My question stems from a section of 2 Kings 3:27: "Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land." (NIV) "The fury against Israel was great" seems to imply that King Mesha's sacrifice of his son was "successful." A study note in my Bible offers a vague explanation as to why God's hand suddenly turned against Israel -- which is odd, considering the previous promise God had made to them in 2 Kings 3:18-19. Other translations read "That shocked and terrified the men of Israel" (NIRV) and "The Israelite troops were so horrified that they left the city" (CEV), instead of "The fury/wrath/indignation/bitterness/anger against/toward Israel was great" (most other translations). Why would God promise to give Moab over to the Israelites, then allow King Mesha's pagan sacrifice to turn the tide, denying Moab to Israel and, perhaps more importantly, making it seem that Mesha's god actually had power? I've read the passages before and after and am struck with a perplexed, "What happened?!" in regard to this sudden reversal of events. --J.R. Hanamean (Goldsboro, North Carolina)

Every time I read 2 Kings 3 I wonder the same thing! You and I have both got the same impression from reading these verses. One can see how some versions would soften the text. (For example, I found the NJB rendering: "Then he took his eldest son who was to succeed him and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. Alarmed at this, the Israelites withdrew and retired to their own territory." In general, the stricter translations are more to be trusted (NAS, NKJV, NRS, etc.) To be honest, I am not sure I will be able to give you a satisfying answer. Yet maybe there will be some satisfaction in following my own line of thinking--how I approach Bible difficulties like this one. See what you think.

* Human sacrifice was common in ancient times -- and even up to relatively modern times, in some parts of the world! There are numerous scriptures which forbid it. The Israelites knew this -- although they themselves frequently practiced it, as any reader of the Old Testament will know.
* But why would God be angry with Israel for something the Moabites did? Had the Israelites suggested to the Moabites this human sacrifice? Did the Israelites connive at it, making it seem legitimate, by their withdrawing?
* Did Israel disobey God? Why else would he be angry?
* In verse 18 God had promised, through Elisha, that Moab would be handed over to the Israelites. But the prediction was not immediately fulfilled.
* Why did Israel not persevere? In verse 19 the Lord has promised that every fortified city -- like the one on which the human sacrifice was carried out -- would be overthrown. Did they lack faith in the power of the Lord?
* Why did Israel leave off the attack? Did they somehow believe in the efficacy of the king's sacrifice to the false god Chemosh?
* Was a phrase or even a verse lost somewhere in the centuries-long process of copying the original Hebrew scriptures?

Perhaps more evidence will come to light, or someone else reading this Q&A will be able to help us solve the conundrum. In the meantime, we may have to be content to suspend judgment. After all, has it not generally been our experience that whenever we have pressed through a Bible difficulty, an answer has come to light and our faith has been strengthened?

This article is copyrighted and is for private use and study only. © 2006. Reprints or public distribution is prohibited without the express consent of Douglas Jacoby.