The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: The “Wrath” of Chemosh

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: The “Wrath” of Chemosh

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Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess.[1]

Mesha Stele
Figure 1: The “Mesha Stele”, also called the “Moabite Stone”, was created by King Mesha of Moab to commemorate the victories against Israel that he attributed to the deity Chemosh (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesha_Stele#/media/File:P1120870_Louvre_st%C3%A8le_de_M%C3%A9sha_AO5066_rwk.JPG).

In two previous articles, we uncovered evidence of the hidden influence of paganism in the Bible vis a vis the gods and goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon (El, Anat, Asherah, etc.).[2] This evidence is unmistakable and undeniable, and scholars generally accept that there are pagan references scattered throughout the Bible. As a matter of fact, many scholars even claim on the basis of the Biblical record that the original religion of the Israelites was polytheistic rather than monotheistic.[3] In this article, we will see yet another shocking example of the nefarious hand of paganism, though from an apparent henotheistic point of view, hidden in plain sight. This example comes from 2 Kings 3, a chapter which relates the rebellion of the Moabite king Mesha (9th century BCE) against Israel.

Mesha’s Revolt and Elisha’s Prophecy

            According to 2 Kings 3:4–5, the Moabites rebelled against Israel, after having to pay an annual tribute of “100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams”. This occurred after the death of Ahab and the ascension of his son Jehoram:

“Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.”

In response to the rebellion, Jehoram assembled an army consisting of troops from Israel, Judah, and Edom (2 Kings 3:6–9).[4] But the alliance initially faced some difficulties. After a 7-day march, the army’s water supply ran out. King Jehoshaphat of Judah suggested asking the prophet Elisha to ask Yahweh for guidance (2 Kings 3:9–12).

Though Elisha did not hold Jehoram in high regard, even sarcastically telling him to “go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother”,[5] he relented due to the presence of Jehoshaphat:

“And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.”[6]

After inquiring of the Lord, Elisha declared that Yahweh would provide water for the army and promised victory for the alliance:

“And he said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will make this dry streambed full of pools.’ For thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not see wind or rain, but that streambed shall be filled with water, so that you shall drink, you, your livestock, and your animals.’ This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.””[7]

Thus, it is clear that the military campaign against Moab met with God’s approval and there was a promise of victory (“He will also give the Moabites into your hand…”), despite Jehoram being a sinner. This is an extremely important point to which we will come back later.

The prophecy proves true, at least initially. The next morning, water miraculously “came from the direction of Edom” and filled “the country” (2 Kings 3:20). Moreover, the Moabites mistakenly perceived, perhaps due to another miracle, that the water was blood and wrongly assumed that the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom “have surely fought together and struck one another down” (2 Kings 3:22–23). Of course, this false assumption led to disastrous consequences:

“But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and struck the Moabites, till they fled before them. And they went forward, striking the Moabites as they went. And they overthrew the cities, and on every good piece of land every man threw a stone until it was covered. They stopped every spring of water and felled all the good trees, till only its stones were left in Kir-hareseth, and the slingers surrounded and attacked it.”[8]

Mesha became increasingly desperate and made an effort to “break through” the allied attack with 700 swordsmen but failed (2 Kings 3:26). This is where the story takes a bizarre and macabre turn.

The “Wrath” Against Israel

            Having done all he could militarily, Mesha turned to the superstitions, appealing to the god of the Moabites: Chemosh.[9] According to the Biblical account, Mesha:

“…took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall.”[10]

Thus, Mesha offered a human sacrifice in the form of his beloved son, similar to the Israelite judge Jephthah’s human sacrifice to Yahweh in the form of his beloved daughter.[11] This last resort surprisingly leads to a change in fortune for the besieged Moabites. According to verse 27:

“And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.”

So, immediately after Mesha’s sacrifice, “great wrath” came “against Israel”, forcing the army to withdraw from the Moabite stronghold. It appears that Chemosh accepted Mesha’s offering and turned the tide of the battle in the favor of the Moabites.

