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2 Kings 3:26-27 reads

26 When the king of Moab realized he was losing the battle, he and 700 swordsmen tried to break through and attack the king of Edom, but they failed. 27 So he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him up as a burnt sacrifice on the wall. There was an outburst of divine anger against Israel, so they broke off the attack and returned to their homeland. (NET)

If you were to read this naturally, even after vigorous examination of the surrounding texts, it would seem that this passage would creat a huge conundrum from a theological standpoint. What it suggests is that, by sacrificing his son, the king of Moab manages to call down the wrath of a very real god, who then proceeds to invoke his power onto the Israelites in a manner not dissimilar to the way God has supported his followers in previous and following chapters.

It was prophesied that God would hand over the Moabites to them in earlier chapters as well. As far as the rest of the story went before this, it seemed like a sure victory. But this deity actually managed to drive off the Chosen People even as they were being backed up by God to win this battle.

This raises a number of questions, the first and foremost being where in the world this "divine anger" is coming from. Is there really another god out there that we have only just heard of, and if so, shouldn't an omnipotent and omniscient God surely possess the means to keep him down and allow his people to triumph? And after this seeming defeat at the hands of Chemosh, is Elisha's prophecy now proven a lie, thus rendering him a false prophet? Scriptural evidence supporting opinions would be preferable.

  • This question has generated some good answers, and there are some legitimate hermeneutical issues related to v.27b especially. But your questions are mostly theological. In my view it is not the responsibility or purview of biblical hermeneutics to answer challenges to certain conceptions of YHWH's supposed omnipotence, nor can it answer whether Elisha is a 'false prophet'. – Schuh Sep 1 '16 at 23:44
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The New American Bible, in note 4 to 2 Kings chapter 3, does initially attribute this triumph to the god Chemosh. However, the New American Bible then suggests an alternative, monotheistic explanation, which inevitably recognises the polytheistic beliefs of the early Israelites and their belief in the efficacy of child sacrifice:

The wrath against Israel: probably the wrath of Chemosh, the Moabite god to whom the child was offered. He was feared by the Israelites who lost heart on foreign soil.

As some background, there are several different verses in the Old Testament where Israelites and Jews performed child sacrifice, leading some scholars to believe that this was not an uncommon practice in pre-Exilic times, especially in times of national emergency. For example, 2 Kings 16:3 reports that King Ahaz sacrificed a son, but the author is at pains to say that God this was a heathen practice:

2 Kings 16:3: But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel.

This establishes that the Israelites practised child sacrifice when they believed the occasion demanded it, even if the biblical authors denied it as a heathen practice. Mark S. Smith (Skirball Professor of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, NYU) says in The Early History of God, page 171, denials such as this may suggest that the sacrifice did occur in Yahweh's name.

If the Israelites believed in the efficacy of child sacrifice, they could have seen defeat as inevitable once the opposing king visibly sacrificed his own son. It only remains that they believed in the existence and power of gods other than their own chief God, Yahweh, for them to accept defeat and retreat. And Mark S. Smith says (Ibid, page 64) that on the available evidence, Israelite religion in its earliest form was polytheistic. So, God did not suffer a defeat by another god, but the Israelites feared that other god, not thinking him to be merely imaginary, because they expected the god to reciprocate the sacrifice to him and assist in an Israelite defeat.

  • Hi, @DickHarfield ~ I wonder if you might take another look at this. You state, correctly I think, that the Israelites likely believed in the power of child sacrifice and of Chemosh, so they ran away. But you then make a theological claim, without any argument or supporting evidence, that "God did not suffer a defeat by another god". That seems to contradict the suggestion of the actual text: "And great wrath came upon Israel ..." It doesn't say 'fear' but 'wrath'. I think your answer would be greatly improved with some exegesis on the text in question. Thanks! – Schuh Aug 31 '16 at 2:51
  • @Schuh I agree that קֶצֶף־ is not fear, but 'wrath', or perhaps 'indignation'. Some Bibles translate עַל־ as 'in', which is in this context quite the opposite to 'against'. If this is a possible translation, 'great indignation in Israel' would be consistent with the psychological impact. What is your view? – Dick Harfield Aug 31 '16 at 3:48
  • @Schuh Regardless of the above, also bear in mind that the tradents, from whom the Deuteronomist received this tradition, had no understanding of why the Israelites fled (nor did the Deut for that matter) - not knowing that Chemosh had no power, the tradents might really have believed that the wrath of Chemosh did defeat the Israelites and their God, even if we now think it was fear that defeated them. What do you think? – Dick Harfield Aug 31 '16 at 3:51
  • I think your word study on v.27b would help your answer a lot, though many scholars do say the wrath belongs to Chemosh (eg. Jewish Study Bible). As for who believed what when, I don't know. Whatever Deut believed (henotheism? monolatry?), my hunch is that somewhere along the way a henotheistic story was masked in ambiguity. The text-as-received is not clearly monotheistic. This story spells defeat, whatever its theological implications. Thanks again! – Schuh Aug 31 '16 at 4:24
  • Knowing your interest in archaeology, Dick, I mention that the Meshe Stele also figures in here. It seems to tell the story of this very battle from the Moabite POV and credits Chemosh directly for defeating the 'House of Omri' and Yahweh. Maybe Deut was reluctant to credit Chemosh with Israel's defeat, but could he contradict the whole narrative given its apparent fame? – Schuh Aug 31 '16 at 21:18
2

