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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 6–19
Verses 6–19

Jehoram has no sooner got the sceptre into his hand than he takes the sword into his hand, to reduce Moab. Crowns bring great cares and perils to the heads that wear them; no sooner in honour than in war. Now here we have,

I. The concerting of this expedition between Jehoram king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah. Jehoram levied an army (2 Kgs. 3:6), and such an opinion he had of the godly king of Judah that, 1. He courted him to be his confederate: Wilt thou go with me against Moab? And he gained him. Jehoshaphat said, I will go up. I am as thou art, 2 Kgs. 3:7. Judah and Israel, though unhappily divided from each other, yet can unite against Moab a common enemy. Jehoshaphat upbraids them not with their revolt from the house of David, nor makes it an article of their alliance that they shall return to their allegiance, though he had good reason to insist upon it, but treats with Israel as a sister-kingdom. Those are no friends to their own peace and strength who can never find in their hearts to forgive and forget an old injury, and unite with those that have formerly broken in upon their rights. Quod initio non vulvit, tractu temporis invalescit—That which was originally destitute of authority in the progress of time acquires it. 2. He consulted him as his confidant, 2 Kgs. 3:8. He took advice of Jehoshaphat, who had more wisdom and experience than himself, which way they should make their descent upon the country of Moab; and he advised that they should not march against them the nearest way, over Jordan, but go round through the wilderness of Edom, that they might take the king of Edom (who was tributary to him) and his forces along with them If two be better than one, much more will not a three-fold cord be easily broken. Jehoshaphat had like to have paid dearly for joining with Ahab, yet he joined with his son, and this expedition also had like to have been fatal to him. There is nothing got by being yoked with unbelievers.

II. The great straits that the army of the confederates was reduced to in this expedition. Before they saw the face of an enemy they were all in danger of perishing for want of water, 2 Kgs. 3:9. This ought to have been considered before they ventured a march through the wilderness, the same wilderness (or very near it) where their ancestors wanted water, Num. 20:2. God suffers his people, by their own improvidence, to bring themselves into distress, that the wisdom, power, and goodness of his providence may be glorified in their relief. What is more cheap and common than water? It is drink to every beast of the field, Ps. 104:11. Yet the want of it will soon humble and ruin kings and armies. The king of Israel sadly lamented the present distress, and the imminent danger it put them in of falling into the hands of their enemies the Moabites, to whom, when weakened by thirst, they would be an easy prey, 2 Kgs. 3:10. it was he that had called these kings together; yet he charges it upon Providence, and reflects upon that as unkind: The Lord has called them together. Thus the foolishness of man perverteth his way, and then his heart fretteth against the Lord, Prov. 19:3.

III. Jehoshaphat’s good motion to ask counsel of God in this exigency, 2 Kgs. 3:11. The place they were now in could not but remind them of the wonders of which their fathers told them, the waters fetched out of the rock for Israel’s seasonable supply. The thought of this, we may suppose, encouraged Jehoshaphat to ask, Isa. there not here a prophet of the Lord, like unto Moses? He was the more concerned because it was by his advice that they fetched this compass through the wilderness, 2 Kgs. 3:8. It was well that Jehoshaphat enquired of the Lord now, but it would have been much better if he had done it sooner, before he engaged in this war, or steered this course; so the distress might have been prevented. Good men are sometimes remiss and forgetful, and neglect their duty till necessity and affliction drive them to it.

IV. Elisha recommended as a proper person for them to consult with 2 Kgs. 3:11. And here we may wonder, 1. That Elisha should follow the camp, especially in such a tedious march as this, as a volunteer, unasked, unobserved, and in no post of honour at all; not in the office of priest of the war (Deut. 20:2) or president of the council of war, but in such obscurity that none of the kings knew they had such a jewel in the treasures of their camp, nor so good a friend in their retinue. We may suppose it was by special direction from heaven that Elisha attended the war, as the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof. Thus does God anticipate his people with the blessings of his goodness and provide his oracles for those that provide them not for themselves. It would often be bad with us if God did not take more care of us, both for soul and body, than we take for ourselves. 2. That a servant of the king of Israel knew of his being there when the king himself did not. Probably it was such a servant as Obadiah was to his father Ahab, one that feared the Lord; to such a one Elisha made himself known, not to the kings. The account he gives of him is that it was he that poured water on the hands of Elijah, that is, he was his servant, and particularly attended him when he washed his hands. He that will be great, let him learn to minister: he that will rise high, let him begin low.

