WHEN LEADERS GOVERN BY COMPROMISE INSTEAD OF CONVICTION THE SHORT TERM GAINS WILL BE WIPED OUT BY DIVINE JUDGMENT
Ahaz proves to be the master of compromise and religious syncretism. He relies on powerful foreign governments like Assyria instead of turning to the Lord alone for deliverance. He makes deals that may bring some immediate relief but pave the way for long term disaster. He fails to maintain the uniqueness of covenant faithfulness and the revealed form of worship and instead tacks on pagan religious elements. He puts the nation of Judah on a downward course to defeat and captivity.
R. D. Patterson: The account of Ahaz’s wicked reign . . . centers around three main subjects:
(1) his character (vv. 1-4),
(2) his war with Rezin and Pekah (vv. 5-9), and
(3) his further apostasy as consequence of his reliance on Tiglath-pileser III (vv. 10-18).
God was superintending the whole complex undertaking. He would deal with an apostate Israel (cf. 17:5-18; 18:11-12), thwart the satanically inspired plans against the house of Israel by bringing defeat to Rezin and Pekah (Isa 7:5-16), and bring chastisement to a spiritually bankrupt Ahaz (2 Chron 28:5, 19).
Peter Pett: Ahaz came to the throne of Judah as sole ruler at a crucial time in Judah’s history. Never before in that history had they faced the challenge of becoming permanently subservient to a large Empire whose requirements would include the placing of their gods in the Temple of YHWH. But as Ahaz faced up to the invasion of Judah by Israel and Aram, who were seeking to depose him and set up a puppet king, probably because of Jotham and Ahaz’s refusal to join in an alliance with them against Assyria, he found himself in a great quandary. As the son of David should he look to YHWH alone for protection, and trust Him for deliverance, or should he bastardise that sonship and submit to the king of Assyria as his ‘father’, and call on his assistance, with the inevitable result that he would become his vassal, along with all the consequences that would follow from that?
I. (:1-4) MORAL COMPROMISE
A. (:1-2a) Selected Touchpoints
1. When Did He Become King?
“In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah,”
2. Who Was His Father?
“Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, became king.”
Peter Pett: The full name of Ahaz was Jeho-ahaz. It may be that his behaviour was seen as so abominable that the name of YHWH was dropped from his name. In an Assyrian list of kings who paid tribute to Assyria he was named as Ya-u-ha-zi of Ya-u-da-aia. But it may even be that Ahaz chose to drop the name of YHWH from his name himself when he became an apostate. The discovery of a seal bearing the inscription, ‘Ashan, official of Ahaz’ would appear to confirm the use of the shorter name officially.
3. How Old Was He When He Became King?
“Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king,”
4. How Long Did He Reign?
“and he reigned sixteen years”
5. Which Kingdom Did He Reign Over?
B. (:2b-4) Moral Evaluation
1. (:2b-3a) Summary Evaluation
“and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. 3 But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel,”
2. (:3b) Shocking Act of Abomination
“and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel.”
MacArthur: As a part of the ritual worship of Molech, the god of the Moabites, children were sacrificed by fire (cf. 3:27). This horrific practice was continually condemned in the OT (Lv 18:21; 20:2-5; Dt 18:10; Jer 7:31; 19:5; 32:35).
3. (:4) Systemic Idolatry
“And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.”
MacArthur: Ahaz was the first king in the line of David since Solomon who was said to have personally worshiped at the high places. While all the other kings of Judah had tolerated the high places, Ahaz actively participated in the immoral Canaanite practices that were performed at the “high places” on hilltops under large trees (cf. Hos 4:13).
II. (:5-9) POLITICAL COMPROMISE
A. (:5-6) Resistance to Anti-Assyrian Alliance
1. (:5) Siege Against Jerusalem
“Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to wage war; and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.”
MacArthur: The kings of Syria and Israel wanted to overthrow Ahaz in order to force Judah into their anti-Assyrian coalition. The two kings with their armies besieged Jerusalem, seeking to replace Ahaz with their own king (cf. Is 7:1-6). The Lord delivered Judah and Ahaz from the threat because of His promise to David (cf. Is 7:7-16).
2. (:6) Seizing Control of Elath
“At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram, and cleared the Judeans out of Elath entirely; and the Arameans came to Elath, and have lived there to this day.”