The Douay-Rheims Bible - slightly older than the KJV, renders the passage as such:

2Ki 3:27 Then he took his eldest son, that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall: and there was great indignation in Israel, and presently they departed from him, and returned into their own country.

It may seem odd to say that the Israelites were grossed out by seeing a burnt body on the wall & left of their own volition, but that's what appears to be the case, here. Several other translations render a similar sense including the Jubilee Bible, Apostolic Bible Polyglot, Contemporary English Version.

The word translated as "divine" in some Bibles is actually better rendered "great" and what is seen as "anger" is more likely "regret" - so there was a great regret in Israel [ABP "repentance a great in Israel."] There was no anger poured out from another god that caused them to turn back, they reacted and retreated on their own volition.

1

What is the "divine anger"?

According to Jewish scholar Ziony Zevit, Jewish interpreters are unsure what the expression a great wrath came upon Israel actually means in the Masoretic Text (footnote in the Oxford Jewish Study Bible).

The Septuagint translates the older proto-Hebrew text as great regret [μετάμελος] came in Israel. The word only occurs in the Septuagint. Elsewhere (with Brenton's translation):

Proverbs 11:3

When a just man dies he leaves regret [i.e. "will be missed"]: but the destruction of the ungodly is speedy, and causes joy.

3 Maccabees 2:22–24

Shaking him to and fro as a reed is shaken with the wind, he cast him upon the pavement, powerless, with limbs paralyzed ... When in course of time he had come to himself, this severe check caused no repentance within him, but he departed with bitter threatenings.

The Latin Vulgate also originates in a text older than the Masoretic, being derived from Jerome's original Latin translation of some proto-Hebrew. It reads the underlying word as something that is in Israel and not against Israel:

et facta est indignatio magna in Israel

and there was great indignation in Israel (Douay-Rheims)

All of the above points to an interpretation NOT that the king of Moab eventually prevailed - helped by an "outburst of divine anger" - against Israel, after sacrificing his son; but RATHER, I think, that the king of Moab was regretful at/in Israel because everything that he tried - including his filial sacrifice - had failed.

Is there really another god out there that we have only just heard of?

I am not sure it is correct to say that Scripture never admits the existence of [other] gods (small "g"). Although there are numerous admonitions not to worship or honor other gods (e.g. Exodus 20:3, 34:14; Deuteronomy 5:7), I do not believe there is any place in the Old Testament that states that no other "gods" exist.

As to who these other "gods" are, the Septuagint reading of Psalm 96 (95 in the LXX) tells us:

The gods of the nations are demons.

- Psalm 95:5 LXX

If so, shouldn't an omnipotent and omniscient God allow His people to triumph?

As I plead above, I do not believe that the Israelites were defeated in the end, but even if it were the case, God's omnipotence and omniscience does not preclude His allowing His people to fail. If so, then one should argue why the Fall (capital "F") was allowed to occur.

God chastens those whom He loves (Proverbs 3:12; also Hebrews 12:6). In the Old Testament, there are several examples, I think, of where the Israelite's enemies were permitted to prevail because of some disobedience on their part. Examples of this would include the defeats by the Amorites (Numbers 14) and Ai (Joshua 7), Egypt (2 Chronicles 12), and Egypt (2 Chronicles 12). Of the last, Scripture says:

2 Chronicles 12:1 (KJV 1900)

And it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom, and had strengthened himself, he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him.

2 Chronicles 12:5

Then came Shemaiah the prophet to Rehoboam, and to the princes of Judah, that were gathered together to Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said unto them, Thus saith the LORD, Ye have forsaken me, and therefore have I also left you in the hand of Shishak.

After this defeat at the hands of Chemosh, is Elisha's prophecy now proven a lie, thus rendering him a false prophet?

A skewed reading of 2 Kings 3 would certainly make this seem so, as argued, for example, in the exegesis presented in this particular posting of the blog, "Politely Rejecting Jesus".

I don't think that's the case, though, when the Scripture is really studied in the full context available to us.