V. The application which the kings made to Elisha. They went down to him to his quarters, 2 Kgs. 3:12. Jehoshaphat had such an esteem for a prophet with whom the word of the Lord was that he would condescend to visit him in his own person and not send for him up to him. The other two were moved by the straits they were in to make their court to the prophet. He that humbled himself was thus exalted, and looked great, when three kings came to knock at his door, and beg his assistance; see Rev. 3:9.

VI. The entertainment which Elisha gave them. 1. He was very plain with the wicked king of Israel (2 Kgs. 3:13): “What have I to do with thee? How canst thou expect an answer of peace from me? Get thee to the prophets of thy father and mother, whom thou hast countenanced and maintained in thy prosperity, and let them help thee now in thy distress.” Elisha was not imposed upon, as Jehoshaphat was, by his partial and hypocritical reformation; he knew that, though he had put away the image of Baal, Baal’s prophets were still dear to him, and perhaps some of the were now in his camp. “Go,” said he, “go to them. Get you to the gods whom you have served, Jdg. 10:14. The world and the flesh have ruled you, let them help you; why should God be enquired of by you?” Exod. 14:3. Elisha tells him to his face, in a holy indignation at his wickedness, that he can scarcely find in his heart to look towards him or to see him, 2 Kgs. 3:14. Jehoram is to be respected as a prince, but as a wicked man he is a vile person, and is to be condemned, Ps. 15:4. Elisha, as a subject, will honour him, but as a prophet he will cause him to know his iniquity. For those that had such an extraordinary commission it was fit (though not for a common person) to say to a king, Thou art wicked, Job 34:18. Jehoram has so much self-command as to take this plain dealing patiently; he cares not now for hearing of the prophets of Baal, but is a humble suitor to the God of Israel and his prophet, representing the present case as very deplorable and humbly recommending it to the prophet’s compassionate consideration. In effect, he owns himself unworthy, but let not the other kings be ruined for his sake. 2. Elisha showed a great respect to the godly king of Judah, regarded his presence, and, for his sake, would enquire of the Lord for them all. It is good being with those that have God’s favour and his prophet’s love. Wicked people often fare the better for the friendship and society of those that are godly. 3. He composed himself to receive instructions from God. His mind was somewhat ruffled and disturbed at the sight of Jehoram; though he was not put into a sinful heat or passion, nor had spoken unadvisedly, yet his zeal for the present indisposed him for prayer and the operations of the Spirit, which required a mind very calm and sedate. He therefore called for a musician (2 Kgs. 3:15), a devout musician, one accustomed to play upon his harp and sign psalms to it. To hear God’s praises sweetly sung, as David had appointed, would cheer his spirits, and settle his mind, and help to put him into a right frame both to speak to him and to hear from him. We find a company of prophets prophesying with a psaltery and a tabret before them, 1 Sam. 10:5. Those that desire communion with God must keep their spirits quiet and serene. Elisha being refreshed, and having the tumult of his spirits laid by this divine music, the hand of the Lord came upon him, and his visit did him more honour than that of three kings. 4. God, by him, gave them assurance that the issue of the present distress would be comfortable and glorious. (1.) They should speedily be supplied with water, 2 Kgs. 3:16, 17. To try their faith and obedience, he bids them make the valley full of ditches to receive the water. Those that expect God’s blessings must prepare room for them, dig the pools for the rain to fill, as they did in the valley of Baca, and so made even that a well, Ps. 84:6. To raise the wonder, he tells them they shall have water enough, and yet there shall be neither wind nor rain. Elijah, by prayer, obtained water out of the clouds, but Elisha fetches it nobody knows whence. The spring of these waters shall be as secret as the head of the Nile. God is not tied to second causes. Ordinarily it is by a plentiful rain that God confirms his inheritance (Ps. 68:9), but here it is done without rain, at least without rain in that place. Some of the fountains of the great deep, it is likely, were broken up on this occasion; and, to increase the miracle, that valley only (as it should seem) was filled with water, and no other place had any share of it. (2.) That supply should be an earnest of victory (2 Kgs. 3:18): “This is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord; you shall not only be saved from perishing, but shall return in triumph.” As God gives freely to the unworthy, so he gives richly, like himself, more than we are able to ask or think. His grants out-do our requests and expectations. Those that sincerely seek for the dew of God’s grace shall have it, and by it be made more than conquerors. It is promised that they shall be masters of the rebellious country, and they are permitted to lay it waste and ruin it, 2 Kgs. 3:19. The law forbade them to fell fruit-trees to be employed in their sieges (Deut. 20:19), but not when it was intended, in justice, for the starving of a country that had forfeited its fruits, by denying tribute to those to whom tribute was due.