As red as blood

2 Kings 3:20-24
20 Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water.
21 And when all the Moabites heard that the kings had come up to fight against them, all who were able to bear arms and older were gathered; and they stood at the border.
22 Then they rose up early in the morning, and the sun was shining on the water; and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood.
23 And they said, “This is blood; the kings have surely struck swords and have killed one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!”
24 So when they came to the camp of Israel, Israel rose up and attacked the Moabites, so that they fled before them; and they entered their land, killing the Moabites.

Blood and water. Throughout the Bible they are intricately tied together. The Lord tells us, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11) And He also spoke through the prophet, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” (Ezekiel 36:25) And of course, our Savior spoke to the woman at the well about water and life:

John 4:13-14
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,
14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”

When Jesus was dying on the Cross, they pierced His side with a spear and out flowed both blood and water–blood for the atonement of our sins, water to wash us clean and bring us new life. Blood and water.

Is it any wonder then that the enemies of God have trouble distinguishing between water and blood? Is it any wonder that those who do not seek the one true and living God will find blood a stumbling block, will be deceived when they try to understand blood and water in the terms of the world?

King Ahab was dead and his son Jehoram had inherited the throne of Israel in Samaria. Under King Ahab, the king of Moab had been paying Israel a healthy tribute of lambs and wool, but Moab rebelled against Jehoram and refused to pay that tribute. (2 Kings 3:5-6) So Jehoram called upon King Jehoshaphat of Judah for help in going up against Moab. Jehoshaphat advised Jehoram that they ought to take the long southern route to Moab, and so, passing through Edom on the way, they picked up still more troops from the king of Edom. They had quite a sizable army, but as they marched to war they lacked one thing: water for the troops and their animals. They marched for a week without coming across a stream or a well. (2 Kings 3:9) King Jehoram sought a prophet to help, and so Jehoshaphat called upon Elisha.

If it hadn’t been for the presence of good King Jehoshaphat, Elisha wouldn’t even have paid any attention to the kings of Israel and Edom. (2 Kings 3:14) As it was, Elisha knew that those other kings were idol-worshipers, and with typical prophet irony, Elisha told them, “Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.” (2 King 3:13) The prophets of Ahab and Jezebel had, of course, been defeated rather spectacularly by Elisha’s mentor Elijah. (1 Kings 18:20-40) Nonetheless, because of Jehoshaphat, the Lord spoke through Elisha and said that the Lord would bring them water in the valley of Edom opposite Moab.

As we read in today’s verses, after the armies had made offerings to the Lord in the morning, the ditches they had dug in the valley were filled with water, and so they were sustained. They survived because of the water that rose from the earth by the hand of the Lord. But the king of Moab saw something different.

Moab lies on the east of the Jordan River, and the armies of Israel could either have gone north around the Sea of Galilee, or taken the long way through Judah and around the south end of the Dead Sea. The king of Judah told Jehoram they should take the roundabout way to Moab, passing south of the Dead Sea through the land of Edom. Due to the lay of the land between Edom and Moab, when the armies arrived, they were approaching from the east. Thus, on that morning the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom had the sun behind them. God filled the ditches they had dug with water, and from Moab, the reflection of the rising sun on the water made it appear “as red as blood.”

Looking at the advisors who had directed that army–Jehoshaphat and Elisha–it is plain to see that God orchestrated that morning. God wanted the Moabites to be confused, He wanted them to see what their hearts desired rather than what was really there. If the king of Moab had thought for just a second about the alliance that had brought those armies that far, he might not have mistaken water for blood. But in his pride, in his desire to see the destruction of his enemies, he did not see the life-giving water provided by God, he only saw life-blood spilled on the ground.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that many will find the gospel message about the death and resurrection of Christ to be difficult, not seeing the life that is in the message.

1 Corinthians 1:21-25
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God did not lay a huge ambush for the Moabites, nor surround their army with chariots of fire. God did not rain down plague or fire or storm to bring Moab to its knees. No, the Lord simply gave His life and His water to those whom He favored, and those who opposed Him mistook it for weakness and death.

Such is the way of the gospel, too. Some will mistake the death of Christ for something awful and useless, even foolish. Some will not believe His Resurrection at all, discounting it as a folktale or a lie. Such people will think Christ died for nothing, that the Crucifixion is just a sad commentary on the state of the world at that time. Those people will stumble, will miss the mark, will fall by the wayside, will be defeated in the last days.

But to those who in faith dig ditches and prepare for God’s waters, the gospel is life itself. For those who approach their enemies with God behind them, the blood of Christ is not just spilled at the foot of the Cross, it is a weapon against Satan. Yes, our enemies may see the gospel as foolishness and weakness, but we who believe know it is life and salvation. We who have walked for days on end without such water, we know the life that is now found in Christ. And although unbelievers may stumble and misunderstand the Water of Life that is Christ Jesus, we wait patiently on our Lord, trusting that He will deliver us.

Water and blood. When Elisha’s assistant could not see the armies of God surrounding the enemy, the prophet prayed that his eyes be opened. (2 Kings 6:17) Our commission from our Lord and Savior is to “preach the gospel to all creatures.” (Mark 16:15) And so, let us pray with Elisha that the eyes of those to whom we speak would be opened to the gospel. Let us pray that they would not mistake water for blood, but that they would come to the Water of Life and drink deeply.

Almighty God and Father, You have shown us through Your Word how to see and understand what is life and what is truth. You have opened our eyes to see the true life that is found through Jesus–through His atoning death and through His glorious resurrection. When I speak Your Word, Lord God, open the eyes and ears of those who listen, so that they may see the grace and life You offer so freely in Your mercy. Praise be to God! Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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