Dale Ralph Davis: And there was bad economic news: Rezin recovered the port of Elath (restored to Judah by Azariah, 14:22), cleared out the Judeans there, and, apparently left it for Edomites to resettle (v. 6). Elath (on the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea) sat at the terminus of two important land routes (one of which was the King’s Highway running through Transjordan all the way north to Damascus) and as a port offered links to Arabia, Africa, and even India.
Mordecai Cogan: Finally, the chronological significance of the phrase ʿad hayyôm hazzeh, “until this day,” should not be overlooked. It occurs three times in Kings in territorial contexts:
2 Kgs 8:22—“So Edom has rebelled against the authority of Judah until this day.”
2 Kgs 14:7—“He defeated ten thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt and he captured Sela in battle, and named it Joktheel (as it is called) until this day.”
2 Kgs 16:6—“Edomites came to Elath and settled there until this day.”
The common denominator in these three verses is their topic: Judahite-Edomite relations.
B. (:7-9) Reliance on Assyria
1. (:7) Plea for Help
“So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son; come up and deliver me from the hand of the king of Aram, and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are rising up against me.’”
Peter Pett: Ahaz recognised that he was in desperate straits, and as the Book of Isaiah reveals, he was torn three ways. Some called on him to join the anti-Assyrian alliance with Aram and Israel, others called on him to submit to the king of Assyria as his vassal thus obtaining his aid, and still others, no doubt partly influenced by Isaiah, called on him to look to YHWH alone for help. The full story can be found in Isaiah 7 onwards. But Ahaz, in spite of an unprecedented offer from YHWH, would choose to submit himself to the king of Assyria and therefore sent messengers offering his submission, promising tribute, and calling for his assistance.
August Konkel: The historian portrays Ahaz as voluntarily submitting to the Assyrian yoke, a grievous misdeed in addition to his promoting idolatry in the high places.
2. (:8) Present of Silver and Gold
“And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria.”
Dale Ralph Davis: Ahaz is in deep trouble and appeals for help—to Assyria (vv. 7–8). He acts not as a covenant believer but as a shrewd politician. Ahaz sells his birthright at the very first: ‘I am your servant and your son’ (v. 7a). I’ve a note here in my old study Bible to 2 Samuel 7:14, which says that the Davidic king will be Yahweh’s ‘son.’ Ahaz repudiates the Davidic covenant as he licks Tiglath-pileser’s boots. He wants to accept the Assyrians as his personal savior—‘Come up and save me from the grip of the king of Syria and from the grip of the king of Israel who are attacking me’ (v. 7b). And, as usual in politics, a handsome bribe (v. 8) buys salvation (v. 9). It may have been blatant unbelief but it was successful policy; he may repudiate the Davidic covenant but he saves his own skin.
Ahaz could have put his attitude in verse (sung to the tune Gordon/Caritas = ‘My Jesus, I Love Thee’):
My Tig, I bribe thee, you know I’m your man;
for thee Yahweh’s promises I view as mere sand.
You mighty oppressor, my savior art thou,
if ever I needed you, dear Tiglath, ’tis now.
3. (:9) Petition Answered with Powerful Deliverance
“So the king of Assyria listened to him; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and captured it, and carried the people of it away into exile to Kir, and put Rezin to death.”
III. (:10-18) RELIGIOUS COMPROMISE
Dale Ralph Davis: Structure of vv. 10-18
• The new altar: vv. 10–11
• The new arrangements: vv. 12–14
• The new regulations: vv. 15–16
• The new rationale: vv. 17–18
A. (:10-11) Mimicking the Pagan Altar
“Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the pattern of the altar and its model, according to all its workmanship. 11 So Urijah the priest built an altar; according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, thus Urijah the priest made it, before the coming of King Ahaz from Damascus.”
MacArthur: When Ahaz traveled to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser III, he saw a large altar (v. 15) which was most likely Assyrian. Ahaz sent a sketch of this altar to Urijah the High-Priest in Jerusalem and Urijah built an altar just like it. The serious iniquity in this was meddling with and changing, according to personal taste, the furnishings of the temple, the design for which had been given by God (Ex 25:40; 26:30; 27:1-8; 1 Ch 28:19). This was like building an idol in the temple, done to please the pagan Assyrian king, whom Ahaz served instead of God.