Mesha sacrifice
Figure 2: Mesha sacrificed his son to Chemosh when faced with a ferocious Israelite assault (Source: https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/12/6/5).

            Biblical scholars have been understandably puzzled by this verse. It seems clear that the “great wrath” must have come as a direct result of the human sacrifice, which means that the author believed that Chemosh literally intervened and saved the Moabites from defeat. Some Biblical commentaries admit this plain reading of the text. For example, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers states on the basis of this verse that the ancient Israelites believed in “the real existence and potency of foreign deities” and that it was “the wrath of Chemosh [that] fell upon the Hebrew alliance”.[12] This is also the view of The Jewish Study Bible, which states that the text:

“…suggests that Mesha achieved his objective, and the human sacrifice was efficacious.”[13]

Of course, not all commentaries accept the plain reading. Instead, many Christian commentaries resort to mental gymnastics to explain the enigma that is 2 Kings 3:27. For example, Joseph Benson (d. 1821) made the absurd claim that the Israelites withdrew because “they were extremely grieved on account of this barbarous sacrifice”.[14] In other words, he interpreted verse 27 to state that the “there was great trouble, or repentance upon (in or among) Israel” and not that “great wrath came against Israel”, as most English translations render the verse. Albert Barnes,[15] Matthew Poole,[16] and others also made similar claims.[17]

However, these were obvious apologetic attempts to avoid the heretical tone of the verse. One reason for the alternative interpretations is the way the Hebrew phrase “qe-ṣep̄- gā-ḏō-wl ‘al-yiś-rā-’êl” is translated. As already noted, most English translations render the phrase as “there was great wrath/anger/indignation against Israel” or some variation of that, but a minority (e.g., the Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible) render it as (emphasis ours):

“…there was great indignation IN Israel.”[18]

This confusion over the correct translation may have led commentators like Benson, Barnes, and others to claim that the Israelites were “angry” at or had “indignation” over the act of Mesha and withdrew for that reason, not that they faced the wrath of Chemosh or even Yahweh or the Moabites themselves.

However, the alternative translation can be refuted since the preposition עַל־ (‘al-) is defined by authoritative sources like the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) and the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) as meaning “on”, “over”, “against”, “upon”, “on account of”, or “above”, but never “in”.[19], [20]

So, the correct translation of the Hebrew phrase “qe-ṣep̄- gā-ḏō-wl ‘al-yiś-rā-’êl” should be something like “great wrath came upon Israel” as the ESV renders it. That allows for 3 possibilities for the source of the “wrath”: 1. Yahweh, 2. the Moabites (cf. TWOT; see note #20), or 3. Chemosh. Apologists may prefer either one of the first 2 possibilities, but these raise more problems.

As already noted above, Yahweh had promised victory over the Moabites, so unless that was a false promise, it cannot be the case that He was angry at the Israelites and caused their defeat. Also, there is no indication in the first place that the Israelites did anything wrong that would invite the wrath of Yahweh. One possible argument by apologists may be that Yahweh became angry with the Israelites because they disobeyed the prohibition in Deuteronomy 20:19–20 against cutting down trees, which they did in the rampage against Moab (2 Kings 3:25). But this can be easily refuted since it was Yahweh himself who told them to do that, so this was an apparent exception in the case of Moab:

“This is a light thing in the sight of the Lord. He will also give the Moabites into your hand, and you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree and stop up all springs of water and ruin every good piece of land with stones.”[21]

Thus, #1 does not work.

The second possibility, that it was the “wrath” of the Moabites that forced the Israelites to withdraw, fails for the same reason as #1. If the Moabites had been inspired by their king’s sacrifice and drove the Israelites and their allies back through sheer grit and determination, then Elisha’s prophecy of victory was false, and Yahweh would appear to be a liar!

That only leaves #3: the wrath came from Chemosh. Of course, this interpretation also raises the problem of contradicting Yahweh’s promise of victory. However, as disturbing as it is, it is not a far-fetched interpretation given the context of 2 Kings 3 and also when the Bible as a whole is concerned. As we have seen in the previous articles (see note #2), paganism found its way into the Biblical text and many scholars now believe that a significant portion of ancient Israelite society was polytheistic, or at least henotheistic. In fact, many scholars claim, on the basis of the Biblical record, that the ancient Israelites were originally polytheists and only adopted monotheism at a later time.

