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Mesha King of Moab

MESHA KING OF MOAB mē’ sha (מֵישַׁ֥ע, salvation). Mesha was the son of Chemosh-melek. The name is thought to be an abbreviation of “Chemosh is salvation.” What the Bible presents regarding Mesha is limited to 2 Kings 3. There it is stated that he was a noged, i.e., the owner of a brand of sheep by that name, noted for the quality of the wool. His 9th-cent. rule over Moab occurred during the reigns of Ahab, son of Omri, and of Ahab’s two sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram.

From the time of David (2 Sam 8:2) Moab was subject to Israel until the divided kingdom, when several peoples including Moab rebelled. But the mighty Omri of the N kingdom brought Moab again into subjection.

After having been tributary to Israel for some twoscore years, the forceful King Mesha sought independence. The Biblical record indicates that the tribute laid upon Mesha’s people was exorbitant—an annual levy (likely the woolclip) of 100,000 each, of lambs and of rams (2 Kings 3:4, the RSV relates the first reference to animals). The date of the successful coup presents some difficulties to the present-day reader. It is clear that Mesha’s rebellion occurred after Ahab died. Josephus locates it “in the second year of Ahaziah” (Antiq. IX. ii. 1), which could be correct; for Jehoram’s move could have been some years later than the actual uprising (see 2 Kings 3:5ff.).

According to Mesha’s record on the famous Moabite Stone, it was after forty years (of subjection to Israel) that deliverance was effected, and in the middle of the reign of Omri’s son. According to Biblical chronology, Ahab and Omri together reigned only thirty-four years. The forty years may be a magnification of Mesha’s glory as deliverer; or it may be thought a round number; or Omri’s son may have been his grandson, either Ahaziah or Jehoram (cf. 2 Kings 8:26 RSV, where Ahab’s daughter is daughter of Omri).

Whatever the exact date of Mesha’s rebellion, it was in the reign under the leadership of Ahab’s second son Jehoram, that the attempt was made to recover Moab to Israel (see 2 Kings 1:17; 3:4ff.). Jehoram secured the aid of Jehoshaphat of Judah, who shortly before had suffered damage from Moab (2 Chron 20). The king of Edom joined the two (2 Kings 3:9).

In a roundabout march below the Dead Sea, the host, suffering from lack of water, appealed to Elisha, promise of relief and of victory being given (2 Kings 3:9ff.). The Moabites, mistaking the sun’s red reflection (on the supernaturally provided water) for the blood of internal strife, rushed to battle, but were repulsed with heavy loss, and took refuge in the strong city of Kirharesheth. In desperate extremity, Mesha, having failed to break through the besiegers’ lines, sacrificed his first-born son. For an unrevealed reason, perhaps fearful for having occasioned human sacrifice, the allies retired, losing the fruits of victory.


N. Glueck, Explorations in E. Pal., I, AASOR XIV (1933-1934); Adams, Ancient Records and the Bible (1948), 106, 161, 301; M. Noth, History of Israel (1960), 157, 244f.