Paul House: Readers could hardly miss the similarities between Jeroboam, the father of institutionalized idolatry in Israel, and Ahaz, the Judahite king who makes polytheism acceptable nationwide.
B. (:12-14) Making the New Altar Primary while Relegating the Bronze Altar to a Subordinate Position
“And when the king came from Damascus, the king saw the altar; then the king approached the altar and went up to it, 13 and burned his burnt offering and his meal offering, and poured his libation and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. 14 And the bronze altar, which was before the LORD, he brought from the front of the house, from between his altar and the house of the LORD, and he put it on the north side of his altar.”
C. (:15-16) Mandating Public Role for the Pagan Altar and Private Role for the Bronze Altar
“Then King Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, ‘Upon the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening meal offering and the king’s burnt offering and his meal offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land and their meal offering and their libations; and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice. But the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.’ 16 So Urijah the priest did according to all that King Ahaz commanded.”
Peter Pett: What followed was unquestionably a bastardization of the Temple. The ‘true’ altar of YHWH was replaced with one based on a foreign pattern, and the offerings made on that altar would partly be to the gods of Assyria and partly to YHWH (possibly often both at the same time in the eyes of different worshippers). The Temple had thus become similar to the syncretistic sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. This was further confirmed by the fact that the Temple ceased to be the royal chapel, with the special passageway leading from the palace to the Temple being closed, in recognition of the new situation whereby the Temple was now under the sovereignty of Assyria. Furthermore, the altar of YHWH became Ahaz’s own altar for the purposes of divination, and all signs of the special relationship of YHWH with Judah, indicating His rule over the twelve tribes, such as the twelve oxen under the molten sea, and the lions, oxen and cherubim on the plates covering the laver stands, were removed. Judah was now to be seen as wholly subservient to Assyria in both its worship and its rule. It was not that the Assyrians sought to interfere with the local gods of their vassals, they simply required that the gods of Assyria be acknowledged as well, and that Assyria be pre-eminent. But Ahaz took it further than required. . .
We can almost hear the scandalised note in the author’s voice as he explains that the High Priest made no objection to all this, but carried out all the instructions of Ahaz. He did not seek to defend the purity of Yahwism in any way. He took the way of compromise. Such was the situation in Yahwism at that time. (And this would be in the face of Isaiah’s protests).
Dale Ralph Davis: evil is helped by weakness as much as by wickedness (vv. 10–11, 15–16). This implication depends on a particular view of Uriah (or Urijah) the priest as our writer portrays him. ‘Uriah the priest’ is mentioned five times (vv. 10, 11 [twice], 15, 16), and he does whatever King Ahaz tells him to do (vv. 11, 16). He raises no protests, he takes no stand. Whatever Ahaz commands, Uriah does.
D. (:17-18) Major Revisions to the Temple in Jerusalem
1. (:17a) Changes to the Stands and the Laver
“Then King Ahaz cut off the borders of the stands, and removed the laver from them;”
2. (:17b) Changes to the Molten Sea
“he also took down the sea from the bronze oxen which were under it, and put it on a pavement of stone.”
3. (:18) Changes to the Entry Ways
“And the covered way for the sabbath which they had built in the house, and the outer entry of the king, he removed from the house of the LORD because of the king of Assyria.”
IV. (:19-20) OVERALL SUMMARY OF HIS REIGN
A. (:19) Recorded Deeds
“Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?”
B. (:20a) Death and Burial
“So Ahaz slept with his fathers,
and was buried with his fathers in the city of David;”
C. (:20b) Succession
“and his son Hezekiah reigned in his place.”
Paul House: When Ahaz dies about 715 B.C., he is succeeded by Hezekiah, his son. He leaves a legacy of appeasement and syncretism unmatched to this time. Assyria can count on him for money, loyalty, and zealous acceptance of their gods. Judah’s king seems genuinely pleased to serve a powerful master who can deliver him from regional foes. No doubt he feels safe, but the historian duly notes the ways in which he has exceeded Jeroboam’s wickedness. If Jeroboam’s practices are worth condemning, what will happen to a nation who rejects the Lord even more clearly?