Another reason this interpretation is the only reasonable option is the Biblical usage of the Hebrew word “qe-ṣep̄” (wrath). As Christian author Thom Stark observes in his book The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It), the word occurs 28 times in the Tanakh, and in 24 of those occurrences (not including 2 Kings 3:27), it refers to the “wrath of a deity”, which makes it likely that the “wrath” in 2 Kings 3:27 is also of a deity.[22] Since that deity cannot be Yahweh, then it must be Chemosh.

To conclude, 2 Kings 3:27 raises serious questions about the theological worldview of the Biblical author, who seems to have believed in the existence and power of other deities, such as Chemosh. This is perhaps one of the most disturbing examples of the Bible’s “Satanic verses”. However, apologists may have a possible explanation: these beings do exist, but they are not literal “gods”. Rather, they are “demons” pretending to be “gods”, and so, the Bible does not acknowledge other “gods”. Let us test this claim.

Chemosh – Deity or Demon?

            Some apologists insist that the Bible does acknowledge the existence of beings like Chemosh as demons who occasionally demonstrate their limited power against God’s people.[23] They point to verses like Deuteronomy 32:17:

“They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.”

However, the problem with citing such verses is that it still does nothing to change what other verses, like 2 Kings 3:27, suggest. This is precisely the issue: the Bible is inconsistent with itself. It is anachronistic of the apologists to assume that each author had the same exact beliefs as every other author. We will come back to this point later.

Regarding 2 Kings 3:27, we are told that “great wrath came against Israel” immediately after King Mesha of Moab sacrificed his oldest son to his god. This is problematic not only because it suggests that Mesha’s god existed and responded to his sacrifice, but that it was powerful enough to force the Israelites to withdraw. This in turn leads to an even bigger problem: if Chemosh, the “demon” or whatever we want to call it, was able to demonstrate its power in such a way, it did so in a way as to render Yahweh’s will null and void. The reason is that, earlier in 2 Kings 3:18–19, Yahweh had promised victory for the Israelites (“He will also give the Moabites into your hand…”). If Israel had to withdraw because of the “great wrath” of Chemosh, then Chemosh cancelled Yahweh’s promise, and Moab ultimately remained unconquered despite suffering widespread devastation. As a result, the prophet Elisha, who informed the Israelite alliance of Yahweh’s will, was shown to be a false prophet and Yahweh was shown to be weaker than Chemosh.[24]

Coming back to the inconsistency of the Bible, some verses clearly identify pagan deities as demons that actually exist in reality (not “gods”), while other verses identify these deities not as “demons” but as literal “gods”, though still inferior to Yahweh. For example, Psalm 86:8 describes Yahweh as unique “among the gods”:

“There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.”

This raises a disturbing question: why would the psalmist (whom we are supposed to believe was David [peace be upon him]) say that there is no one like God “among the gods”? If the gods are supposed to be demons, why would that even need to be said? “There is none like you among the [demons], O Lord”? Clearly, this does not make any sense.

The second example comes from Psalm 82:1–4, which shows that Yahweh is the leader of a “divine council”.[25] The members of this council answer to Yahweh and can be “judged” by Him for their failures to bring justice to mankind:

“God [Elohim] has taken his place in the divine [el] council; in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’”

The members of this “council” are not identified as “angels” or even “demons” (fallen angels who had lost their place in the council). Rather, they are specifically identified as “gods”. The same Hebrew word is used for “God” and the “gods” (Elohim).[26] So, these beings cannot be “demons” since they are in the company of God (though He is angry with them for not being just).

