Israel and Judah held some of the most fertile land and strategic positions in the ancient Near East. It is no wonder that neighboring nations like Moab envied them and constantly attempted to seize the land. Moab lay just southeast of Israel. The country had been under Israel’s control for some time due to Ahab’s strong military leadership. When Ahab died, Mesha, the Moabite king, took the opportunity to rebel. While Israel’s next king, Ahaziah, did nothing about the revolt, his successor, Joram, decided to take action. He joined forces with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and went to fight the Moabites. Together
In planning their military strategy, Jehoshaphat suggested they march south instead of north through the Desert of Edom. This meant they would march in a large half-circle pattern and then launch a surprise attack from the south below the Dead Sea (2 Kings 3:8). This particular strategy of attack seemed to be brilliant, for the forces of Moab were mobilized along the northern border above the Dead Sea. Also, by going around the southern end of the Dead Sea, the army of the alliance not only would catch Moab by surprise, but they could also enlist the support of Edom. Since the alliance had to march through the land of Edom, the Edomites, with a smaller army than the alliance, would join Israel and Judah instead of fighting against them.
Although the southern strategy would be far more difficult because of having to march through the desert, the alliance adopted this strategy of assault against Moab. But after marching seven days through the desert, the alliance army faced a severe, life-threatening crisis: they ran out of water. There was no water for the soldiers or for the animals.
Note the reaction of King Joram of the Northern Kingdom: he became terrified. He complained and blamed the Lord, accusing Him of bringing the crisis upon them in order to defeat them before the power of Moab. But note the response of Jehoshaphat, who, despite some spiritual weaknesses, was a true believer in the Lord: he suggested they find a prophet who could seek the Lord on their behalf (2 Kings 3:11).
Jehoshaphat’s request for a “prophet of the Lord” shows how true worship and religious experience in both Israel and Judah had declined. In David’s day, both the high priest and the prophets gave the king advice. But most of the priests had left Israel (Northern Kingdom) and God’s prophets were seen as messengers of doom (1 Kings 22:18).
Thankfully and providentially, one of the officers of Israel knew about Elisha and informed the kings that Elisha was actually accompanying their army into battle. Furthermore, the officer informed the three kings that Elisha had been the aide of the great prophet Elijah. Obviously, the Lord had moved upon the heart of Elisha to accompany the troops and to minister to them. Facing the crisis of utter defeat due to lack of water, the three kings humbled themselves and went personally to Elisha to seek his help and godly counsel (2 Kings 3:12).
When the three kings sought Elisha, appealing for his help, Elisha boldly and sternly rebuked Joram for his idolatry. The king was following false prophets and engaging in false worship. King Joram should go to the prophets of his father and mother for help, the prophets of Ahab and the infamous Jezebel.
But note the response of King Joram: he again blamed the Lord for their severe, life-threatening crisis. He accused the Lord of having led the three kings to form an alliance in order to bring about their defeat by the king of Moab.
With disgust in his voice toward Joram, Elisha responded bluntly: he would not help them if it were not for the presence of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. In fact, he would not even bother to look at them at all if it were not for Jehoshaphat, the only true believer associated with the alliance. But for the sake of Jehoshaphat he would seek the counsel of the Lord on behalf of the three armies of the alliance.
Note God’s wonderful promise to meet the needs of the three-nation alliance—all because of the presence of the true believer Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 3:15-19). Elisha requested a harpist to play music while he was praying. No doubt, this was for the purpose of quieting his mind and his thoughts from the disturbance of the confrontation with Joram. He needed to focus and concentrate in prayer, and the music would help him.
At some point, the Lord spoke to Elisha and gave him instructions for the three kings. Turning back to the kings, Elisha declared the Word of God to them, instructing them to dig ditches throughout the valley (2 Kings 3:16). If they would dig ditches in the dry sand of the desert—believe the promise of God—the Lord would fill the valley with water. And note: they would see neither wind nor rain; yet the valley would be filled with water for both their soldiers and their livestock (2 Kings 3:17). Furthermore, the Lord would give them victory over Moab (2 Kings 3:18).