God (Doesn’t) Win?: 2nd Kings 3:27

If I was a Classical Theist, who believed in the traditional (let’s face it, imperial notions) of divine omnipotence and omniscience over and against God’s Wisdom and Power, I would be going through a faith crisis right now.

I have read the Hebrew Bible over and over again, yet never noticed 2nd Kings 3. Perhaps because I just thought it was just another divine war story.

In 2nd Kings 3, Elisha’s prophecy, at first seems to succeed, but at the end, it fails. Why? Because the king of Moab offers his son and heir to the throne as a sacrifice.

Read more from Thom Stark’s blog: here, here, and here.

I will say, as my tendency to defend *unpopular* people persists, that it was unfair for Thom to say it is Hess’s dedication to inerrancy that is the problem with Hess’s reading of the passage. That is not the case at all. Affirmation of inerrancy need not lead people to believe in classical theism. It is Hess’s dedication to traditional categories of God’s knowledge (omniscience) that is more at play than anything.

2nd Kings, another case in point that God’s knowledge is contingent upon our free will decisions.

And Elisha wasn’t completely wrong; the Israelites defeated all but one city of Moab.

Oh, and does not anyone else find problematic that the king of Israel was taking tribute from Moab as a colonial political power?

#justprayin

Footnote 1: post has been editted to change ableist language; 1/3/14.

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40 Replies to “God (Doesn’t) Win?: 2nd Kings 3:27”

  1. I’m not sure that my accusation had anything specifically to do with “classical theism,” and I’m not sure what that means here.

    Anyway, as is clear in my second post on the subject, I’m scratching my head as to what’s preventing him from abandoning his prince of Edom reading.

    Also, I do point out that Elisha’s prophecy was pretty much fulfilled, so that can’t be it. (I edited that yesterday or the day before.)

    Finally, I just added a new post on the subject.

    1. Hey Thom,

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      By classical theism, I mean that Richard Hess is severely indebted to the presupposition that God is omnipotent and omniscient, therefore God’s prophets and their oracles cannot fail. That’s all I mean. IN this case, Elisha is wrong, for not every town of Moab fall. See the connection?

  2. sorry.. how exactly did the prophecy fail?

    Ps, the note on verse 27 is interesting:

    tn Heb “there was great anger against Israel.”
    sn The meaning of this statement is uncertain, for the subject of the anger is not indicated. Except for two relatively late texts, the noun קֶצֶף (qetsef) refers to an outburst of divine anger. But it seems unlikely the Lord would be angry with Israel, for he placed his stamp of approval on the campaign (vv. 16-19). D. N. Freedman suggests the narrator, who obviously has a bias against the Omride dynasty, included this observation to show that the Lord would not allow the Israelite king to “have an undiluted victory” (as quoted in M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings [AB], 52, n. 8). Some suggest that the original source identified Chemosh the Moabite god as the subject and that his name was later suppressed by a conscientious scribe, but this proposal raises more questions than it answers. For a discussion of various views, see M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB), 47-48, 51-52.

    1. The prophecy failed because Elisha said every town fall, and clearly, one moabite town stood,

      Elisah from YHWH 3:17-19:

      17For thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts.

      18And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.

      19And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.

      One city survived, since Israelites did not recieve the moabites into their hand, and that was: v 25 Kirharaseth

  3. err..

    3:19 You will defeat every fortified city and every important city -(or select, or choice).
    Clearly NOT every city was intended at all.

    You seem to conveniently miss:
    3:24 When they approached the Israelite camp, the Israelites rose up and struck down the Moabites, who then ran from them. The Israelites thoroughly defeated Moab.

    I found that out in about 25 secs… seems like a bunch of straw picking to me.

    Clearly not every city was intended to be conquered, only the fortified and other “select” cities. We do not know if this city Kirharaseth was a “select city” or not. Either way, the author writes they won.

    Honestly people..

  4. Kirharaseth was a fortified city, and the author writes that they lost that battle. But I think it’s a very small matter and it doesn’t interest me much whether Elisha’s prophecy was fulfilled or not. There does happen to be a considerable scholarly debate on the subject, and the issues are a fair bit more complex when you get into the Hebrew. Some argue that in this case Elisha intentionally lied to the king of Israel, because Yahweh was displeased with him. There are literary parallels in this account to other examples of “Yahweh-sanctioned prophetic lies.” I personally think the arguments for this position are a bit tenuous, but my only point is, it takes more than 25 seconds to work these issues out.

    1. I would lean towards a YHWH sanctioned lie as well, for a second option. All the other times YHWH directly lies, it says that YHWH sends a lying spirit, yes?

      Is there anything in the text that would show that YHWH was displeased with the king of Israel?

  5. I guess you missed the verse 24b:
    “The Israelites thoroughly defeated Moab.”

    I then went on to start writing a reply.. realised who I was responding to, and deleted it. Time for bed.