  • The first section is valid BH (the rest is theology, IMO). But in your bid to privilege the LXX over the Hebrew you name Ziony Zevit – here’s his full sentence: “Although interpreters are unsure what the author meant by a great wrath came upon Israel, it suggests that Mesha achieved his objective, and the human sacrifice was efficacious." Yes, the LXX and Vulgate render the ‘wrath’ phrase differently than the Hebrew, but no rendering of the following phrase reads this as Moab’s loss. TTBOMK your view is contradicted by all commentators (and the archaeological and historical record, FWIW). – Schuh Sep 1 '16 at 21:05
  • @Schuh you are correct about the typo. The Protestant commentaries I have read certainly lean in the direction you suggest, but I don't think they are unanimous. Zevit's comment "it suggests that Mesha achieved his objective" does not sound particularly confident, which is why I wanted to look at the other sources. I am more than willing to retract my answer, however, if there is some sort of historical evidence, as you suggest. What are the best sources (online, if available)? – user15733 Sep 1 '16 at 21:55
  • You're right that commentators construe the 'wrath/regret' phrase differently -- some saying the divine wrath is wrought by Chemosh, others by YHWH, and others calling it a natural response of "humanity and pity" -- but it seems everyone sees this as a win for Moab, which we know lives to fight another day. The Mesha Stele artifact documents Moab's view that it was a huge win for Chemosh against Israel and YHWH, and even Josephus describes it as, if not a win for Moab, at least a draw. I don't think there's any avoiding that Israel did not win this battle. tinyurl.com/h3gqdww – Schuh Sep 1 '16 at 23:31
  • I think with the help of Dick Harfield’s answer It makes total sense and we don’t need to redefine words. Elisha prophesied correctly, the three armies obeyed diligently but because Chemosh was given legal jurisdiction in Israel by Israel’s human sacrifice practices to Chemosh that they DIDN’T repent of, Chemosh had legal rights to inflict wrath on them when called upon by Moab. Had Israel repented and denounced Chemosh his legal rights over their spirits (and soul and body) would have been broken and they would have collected their spoils but they didn’t and so they left empty handed. – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 9 at 13:33
1

Consider the facts and the context.

  • The king of Moab restores 200,000 sheep to king Ahab of Israel.
  • After king Ahab of Israel dies, the shepherd king of Moab annuls his allegiance.
  • Ahab's son, the new king of Israel, goes to war as a result, and the kings of Judah and Edom agree to help him.
  • The three kings run into supply problems and then decide to consult Elijah.
  • Elijah is sarcastic with them but accurately describes their victory over Moab.
  • After losing all the engagements and in desperation, the king of Moab sacrifices his firstborn son as a burnt offering in view of the three (nearly completely victorious) kings.

In the Septuagint (TABP) we then read, "And came to pass a great repentance (metamelos) in Israel. And they departed from him, and returned to the land."

Obviously, Israel was now deeply ashamed of their violence against Moab, and of the tragic extremity to which they drove the king of Moab, their former friend.

  • That’s one way of looking at it but if you include the child sacrifice and Chemosh into the picture then their repentance was to Chemosh with whom they had allegiance to due to their own child sacrifices. Had they broken their ties and denounced him then Chemosh would not have been able to inflict that wrath upon them. However since he had jurisdiction over both Moab and Israel through the child blood sacrifice Chemosh was able to favor one nation over another or chastise one nation over the other. It’s so important to go to war and have no blind spots spiritually speaking in spiritual warfare – Nihil Sine Deo Jan 9 at 13:38
0

No!

Keil and Delitzsch's Commentary on this passage reads:

"And there was (came) great wrath upon Israel, and they departed from him (the king of Moab) and returned into their land." As על קצף היה is used of the divine wrath or judgment, which a man brings upon himself by sinning, in every other case in which the phrase occurs, we cannot understand it here as signifying the "human indignation," or ill-will, which broke out among the besieged (Budd., Schulz, and others). The meaning is: this act of abomination, to which the king of the Moabites had been impelled by the extremity of his distress, brought a severe judgment from God upon Israel. The besiegers, that is to say, felt the wrath of God, which they had brought upon themselves by occasioning human sacrifice, which is strictly forbidden in the law (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:3), either inwardly in their conscience or in some outwardly visible signs, so that they gave up the further prosecution of the siege and the conquest of the city, without having attained the object of the expedition, namely, to renew the subjugation of Moab under the power of Israel.

The extremity of the circumstance for the Moabites had propelled the king to sacrifice his own son -of course, to his own deity(Chemosh), who is NOT a deity, as the prophets, including Isaiah, says,

"And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them."

The Scripture is very clear there are no other 'gods' but God, therefore, no "false god" can be attributed to the breaking off of the seige of Moab.

