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TEXT: II Kings 3:1-27
SUBJECT: Elisha #6: War with Moab
There once was a king in Israel whose name was Ahab. He was a bad man, but a good soldier, and under his leadership, Israel conquered the Moabites and assessed a heavy tax on them. Every year, they paid 100,000 ewe lambs to Israel, along with the wool of another 100,000 rams.
When Ahab died, the Moabites quit paying. This made the new king, Jehoram, plenty mad, and he raised an army against Moab, in fact, three armies: his own, and the armies of Edom and Judah.
Sitting in council, the kings hit on a 'brilliant' plan that would guarantee victory and keep their losses to a minimum. Instead of meeting the Moabites head-on, they would sneak around the back way and catch them by surprise. The Moabites felt safe on that side because of a desert which no army had ever crossed.
But that's what the men of Israel, Edom, and Judah would do: cross the desert and take Moab without firing a shot.
Seven days into the plan, however, they found out what was wrong with it. The desert had not been crossed because it was a desert and that means it had no water and that means men and animals could not cross it! Still miles from the border of Moab, the armies were stalled. The king of Israel despaired,
Alas! For the Lord has called three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.
This is what you would expect from Jehoram. Praying to the Golden Calf for success, he condemns the Lord for his failure. It has been said, 'There are no atheists in foxholes'. That may be true, but there are plenty of blasphemers! If a New-Ager gets a raise at work, he praises his crystal! If he gets fired, he blames the Lord! Jehoram has given up hope.
But one man hasn't. His name is Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah. He's far from sinless and he's not always wise. But he still fears the Lord, and he knows that with God all things are possible. He wonders,
Is there no prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?
This is a sad commentary on Jehoshaphat. Why had he gone into battle without first asking the Lord? There were priests and prophets in Judah, and either could have inquired of the Lord for the king. Had he wanted more up-to-date information, he could have brought a man of God with him. But he didn't. And now, like the others, he's doomed without a Word from God.
Until a servant speaks up: There is a prophet in the camp, Elisha, the son of Shaphat. 'Who's he?' the King wants to know. He's the man who poured water on the hands of Elijah. That name rings a bell with the king, Elisha is called for, and the three worried kings ask for his help.
You'd think Elisha would be flattered by the royal attention. But he isn't. Turning to the king of Israel, he says,
What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.
The prophets of his parents were the prophets of Baal and of the Golden Calves. If these are your gods, let them save you! The Lord has no word for a man who hates Him, and only calls on Him as a last resort.
But then Elisha realizes who the other king is; it's Jehoshaphat. He respects that man, and, for his sake, he inquires of the Lord. An army camp is a noisy, bustling place. Wanting to gather his thoughts, Elisha calls for a minstrel. A man is gotten who plays his harp or his pipe, and as Elisha is listening to the soothing music, the Word of God comes to him.
The kings want a way out of the wilderness-and the Lord will give them that. And more. Without being asked, He will also give them victory over the Moabites. The promise is sure, by this time tomorrow, the armies will be saved and their enemies routed.
But the promise has a condition tied to it. The armies cannot sit down and wait for a miracle. They have to do their part; they have to obey the Lord's command. And what a strange command it is: Dig ditches--not one or two but-- fill the valley with ditches!
This could only make the soldiers thirstier than they were, more tired, and demoralized. Yet the men obey, and for long hours, they dig away. Then the night falls, and passes without a cloud in the sky or even a hint of breeze.
As the sun rises next morning, the men-and their animals-are amazed to see the ditches full of water! Greedily, they run for the streams to quench their thirst. And while they're bent over gulping the water, the Moabites spot them.
Seeing the water in the early sun, they take it for blood. A shout goes up in the line-the kings have fought and killed each other!
To the spoil, O Moab!
Down they swoop on the dead armies, ready to strip the bodies and carry off the loot. But the dead armies are not quite dead. As the Moabites charge them, the armies raise their spears, and the slaughter is on!
After breaking the line, they march on Moab, killing everyone they come across, sowing the fields with rocks, cutting down the trees, plugging up the wells, and torching the cities.
Knowing ruin was upon him, the king of Moab mustered his crack troops and charged the king of Edom. When that failed, he turned to the gods he worshiped, and offered them a gift like no other. He took his oldest son and gave him up as a human sacrifice!
This so horrified men on both sides that the fighting stopped and the armies went home. From that day on, the kings of Israel-who had pressed the Moabites to desperation--were hated by all. Including their allies.
This is the story. Now, what does it say?
THE NEAR MEANING
To the Israelites at the time, it said, Depend on the Word of God. Because this was a war and not a religious debate, you'd think the kings or the generals, the soldiers or the diplomats would be the leading men of the story. But they aren't. It is a prophet who led Israel to victory. Not with arms and tactics, (which had already failed) but with the Word of God.
Jehoram and Jehoshaphat should have known this. The latter surely did, but-like you and I-he forgot. He shouldn't have. If the power of God's Word were a little doctrine tucked away in some dark corner of a Minor Prophet, or buried in the laws of Leviticus, you'd understand why he missed it. But it isn't a little doctrine and you can hardly read a page in the Bible without coming across it.
