Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Chapter 3 – The War Against Moav

In the aftermath of Achav's death and the instability that followed with Achazyahu's two year reign, Moav take the opportunity to throw off the imposition of foreign control. Already in the first passuk of ch.1, we have read that Moav rebelled against Achav. Now Achav's son decides to re-affirm his control over Moav.

His natural ally is Yehoshafat who we have already seen in military collaboration (ch.22) with the king of the northern kingdom. Why did Yeshoshafat join Yehoram? We know Yehoshafat as a loyal servant of God, a Melech Tzaddik; and Yehoram is far from that. See Elisha's statement in passuk #14. Maybe Yehoshafat is motivated by a desire for national unity. Furthermore, we read, in 8:18 that Yehoshafat's son married Ahav's son. Hence Yehoram's sister, Athalia, is Yehohafat's daughter-in-law. There is a family obligation too! In order to boost the size of the army creating a more effective attack force, a third ally is used - Edom - who are currently controlled by Yehuda. The kings travel via Midbar Edom, in other words, they skirt the south of the Dead Sea and attack Moav from the South.


However the advancing force encounters a serious setback. There is no water. They are traveling through a desert. You might ask – what did they expect? I imagine that their planned route had been to visit a particular Wadi or spring that would provide the requisite water and that for some reason they found it dry, or the access blocked. Maybe they had to alter their route for some reason (sometimes after a flash-flood, a wadi becomes impassable due to fallen rocks etc.) and they failed to reach the water that they anticipated. Walking for 7 days in the desert without water is a severe problem.

Enter the role of the Navi! Here Yehoshafat (echoing his words in ch.22) asks whether there is a "Navi LaShem" and Elisha is summoned. What is Elisha doing there? Why is he in the battlefield? We now have an opportunity to view a different prophet – Elisha - who is far more "tolerant." He participates in national events as one of the masses, he is always with the nation; very different from the drama of Eliyahu. Nonetheless, Elisha isn't a pushover – he doesn't compromise the truth. He probably accompanied the forces to war because he realized that his prophecy would be necessary. There was a Godly message to be delivered in this war, and he needed to be there to deliver it. He expresses quite vocally his disapproval of Yehoram and the religious realities of the Northern Kingdom.


Nonetheless, Elisha immediately gets himself into prophetic mood (via music) and announces a positive solution - that there will be water miraculously without rain nor wind.

Most likely we are dealing with a flash-flood that brought rainwater from hills in Jordan, down towards the Dead sea. We know this phenomena from OUR side of the Dead Sea. When it rains in Chevron and Jerusalem, there are floods in the nechalim of the Dead Sea despite the fact that the sun is shining there. As the passuk states "you will see no wind, nor will you see rain." Later in passuk #22 the Moabites think that this water is blood. Why would the water appear as red? It could be that along with the water came a great deal of mud colouring the water. Alternatively the reflection of the reddish mountains of Moav (if you have visited Eilat, the mountains are a reddish colour,) on the water gave an image of blood to the Moabites. The water which was the source of the problem turns into the object of their salvation from the enemy.

Along with this miracle, Elisha tells the people to devastate Moav, destroying cities, trees and water sources from the land of Moav. Why does God wish that the place be so severely destroyed? … we shall deal with this question at the end of this shiur.


Elisha uses music in his pursuit of prophecy. This is something that we are familiar with from Sefer Shmuel – see Shmuel Aleph 10:5, (16:16,23) ; 18:10. The Rambam comments upon this in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 7:4 " prophecy does not come to those who are sad or lazy, but only to those who are happy. Therefore, the sons of prophets would have before them harps, drums and flutes, and would seek prophecy." Chazal suggest that Elisha needed this especially in our Perek, after the presence of Yehoram had sent him into a bad mood. Now he needed music to get out of that negative state of mind.

And yet the relationship between music, inspiration, simcha , nevua, needs some further thought. We are all cognizant of the effect singing and music has on our davening. In chassidut the niggun became a sophisticated tool in reaching out to God. Way beyond the scope of this blog though … צריך עיון!

קצף גדול על ישראל

The last passuk here is the big unresolved problem point of this perek. Melekh Moav tries to break through to the king of Edom and he doesn't make headway. But suddenly Melekh Moav sacrifices his firstborn son upon the city wall. "and there was great anger (ketzef) against Israel."

What is happening here? It would appear that the Israelite victory was mitigated by this act. Why should a pagan act of child sacrifice affect Am Yisrael?

Here there are three primary approaches in the traditional literature. (The main sources are in Gemara Sanhedrin 39b and Massechet Taanit 4a. For an academic attempt, see Prof. Elitzur's approach in the previous posting.)

