PART 4 (FINAL)
Yet, Elisha’s prophecy is ambiguous in at least one respect: does Elisha command Jehoram and Jehoshaphat to destroy the good trees of the land and to stop up the water supply? His prophecy is open to that reading, but this would imply that Elisha instructs the kings to violate the Torah’s rules of warfare, which is unlikely. Elisha’s prediction is a prediction and nothing more. Further, Elisha’s prophecy is certainly incomplete. Yahweh gives Moab into the hand of Israel, as Elisha predicts, but Elisha does not finish the story, and that incompleteness, like the prophecies of the false prophets in 1 Kgs. 22, sets a trap for Jehoram.
The other set of clues has to do with King Mesha of Moab himself. This is the story of an exodus and a conquest, but in the end it is not a reenactment of Israel’s exodus. It is Moab’s exodus, an exodus led by a Moabite “Moses,” Mesha (the two names pun in Hebrew, and “Mesha” מישע] is, like “Joshua,” built on the verb “save”). Heavily oppressed like Israel in Egypt, Moab rebels, with Mesha leading his people out of Israel/Egypt. Even the horrific slaughter of his firstborn son on the wall of Kir-hareseth is part of an exodus typology, an infernal Passover that delivers Mesha while wrath burns against his enemies. This is also Mesha’s holy war. In biblical holy war stories, Israel is normally outnumbered and Yahweh intervenes to rescue them from certain defeat. Here, Moab is the underdog, yet they win the battle because Yahweh takes their side.
Two exodus stories intersect in the chapter: the exodus of Israel and the exodus of Moab. Two holy war stories are being told simultaneously: the holy war that Israel wages against Moab and the holy war that Moab wages against Israel. In the end, Moab’s exodus is successful, and Israel’s is not. This fits the internal typology of 1-2 Kings: Ahab is a perverse Solomon, and just as Israel divides in the days of Solomon’s son, so the northern kingdom divides in the days of Ahab’s son (compare 2 Kgs. 3:5 with 1 Kgs. 12:19).
Yahweh occasionally gives the Omride kings victories, in spite of their rebellion, but so long as Israel tolerates idols it is not successful militarily over the long run.1 Yahweh makes war against his enemies with infinite power and infinite cunning, and he is perfectly willing to direct his shrewd energies to trap his own people when they turn from him.
This unnerving story reveals something of God’s ways with humanity in general. What is God up to in history or in the specific history of our individual lives? That is often difficult to answer, and frequently, just when we think we have a sense of what God is doing, he turns things inside out and upside down and does something else. He is a living God, and that means he is the God of surprise endings. He does this not because he takes malicious delight in toying with us, nor does he trap us to guffaw over the resulting pratfalls. The God of surprises is wholly righteous, wholly good, wholly just, wholly love, wholly light without a shadow of turning. He is faithful with the faithful, but the faithful throughout the centuries testify that God is a God of surprises. God surprises us because we have only the slightest grasp of what is actually going on in history or in our lives. God surprises us because he is doing far, far more than we can imagine, and his plans are far, far bigger than we can perceive. God surprises us with roadblocks and obstacles because he wants us to grow up from complaining, sentimental childish Jehorams into mature adults, into the image of Jesus, who learns obedience by what he suffers.
We have no control over our ends, whether the end of our lives or the end of any particular storyline of our lives. We cannot number our days. When we recognize this, we might respond with fear and anxiety at the feeling of utter helplessness, bottomless dependence. But recognizing that we are not in control of our ends only produces anxiety when we assume that we should be in control. In Scripture, recognizing that we are not in control is a source of joy because it is combined with the confidence that someone is in control, someone who is far wiser than we. Recognizing our utter dependence removes the heavy yoke and leaves us buoyant, lighter than air. This is the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the wisdom that freely confesses that the world is vapor—and then proceeds to eat and drink and make love (Eccl. 9:7–9). Recognizing that we cannot control our endings is just the reverse side of our basic Christian confession that God controls our endings. Our helplessness is inherent in the basic confession that God is God and we are not. The meaning of our life story depends on what happens tomorrow, what happens at the omega-point of our lives, and we do not know what will happen tomorrow. But there is a God in heaven who knows and controls every alpha and every omega, a God who is alpha and omega.
Second Kings 3 does not leave us with an arbitrary God, but it certainly does not reveal a tame God. This story leaves us precisely where the whole of Scripture leaves us: utterly dependent upon the God who is sovereign love and sovereign good. This odd and mystifying story urges us to take this one stance in life: trust him, remembering that the greatest surprise ending is the double surprise of the gospel—the shocking horror of the Son of the King crucified outside the walls by his own “fathers” and the wild joy of a risen Lord.
SOURCE: Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 178–183.