The power of the Word is on display from the third verse of Genesis. After telling us God created the heavens and the earth, it goes on to explain how He did it-
God said, 'Let there be light'. God said, 'Let there be a firmament'. God said, 'Let the waters be gathered'. God said, 'Let the dry land appear'. God said, 'Let the earth bring forth grass'. God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament'. God said, 'Let the waters abound with living creatures'. God said, 'Let birds fly above the earth'. God said, 'Let the earth bring forth cattle and creeping things and beasts'. God said, 'Let us make man'.
Did you catch the pattern? Things exist because God told them to!
For He spoke, and it was
He commanded, and it
The Word that created way back then is still in operation. Even now, the Lord upholds all things by the Word of His power.
The universe is not left to blind chance or to natural laws. It is, at all times and in every place, under the Lordship of God's Word!
If that is true of all things, it is doubly true of Israel. The Word called Abraham out of Mesopotamia. The Word sent Moses to Egypt to free the people. At Mount Sinai, they heard the Word, and when they could not endure it, they got the same Word on a pair of stone tablets. Their scholars studied the Word. Their prophets called them to repentance with the Word. What sustained them in the hard years of defeat and exile was the Word. God and His Word were interchangeable.
Believe in the Lord your God and you shall be established; believe His prophets and you shall proper (II Chronicles 20:20).
The tradition carried on into their later history. Every Sabbath the Scriptures were read in the synagogues, but not wanting to take the Lord's name in vain, the readers came up with a reverent word to replace it. Can you guess what word they chose? The Word.
Their choice was a wise one. For everything Israel had came from the Lord and all He gave them came through His Word.
That was a lesson Israel needed to learn-and you understand why. Trusting the Word means living by faith, while pinning your hopes on horses and chariots, soldiers, and strategies means living by sight. How they craved something visible! If an unseen God is hard to believe in, cast a Golden Calf and call it the Lord who delivered you out of Egypt.
But it wasn't the golden calves that saved Israel in the wilderness; it wasn't the gods of Edom or even the armies of men. It was the Word.
He sent His Word and healed them; and delivered them from their destruction.
If the battle is the Lord's, it will be won His way-or not at all. What is His way? Dr. Martin Luther knows,
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure-
One little Word shall fell him!
That was the lesson for Israel: Don't trust in chariots; don't trust in horses; it is better to trust the Lord than to put confidence in men; it is better to trust the Lord than to put confidence in princes. And, trusting the Lord means, trusting His Word!
The Word of the Lord is tried; He is a buckler (or, shield) to all who trust in Him.
A QUICK NOTE
We can learn from this too. Every day we are tempted to set aside the Word of God for the wisdom of man. We praise the Bible, but we don't read it much, and obey even less than we read it. If men were wise, it would still be a bad idea, because God is wiser. But Paul says men are fools-and in their great wisdom, they don't know God, which is another way of saying: they don't know anything. This is not only true of the mentally defective, the uneducated, or the thoughtless. In fact, it's especially true of the people who are smart, who study long and think hard. Paul says,
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Yes He did. Why would He do that? He did it to make His wisdom stand out. He painted the background jet black, so we could better see the bright colors of His Word.
Therefore, read all you can, study, listen, discuss, and think hard. But, in the end: Trust the Word of God. It can never mislead you or make you wish you had followed something else.
This needs saying in an age of Experts and the ones who popularize them. Respect expertise (if it's real), but trust the Word.
THE REMOTE MEANING
If the Story told Israel to rely on the Word of God, what does it say to us? It says the same thing; except, to us, the Word of God has a double meaning.
Of course we believe in the same Word of God they did. The Scriptures are the Word of God. What the Bible says, God says. If God can be trusted, the Bible can be trusted. So far, the message is the same.
But The Word of God has another meaning too. The Israelites back then didn't know it, but we do. The wiser ones had a hint of it here and there, but we have more than a hint. John spells it out,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. And the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.
.And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Word of God we're to trust is not only the Bible, but Jesus Christ. What the Law and Prophets gave a blurry picture of, He brings into sharp focus. Whoever has seen Christ has seen the Father! Whoever knows Jesus knows God.
Our Story commands us to trust that Word. The Word, back then, didn't seem to make sense. Who ever won a war by digging ditches? The men didn't need exercise, they needed water. Yet the strange and unexpected Word gave them both water and victory.
Our Word is every bit as weird and perplexing. How can another man's death give me life? How can the teaching of a 1st Century Jew speak directly to a 21st Century American? Theologians spend their lives exploring these questions, and I'm glad they do.
But, in the end, we don't need explanations, we need the Word. Had the Israelites demanded a reason for digging the ditches, they would have died of thirst. What they needed was faith and obedience.
We need the same thing. We don't need elaborate theories of the Atonement, but faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We don't need long expositions of the Law, but a mind to obey it!
Peter, James, and John were experienced fisherman. Our Lord was not. After fishing all night and catching nothing, the men were making their way back to shore. But, from the beach, the Lord told them to drop the net in one more time and they'd have something. Peter might have said, We know better. But that's not what he said. He said, Lord, we have labored all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless at Your Word, we will let down the nets. They did, and the weight of the fish nearly broke their nets. Kipling said,
Ours is not the reason why;
Ours is but to do or die.
He did that in service to British Imperialism-and he was betrayed. We do in service to the Lord Jesus Christ-and we will not be put to shame.
Trust the Word of God, trust the Bible, trust Jesus Christ. For the Word of God is worthy of your trust and your trust will be more than repaid.
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