It also appears that Chemosh was part of the so-called “divine council”, and his allotted people were the Moabites and the Ammonites. This is made clear in Judges 11:24, where Jephthah (the same person who sacrificed his daughter to Yahweh) reassurds the king of the Ammonites that his allotted land would be given to him by his god Chemosh (note that this was before Jephthah fought against the Ammonites; he was apparently trying to make peace):

“So then the Lord, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? Will you not possess what Chemosh your god [elohim] gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess.”[27]

This is remarkable! Jephthah was trying to persuade the king of the Ammonites to stop making war on Israel to reclaim lost land. Instead, Jephthah reassured the king that whatever land his god Chemosh had allotted to him, that is what he would possess, while Israel would possess the land that Yahweh had allotted to it (this shows that Yahweh is superior to Chemosh, but Chemosh is still a “god”). There is no indication that Chemosh was considered by Jephthah to be an evil “demon”, but rather a full-fledged god [elohim].[28] Nor can it be said that Jephthah’s reassurance was sarcastic or meant as an insult. Since he was trying to make peace with the Ammonites, sarcasm and insults would have been avoided. Thus, Jephthah seemed to genuinely believe that the Ammonites had a different “god” that would look out for them. This is not “monotheism” but rather the heresy known as “henotheism”. Here is how Millard J. Erickson defines “henotheism” in his book The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology:

“[b]elief in one god without rejecting the existence of other gods; basically, the belief that there are different gods for different peoples or nations.”[29]

This fits in nicely with verses like Judges 11:24, and Psalms 82:1–4 and 86:8.

Conclusion

            This article has analyzed some disturbing evidence of a henotheistic worldview in some Biblical passages. Not only are pagan deities like Chemosh considered to be actual “gods”, though inferior to Yahweh, they are depicted as having the power to counteract the will of Yahweh on occasion, as indicated in 2 Kings 3 (though as Psalm 82 shows, Yahweh ultimately “judges” these “gods” for their failure to be just). These “Satanic verses” should rightly disturb Jews and Christians who profess to be “monotheists”, and while some Biblical passages do affirm a non-negotiable monotheistic worldview, the henotheistic verses conflict with this.

And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] Judges 11:24. All translations of the Bible are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[2] The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: Genesis 49 and the “Prayer of Jacob”: https://quranandbibleblog.com/2021/09/18/the-biblical-satanic-verses-genesis-49-and-the-prayer-of-jacob/

The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: Uncovering the Bible’s Hidden Tolerance of the Cult of Asherah: https://quranandbibleblog.com/2021/11/07/the-biblical-satanic-verses-uncovering-the-bibles-hidden-tolerance-of-the-cult-of-asherah/

[3] See for example: Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002).

[4] The king of Judah at the time was Jehoshaphat, who is remembered as a just and righteous king. In fact, it was only because of Jehoshaphat that the prophet Elisha even agreed to seek guidance from God for the army’s next move (2 Kings 3:14).

[5] 2 Kings 3:13. Jehoram’s father Ahab had installed pagan shrines to Ba’al (2 Kings 3:2), which Jehoram “put away”. Nevertheless, he was still considered a sinner because “he clung to the sin of Jeroboam” (verse 3). This refers to the worship of the calf idols that Jeroboam had set up (1 Kings 12:25–33).

[6] 2 Kings 3:13–14.

[7] 2 Kings 3:16–19.

[8] 2 Kings 3:24–26.

[9] Chemosh is identified as the national deity of the Moabites in Numbers 21:29, 1 Kings 11:7 (where he is called the “abomination of Moab”) and other verses.

[10] 2 Kings 3:27.

[11] See Judges 11:29–40. After making a vow to sacrifice whoever greets him first after his victory, Jephthah is forced to sacrifice his daughter as a “burnt offering”.

[12] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/2_kings/3.htm

[13] The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition, eds. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 716.

[14] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/benson/2_kings/3.htm

[15] Barnes suggested two possibilities: “Either the Israelites were indignant with themselves, or the men of Judah and the Edomites were indignant at the Israelites for having caused the pollution of this sacrifice, and the siege was relinquished” (https://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/2_kings/3.htm).