  6. Having read some of the other comments, I read my study bible notes that I have (don’t have any commentaries right now, so this is what I have to work with.) Two commented on this saying that Israel was in fear of the wrath of the Moabites from the sacrifice of the king and fled when victory was in their grasp, thereby putting the blame for the incomplete fulfillment on the troops (from NIV Study Bible and Ryrie Study Bible) The NOAB says that the Lord would not let the dynasty of Ahab get credit which is why they did not finish the job. Interesting to read these as the first two commentators have a very divergent view from the third. Just sayin.

    1. I think this would make sense. Especially if there are scholars who believe that much of the 1st and 2nd Kings & 1st and 2nd chronicles as pro-Judah, pro-Davidic propaganda, with ideas that the that the prophets reject.

  7. I think this is a storm in a tea cup.

    The text says the MOABites were thoroughly defeated.

    It then says they called off the attack after the king murdered his own son in front of them and they were facing some “anger” against them, enough so that they felt they needed to withdraw.

    At the very least they had to leave because they were blamed for the Kings actions.. or they thought it prudent to leave before anyone else was brutally murdered, since they had already won.

    Since they had already won, it was really a redundant battle anyway..

    1. “The text says the MOABites were thoroughly defeated.”

      I don’t disagree with you there.

      3:27 says that the Israelites ended up losing one battle, which is contrary to taking every fortified city, Geoff.

      “At the very least they had to leave because they were blamed for the Kings actions.. or they thought it prudent to leave before anyone else was brutally murdered”

      Oh, you mean there is something outside the text you would like to introduce to us, Geoff?

      Either the battle at Kirharaseth makes God a liar or not omnipotent/omniscient in the classical sense.

  8. Verse 24b says the Moabites were defeated.. thoroughly.

    How can you say they were not? Its there in the text..

    It also does not say they “lost” – it says they withdrew from the battle, after having already defeated them.

    Really, whats the problem? The allies in WWII lost many battles, but they still won the war, right? They “thoroughly defeated Germany”.

    This is just picking holes for the sake of it.

    1. Geoff,

      YHWH through elijah tells the Israelites they will conquer every city.

      Bottom line, they did not.

      Sorry, thanks for playing.

  9. Again here is the prophecy:

    14And Elisha said, As the LORD of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.

    15But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him.

    16And he said, Thus saith the LORD, Make this valley full of ditches.

    17For thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts.

    18And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD: he will deliver the Moabites also into your hand.

    19And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.

    EVERY CITY, EVERY FENCED CITY.

    Okay, so what does the end of the story say?

    25And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all the wells of water, and felled all the good trees: only in Kirharaseth left they the stones thereof; howbeit the slingers went about it, and smote it.

    What, verse 25 says that the stones were still left? How is that possible?

    verse 27

    “And there was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.”

    whoops, israel retreated. Guess thats all. Either Elijah lied for YHWH or YHWH isnt omnipotent or omniscient.

    just sayin

  10. I’m not sure you understand ..

    The BIBLE says they won.. you do not.. guess who I consider to be the authority?

    Also…
    Do you know what hyperbole is?
    “We went into Iraq and turned over every stone and yet we did not find any WMD”.

    “We went into Afghanistan and kicked their butts”

    “We annihilated them in the football”

    “We fought Germany and completely destroyed them..”

    You can “completely destroy” an army, or an enemy and still leave it parts of it. To defeat an enemy one merely has to prevent them from being able to retaliate..

    It is also quite common knowledge that most of these cultures would claim to, or claim they were going to leave nothing behind, and clearly they did, and yet you would have no issue with that. For some reason because defeat of the enemy was prophesied, you think that the smallest details need to be fulfilled for it to be accurate.

    FACT IS.. God said they would win.. they won.. whether or not one city did not get pulled down is irrelevant. If they pulled down 99 cities out of 100, or 49 out of 50, or 19 out of 20.. all that matters is that they WON. The text clearly said they DID.. therefore OBVIOUSLY the criteria for winning is NOT what you think it is, but what the AUTHOR thinks it is..

    I have also since found an essay in which the author argues that MOAB was SO destroyed that other nations just wandered through it on their way to other places.. I can send you the PDF if you want (He is arguing that 2 Ki 3 is historically verifiable).

    So, lets recap.. you claim the victory can only be won if EVERY detail is me to the letter.
    The author of the text claims they won, and yet left one fortified city (impregnable, the ancient texts claim..) because some thing else happens which appears to be more important.
    Non Biblical records show that Moab was in fact defeated and to the point there was no real army left and at least one other nation marched through Moab afterwards.

    So, feel free to keep claiming that Moab didnt get defeated.. just dont tell me the Bible says it. It doesnt.

    1. “So, feel free to keep claiming that Moab didnt get defeated.. just dont tell me the Bible says it. It doesnt:

      ha! someone obviously isnt paying attention to anything the post said.

      Thanks for playing Geoff.

  11. I did pay attention, but since I can read the text for myself I can see where it says “they won” – be cause it is there, I quoted it. And having now looked a little at the historical record I am even more certain.

    1. Yes Geoff,

      You have been quoting verse 24 over and over, but you keep looking over the rest of the passages.

      Are you accusing God of using hyperbole? Or the human writers? Why, if God is using hyperbole, does that not make his promises rash, and himself a liar?

      YHWH did not say they would merely win, but that they would conquer EVERY city, which did not happen.

