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King Mesha of Moab fought against the kings of Yisrael, Yehuda and Edom (2 Melachim chapter 3). The navi Elisha prophecies, under oath, that the Jews will be successful. However at the end of the chapter Mesha sacrifices his son (or perhaps the son of the king of Edom) which somehow causes a reversal of fortune with Mesha and Moav remaining undefeated.

This story is puzzling. What has Mesha achieved in killing his son? He was not commanded to do so by God, in fact it violates one of the 7 noachide laws. This is equally true if he killed the son of the Edomite king. Why then would God turn things in his favor as a result of this act? Furthermore the navi already said there would be victory. We have a principle that a positive prophecy will not be revoked.

How do we understand these turn of events?

  • I wouldnt call him successful. They wrought a lot of damage to his country before withdrawing. – user2709 May 1 '13 at 8:16
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    I recall the Talmud discusses it, need more later; IIRC while the king did something horribly wrong, it made the Jews looked bad by contrast as they were so self-indulgent unwilling to make any sort of serious sacrifice. (Even if the king's form of sacrifice wast totally wrong!) – Shalom May 1 '13 at 13:20
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What makes you think that he wasn't defeated? Admittedly he and some of his nation continued to exist, but in pasukim 24 & 25 it says clearly that the Israelites smote the Moabites.

Chazal tell us why Mesha slaughtered his crown prince. Mesha had asked his advisers why the G'd of the Jews always helps them. His advisers told him that it came as a result of their ancestor Abraham being prepared to slaughter his son to H'. Mesha decided to do so too in order to please G'd, or according to another opinion in the gemoro, to please his god. Although he was totally wrong in doing this, his act did bring about a great anger against the Israelites (as per pasuk 27) because they were serving idols and, unlike Mesha, were not interested in pleasing G'd. In reality this anger could have had catastrophic consequences for the Israelites but they were saved, say Chazal, in the merit of the righteous lady mentioned in the next chapter.


This is brought in Midrash Tanchuma Vayikra. Parshat Vayikra Chapter 8:

אמר לחכמים: למה אהבתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא עם ישראל יותר מכל אומות העולם? אמרו לו: אבא זקן היה להם ושמו אברהם ובא לשחוט בנו להעלותו עולה.

אמר להם: שחטו‏?‏

אמרו לו: לאו.

אמר להן: הוא על שהיה רצונו לשחטו, היה אהבה בינו לבין אלוהיו.

אמר: אני אשחוט את בני ואעלהו לו לעולה. וכן עשה, שנאמר: וייקח את בנו הבכור אשר ימלוך תחתיו ויעלהו עולה (‏שם ג כז)‏.

‏אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: מה אומות העולם שלא נתתי להם חוקים ומשפטים, הם עושים לשמי‏, ‏שנאמר: בכל מקום מוקטר מוגש לשמי וגו' (מלאכי א יא). מיד, ויהי קצף גדול על ישראל (‏מ"ב ג כז‏)‏.

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Psychologically what Mesha accomplished was showing his resolve was stronger than that of his enemies by consecrating the battle as a 'holy war'(source)

Spiritually speaking, in Sanhedrin 39b your question is addressed

“Then he took his eldest son, who should have reigned in his stead, and sacrificed him for a burnt offering upon the wall; and there was great indignation against Israel, and they departed from him and returned to their own land” (II Kings 3:27). Rav and Shmuel engage in a dispute concerning this. One says: The king sacrificed his son for the sake of Heaven, and one says: The king sacrificed his son for the sake of idol worship. The Gemara asks: Granted, according to the one who says that he sacrificed him for the sake of Heaven, this is as it is written: “And there was great indignation against Israel,” as the gentile attempted to honor God according to his understanding, while the Jewish people were straying from worshipping God, leading to God’s anger against them. But according to the one who says that he sacrificed him for the sake of idol worship, why would the verse state: “And there was…indignation”? The Gemara answers: This can be understood in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. As Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi raises a contradiction: It is written concerning the Jewish people: “You have not walked in My statutes, neither have you kept My ordinances; nor have you done according to the statutes of the nations that are round about you” (Ezekiel 5:7), and it is also written: “You have done according to the statutes of the nations that are round about you” (Ezekiel 11:12). Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi explains: You did not act like the proper ones among the nations, but you did act like the flawed ones among them. Here as well, the Jewish people learned from the king of Moab to engage in human sacrifice. The Gemara discusses the end of that verse: “And they departed from him and returned to their own land [la’aretz]” (II Kings 3:27). Rabbi Ḥanina bar Pappa says: At that time the enemies of the Jewish people, a euphemism for the Jewish people themselves, descended to the lowest level.

To extrapolate (and add my own interpretation) verses 18-19 were in fact fulfilled, Moab was given into the hands of the Jewish army and that army did fell the trees and stop up the water. There is no indication that Moab was militarily successful again Yisrael in this war. However, the prophecy did not state that Moab would be completely wiped out. Once Mesha performed this sacrifice it either provided him with more merit, even though it was perhaps not what God 'wanted' the intention behind it was noble. Or, it cast the merit of Yisrael in doubt.

Perhaps in this situation we can apply the concept of שמא יגרום החטא that even though there was a positive prophecy it need not come true in the most positive possible way.

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