The analogy here is one of "forceably removing" someone who is ready to annihilate the one they have already severely beaten. In this case, God "caused indignation" which impelled Israel to cease from further slaughtering Moab.

  • 2
    Re "The Scripture is very clear there are no other 'gods' but God"... cf. Psalm 95:5 LXX ("The gods of the heathen are demons.") – user15733 Sep 1 '16 at 0:49
  • It's fascinating that in the sentence before the quote above, K&D state that Mesha sacrificed his son to Chemosh "to procure help from him by appeasing his wrath." When wrath comes against Israel in the very next phrase, K&D assign it not to Chemosh but YHWH. Why? Because a plain reading of the text violates their theology (for which @Tau provides chapter and verse). Classic eisegesis. – Schuh Sep 1 '16 at 20:53
  • @Schuh I fail to understand your 'incongruence' w/ K&D's explanation: "Chemosh" is a fantasy, to assign credibility to Chemosh is to recognize the unrecognizable. That God intervened from the total destruction of Moab is the recognizable force here...to suggest that 'Chemosh' had anything to do with it is ludicrous. – Tau Sep 2 '16 at 0:10
  • @Tau, if you have a non-theological reason for thinking the 'divine wrath' described here does not belong to Chemosh, please add it to your answer. Like you, K&D offer an alternative reading but don't explain how it makes sense of our actual text, which no where credits YHWH for Israel's loss. – Schuh Sep 2 '16 at 1:26
  • @Schuh To give credit to 'Chemosh' is delusional; it's like saying "the bogeyman did it". There is what the text says, and what the text means. It is clear throughout Scripture that one must evaluate the text within the context of the passage. God is not giving credit to "Chemosh"; He would have to re-write the 1st commandment. It is very possible, however, that He 'caused indignation', and consequently held Israel off from a complete slaughter of Moab. – Tau Sep 2 '16 at 11:50
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By sacrificing his son, the king of Moab manages to call down the wrath of a very real god. This deity actually managed to drive off the Chosen People, even as they were being backed up by God to win this battle. Where in the world this “divine anger” is coming from ? Is there really another god out there that we have only just heard of ?


Why are you of the persistent opinion that the ancient Israelites actually perceived the two deities as being necessarily distinct ? Humans are the servants of God, not the other way around. Certainly, the Jews must have offered their own prayers and sacrifices to God, in order to ensure a victory for themselves. But when the attacked king sacrificed his own son (who would probably have died in battle anyway, since they were already suffering huge losses, and defeat seemed imminent), God appears to have turned his favors now onto the other side. And why wouldn't He ? In the end, isn't it His constitutional right to do so ? Besides, doesn't the other king deserve to win, given the very nature of his unspeakably mind-harrowing sacrifice, of outright Abrahamic proportions ? Of course, the ancient Hebrews did indeed physically descend from Abraham, but ...

John 8:39  They answered and said unto him: Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them: If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.


It would seem that this passage would create a huge conundrum from a theological standpoint.


Sure it does ! (Unfortunately, however, the only “theology” the Hebrew soldiers actually fighting that battle cared about was whether God will ultimately favor them, or their adversaries).


Shouldn't an omnipotent and omniscient God surely possess the means to keep him down and allow his people to triumph ?


Of course He “should” ! (Unfortunately, however, He personally doesn't quite seem to see it that way. If He would, then the conversation recorded in Matthew 17:19 and Mark 9:28 would never have happened in the first place).


Is Elisha's prophecy now proven a lie, thus rendering him a false prophet ?


False prophets don't usually part rivers (like Moses), heal barrenness, raise the dead, or cure leprosy, so I'm pretty sure he's in the clear...

Personally, I don't understand why you'd even consider Elisha a “falser” prophet than, say, Jonah, who prophesied against the great city of Nineveh; but when its inhabitants heeded his warning, repenting in ashes and sackcloth, God accepted their heartfelt conversion, and did not smite them — much to the Prophet's own dismay.

Same here, with the Moabites, who, after seeing that even their best efforts remained fruitless (the first of the two quoted verses, which echoes Judges 7:2-7, Psalm 20:7, and Jeremiah 17:5), they (finally) turned their eyes towards God (in the only manner they knew how), and asked Him for help, which He, accepting their broken heart and contrite spirit (Psalm 51:17), swiftly delivered unto them. God did indeed keep His word, by (initially) delivering Moab into the hands of Israel, as promised through Elisha; but when they ultimately turned to Him, there was no point in scourging or chastising them any longer, so He withdrew His castigating Hand, and the invaders departed from thence.

  • Though not mandatory, explanations are always helpful. – Lucian Jan 10 at 9:49

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