There is a strange story in the Old Testament talking about a battle that took place between Israel and Moab. Found in 2 Kings 3, we are told that Israel had the kingdom of Moab in subjection. As a vassal, the Moabites paid an annual tax to Israel of 100,000 lambs and the wool from 100,000 sheep.
The reason was obvious, we are told that Mesha, the King of Moab, was a breeder of sheep (verse 3) and had obviously developed a unique breed that was in demand.
By this time, Israel had split apart into two nations, Samaria (Israel) and Judah. King Ahab of Israel had just died and King Mesha decided this was an opportune time to break free from Israel’s domination.
Undoubtedly, Israel became aware of the problem when Mesha refused to pay the tribute. So Jehoram, the new King of Israel contacted King Jehoshaphat of Judah and an unnamed King of Edom to help Jehoram bring Moab back into submission. Obviously, it was in everyone’s best interest to keep Moab under heel as the other two nations willingly agreed to join the battle.
But King Jehoshaphat was having second thoughts and demanded the group get a word from the prophet Elisha about the upcoming war. Elisha had little use for Jehoram but because Jehoshaphat was involved agreed to give a prophetic word:
18 This is but a slight thing in the sight of the Lord; He will also give the Moabites into your hand. (2 Kings 3:18 NASV)
God prophesied victory and the three armies marched into Moab and routed Mesha. With his army down to just 700 men, King Mesha retreated to his fortress for one final battle.
As the three invading armies slowly circled the city, in a last act of desperation King Mesha went up on the battle walls and sacrificed his son, who would have reigned in his stead, to their god chemosh:
27 Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land. (1 Kings 3:27 NASV)
God had prophesied victory to the three armies. They had routed the Moabite army. They had King Mesha reduced to 700 men, trapped in the city. Victory was hours away.
But instead of victory we are told a “great wrath” came against Israel and King Jehoram withdrew from the battle field and undoubtedly Judah and Edom left as well.
What happened? We are not really sure.
The Hebrew word for “wrath” is “qesep,” it means “rage,” “anger,” “indignation,” “a feeling of intense anger that does not subside. ” The word “great” is added to describe the wrath. The Hebrew word “godol” means “remarkable or out of the ordinary in degree.”
Israel experienced an extraordinary “wrath” and withdrew from the battle. Since we are not told exactly what happened, commentators can only guess. Some have suggested that this sacrifice so motivated the Moabite troops, that the 700 surrounded men put up such a fight that it forced Israel to retreat.
But the three armies surrounding Mesha numbered in the thousands probably tens of thousands. It was going to be a massacre and besides Elisha had already prophesied victory, if they wanted it.
Others have suggested that since one of the meanings of “qesep” is indignation, that when Israel saw Mesha sacrificing his son, Israel was so offended that they withdrew from the battle. But if you are angry and offended, would you walk away or finish the fight and put an end to it?
Archaeology provides us a third alternative and I believe this is what caused the wrath — spiritual warfare.
In 1868, a stone stele or monument constructed by King Mesha of Moab was discovered in Jordan. Though it was eventually destroyed by a group of Bedouins who were angry that they were being forced to turn it over to the government, a papier-mache impression was made of the stele before it was broken apart. It is now on display at the Louvre Museum.
The stele written in the Moabite language mentions King Omri of Israel (the King who first put Moab into subjection) and also provides one of the earliest mentions of Jehovah and the House of David. Mesha erected the stele when he built a temple to his god, chemosh.
Dated to 840 BC, this stele actually told the story of this conflict with Israel from King Mesha’s perspective. On the stele, King Mesha says that because Moab had angered their god chemosh, the country had become Israel’s vassal state. But then chemosh helped Mesha defeat Israel.
Mesha writes that “chemosh drove him out before me.” The King of Moab credits his god with the victory.
The prophet Ezekiel actually made an interesting statement about the human sacrifices that the back-slidden Israelis were making to molech, a Canaanite god. This god also went by the name of chemosh and kronos. Yes, this is the same god that Mesha sacrificed his son too:
37 for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. (Ezekiel 23:37 NIV)
Notice how it says that they were sacrificing children as “food for them [the gods].” The sacrifice of children was considered a form of nourishment for the idols. Though food does not make us super human, it does keep up our strength.
And though chemosh was simply an idol made of stone, the Bible is clear that there were demons behind these ancient gods.
“They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
17 “They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deuteronomy 32:16-17 NASV)
Grammatically this passage is saying these ancient foreign gods and demons were the same thing. So this leaves us with the thought, could Mesha’s sacrifice of his son have actually nourished or strengthened the evil spirit behind the chemosh idol?
Was the demonic spirit behind chemosh the source of the wrath? Though we are not actually told what happened, Israel had been promised victory.
The apostle Paul writes:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13 NASV)
Twice in this classic description on spiritual warfare, Paul tells believers to “stand firm” in the midst of spiritual warfare. Sometimes when we feel the wrath of satan coming against us, God does not want us to move forward but instead He simply wants us to “stand firm” literally this means do nothing more than hold your ground.
In Israel’s case, when hit with this demonic wrath, they were not to press the battle against Moab, but rather stand their ground. Do not retreat.
Once this wrath has passed, Israel could then press ahead and claim the victory promised by Elisha.
- Mesha Stele: Wikipedia