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January 30, 2010
A Matter of Trust
Ahaz was the son of Jotham,king of Judah. He succeeded to the throne at the age of 20 years. His story is found in 2Kings 16; 2Chronicles 28; Isaiah 7:10ff.
His first steps in this direction were the causing to be made and circulation of molten images of the Baalim, and the revival in the valley of Hinnom, south of the city, of the abominations of the worship of Moloch (2Chronicles 28:2,3). He is declared to have made his own son “pass through the fire” (2Kings 16:3); Chronicles puts it even more strongly: he “burnt his children in the fire” (2Chronicles 28:3). Other acts of idolatry followed.
Trouble from Syria and Israel
The kingdom of Judah was at this time in serious peril. Rezin, king of Damascus, and Pekah, king of Samaria (Israel), had already, in the days of Jotham, begun to harass Judah (2Kings 15:37); now, a conspiracy was formed to dethrone the young Ahaz, and set upon the throne a certain “son of Tabeel” (Isaiah 7:6). An advance of the two kings was made against Jerusalem, although without success (2Kings 16:5; Isaiah 7:1); the Jews were expelled from Elath (2Kings 16:6), and the country was ravaged, and large numbers taken captive (2Chronicles 28:5ff). The heart of Ahaz “trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). In his extreme circumstances Ahaz appealed to the king of Assyria for help (2Kings 16:7; 2Chronicles 28:16).
Isaiah’s Messages to the King
The one man untouched by the distress in Jerusalem was the prophet Isaiah. Undismayed, Isaiah set himself to turn the tide of public opinion from the channel in which it was running, the seeking of aid from Assyria. His appeal was to both king and people. By Divine direction, meeting Ahaz “at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller’s field,” he bade him have no fear of “these two tails of smoking firebrands,” Rezin and Pekah, for, like dying torches, they would speedily be extinguished (Isaiah 7:3ff). If he would not believe this he would not be established (Isaiah 7:9). Failing to win the king’s confidence, Isaiah was sent a second time, with the offer from Jehovah of any sign Ahaz chose to ask, “either in the depth, or in the height above,” in attestation of the truth of the Divine word. The frivolous monarch refused the arbitrament on the hypocritical ground, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah” (Isaiah 7:10-12). Possibly his ambassadors were already dispatched to the Assyrian king. Whenever they went, they took with them a large subsidy with which to buy that ruler’s favor (2Kings 16:8). It was on this occasion that Isaiah, in reply to Ahaz, gave the reassuring prophecy of Immanuel (Isaiah 7:13ff).
Isaiah was directed to exhibit on “a great tablet” the words “For Maher-shalal-hash-baz” (swift the spoil, speedy the prey). This was attested by two witnesses, one of whom was Urijah, the high priest. It was a solemn testimony that, without any action on the part of Judah, “the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria” (Isaiah 8:1-4).
Fall of Damascus and Its Results
It was as the prophet had foretold. Damascus fell, Rezin was killed (2Kings 16:9), and Israel was raided (2Kings 15:29). The action brought temporary relief to Judah, but had the effect of placing her under the heel of Assyria. Everyone then living knew that there could be no equal alliance between Judah and Assyria, and that the request for help, accompanied by the message, “I am thy servant” (2Kings 16:7,8) and by “presents” of gold and silver, meant the submission of Judah and the annual payment of a heavy tribute. Had Isaiah’s counsel been followed, Tiglath-pileser would probably, in his own interests, have been compelled to crush the coalition, and Judah would have retained her freedom.
The Damascus Altar
To this was added a yet more daring act of impiety. Ahaz was summoned to Damascus to pay homage to Tiglath-pileser (2Kings 16:10). There he saw a heathen altar of fanciful pattern, which greatly pleased him. A model of this was sent to Urijah the high priest, with instructions to have an enlarged copy of it placed in the temple court. On the king’s return to Jerusalem, he sacrificed at the new altar, but, not satisfied with its position, gave orders for a change. The altar had apparently been placed on the east side of the old altar; directions were now given for the brazen altar to be moved to the north, and the Damascus altar to be placed in line with it, in front of the temple giving both equal honor. Orders were further given to Urijah that the customary sacrifices should be offered on the new altar, now called “the great altar,” while the king reserved the brazen altar for himself “to inquire by” (2Kings 16:15).
Even this did not exhaust the royal innovations. We learn from a later notice that the doors of the temple porch were shut, that the golden candlestick was not lighted, that the offering of incense was not made, and other solemnities were suspended (2Chronicles 29:7). It is not improbable that it was Ahaz who set up “the horses of the sun” mentioned in 2Kings 23:11, and gave them accommodation in the precincts of the temple. He certainly built the “altars … on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz,” perhaps above the porch of the temple, for the adoration of the heavenly bodies (2Kings 23:12). Many other idolatries and acts of national apostasy are related regarding him (2Chronicles 28:22ff).
Recurrence of Hostilities
In the later years of his unhappy reign there was a recurrence of hostilities with the inhabitants of Philistia and Edom, this time with disaster to Judah (2Chronicles 28:18,19). New appeal was made to Tiglath-pileser, whose subject Ahaz, now was, and costly presents were sent from the temple, the royal palace, and even the houses of the princes of Judah, but without avail (2Chronicles 28:19-21). The Assyrian “distressed” Ahaz, but rendered no assistance. In his trouble the wicked king only “trespassed yet more” (2Chronicles 28:22).
Death of Ahaz
Ahaz died after 16 years of misused power. The exultation with which the event was regarded is reflected in Isaiah’s prophecy written “in the year that King Ahaz died” (Isaiah 14:28-32). The statement in 2Kings 16:20 that Ahaz “was buried with his fathers in the city of David” is to be understood in the light of 2Chronicles 28:27, that he was buried in Jerusalem, but that his body was not laid in the sepulchers of the kings of Israel.
Lessons from Ahaz
Never trust in power of the world over the power of God. He trusted himself and many times Ahaz put his trust in things of this world. Early in his reign, he placed his trust with the nation of Assyria to help him against Israel and Syria (2Kings 16:7; 2Chronicles 28:16). Again, toward the end of his reign he made the same mistake when he was troubled by Philistia and Edom (2Chronicles 28:19-22). Throughout his life he placed trust with the false gods of other nations (2Chronicles 28:2,3,22ff). His life was a waste because he never placed his trust where it should have been — with Jehovah. Who do we trust?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.