Though this is phrased as a theological question that is not meant for this site, I’m more trying to get exegetical responses.

In relation to the incident in 2 Kings 3 with the battle of Yahweh vs Chemos, I was reading this article from Michael Heiser. See below:

Elisha had told the kings of Israel and Judah that God would help them. So why had He not? This situation isn’t the first time God promises but chooses not to deliver: God had told the Israelites that they would conquer Canaan under Moses and Joshua, yet they failed because of unbelief (Num 13; Deut 31:1–7; Josh 13:1–5; Judg 1:27–36). Yahweh was not defeated by the god of Moab. He was, and is, ready and able to help his people. But he will not do so if they refuse to believe and act on that belief.

Though this article focuses on the 2 Kings 3 incident specifically, I’m wanting to ask about the claim of God going back on His promises when His people refuse to believe or act on them.

I understand this may be the case for some things in the bible, but in the examples above, there seems to be no textual indication that these promises are conditional.

When God says that He will drive the Canaanites out in Judges, or give the Israelites victory over the Moabites in Kings, I don’t see any verse that indicates these promises are based on the behaviour of the Israelite’s, as affirmative verbs are used. Yet in places like Judges 1:27-34, it describes the inability of the Israelites to do the very thing God promised.

Using any of the examples above, are there any textual indications that God’s military promises are conditional based on the behaviour of the Israelites? I’m struggling to see how one can faithfully make this case without making general assumptions that aren’t in the text itself.

[Feel free to focus on any of the examples above in the article, as either the incidents in Judges or Kings speak to the question I’m asking. Although there have been questions asked on these 2 incidents previously, they don’t necessarily cover the specific concept I’m asking and the hermeneutical approach required]

  • Excuse me, but is it indeed a rule of this site that questions (and answers) are to be exegetical rather than theological? Surely it is impossible to do faithful exegesis of the Bible without engaging in quite a bit of theology: to explain the meaning of a text about God, how can you avoid discussing…claims about God? Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 0:56
  • 1
    @globewalldesk obviously theology comes into one’s answer naturally, but I wrote that statement to prevent comments that would re-direct me to either sites like Christianity or Judaism stack exchange since my question is primarily a textual one.
    – ellied
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 3:24
  • Very good, I see…carry on! Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 17:12
  • I answered concerning Heiser's example from 2 Kings only. See my answer here for Joshua v Judges. (Joshua's genre is more heroic/mythic, Judges more realistic, emphasizing the need for a godly king to create order out of chaos.) Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


The general principle of conditional prophecy is explicitly stated in Jer 18:7-10 -

At any time I might announce that a nation or kingdom will be uprooted, torn down, and destroyed. But if that nation I warned turns from its evil, then I will relent of the disaster I had planned to bring.

And if at another time I announce that I will build up and establish a nation or kingdom, and if it does evil in My sight and does not listen to My voice, then I will relent of the good I had intended for it.

This conditionality principle is illustrated in the dual prophecy of the permanence (Jer 17:24 – 26) or eternal destruction (Jer 17:27) of Jerusalem. The outcome is dependent not only on the sure word of the prophet but also the fidelity of the people. There are numerous examples in Scripture of how this works.

  • Ex 3:8, 15:17, 23:23 – God promised to give the land of Canaan to the Israelites who left Egypt. But the adverse report by the spies caused them to rebel, so God said, “not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home.” (Num 14:30) God even called this, “my breach of promise” (Num 14:34 KJV).
  • 2 Kings 20:1 – Hezekiah’s sickness resulted in a prophecy from Isaiah that he would not recover. However, in 2 Kings 20:2-6 Hezekiah pleads with the Lord who decides to reverse the prophecy and adds another 15 years to his life.
  • Jonah 3:3, 4 – Jonah prophesied that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days. Yet when the people repented, the prophecy was reversed (Jonah 3:5-10).
  • 1 Kings 21:20–26 – Elijah prophesied that Ahab would be destroyed. But when he repented the outcome was reversed (1 Kings 21:27, 28).
  • 2 Sam 7:16, 16, Ps 132:11 – God promised David (and confirmed it to Solomon in 2 Chron 7:18) that his throne would last forever. That David’s royal throne was destroyed about 400+ years later, in 586 BC, is a historical fact. However, the prophecy was no less certain because it, as with all such prophecies was conditional as recorded in 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, Ps 132:12, 2 Chron 7:17, 18.
  • In Jer 17:4, God’s anger is kindled against wicked Judah and will burn forever. Later in the same chapter (v25) He promises to love them forever.

