Reign of Joram of Israel. 1Joram, son of Ahab, became king over Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and he reigned twelve years.*
2a He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, though not like his father and mother. He did away with the pillar of Baal that his father had made, 3but he still held fast unceasingly to the sins which Jeroboam, son of Nebat, caused Israel to commit.
War Against Moab: Drought. 4* Now Mesha, king of Moab, who raised sheep, used to pay the king of Israel as tribute a hundred thousand lambs and the wool of a hundred thousand rams. 5But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6King Joram set out from Samaria and mustered all Israel. 7b Then he sent Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, the message: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you come with me to Moab to fight?” He replied, “I will. You and I are as one, your people and my people, and your horses and my horses as well.” 8He said, “By what route shall we attack?” and the other said, “By way of the wilderness of Edom.”
9So the king of Israel set out, accompanied by the king of Judah and the king of Edom. After a roundabout journey of seven days the water gave out for the army and for the animals with them. 10The king of Israel exclaimed, “Alas! The LORD has called three kings together only to deliver us into the power of Moab.” 11But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here through whom we may inquire of the LORD?” One of the servants of the king of Israel replied, “Elisha, son of Shaphat, who poured water on the hands of Elijah,* is here.” 12Jehoshaphat agreed, “He has the word of the LORD.” So the king of Israel, along with Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom, went down to Elisha. 13Elisha asked the king of Israel, “What do you want with me? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” The king of Israel replied, “No, the LORD has called these three kings together only to deliver us into the power of Moab.” 14Then Elisha said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I respect Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, I should neither look at you nor notice you at all. 15Now get me a minstrel.” When the minstrel played, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha, 16and he announced: “Thus says the LORD: Provide many catch basins in this wadi. 17For the LORD says: Though you will see neither wind nor rain, yet this wadi will be filled with water for you to drink, and for your livestock and pack animals. 18And since the LORD does not consider this enough, he will also deliver Moab into your power. 19You shall destroy every fortified city and every choice city, fell every fruit tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every fertile field with stones.”c
21Meanwhile, all Moab had heard that the kings had come to war against them; troops from the youngest on up were mobilized and stationed at the border. 22When they rose early that morning, the sun was shining across the water. The Moabites saw the water as red as blood, 23and said, “This is blood! The kings have fought among themselves and killed one another. Quick! To the spoils, Moab!” 24But when they reached the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and attacked the Moabites, who fled from them. They ranged through the countryside destroying Moab— 25leveling the cities, each one casting the stones onto every fertile field and filling it, stopping up every spring, felling every fruit tree, until only the stones of Kir-hareseth* remained. Then the slingers surrounded and attacked it. 26When he saw that the battle was going against him, the king of Moab took seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but he failed. 27So he took his firstborn, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall. The wrath against Israel* was so great that they gave up the siege and returned to their own land.d
* [3:1–9:13] After the formulaic introduction to the reign of Joram of Israel, this section falls into two parts. The first contains several stories about the prophet Elisha, both in private and in public life. There are four longer stories, arranged in an ABBA pattern: drought during war with Moab (vv. 4–27), restoration of the Shunammite’s son (4:8–37), healing of Naaman (5:1–27), famine during war with Aram (6:24–7:20). The last three of these stories are each preceded and followed by short anecdotal tales about Elisha. The second part of this section turns to the political realm. Elisha carries out the Lord’s commissions to Elijah (1 Kgs 19:15–17) to anoint Hazael king of Aram (2 Kgs 8:7–15) and Jehu king of Israel (9:1–13). To prepare for the story of Jehu’s insurrection (9:14–11:20), the narrator places between those two narratives notices about the royal succession in Judah (8:16–24, 25–29). The formulaic conclusions to the reigns of Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah (8:25–29) are missing, since the deaths of both will be recounted in the story of Jehu’s insurrection.
* [3:1] The contradiction between 1:17 and v. 1 regarding the year when Joram succeeded Ahaziah of Israel makes any reconstruction of the chronology of Israel’s and Judah’s kings uncertain. Some scholars think that one or the other notice is simply incorrect. Others propose to explain the discrepancy by a co-regency: Jehoshaphat of Judah would have shared the throne with his son Joram from Jehoshaphat’s seventeenth year until he died in the twenty-fifth year of his reign (1 Kgs 22:42; see also 2 Kgs 8:16). The issue is further complicated by the speculation of some historians that “Joram of Israel” (“son” of Ahab of Israel: v. 1) and “Joram of Judah” (“son-in-law” of Ahab of Israel: 8:18) were in fact the same person, in whom the royal houses and separate realms of Israel and Judah were briefly reunited.
* [3:4] In the period of oral tradition, it seems that stories of kings were often told without identifying the kings by name. (Vestiges of this anonymity are still visible in 1 Kgs 3:16–28; 20:4–43; 22:1–38; 2 Kgs 6:8–7:20.) Names (such as “Ahab” in 1 Kgs 20:13–14; 22:20) were added later. As a consequence, the historical attachment of such stories to the kings about whom they are told is open to question. (See note on 1 Kgs 20:1–22:54.) The present story about a campaign against Moab by Joram and Jehoshaphat has several striking similarities to the campaign against Ramoth-gilead by Ahab and Jehoshaphat in 1 Kgs 22:1–38. There exists a Moabite inscription that contains Mesha’s self-aggrandizing account of his successful rebellion against Israel, but the times and places it mentions are different from those implied in vv. 4–27.
* [3:11] Poured water on the hands of Elijah: possibly a metaphor for “was Elijah’s servant.” But the phrase occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament and its meaning is not certain.
* [3:27] The wrath against Israel: probably the wrath of Chemosh, the Moabite god to whom the child was offered. The Israelites, intimidated by this wrath, retreat.