The Gemara in Sanhedrin raises two possibilities. That King Mesha's act was:
1 For Avoda Zara
2. For God – Leshem Shamayim.
According to both interpretations, this was an act of desperation, and the King of Moav wanted to arouse some divine assistance. This act of sacrificing his son was a radical move intended to change the course of the battle. And indeed it did!

Let us start with the second option: - Leshem Shamayim. The Midrash (pesikta) says that since Mesha was fighting Israel, he asked his advisors as to the source of the strength of Israel. They replied with the story of the Akeida! And so, Mesha set out to duplicate the Akeida here. Wow! And then the question is – so why did this induce "wrath" against Bnei Yisrael? The Talmud explicitly states that this act by Mesha was undesirable , even if prompted by worship of Hashem! Why should this illicit act have any positive affect for Mesha?

And at this point we get stuck. It is very puzzling. If God doesn't want this, then why should it "work" against Israel?

The second approach says that Mashe engaged in this act for the sake of his god, the Avoda Zara of Kemosh. Once again, we can raise the question of why this would in any way act as "wrath" against Bnei Yisrael. Here the commentators have a reply. They say that this act shamed Bnei Yisrael, it reflected badly upon us. After all, at this point in time, the Jews also worship idols; Yehoram is not perfect in this regard. Mesha's act raised the question: Why are they (Israel) more worthy than I? And indeed, at this point, God rescinded his protection of Bnei Yisrael and the war began to go downhill!

Many questions can be raised against this interpretation. Does God act in such a flippant manner? Why should a sacrifice to Avoda Zara have a "direct line" to God? But one problem might be – why he performed this act on the wall of the city. One would imagine that a religious sacrifice would take place on the city altar.

And so, there is a 3rd approach, quoted by the Radak. And this involves a creative reading of passuk 26. In passuk 26 an attempt was made to break through to the King of Edom, but it was unsuccessful. The Radak suggests that they didn't manage to kill Melekh edom, but they DID capture his SON. They then offered the KING OF EDOM"S SON on the wall, and this threw Edom into turmoil, probably having them blame Israel for not protecting them enough, and this broke the coalition, and brought an end to the attack.

Mesha's act here is NOT religious but POLITICAL. And ingenious stroke.


In the light of this discussion i would like to add something here that relate sto the chapter as a whole , ideas partially gleaned from Rav Samet's shiurim. There is a strong sense of ambivalence about the perek.

On the one hand, God strikes Israel with a lack of water for 7 days. This is interpreted as a sign of God's disfavour with Bnei Yisrael (313) But then, this is refuted as God grants Israel victory in the war.

On the one hand there is an evil king, who Elisha will not even countenance; on the other hand, a loyal righteous king.

On the one hand, they are promised a total devastating victory, but this is tempered somewhat, by the events at the end of the perek – see passuk 27 – that indicate a victory that is partial and indecisive.

What is happening here? Maybe we can suggest the following, and also relate a little to archeology. There is an extraordinary archeological find that was uncovered about 140 years ago. It is a massive 4 foot high engraved tablet of granite carved in honour of the King of Moav, the very Mesha of our Perek. The amazing thing is that it declares: "Israel is destroyed" … just another instance of people who thought that we were finished. But we are here today, and where are they? (For the text of the Mesha Tablet, see or see the link in the last post for a picture.)

…But for our purposes, what can we say about this stone? It tells the story how after Achav's time, Mesha had some significant victories against the Israelites including an attack at a city in Nevo when certain symbols of God were taken captive and placed before the Moabite god Kemosh. The entire text reads as a victory of Kemosh against Hashem. No doubt, this war comes as Yehoram wishes to avenge those conquests by Mesha. But even Hashem wishes to restore his name, to create a Kiddush Hashem. Now maybe we can explain the incredible miracles of this Perek, and the devastation that God wants to be visited against the Moabites. They saw themselves as victorious against Hashem, and Hashem wishes to relieve them of that illusion. And so, this is in many ways a war of vengeance for the name of God, for restoring God's supremacy.

And now, enter the confusion. A very problematic person – Yehoram – who worships idols, is avenging God's name. On the one hand, God wishes to secure a victory. On the other hand, for the victory to be total, to be absolute would give a stamp of approval to Yehoram. Throughout the perek then, we have this tension of approval-disapproval, a tension that eventually leads to a rather ambiguous and ambivalent victory. (And this fits in interestingly with the second opinion above, that the Israelites were in a shaky moral place as they also worship Avoda Zara, just like Mesha. Why should Mesha's sacrifice be inferior to theirs!?)