Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
FOURTH MIRACLE—VALLEY OF DITCHES
First, the Background of the Miracle
It Has Pleased the Holy Spirit in this instance to provide a somewhat lengthy and complicated miracle, so it will be wise for us to patiently ponder the account He has given of what led up to and occasioned this exercise of God’s wonder-working power. Just as a diamond appears to best advantage when placed in a suitable setting, so we are the more enabled to appreciate the works of God when we take note of their connections. This applies equally to His works in creation, in providence, and in grace. We are always the losers if we ignore the circumstances which occasion the varied actings of our God. The longer and darker the night, the more welcome the morning’s light, and the more acute our need and urgent our situation, the more manifest is the hand of Him that relieves and His goodness in ministering to us. The same principle holds good in connection with the Lord’s undertaking for our fellows, and if we were not so self-centered we should appreciate and render praise for the one as much as for the other.
In 2 Kings 3 we read, "Now Jehoram the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned twelve years. And 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. Nevertheless he cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not therefrom" (2 Kings 3:1-3). Five things are taught us in these verses about that "abominable thing" which God "hates" and which is the cause of all the suffering and sorrow that is in the world, namely, sin.
1. God Himself personally observes our wrongdoing. It was "in the sight of the LORD" that the guilty deeds of Jehoram were performed. How much evil doing is perpetrated secretly and under cover of darkness, supposing none are witness. But though evildoing may be concealed from human gaze, it cannot be hidden from the omnipresent One, for "The eyes of the LORD are in every place (by night as well as by day), beholding the evil and the good" (Prov. 15:3). What curb this ought to place on us.
2. God records our evil deeds. Here is a clear case in point. The evil which Jehoram wrought in the sight of the Lord is set down against him, likewise that of his parents before him, and further back still "the sin of Jeroboam." Unspeakably solemn is this: God not only observes but registers against men every infraction of His Law. They commit iniquity and think little or nothing of it, but the very One who shall yet judge them has noted the same against them. It may all be forgotten by them, but nothing shall fade from what God has written. And when the dead, both small and great, stand before Him, the "books" will be opened, and they will be "judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" (Rev. 20:12). And my reader, there is only one possible way of escape from receiving the awful wages of your sins, and that is to throw down the weapons of your warfare against God, cast yourself at the feet of Christ as a guilty sinner, put your trust in His redeeming and cleansing blood. Then God will say, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions" (Isa. 44:22).
3. God recognizes degrees in evildoing. Jehoram displeased the Lord; yet it is said, "but not like his father, and like his mother." Christ declared to Pilate, "he [Judas] that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin" (John 19:11). Again we are told, "He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God" (Heb. 10:28-29). There are many who ignore this principle and suppose that since they are sinners it makes no difference how much wickedness they commit. They madly argue, "I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb," but are only treasuring up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5), for "every transgression and disobedience" will yet receive "a just recompence of reward" (Heb. 2:2).
4. God observes whether our reformation is partial or complete. This comes out in the fact that we are told Jehoram "put away the image [or ‘statue’] that his father had made," but he did not destroy it, and a few years later Baal worship was restored. God’s Word touching this matter was plain: "thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images" (Ex. 23:24). Sin must be dealt with by no unsparing hand, and when we resolve to break away, we must burn our bridges behind us or they are likely to prove an irresistible temptation to return to our former ways.
5. God duly notes our continuance in sin. Here it is recorded that Jehoram not only "cleaved unto the sins of Jeroboam" but also that "he departed not therefrom" which greatly aggravated his guilt. To enter upon a course of wrongdoing is horrible wickedness, but to deliberately persevere in it is much worse. How few heed that word "break off thy sins by righteousness" (Dan. 4:27).
"And Mesha king of Moab was a sheepmaster, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool. But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel" (2 Kings 3:4-5). In fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy (Num. 24:17) David had conquered the Moabites. They became his "servants" (2 Sam. 8:2), and they continued in subjection to the kingdom of Israel until the time of its division, when their vassalage and tribute was transferred to the kings of Israel, as those of Edom remained to the kings of Judah. But upon the death of Ahab they revolted. Here we see the divine Providence crossing His sons in their affairs. This rebellion on the part of Moab should be regarded in the light of "When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7); but when our ways displease Him, evil from every quarter menaces us. Temporal as well as spiritual prosperity depends entirely on God’s blessing. To make His hand more plainly apparent, God frequently punishes the wicked after the manner of their sins. He did so to Ahab’s sons: they had turned from the Lord, and Moab was moved to rebel against them.
