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Arab War Tactics and Human Sacrifice in the Bible

July 17, 2014

As I have written before, many modern-day political issues are far from new. Considering the ongoing war with our peace-loving neighbors, I thought it would be worth noting two incidences from the Book of Kings that either shed light on the usual Jewish approach to armed conflict and how our enemies have used our unique, compassionate disposition to their advantage, or how our enemies’ tendencies toward excessive cruelty gives them a psychological advantage.

The first story comes from I Kings 20. Ben Hadad of Aram used his armies to harass the kingdom of Israel throughout King Ahab’s reign. Before one of the battles under discussion,

a man of God came near and spoke unto the king of Israel, and said: ‘Thus says the LORD: Because the Arameans have said: The LORD is a God of the hills, but he is not a God of the valleys; therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’

God delivered a decisive victory to his people. However:

And Ben Hadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber. And his servants said unto him: ‘Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings; let us, we pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; peradventure he will save your life.’ So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said: ‘Your servant Ben-Hadad says: I pray thee, let me live.’ And [Ahab] said: ‘Is he yet alive? he is my brother.’…And [Ben-Hadad] said unto him: ‘The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you shall make streets for you in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria.’ ‘And I [said Ahab] will let you go with this covenant.’ So he made a covenant with him, and let him go.

The gentiles, realizing they were beaten, cynically decided to appeal to the Jews’ sense of mercy, and it worked, as Ahab was all too ready to declare that the killer of innocent Jewish men and women was his “brother.”

The prophet came to chastise Ahab for his foolishness:

Thus says the LORD: ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had marked for destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.’

According to the next chapter of Kings, this lasting peace lasted only three years before the Arameans came back, scoring a victory and killing Ahab.

Yasser Arafat claimed many times to be an expert on Jewish history and religion. I even believe that he was on to something when he claimed in front of Clinton and his negotiating team that the Jewish sanctuary had stood in Shechem and not Jerusalem. (More on that later.) This much I do know: He retaught the world this lesson in exploiting Jewish psychology. Years of trying to destroy Israel using traditional, violent methods were not nearly as successful as the last ones of his cursed life, in which he, with the help of some Western and Israeli cohorts, portrayed himself as a willing peace partner with the prime ministers of Israel. Like they say, if they are gonna beat you, join them. History has shown and will continue to show that when Ben Hadad, or Arafat, or the current Arab mobs, sue for a truce, it just means that they are planning to finish the job when we let our guard down a few years down the line.

The second story is from II Kings 3.

It came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that [Mesha] the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel… So the king of Israel went, and the king of Judah, and the king of Edom [to subdue Moab].

Note that this war, like the war mentioned in I Kings 21, was fought by both Jewish kingdoms, Israel and Judah. That is, it was a time of exceptional Jewish unity. Also note that the Edomites participated on the side of the Jews. The Edomites are the only non-Jews repeatedly referred to by scripture as our brothers; at this stage in history they were a vassal state of Judah, and their king was a Jewish puppet, but they were also seeking a way to revolt, like Moab did. Think about it: when examining either modern or ancient Jewish history, do you ever find an example of a foreign ally that actually came to Israel’s defense, or were the Jews usually left to do all of the actual fighting themselves?

When this coalition of the children of Isaac found themselves in danger of dying of thirst, the prophet Elisha proclaimed:

Thus says the LORD: You shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain, yet that valley shall be filled with water; and ye shall drink, both you and your cattle and your beasts. And this is but a light thing in the sight of the LORD; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. And you shall smite every fortified city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all fountains of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.

And so it was. The Jews were routing the Moabites, but

When the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew sword, to break through unto the king of Edom; but they could not.

He made a last-ditch attempt to strike at the least enthusiastic stretch of the Jewish lines: the section that was manned by Edomites, the reluctant gentile allies of the Jews, but that failed, so he tried something else:

Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt-offering upon the wall. And there came great wrath upon Israel; and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.

The multiplicity of pronouns makes this verse one of the least understood in the entire Bible. The midrashim of the sages offer a number of contradictory explanations. Likewise, the early commentators could also not reach a consensus regarding 1. whose son the king of Moab sacrificed, 2. who was angry at Israel, and 3. who returned to his own land.

Without resorting to having to add any back story to the plain text, I would like to offer that it was the king of Moab’s own son who was sacrificed, because that would maintain that the antecedents in the first half of the verse are all the same, and that because Mesha was trying to elicit a response from the Edomites, they, the Edomites, are the antecedents of the second half of the verse. I.e.,the Edomites were upset at the Jews, and they dropped out of the war effort. Note also that the final outcome of this war is not mentioned. Thus, this verse is similar to the previous verse: In both, Mesha tried to do something to elicit a reaction from the Edomites; in the first he failed, in the second he succeeded. Like his predecessor Balaq, King of Moab, Mesha was willing to forfeit his own children to harm Israel.

We now have a narrative that is 1. consistent with the the text and 2. consistent with the patterns of Jewish history we still see today. When we discuss the ongoing war in Gaza, we are disgusted by the way the Arab terror armies use their own people as “human shields.” That term should not be used for our circumstances. Firstly, when a terrorist uses a human shield, he truly wants the good guys to see that there is now an innocent in the line of fire, and he specifically does not want the good guys to therefore shoot in that direction. It is against his interests for the human shield to die. Secondly, ordinary human shields are unwilling participants. Not so for the Arabs in Gaza. It is precisely in their interests for the women, children, and elderly they place in the line of fire to be killed, and many of them choose to be in the line of fire. Why? Because that makes the Jews look worse. Therefore those people, like the four children making headlines today, can more aptly be, perhaps should be, described as human sacrifices, sacrifices that serve one purpose: turning others who may sympathize with the Israeli cause against the Israelis. It’s simple math: they cause the death of their own, and the Edomites of Europe and America get fed up with the Jews.

That’s what Mesha did. By turning his own son into a burnt offering, he got the Edomites to abandon their efforts on behalf of Israel. Why this works is easily explained: The Edomites then and the other nations now really do not care for us. They are only looking for an excuse to not have to take our side in these conflicts. When our enemies cynically bring about the deaths of their own children, it is the perfect opportunity for everyone else to point the finger at us, to claim that it was our stubborn belligerence that prolonged the “cycle of violence” and ultimately led to the death of the innocent. We know it’s nonsense, but it gives European folk and leftists a good feeling to be able to pin as many deaths as possible on the Jews and ignore that others are at fault. They’re just following the Bible.

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