And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all the wells of water, and felled all the good trees: only in Kirharaseth left they the stones thereof; howbeit the slingers went about it, and smote it. And when the king of Moab saw that the battle was too sore for him, he took with him seven hundred men that drew swords, to break through even unto the king of Edom: but they could not. 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 was great indignation against Israel: and they departed from him, and returned to their own land.( 2 Kings 3:25-27)
The allied campaign against Moab ended in a very mysterious and anticlimactic fashion.
All had gone according to the prophecy of Elisha; a miracle saved the expedition, when water appeared in the ditches they had been instructed to dig. The same water destroyed the Moabites, when they thought they were seeing blood and drew a disastrously misguided conclusion. And the Moabites were routed and hounded until a small remnant of their soldiers were trapped in a city called Kir Haraseth.
Mesha, the Moabite King, in desperation did something completely unexpected and appalling. He erected an altar on the city wall and offered his eldest Son as a whole burnt offering.
Seemingly , as a consequence, the allied expedition just fell apart, with Edomites, Judahites and Israelite armies going their separate ways.
Then we hear that “Great indignation fell upon Israel…” . What are we to make of it?
Some people connect that phrase with the pagan offering of Mesha. They say that this enervated his remnant into such valiant, rage filled resistance, that the allied coalition just gave up and went home.
Others say that the “great wrath” is the anger of all of the pagans, on both sides of the War, directed at Israel for putting Mesha in such a position.
The problem with those theories, is that the expression, “Great indignation against Israel” is only used in scripture concerning the wrath of God. This is the wrath of the God of Israel, against Israel. Why?
Israel, along with the coalition it led, waged total war against Moab. They didn’t just win military victories, the coalition laid waste the land, the towns and the villages along the way.
WHen Elijah prophesied the campaign, part of that prophecy was prescriptive, ie telling them what to do, such as digging ditches . But part of the prophecy was descriptive,
“And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city, and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones.”
Elijah wasn’t commanding them via prophecy to do that, He was describing what they would do. Total war is condemned by God, He forbade his Holy warriors to do so, and he particularly forbade them to attack fruit trees,
When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege: Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.( Deuteronomy 20:19-20)
The destruction of fruit trees, farmland, wells and food production in Moab was a direct defiance of the Word of the LORD. They should have known the laws of warfare in the Torah. Wrath fell upon Israel, because the coalition made war on trees, fields and wells.
AN interesting side note, Archeologists found a black engraved stone, called the Moabite Stone, which was commissioned by this very King, Mesha, and mentions Omri, and his son Ahab, and proclaims a Moabite victory over Israel thus giving startling confirmation to the Bible. Here are the first four verses of Mesha’s Stone
I am Mesha, the son of Kemoš-yatti, the king of Moab, from Dibon. My father was king over Moab for thirty years, and I was king after my father.
 And in Karchoh I made this high place for Kemoš […] because he has delivered me from all kings, and because he has made me look down on all my enemies.
 Omri was the king of Israel, and he oppressed Moab for many days, for Kemoš was angry with his land. And his son succeeded him, and he said – he too – “I will oppress Moab!” In my days he did so, but I looked down on him and on his house, and Israel has gone to ruin, yes, it has gone to ruin for ever!
 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.
It wasn’t the wrath of Chemosh, nor did the human sacrifice of the Son of Mesha cause the wrath to fall on Israel. The wrath fell because of a violation of the covenant laws of war.