measured or quantified. Any human estimation of his ability and authority doesn’t go far enough. Our appraisal of Yahweh’s sovereignty is infinitesimally small. No crisis is bigger than the omnipotence of God. He can quench the thirst of three full armies just as easily as he can guarantee their landslide victory in battle. He can forgive a man of a lifetime of sin just as easily as he can say “Get up and walk” to a man paralyzed from birth (Mark 2:3–12). Such is the gracious omnipotence of our Heavenly Father, who wields his all-mighty power on behalf of his people. And to think that even a king as reprehensible as Jehoram is made to benefit in his cause, all because of who stood with him.
In a very real sense, Jehoram found Jehoshaphat to be “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). The king of Judah was a brother who, perhaps, inadvisedly stuck close to him eventually stood as the channel through which sustenance and deliverance was gifted to him. Jehoram became the recipient of a blessed prophecy because (and only because) Jehoshaphat stood with him. If Jehoshaphat hadn’t accompanied him before Elisha, Jehoram would’ve been “dead meat.” But because of his friend’s presence, not only were the needs of his soldiers met but also the success of their endeavor was guaranteed. Jehoram becomes the beneficiary of a miraculous victory, which was conferred upon him prior to any action on his part (2 Kings 3:20–27). It was just given to him. And isn’t that just like our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? He’s the One who stands beside wrecks and wretches like you and me in order to secure their victory. “If you receive any benefit from God,” comments Dale Ralph Davis, “it is because you stand next to the Davidic king — Jesus, the descendant of David and Jehoshaphat. You are in exactly the same position as Jehoram. You don’t deserve heaven’s crumbs but receive massive mercies only because Jesus, the David king, stands beside you.”
We stand before God the Father as dead meat, “condemned already” because of our sin (John 3:18).
On our own, you and I are no better off than Jehoram before Elisha. We stand before God the Father as dead meat, “condemned already” because of our sin (John 3:18). At the desk of Heaven’s Judge, we have nothing to offer. Our vile works are known and accounted for by the All-Wise Judge (Rev. 20:12), who judges us accordingly. By rights, God should not “look toward us, nor see us.” Our loathsome unrighteousness deserves nothing of the Lord’s favor — not even the most minuscule scrap of mercy. We, like Jehoram, are born into sin and condemnation, and there’s nothing we can do about that. We deserve to be turned away. And yet, what does the gospel say? It announces that there’s a truer and better friend than Jehoshaphat who stands beside you, and his name is Jesus.
Jesus is a friend who longs for you and your soul’s salvation. His faithful companionship is powerful enough to win your pardon, your freedom, your righteousness, your all. He doesn’t have to accompany you before the judgment seat. He does so because he loves you. How dreadful will that scene be for those who spurn the presence of this heavenly friend? However, those who receive by faith the redemptive presence of the Lord Jesus are those who are seen standing in victory when the end comes (Isa. 44:22; Zech. 3:1–5; Rev. 7:14) — precisely because they are the recipients of a victory given to them.