Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to make war; and they besieged Ahaz but could not overcome him. (2 Kings 16:5)
At the time of 2 Kings 16, the 12 tribes of Israel were divided into two kingdoms for more than 200 years. They always seemed to compete with each other, and sometimes they made war. Here, we see the ten northern tribes led by Pekah, the king of Israel, attacking the two southern tribes of the kingdom of Judah, led by Ahaz.
The king of Israel was afraid of the rising Assyrian Empire, and hoped that attacking Judah would make them stronger against Assyria. In Isaiah 7:6 we learn that the real goal of this attack was to remove Ahaz and to set up another king over Judah.
We know from 2 Chronicles 28:5-8 that on the whole, Judah suffered terrible losses from this attack. King Ahaz lost 120,000 Judean soldiers and 200,000 civilian hostages in these battles with Israel and Syria. It was a dark time for Judah, and it looked as if the dynasty of David would soon be extinguished, as happened so many times with the ruling dynasties of Israel.
Yet, they did not defeat Judah. They besieged Ahaz but could not overcome him. The armies of Syria and Israel were strong enough to capture many cities of Judah, but not strong enough to defeat Jerusalem and overthrow the government of Ahaz.
Do you remember the remarkable Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7? There, God promised: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. That prophecy of Isaiah 7 – including the announcement of the Immanuel sign – came from Isaiah to King Ahaz during this invasion from Israel and Syria. Despite this promise, Ahaz refused to trust in the LORD and instead put his trust in the king of Assyria. Yet for the sake of David, God did not allow this disastrous attack on Judah to prevail. He would not allow this Satanic plot against the Messianic dynasty of David to succeed.
These great promises really didn’t bring King Ahaz much peace, because he didn’t believe them. The promises of God do us little good if we don’t believe them. Even when God is faithful to the promises and rescues us (like He did Ahaz and Judah), we don’t enjoy the peace and comfort we could have if we only believed.
What promise of God do you need to believe today? God promises peace to those who give their attention to Him (Isaiah 26:3). God promises release from anxiety in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). God promises abundant life in Jesus Christ (John 10:10). God promises forgiveness when we confess and repent of our sins (1 John 1:9).
There are many, many more precious promises of God – but they only do us real benefit as we believe them and receive them.
But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel; indeed he made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree. (2 Kings 16:2-3)
2 Kings 16 begins by telling us about the reign of Ahaz, who was the son of a good king (Jotham) and the grandson of a better king (Uzziah). Yet, for some reason, Ahaz refused to walk in the example of his father and grandfather. Instead, he walked in the way of the kings of Israel.
Ahaz had plenty of good examples, but he embraced the ungodly ways of the northern tribes. The southern tribes of the Kingdom of Judah had a mixture of godly and ungodly kings; the Kingdom of Israel had onlyungodly kings, and Ahaz followed their pattern. This is the first time we see Judah imitating Israel’s apostasy.
It was so bad that King Ahaz made his son pass through the fire. This describes Ahaz’s participation in the worship of Molech, a pagan god. Molech was honored by heating a metal statue representing the god until it was red hot. They then placed a living infant on the outstretched hands of the statue, while beating drums drowned out the screams of the child until it burned to death.
I know that is a terrible thing to read, and I almost sorry to write it. But it’s important to know how evil Ahaz was, and how sad it was that he rejected the good examples of his father and grandfather and embraced the evil of the norther kingdom.
Long before, God pronounced the death sentence against all who worshipped Molech, saying: I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name (Leviticus 20:3).
One of the great crimes of the northern tribes of Israel was their worship of Molech, and it led to the Assyrian conquest (2 Kings 17:17). King Manasseh of Judah gave his son to Molech (2 Kings 21:6). Up to the days of King Josiah of Judah, Molech worship continued, because he destroyed a place of worship to that idol (2 Kings 23:10).
In imitating the ways of the northern tribes, Ahaz really imitated the ways of the Canaanites. All this was according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel. The Canaanite nations that occupied Canaan before the time of Joshua also practiced this terrible form of human and child sacrifice. God would judge Judah for their continued practice of these sins.
It all began with a man following a bad example. What examples will you choose to follow? Ask God for the wisdom and strength to follow the best examples.
In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, began to reign…. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD; he did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. However the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. He built the Upper Gate of the house of the LORD. (2 Kings 15:32, 34-35)
After the reign of Uzziah, his son Jotham because king. In general, he was a good king – he did what was right in the sight of the LORD. In a time when there was chaos and wickedness in the northern kingdom, there were some good and godly kings in Judah. His father Uzziah set a good example for Jotham, and He did according to all that his father Uzziah had done. A godly father, even if flawed, can have a tremendous positive impact upon his sons.
One thing that Jotham did catches our attention: he built the Upper Gate of the house of the LORD. This was always a positive sign in Judah. When kings and leaders were concerned about the house of the LORD, it reflected some measure of spiritual revival.
In particular, it seems that Jotham rebuilt the link between the temple and the palace. Most likely, this was access between the royal palace and the temple. Jotham wanted there to be a strong link between the royal house and the house of God. We can say that this was one of the keys to his prosperity and success.
Jotham’s father Uzziah misunderstood the link between the royal house and the house God when he demanded priestly authority (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). Many kings before Jotham wanted no link between the royal house and the house of God. Jotham understood that he was a king and not a priest, yet he wanted a good, open link between the palace and the temple.
2 Chronicles 27:6 says, So Jotham became mighty, because he prepared his ways before the LORD his God. The building of this link between the palace and the temple was one of the chief ways that he prepared his way before the LORD. That access between the palace and the house of God – a link without control – provided better security for Judah than a mighty wall around Jerusalem. In a time when the northern kingdom of Israel was attacked by the Assyrians, during the reign of Jotham Judah was safe.
The safest place we can be is in obedient communion with God. That was the key to Jotham’s success. How is your access to the house of God? Has it broken down? Are you missing true Christian fellowship? Ask God for the wisdom and opportunity to build your own “Upper Gate” to the house of the LORD, the community of God’s people.