Throughout history–from ancient times to modern–the death of a powerful leader has often initiated a cascade of political changes within the leader’s former sphere of influence, and the death of King Jehoshaphat of Judah was no different. The nation of Edom had been subjugated by King David of Israel (2 Samuel 8:13-14), and after the northern tribes of Israel broke away from the rule of David’s descendants in 930 B.C., Edom remained under the rule of Judah. By the end of the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, however, the political landscape had changed significantly. Edom’s neighbor Moab had already declared independence from Israel after the death of King Ahab just a few years earlier in 853 B.C. (2 Kings 1:1; 3:5), and they had even survived an attempt by King Jehoram of Israel to bring them back under his rule (2 Kings 3; see map). Their success may have emboldened Edom to seize upon a new window of opportunity to reestablish their own sovereignty when King Jehoshaphat died in 848 B.C. Edom, too, would survive an attempt by another King Jehoram–King Jehoram (or sometimes Joram) of Judah–to bring them back under his rule, and this apparently led the Levitical city of Libnah to revolt from Judah as well. After Edom declared their independence, Jehoram set out with his chariots and his army to attack Edom at Zair (probably the same as Zoar), but the Edomites and their chariot commanders surrounded his forces, and Jehoram’s army fled home.
Soon after King Jehoram ascended to the throne of Israel in 852 B.C., he invited King Jehoshaphat of Judah to go with him to attack Moab. The nation of Moab had revolted against Israel’s rule after King Ahab died in 853 B.C. (2 Kings 1:1), and then Moab immediately formed an alliance and attacked Judah (1 Chronicles 20; see map). King Jehoram’s intent in attacking Moab was no doubt to bring them back under Israel’s rule. Jehoshaphat agreed to help Jehoram, and apparently King Mesha of Edom joined them as well, since Edom was still subject to Judah at this time. They chose to approach Moab from the south instead of the north, perhaps to avoid both the nation of Ammon and also the tribal territory of Reuben, which Moab had been striving to recapture for many years (see map). Though the passage mentions that the king of Edom set out on the journey with the other two kings, it is likely that Edom’s full army met up with the other armies further south. After marching for seven days, the armies were running out of water, so they consulted the prophet Elisha, who must have been in the area at the time. Elisha foretold that a nearby stream would be soon be filled with pools of water even though it would not rain there, and the armies of Israel would conquer every fortified city of Moab and ruin the land. The next day water flowed into the area from the direction of Edom. This must have occurred near the border of Moab, because the Moabites saw the pools of water as well. The Moabites mistook the water in the morning sunlight for blood from the armies fighting each other, and they attacked them, expecting to seize the plunder. Instead, the armies of the Israelite alliance rose up and attacked them, and the Moabites fled. The forces of the Israelite alliance pressed on to Moab itself and conquered all the fortified cities and ruined the land, as Elisha had foretold. Only the fortified city of Kir-hareseth withstood their attack. King Mesha of Moab attempted to break through the Edomite line of the Israelite alliance, but his plan failed. So he sacrificed his firstborn son and offered him as a burnt offering on top of the wall, causing great wrath to come upon Israel, and the armies of the Israelite alliance withdrew to their own land.
[Author’s note: The ideas presented in this article about Israel’s battle with Benjamin are openly recognized as uncertain, but the author’s intent is that they would lead to further study and discussion by others, which may in turn lead to greater clarity and refinement of understanding regarding the geographical details of this story.]
