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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 20–27
Verses 20–27

I. We have here the divine gift of both those things which God had promised by Elisha—water and victory, and the former not only a pledge of the latter, but a means of it. God, who created, and commands, all the waters, both above and beneath the firmament, sent them an abundance of water on a sudden, which did them double service.

1. It relieved their armies, which were ready to perish, 2 Kgs. 3:20. And, which was very observable, this relief came just at the time of the offering of the morning sacrifice upon the altar at Jerusalem, a certain time, and universally known. That time Elisha chose for his hour of prayer (it is likely looking towards the temple, for so there were to do in their prayers when they were going out to battle and encamped at a distance, 1 Kgs. 8:44), in token of his communion with the temple-service, and his expectation of success by virtue of the great sacrifice. We now cannot pitch upon any hour more acceptable than another, because our high priest is always appearing for us, to present and plead his sacrifice. That time God chose for the hour of mercy to put an honour upon the daily sacrifice, which had been despised. God answered Daniel’s prayer just at the time of the evening sacrifice (Dan. 9:21); for he will acknowledge his own institutions.

2. It deceived their enemies, who were ready to triumph, into the destruction. Notice was given to the Moabites of the advances of the confederate army, to oppose which all that were able to put on armour were posted upon the frontiers, where they were ready to give the Israelites a warm reception (2 Kgs. 3:21), promising themselves that it would be easy dealing with an army fatigued by so long a march through the wilderness of Edom. But see here,

(1.) How easily they were drawn into their own delusions. Observe the steps of their self-deceit. [1.] They saw the water in the valley where the army of Israel encamped, and conceited it was blood (2 Kgs. 3:22), because they knew the valley to be dry, and (there having been no rain) could not imagine it should be water. The sun shone upon it, and probably the sky was red and lowering, a presage of foul weather that day (Matt. 16:3), and so it proved to them. But, this making the water look red, their own fancies, which made them willing to believe what made for them, suggested, This is blood, God permitting them thus to impose upon themselves. [2.] If their camp was thus full of blood, they conclude, “Certainly the kings have fallen out (as confederates of different interests are apt to do) and they have slain one another (2 Kgs. 3:23), for who else should slay them?” And, [3.] “If the armies have slain one another, we have nothing to do but to divide the prey. Now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.” These were the gradual suggestions of some sanguine spirits among them, that thought themselves wiser and happier in their conjectures than their neighbours; and the rest, being desirous it should be so, were forward to believe it was so. Quod volumus facile credimus—What we wish we readily believe. Thus those that are to be destroyed are first deceived (Rev. 20:8), and none are so effectually deceived as those that deceive themselves.

(2.) How fatally they thereby ran upon their own destruction. They rushed carelessly into the camp of Israel, to plunder it, but were undeceived when it was too late. The Israelites, animated by the assurances Elisha had given them of victory, fell upon them with the utmost fury, routed them, and pursued them into their own country (2 Kgs. 3:24), which they laid waste (2 Kgs. 3:25), destroyed the cities, marred the ground, stopped up the wells, felled the timber, and left only the royal city standing, in the walls of which they made great breaches with their battering engines. This they got by rebelling against Israel. Who ever hardened his heart against God and prospered?

II. In the close of the chapter we are told what the king of Moab did when he found himself reduced to the last extremity by the besiegers, and that his capital city was likely to fall into their hands. 1. He attempted that which was bold and brave. he got together 700 choice men, and with them sallied out upon the intrenchments of the king of Edom, who, being but a mercenary in this expedition, would not, he hoped, make any great resistance if vigorously attacked, and so he might make his escape that way. But it would not do; even the king of Edom proved too hard for him, and obliged him to retire, 2 Kgs. 3:26. 2. This failing, he did that which was brutish and barbarous; he took his own son, his eldest son, that was to succeed him, than whom nothing could be more dear to himself and his people, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall, 2 Kgs. 3:27. He designed by this, (1.) To obtain the favour of Chemosh his god, which, being a devil, delighted in blood and murder, and the destruction of mankind. The dearer any thing was to them the more acceptable those idolaters thought it must needs be if offered in sacrifice to their gods, and therefore burnt their children in the fire to their honour. (2.) To terrify the besiegers, and oblige them to retire. Therefore he did it upon the wall, in their sight, that they might see what desperate courses he resolved to take rather than surrender, and how dearly he would sell his city and life. He intended hereby to render them odious, and to exasperate and enrage his own subjects against them. This effect it had: There was great indignation against Israel for driving him to this extremity, whereupon they raised the siege and returned. Tender and generous spirits will not do that, though just, which will drive any man distracted, or make him desperate.