As we ponder this incident we are made to realize that there is no new thing under the sun. Discontent, strife, jealousies, and blood-shedding have characterized the relations of one nation to another all through history. Instead of mutual respect and peace, "living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3) have marked them all through the years. How aptly were the great empires of antiquity symbolized by "four great beasts" (Dan. 7:3)—wild, ferocious, and cruel ones, at that! Human depravity is a solemn reality, and neither education nor legislation can eradicate or sublimate it. What, then, are the ruling powers to do? Deal with it with a firm hand: "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil . . . He beareth not the sword in vain: for he [the governmental and civil ruler] is the minister of God [to maintain law and order], a revenger [to enforce law and order]... upon him that doeth evil" (Rom. 13:4).
"But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel." The Moabites were the descendants of the son which Lot had by his elder daughter. They occupied a territory to the southeast of Judah and east of the Red Sea. They were a strong and fierce people—"the mighty men of Moab" (Ex. 15:15). Balak, who sent for Balaam to curse Israel, was one of their kings. Even as proselytes they were barred from entering the congregation of the Lord unto the tenth generation. They were idolators (1 Kings 11:33). For at least a hundred and fifty years they had apparently paid a heavy annual tribute, but upon the death of Ahab they had decided to throw off the yoke and be fined no further.
"And king Jehoram went out of Samaria the same time, and numbered all Israel" (2 Kings 3:6). There was no turning to the Lord for counsel and help. He was the One who had given David success and brought the Moabites into subjection, and Jehoram should have turned to Him now that they rebelled. But he was a stranger to Jehovah; nor did he consult the priests of the calves, so apparently he had no confidence in them either. How sad is the case of the unregenerate in the hour of need; no divine comforter in sorrow, no unerring counselor in perplexity, no sure refuge when danger menaces them. How much men lose even in this life by turning their backs upon the One who gave them being. Nothing less than spiritual madness can account for the folly of those who "observe lying vanities" and "forsake their own mercies" (Jon. 2:8). Jonah had to learn that lesson in a hard school. Alas, the vast majority of our fellows never learn it, as they ultimately discover to their eternal undoing. Will that be the case with you, my reader?
"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?" (2 Kings 3:7). Both Thomas Scott and Matthew Henry suppose that it was merely a political move on the part of Jehoram when he "put away the image of Baal that his father had made." They think this external reformation was designed to pave the way for obtaining the help of Jehoshaphat, who was a God-fearing, though somewhat vacillating, man. The words of Elisha to him in verses 2 Kings 3:13-14 certainly seem to confirm this view, for the servant of God made it clear that he was not deceived by such a device and addressed him as one who acted the part of a hypocrite. Any student of history is well aware that many religious improvements have been granted by governments simply from what is termed "state policy" rather than from spiritual convictions or a genuine desire to promote the glory of God. Only the One who looks on the heart knows the real motives behind much that appears fair on the surface.
"And he said, I will go up: I am as thou art, my people as thy people, and my horses as thy horses" (2 Kings 3:7). It seems strange that Jehoshaphat was willing to unite with Jehoram in this expedition, for he had been severely rebuked on an earlier occasion for having "joined affinity with Ahab" (2 Chron. 18:1-3). Jehu the prophet said to him, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD" (2 Chron. 19:2). How, then, is his conduct to be explained on this occasion? No doubt his zeal to heal the breach between the two kingdoms had much to do with it, for 2 Chronicles 18:1-3 intimates he was anxious to promote a better spirit between Judah and Israel. Moreover, the Moabites were a common enemy, for we learn from 2 Chronicles 20:1 that at a later date the Moabites, accompanied by others, came against Jehoshaphat to battle. But it is most charitable to conclude that Jehoshaphat was deceived by Jehoram’s reformation. Yet we should mark the absence of his seeking directions from the Lord on this occasion.
Second, the Urgency of the Miracle
"And he said, Which way shall we go up? And he answered, The way through the wilderness of Edom. So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom: and they fetched a compass of seven days’ journey: and there was no water for the host, and for the cattle that followed them. And the king of Israel said, Alas! that the LORD hath called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab" (2 Kings 3:8-10). Note that Jehoram was quite willing for the king of Judah to take the lead, and that he made his plans without seeking counsel of God. The course he took was obviously meant to secure the aid of the Edomites, but by going so far into the wilderness they met with a desert where there was no water. Thus the three kings and their forces were in imminent danger of perishing. This struck terror into the heart of Jehoram and at once his guilty conscience smote him—unbelievers know sufficient truth to condemn them! "The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the LORD" (Prov. 19:3). What an illustration of that is furnished by the words of Jehoram on this occasion.