[16] https://biblehub.com/commentaries/poole/2_kings/3.htm

[17] Another common interpretation was that the “wrath” did come “against Israel” but that it was the “wrath” of either Yahweh or the Moabites. These interpretations will be discussed later.

[18] For a comparison of the different translations, see here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/2-kings/3-27-compare.html.

[19] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Volumes 1-4 (Electronic Edition), trans. M.E.J Richardson (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 825.

[20] R. L. Harris, G.L. Archer, & B.K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Electronic Edition) (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 808.

However, the authors of the TWOT also claim that it was the “wrath of men” that came “against Israel”, an interpretation that raises others problems, as will be discussed.

[21] 2 Kgs 3:18–19.

[22] Thom Stark, The Humans Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (And Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It) (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011), p. 92.

Two of the other instances refer to “human anger in a general sense” and one is a “poetic” reference to the “froth” or “wrath” of the sea.

[23] Here is one such apologist making a similar claim: https://twitter.com/AlFinlandi/status/1462389186443591691?s=20

[24] We can also appeal to extrabiblical historical data that further complicates the matter for the apologists. The “Mesha stele” (see Figure 1) was a monument installed by Mesha in the 9th century to commemorate his victories against Israel. Not only does he declare that he rebelled against Israel, similar to 2 Kings 3:4–5, but he claimed a series of victories against it. Here is a comparison of the two accounts:

2 Kings 3 Mesha Stele
vv. 4–5: “Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.” Line 4: “Omri had taken possession of the whole land of Medeba and he lived there in his days and half the days of his son, forty years, but Kemoš restored it in my days. And I built Ba’al Meon, and I made in it a water reservoir, and I built Kiriathaim.”
vv.24–25: “But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose and struck the Moabites, till they fled before them. And they went forward, striking the Moabites as they went. And they overthrew the cities, and on every good piece of land every man threw a stone until it was covered. They stopped every spring of water and felled all the good trees, till only its stones were left in Kir-hareseth, and the slingers surrounded and attacked it.” Line 6–8: “And the men of Gad lived in the land of Ataroth from ancient times, and the king of Israel built Ataroth for himself, and I fought against the city, and I captured, and I killed all the people from the city as a sacrifice for Kemoš and for Moab, and I brought back the fire-hearth of [Daudoh] from there, and I hauled it before the face of Kemoš in Kerioth, and I made the men of Sharon live there, as well as the men of Maharith. And Kemoš said to me: “Go, take Nebo from Israel!” And I went in the night, and I fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, and I took it, and I killed its whole population, seven thousand male citizens and aliens, female citizens and aliens, and servant girls; for I had put it to the ban of Aštar Kemoš. And from there, I took the vessels of YHWH, and I hauled them before the face of Kemoš. And the king of Israel had built Jahaz, and he stayed there during his campaigns against me, and Kemoš drove him away before my face, and I took two hundred men from Moab, all its division, and I led it up to Jahaz. And I have taken it in order to add it to Dibon.”

The differences are obvious. In the Biblical account, Moab rebelled against Israel but immediately went on the defensive and suffered heavy losses, while avoiding total defeat. In the Moabite account, the Moabites were on the offensive and captured Israelite cities, killing many people in the process.

The English translation of the Mesha Stele has been taken from here: https://www.worldhistory.org/Moabite_Stone_[Mesha_Stele]/.

[25] The concept of a “divine council” is not unique to the Bible. It existed in pagan traditions from the Ancient Near East that predate the Bible, e.g., Ugarit. See Smith, op. cit., p. 145.

[26] https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/psa/82/1/t_conc_560001

[27] Judges 11:23–24.

[28] https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/jdg/11/24/t_conc_222024

[29] Millard J. Erickson, The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Revised Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001), p. 87.

3 thoughts on “The Biblical “Satanic Verses”: The “Wrath” of Chemosh

      1. mr.heathcliff

        “Also Israelites feeling indignation over a child sacrifice is so improbable to believe

        shaad, its refuted by the bible

        Deuteronomy 20:16 However, in the cities of the nations Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them–the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–as Yahweh your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against Yahweh your God.

        Liked by 2 people

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