Michael Heiser's View

While I have great respect for Michael Heiser and much of his writing, and I also agree with his ideas about the conditional nature of prophecy in the material quoted by the OP, he provides no Biblical support for his assertion that:

Elisha had told the kings of Israel and Judah that God would help them.

Such is not in 2 Kings 3. So I am at a loss to fully explain his statement. Indeed, the opposite appears to be true because of the rather pointed disdain Elish expresses for the Jehoram in 2 Kings 3:13, 14.

[Jehoram's assertion in 2 Kings 3:13b appears to be at odds with the facts and the prophet Elisha's expressed view. That might be the subject of a separate question.]

  • It seems to me that Elisha relents in his opposition to Jehoram of Israel, In 2 Kgs 3:14, he says “As the Lord of hosts lives, whom I serve, were it not that I have regard for Jehosh′aphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you, nor see you." But after Jehoram invokes the Lord's name, Elisha calls for a harpist and then proceeds to prophecy that "the Lord will give the Moabites into your hand" (3:18) Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 2:17
  • @DanFefferman - that does not read, to me, like relenting; it reads like a prophecy despite of his disgust at the king.
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 7:54
  • good enough. My primary point is that Elisha did promise that God would help Israel/Judah/Moab. Unless I misread read what you meant ('such is not in 2 Kings 3') God did promise help, and it was delivered. So Heiser is wrong but not for the reason you stated. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 14:28
  • @DanFefferman - The only Biblical support I can find for Heisler's assertion is a very general one in Ex 24:20-33
    – Dottard
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 19:17

The battle of Judah, Israel and Edom against Moab described in 2 Kings 3 is a hard to understand, because in the end the king of Moab escapes and Israel retreats. However it is not true that the narrative describes a situation in which Elisha's prophecy was not fulfilled. God's promises of military victory are indeed sometimes conditional, but we need not see this case as an example.

Here is the prophecy:

When the minstrel played, the power of the Lord came upon him. And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry stream-bed full of pools.’ ...This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord; he will also give the Moabites into your hand, and you shall conquer every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop up all springs of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones.”

This help from Israel's God was immediately forthcoming: "the Israelites rose and attacked the Moabites, till they fled before them; and they went forward, slaughtering the Moabites as they went. And they overthrew the cities, and on every good piece of land every man threw a stone, until it was covered; they stopped every spring of water, and felled all the good trees; till only its stones were left in Kir-har′eseth, and the slingers surrounded and conquered it."

One can read the prophecy as having now been fulfilled. There had been no promise from God that the coalition would permanently occupy Moab and its cities. It is at this point that the king of Moab took a drastic action that enabled him and the remnant of is army to survive in their now utterly destroyed land:

He took his eldest son who was to reign in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

One may thus understand the events prior to king of Moab's detestable act as having already fulfilled the prophecy of Elisha. The text states that "they overthrew the cities... till only its stones were left in Kir-har′eseth, and the slingers surrounded and conquered it." Only then, after trying unsuccessfully to break through the Israelite line, did the king of Moab sacrifice his son on the wall of the conquered city, causing the Israelite coalition to withdraw. A case can thus be made that Michael Heiser is mistaken in his belief that God did not help Israel and Judah (and Edom) in this battle. Only after the prophecy was fulfilled did the Israelite coalition withdraw.

  • After reading Heiser's complete article, I see that he presents the battle in a way which ignores the evidence I mention above. I think he has fallen into the trap that many readers do here, thinking that because the King of Moab gets the last word, God did not help Israel, Judah and Edom. The king's final act was despicable and futile, for his cities were already taken and his country was destroyed. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 3:57

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