The battle between the tribe of Benjamin and the other Israelite tribes during the time of the Judges was precipitated by horrific acts committed by the men of Gibeah as well as by a Levite passing through the town. The story is a candid account of the brutality and chaos that ruled much of Israel before the time of the kings (Judges 21:25). In the story, the Levite calls for the other tribes to address the deeds committed by the men of Gibeah. After gathering at Mizpah, the tribes demand that the Benjaminites hand over the men, but the Benjaminites refuse, leading to a war with the other tribes. Before the battle begins, the Israelites consult the Lord at Bethel, where the Ark of the Covenant is located (Judges 20:27). Then they travel down the Central Ridge Route, which ran north-south along the watershed of Israel, and attack Benjamin, but they suffer a huge defeat and return to Bethel. The same thing happens the second day. In preparation for a third attack, the Israelites set up an ambush near Gibeah, likely west of Gibeah (rather than Geba, as sometimes translated; Gibeah, Geba, and Gibeon–all forms of the word “hill”–were sometimes confused by copyists of Scripture). The main army then attacks from the north as before, and the Benjaminites meet them in battle, but the main army falls back to Baal-tamar, possibly the same as the palm (tamar) of Deborah mentioned in Judges 4:5, and this draws the Benjaminites further away from the city. Then those waiting in ambush rush upon Gibeah and destroy it. Smoke rising from the city signals the main Israelite army to turn again and press the attack against the Benjaminites. The Benjaminites, knowing disaster is upon them, turn “away from the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness” and take refuge at the rock of Rimmon. The nearly universal assumption by scholars is that the Benjaminites fled east, no doubt because of two assumptions about the text: 1) that the term wilderness in Israel only referred to areas east of the watershed, and 2) that verse 43 makes it clear that the Benjaminites were chased “east of Gibeah” (or perhaps Geba). It may well be that the Benjaminites fled east, but this author believes there is adequate evidence to support the possibility that they fled west instead. As noted in the article regarding the battle at the pool of Gibeon (see here), the term wilderness (midbar) in Scripture is almost always used to refer to locations east of the watershed of Israel, but the patriarch Reuben also used the term to refer to the sparsely populated area near Dothan west of the watershed (Genesis 37:22; see map here). Likewise, the term wilderness in this passage may refer to the sparsely populated region west of Gibeon. Additionally, the phrase typically translated “east of Gibeah” in verse 43 may have actually meant “east of Gibeon” (see a similar example in 2 Samuel 21:6). Also, in verse 45 the term Gidom, meaning “a cutting down,” is typically translated as a place name, but instead it may mean that they continued to cut them down as far as they chased them (see NEB and The Message). Finally, this author has found a viable candidate for the rock of Rimmon at Khirbat Rummana (31.8415 N, 35.1039 E), located on a hill in the heart of the sparsely populated area labeled here as the wilderness of Gibeon.
The famous story of the prophet Elijah being carried to heaven in a whirlwind begins with Elijah and Elisha at a place called Gilgal. The term Gilgal, meaning “circle of stones,” is used to reference at least three locations throughout Scripture (see Joshua 4:19; 15:7; 2 Kings 2:1) and perhaps a fourth location (Deuteronomy 11:30). It is unlikely that the Gilgal mentioned in this story was the one in the immediate vicinity of Jericho, where the Israelites first camped after entering the Promised Land, nor is it likely that it was the one mentioned in Joshua 15:7, which marked part of the border of Benjamin’s territory. It is possible that the Gilgal of the Elijah and Elisha stories was the same Gilgal mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:30, which must have been opposite Shechem, but it is more likely that it was located instead at modern Gilgilia in the hill country of Ephraim, as shown on this map. The story then recounts that Elijah and Elisha traveled to Bethel, where a group of prophets asked Elisha if he realized the Lord was going to take his master away that day. Then Elijah and Elisha continued on to Jericho, where another group of prophets asked Elisha the same thing. Finally, Elijah and Elisha went to the Jordan River, and Elijah rolled up his mantle and struck the water with it. The river parted, just as it did for the Israelites when they first entered the Promised Land (Joshua 3), and the two prophets crossed to the other side on dry ground. There Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him before he was taken away from him, and Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. As they were walking and talking, a chariot of fire appeared and parted them, and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha then picked up Elijah’s mantle and began his own ministry by striking the Jordan River with it again and parting the waters for him to cross.
Humanly speaking, David’s rise to power as king of Israel and his military victories over his enemies could not have happened without the help of his devoted and courageous warriors. Near the end of the accounts of David’s life and reign his most revered warriors are listed, along with their most distinguishing deeds of valor. These warriors are called “the Thirty,” and the most distinguished among them are called “the Three.” Many of these men also served as David’s commanders throughout his reign (1 Chronicles 27). It is interesting to note that the vast majority of these men came from the tribes of Judah (David’s tribe) and Benjamin. Hardly any of these elite warriors came from any other tribes of Israel. This may be due in part to the fact that David did not rule over the northern tribes until seven years after he had been made king over Judah, and by that time he likely had already surrounded himself with his most devoted warriors. It is also interesting to note that one of David’s warriors even came from the nation of Ammon (2 Samuel 23:37).