Fulfillment of Genesis 49 Prophecy is Accidently Corroborated by King Mesha’s Bragging on the Moabite Stone
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
And Mesha, king of Moab, was a sheepmaster [ נֹקֵ֑ד i.e., sheep-breeder, sheep rancher], and he rendered unto the king of Israel 100,000 lambs, and 100,000 rams, with the wool. (2nd Kings 3:4)
Recently a secular archeologist advocated a new guess about two letters in the Moabite Stone (a/k/a Mesha Inscription, ca. 830 B.C.), reminding us how archeology is permeated with speculation and trivia.(1) Two “missing letters”, on an ancient basalt slab, are unlikely to upset your day (or deprive you of sleep). Yet other parts of the Moabite Stone illustrate how apologetics can be useful in analyzing evidence, to discover Scripture-corroborating value.(2)
So, first the trivial details, then the not-so-trivial insights about Moab’s king Mesha.
In sum, secular archeologist Israel Finkelstein (with others) used high-resolution photographs to scrutinize damaged portions of Moabite Stone Line 31.(1) An earlier expert, André Lemaire, reported one part as BT[D]WD, guessing that the missing letter was a W (waw), to produce the phrase BT DWD, (meaning “house of David”).(3) Finkelstein, however, opines that what Lemaire thought was a damaged T is more likely another letter, plus Finkelstein reports a sentence divider (like our period) before the WD, indicating that B[??] ends a sentence, with the next sentence starting with WD. Then Finkelstein speculates that B[??] might be “BLQ”, i.e., “Balak”, the name of a Moabite king.(1)
Thankfully, the Moabite Stone has more relevance to Biblical apologetics than that!
In fact, the Moabite Stone corroborates some Old Testament history (from a Moabite perspective), especially the Israelite-Moabite military conflict/revolt mentioned in 2nd Kings chapter 3 — plus the Moabite Stone indirectly corroborates Jacob’s prophecy recorded in Genesis chapter 49.(2)
Echoing Biblical history facts, Moab’s king Mesha (in his inscription) refers to his own hometown as Dibon (Lines 1-2), the Israelites’ God as YHWH (Line 18), Moab’s god as Chemosh (Lines 4-5,9,12), Omri as dynastic head of Israel’s northern kingdom (Lines 4-5,7), and mentions many Moabite place-names known to Scripture (e.g., Ataroth, Mehdeba, Beth-Baal-Meon, Kiriathen, Kerioth, Sharon, Nebo, Jahaz, Beth-Diblathain, Beth-Bamoth, Horonain, the Arnon riverbed, etc.). Mesha boasts success as a “sheep-master” (Lines 30-31 ), although Mesha conveniently omits the embarrassing fact that Moab paid Israel annual tribute in sheep—literally thousands of them (see 2 Kings 3:4). Mesha exaggerated (Line 7), emphatically claiming to have destroyed Israel: “destroyed, destroyed forever”! (Obviously a politician, not a prophet.)
Ironically, Mesha bragged about conquering lands (including Ataroth) that the Bible designates as Reubenite territory(2)—yet Mesha boasts of defeating the tribe of Gad, there (Lines 10-13). Why?
Ataroth was part of the tableland territory allotted to the tribe of Reuben, yet King Mesha only mentions the Gadites as having settled (and built) there. Second, despite many place-names of the Moabite Stone being place-names within Reubenite territory, the Reubenites are never mentioned by Mesha — only the tribe of Gad is named in the Moabite Stone. Why were the Reubenites ignored by Mesha as if they were non-entities, not worth mentioning? And why were the Gadites mentioned with such respect, as if their presence in Reubenite territory was so noteworthy to a conquering king such as Moab’s Mesha?(2)
The answer, though Mesha didn’t know it, is in Jacob’s prophecy, in Genesis 49:1-4 & 49:19.
Jacob prophesied that Reuben was “unstable as water” and would not excel (Genesis 49:3-4). When King Mesha completely ignores Reuben, treating his tribe as not worth mentioning, this historical fact corroborates the passive non-excellence of Reuben. Notice: even when Mesha brags about all his conquests within Reubenite territory, Mesha sees no value in mentioning his conquest of the Reubenites themselves! Apparently defeating Reubenites is nothing to brag about, because Mesha is not bashful about bragging.
Jacob prophesied about Gad differently, however. Gad was a warrior tribe, an aggressive force to be reckoned with and respected (Genesis 49:19). Ultimately Gadites would prove themselves overcomers, even though part of Gad’s future included some defeats (one of which, at Ataroth, Mesha records in Line 10 of the Moabite Stone).
Thus, when Mesha brags about defeating the Gadites, Mesha is once again corroborating Jacob’s prophecy about Gad, because Gad became a warrior tribe worth bragging about (if defeated at all, regardless of where), and Ataroth hosted one battle where Gad was overcome (at least temporarily) by Mesha’s Moabite invaders.(2)
So the Moabite Stone is relevant to Biblical apologetics; it providentially corroborates Biblical history facts, and even provides unintentional corroboration of fulfillments of Jacob’s prophecies about Reuben and Gad.
(1) Finkelstein, Israel, Nadav Na’aman, & Thomas Römer, “Restoring Line 31 in the Mesha Stele: The ‘House of David’ or Biblical Balak?”, Tel Aviv (Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University), 46(1):3-11 (“the name on Line 31 [should] be read as Balak, the king of Moab referred to in the Balaam story in Numbers 22-24).
(2) Johnson, James J. S., The Moabite Stone, a New Translation, Analytically Cross-Examined in Light of the Bible and Moabite History, Evangelical Theological Society presentation (Nashville, November 16, 2000); Johnson, James J. S., “How the Moabite Stone Corroborates a Prophecy in Genesis 49”, Bible and Spade, 27(3):68-74 (summer 2014), with quotations taken from page 73.
(3) Lemaire, André. “’House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription”, Biblical Archaeology Review, 20(3):30-37 (May/June 1994).
*An edited version of this study appears as “Moabite King’s Boast Corroborates Genesis”, ACTS & FACTS, 48(7):21 (July 2019).