Why Did The Moabite king Mesha Sacrifice His Oldest Son In a Battle Against Israel?

The ninth-century B.C. war between Moab and an alliance of Israel, Judah, and Edom is described in Professor Siegfried Horn’s extremely fascinating article “Why the Moabite Stone Was Blown to Pieces,” BAR 12:03. The Moabite king Mesha sacrificed his oldest son to the deity Chemosh out of despair when the alliance besieged the Moabite city of Kir-Hareseth. On top of the city wall, King Mesha sacrificed the crown prince in front of the adversary forces (2 Kings 3:26–27).

Mesha converted defeat into victory with this dreadful deed. For the following two centuries, Moab remained independent as the allies’ soldiers withdrew.

What was the cause of the allied forces’ abrupt about-face? In his conclusion, Professor Horn acknowledges that “no one has been able to give a sufficient solution” despite his many conjectures.

When fighting Israel, why did King Mesha of Moab sacrifice his oldest son?

If you’re a Christian and regularly read the Bible, you’ll undoubtedly come across the Bible chapter that tells the tale of King Mesha, who during a cruel war against Israel sacrificed his first son to please the gods.

The account of a Moabite King, a puppet and a supporter of the Kings of Israel, was told in 2 Kings chapter 3:26–27.

Following their conquest of Moab, the Israelites forced all of its kings to pay tribute to them. He rebelled against Israel, however, and ceased paying tribute during the rule of King Mesha of Moab.

The Moabite king Mesha Sacrifice His Oldest Son
The Moabite king Mesha Sacrifice His Oldest Son

King Mesha of Moab was a master of sheep, and he paid tribute to the King of Israel with the revenues of his sheep business, according to 2 Kings chapters 3:4. He donated 100,000 lambs and 100,000 rams from his sheep business each year as a homage to Israel.

King Mesha of Israel, who had previously paid tribute to King Joram, the successor to his late father King Ahab, revolted when King Ahab of Israel passed away and stopped doing so. Joram of Israel, who was enraged by King Mesha’s treachery and rebellion, collected his entire army to battle Mesha and his Moabite army.

King Joram of Israel requested the assistance of King Jehoshaphat of Judah before leaving. Remember that before their division upon King Solomon’s passing, Judah and Israel were one kingdom.

He also requested the King of Edom’s assistance. With their complete armies in tow, the three kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom engaged King Mesha of Moab in battle. King Mesha killed his first son and offered him as a sacrifice to the Moabite gods when he realised he was losing the war.

According to 2 Kings Chapter 3:26, when the fight was already lost, he took 700 powerful soldiers and attacked the King of Edom’s flank but was unable to break through the defences.

He took his first son, who would succeed him, and offered him as a burnt offering to the gods in the heat of the moment, in front of the three other Kings, who were horrified by what they had witnessed. At that point, the war was rapidly turning against him, and all of his soldiers were on the verge of being slaughtered.

The Bible claims that after the sacrifice was performed, Israel, Judah, and Edom withdrew their soldiers and departed out of great indignation and hatred.

Bitterness and wrath?

Does this imply that the sacrifice divided the three Kings, made them despise and turn against one another during the conflict, and drove them to separate and return to their nations?

I call on all Bible experts to clarify the significance of the sacrifice and the reason the three Kings abruptly grew resentful and withdrew from the battle.

The War of Israel and Judah Against Moab (2 Kings 3:4-27) 30 January

Mesha, king of Moab, declined to give Israel his customary tribute following the passing of King Ahab of Israel. An inscription found on the Moabite Stone, a pillar that is currently housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, attests to the presence of this Moabite ruler.

According to the inscription, “Omri had conquered the Moabite plains north of the Arnon River, and Israel maintained control of the region throughout Ahab’s rule “. The new ruler of Israel, Jehoram, joined forces with King Jehoshaphat of Judah and King Edom to battle Moab.

However, Jehoshaphat insisted on speaking with Elisha first, whom God had inspired to predict victory for Jehoshaphat’s benefit. The army of Israel then routed Moab, invaded their area, destroyed their cities, and desecrated their lands, trees, and water sources as a result of God’s miraculous intervention.

The Moabite king, who would have succeeded him as king, sacrificed his oldest son as a burnt offering to his pagan god during a battle out of fear. He did this and “Israel was the target of intense outrage. As a result, they (the Israelites) left him (the king of Moab) and went back to their own country ” (verse 27).

The Moabite king Mesha Sacrifice His Oldest Son
The Moabite king Mesha Sacrifice His Oldest Son

One academic clarifies: The Hebrew word for “indignation,” ketsef, refers to the psychological breakdown or trauma that the Israelite soldiers experienced when they saw the sign of human sacrifice on top of Kir-ramparts. Hareseth’s Evidently, it had occurred there previously, and it was predictable as a form of the conditioned reflex.

It implies that Mesha’s sacrifice of his son was not unusual but rather an essential if rarely carried out, component of a long-standing Canaanite history of sacral warfare. With this new perspective, Mesha’s offering of his firstborn was essentially a guarantee that everyone living in the besieged city, including men, women, and children, would survive.

“Why King Mesha of Moab Sacrificed His Oldest Son,” Baruch Margalit, Biblical Archaeology Review, November-December 1986, p. 63. Israel decided to leave after losing the will to continue the fight.


Professor Siegfried Horn talks about the war between Moab and an alliance of Israel, Judah, and Edom in his very interesting article “Why the Moabite Stone Was Blown to Pieces,” BAR 12:03. When the alliance surrounded Kir-Hareseth, the Moabite capital, the Moabite king Mesha gave his oldest son as a sacrifice to the god Chemosh.

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