"But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD, that we may enquire of the LORD by him? And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The Word of the LORD is with him. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him" (2 Kings 3:11-12). Here we see the difference between the unrighteous and the righteous in a time of dire calamity. The one is tormented with a guilty conscience and thinks only of the Lord’s wrath; the other has hope in His mercy. In those days the prophet was the divine mouthpiece, so the king of Judah made inquiry for one, and not in vain. It is blessed to observe that as the Lord takes note of and registers the sins of the reprobate, so He observes the deeds of His elect, placing on record here the humble service which Elisha had rendered to Elijah. Appropriately was Elisha termed "the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 13:14). He was their true defense in the hour of danger, and to him did the three kings turn in their urgent need.
Third, the Discrimination of the Miracle
"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" (2 Kings 3:13). Mark both the dignity and fidelity of God’s servant. Far from feeling flattered because the king of Israel consulted him, he deemed himself insulted and let him know he discerned his true character. It reminds us of the Lord’s words through Ezekiel, "These men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?" (Ezek. 14:3).
"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," as much as to say, "Do not disdain me; our case is desperate."
"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" (2 Kings 3:14). Little do the unrighteous realize how much they owe, under God, to the presence of the righteous in their midst.
Fourth, the Requirement of the Miracle
"But now bring me a minstrel" (2 Kings 3:15). In view of 1 Samuel 16:23, Scott and Henry conclude that his interview with Jehoram had perturbed Elisha’s mind and that soothing music was a means to compose his spirit, that he might be prepared to receive the Lord’s mind. Possibly they are correct, yet we believe there is another and more important reason. In the light of such passages as "Sing unto the LORD with the harp;... and the voice of a psalm" (Ps. 98:5), and "Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp, to give thanks and to praise the LORD" (1 Chron. 25:3 and cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1), we consider that Elisha was here showing regard for and rendering submission to the order established by God. The Hebrew word for "minstrel" signifies "one who plays on a stringed instrument," as an accompaniment to the psalm he sang. Thus it was to honor God and instruct these kings that Elisha sent for the minstrel. "And it came to pass when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord (cf. Ezekiel 1:3, 3:22) came upon him." The Lord ever honors those who honor Him.
Fifth, the Testing of the Miracle
"And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches. 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" (2 Kings 3:16-17). A pretty severe test was this, when all outward sign of fulfillment was withheld. It was a trial of their faith and obedience, and entailed a considerable amount of hard work. Had they treated the prophet’s prediction with derision, they would have scorned to go to so much trouble. It was somewhat like the order Christ gave to His disciples as He bade them make the multitudes "sit down" when there was nothing in sight to feed so vast a company, only a few loaves and fishes. The sequel shows they heeded Elisha and made due preparation for the promised supply of water. As Henry says, "They that expect God’s blessings must prepare room for them."
Sixth, the Meaning of the Miracle
The very number of this miracle helps us to apprehend its significance. It was the fourth of the series, and in the language of scripture numerics it stands for the earth—for instance, the four seasons and the four points of the compass. What we have in this miracle is one of the Old Testament foreshadowments that the gospel was not to be confined to Palestine but would yet be sent forth throughout the earth.
Prior to His death Christ bade His disciples, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6 and cf. John 4:9); but after His resurrection He said, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19). But there is more here. "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), and we Gentiles are "their debtors" (Rom. 15:26-27).
Strikingly is this typified here, for it was solely for the sake of the presence of Jehoshaphat this miracle was wrought and that the water of life was made available for the Israelites and the Edomites! Thus it is a picture of the minister of the gospel engaged in missionary activities that is here set forth.
Seventh, the Timing of the Miracle
"And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat-offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water" (2 Kings 3:20). This hour was chosen by the Lord for the performing of this miracle to intimate to the whole company that their deliverance was vouchsafed on the ground of the sacrifices offered and the worship rendered in the temple in Jerusalem. It was at the same significant hour that Elijah had made his effectual prayer on Mount Carmel, (1 Kings 18:36), when another notable miracle was wrought. So too it was at the hour "of the evening oblation" that a signal blessing was granted unto Daniel (Dan. 9:21). Typically, it teaches us that it is through the merits of the sacrifice of Christ that the life-sustaining gospel of God now flows unto the Gentiles.