      Thanks for playing.

  12. Accusing?
    LOL. There is LOTS of hyperbole, not only in scripture but in all ancient records, especially that describing their victories in battle.

    Ever seen the documentary series “Battles BC” ? You should, It has a few biblical battles they analyse as well as many others from history.

    If you win, you defeat the enemy, but you still leave one city standing, even to the point where the King in that city murders his own son in a desperate attempt to save himself and his nation, you won.
    The problem is that because this is an oracle, you want each word to be fulfilled, and that simply is not the case. Not knocking down the last city does not mean God lied, it does not mean they lost, it just means they did not knock down the last city..

    1. OH, so the bible is just another ancient record, and not sacred?

      Okay, thanks for that.

      It’s just another history book.

  13. wow, so because the Bible contains hyperbole, it is some how less?

    Right, lets abandon its inspiration because we’ve identified a literary tool used by some of its authors..

    1. You have done this. Not I.

      You keep comparing the bible to other texts, and the bible’s wars to other wars.

      I disagree with how you are going about that.

      i am comfortable with a God who can identify with the losers of the world.

  14. I “compared” it?

    hehe..

    Its possible you might need glasses..

    A responsible exegete checks extra biblical literature. An irresponsible one believes they can understand Scripture without investigating the historical record. If the bible says there was a war, and another source says there was a war, and the bible says X won, and the other source also says X won.. then.. whats the problem? Oh right.. the problem is YOU do not believe the bible.

    There are many literary forms in Scripture, sarcasm, sardonicism, poetry, song, myth, chiasm, hyperbole, rhetoric, etc etc etc.. which of these must we do away with? Or all? Oh dear..

    1. Oh I need glasses?

      “Do you know what hyperbole is?
      “We went into Iraq and turned over every stone and yet we did not find any WMD”.

      “We went into Afghanistan and kicked their butts”

      “We annihilated them in the football”

      “We fought Germany and completely destroyed them..”

      You can “completely destroy” an army, or an enemy and still leave it parts of it. To defeat an enemy one merely has to prevent them from being able to retaliate..

      It is also quite common knowledge that most of these cultures would claim to, or claim they were going to leave nothing behind, and clearly they did, and yet you would have no issue with that. For some reason because defeat of the enemy was prophesied, you think that the smallest details need to be fulfilled for it to be accurate. ”

      You said it, not i. Your view undermines the bible’s integrity, as well as its human authors

      Oh, you mean I do not believe the bible like you do, as in, that it is just like all other book?

      I would agree. The Bible is UNLIKE other books, and no, the holy wars in Scripture are not comparable to Iraq or Afghanistan. There are historical contexts and theologies to take in consideration.

      Thanks for playing.

      I believe what the bible says. Its you who have a problem with a God who can risk losing battles, because God exists in relationship to human beings; it’s called covenant.

  15. I’m sorry, I hope you were trying to be sardonic..

    You have a slight problem.. the bible and other historical documents say they won. You say they did not..

    The problem is not mine, nor the bibles.. you do not actually believe what it says at all. On the contrary, you appear to be forcing your idea of what “victory” is on the text without any regard for the text, the author, history and context.

    Why FORCE God to lose when he didnt?

    I’m not undermining anything, I’m showing you that in fact the prophecy and the text are correct..

    1. No Geoff,

      YHWH through Elisha defined what victory was- verse 19:

      “19And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones. ”

      It didn’t happen.

      Plain and simple.

      Every fortified city did not fall, that’s contrary to the prophecy of Elisha.

      Either God is a liar, made a lying prophecy on purpose, or God lost.

      Pick your poison.

      I am fine with either one of those propositions. YHWH did send lying spirits in the OT. He also risked his own reputation, in choosing Israel, and had to have Moses intercede for him not to destroy them.

      You are the one that is uncomfortable, you have the problem with the text, not I.

  16. Geoff’s facts are underdeveloped. Moab had been a tributary to Israel for generations. This episode is incited by Mesha’s revolt against Israel. The purpose of the allied attack on Moab was to bring Mesha back into subjection to Israel. But the last stand at this last city was a failure, and the record indicates quite clearly that Moab was able to maintain its independence for two more centuries.

  17. Rue it I may, however.. Mr Stark, that really (as usual) has nothing much to do with it.

    The question is, was the prophecy fulfilled. Clearly the author of 2 kings thought so, other historical documents concur.

    The “purpose” is irrelevant in this case. The issue is whether RODOFA’s (and your) hole picking is justified, and it is not.

    1. Yes, ignore both the text and historical facts Geoff.

      That way, you can accuse us of “hole picking” when it is really you who are guilty of doing so.

  18. How is it “hole picking” when you solve the (non existent) “problem”?

    Hole picking is when you find a problem with something when there is not one. It is you who had the problem, not me. I proposed a perfectly normal, simple, and valid solution. One which is used elsewhere to explain similar “problems” legitimately.

    1. Sure sure.

      Your “proposal” does not take either ALL of the textual or evidence nor the history that backs it up. You are reading scripture to say what you want it to say, in the name of an apologetic in the name of ‘hyperbole.”

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