2 Kings 16 – The Compromise of Ahaz
A. A summary of the reign of Ahaz.
1. (1-2) The disobedience of Ahaz.
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his father David had done.
a. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord: This briefly describes the reign of perhaps the worst king of Judah. Whereas many previous kings fell short in some area or another (typically, allowing sacrifice on the high places), of Ahaz it is simply said that he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord.
b. As his father David had done: Ahaz had plenty of good examples, both immediately in his father Jotham and historically in his ancestor David. Ahaz rejected these godly examples and walked in his own way.
2. (3-4) The idolatry of Ahaz.
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.
a. He walked in the way of the kings of Israel: Ahaz not only rejected the godly heritage of David, he embraced the ungodly ways of the kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah had a mixture of godly and ungodly kings; the northern kingdom of Judah had only ungodly kings, and Ahaz followed their pattern.
i. “This is the first instance where Judah imitates Israel’s apostasy.” (Wiseman)
ii. Micah 7:2-7 is a good description of the depravity of the times of Ahaz and the reaction of the godly remnant to it.
b. Indeed, he made his son pass through the fire: This describes Ahaz’s participation in the worship of Molech. The pagan god (or, demon, more accurately) Molech was worshipped by heating a metal statue representing the god until it was red hot, then placing 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. In Leviticus 20:1-5, 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).
ii. Sadly, even a man as great as Solomon at least sanctioned the worship of Molech and built a temple to this idol (1 Kings 11:7). One of the great crimes of the northern tribes of Israel was their worship of Molech, leading to the Assyrian captivity (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).
c. 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 bring judgment upon Judah for their continued practice of these sins.
i. This reminds us that the war against the Canaanites in the Book of Joshua – as terrible and complete as it was – it was not a racial war. God’s judgment did not come upon the Canaanites through the armies of Israel because of their race, but because of their sin. If Israel insisted in walking in the same sins, God would bring similar judgment upon them.
B. Ahaz makes Judah a subject nation to Assyria.
1. (5-6) The attack of the Israeli-Syrian confederation.
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. At that time Rezin king of Syria captured Elath for Syria, and drove the men of Judah from Elath. Then the Edomites went to Elath, and dwell there to this day.
a. Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to make war: This was part of Pekah’s anti-Assyria policy. He thought that with Judah defeated, Syria and Israel together could more effectively resist the resurgent power of the Assyrian Empire.
i. The Isaiah 7 passage makes it clear that the goal of this attack was to dethrone Ahaz and set up a Syrian king over Judah, a certain son of Tabeal (Isaiah 7:6).
ii. 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 (2 Chronicles 28:5-8). It was dark time for Judah, and it looked as if the dynasty of David would soon be extinguished, as so many dynasties in the northern kingdom of Israel had ended.
iii. When this great number of captives was taken to Samaria (the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel), a strange and wonderful thing happened. A prophet named Oded rebuked the army managing the captives, and called on them to return them to Judah. These leaders in Israel responded, realizing that they had already offended the Lord and risked offending Him even further. So they clothed and fed the captives (who had before this been treated terribly), and returned them to Judah (2 Chronicles 28:8-15).
b. They besieged Ahaz but could not overcome him: The combined 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.
i. The prophecy of Isaiah 7 – including the announcement of the Immanuel sign – came from Isaiah to King Ahaz during this joint Israel-Syrian invasion. As the following verses reveal, 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.
ii. The kings of Israel and Syria thought of themselves as burning torches, come to destroy Judah and the dynasty of David. God said they were just like burnt-out smoking sticks, who would not ultimately do much damage (Isaiah 7:4).
iii. Through Isaiah’s message to Ahaz, he assured the wicked king – who did not really listen – “There should be a remnant left to return to the land; and the virgin should bear a son, so there should not fail a king upon the throne of David. The dynasty could never be destroyed, for of Immanuel’s kingdom there shall be no end.” (Knapp)
2. (7-9) Ahaz trusts in Assyria.
So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me.” 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 it as a present to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria heeded him; for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and took it, carried its people captive to Kir, and killed Rezin.
a. So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria: Before Ahaz did this, Isaiah offered him a sign for assurance of God’s help in the struggle against the combined armies of Israel and Syria (Isaiah 7:1-12). “This was a fair offer to a foul sinner” (Trapp), but Ahaz refused under the excuse of not wanting to test God, when instead he really wanted to trust in the king of Assyria.
b. I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me: Ahaz surrendered to one enemy in order to defeat another. He refused to trust in the God of Israel and instead submitted himself and his kingdom to an enemy of Israel.
i. “The address ‘I am your servant and your son’ clearly places Ahaz as the petitioning vassal and shows he was trusting in Assyria rather than in the Lord, against the advice of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-16; cf. Exodus 23:22).” (Wiseman)
c. 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 it as a present to the king of Assyria: Essentially, Ahaz made Judah a subject kingdom to Assyria. Ahaz now took his orders from the Assyrian king, sacrificing the independence of the Kingdom of Judah.
i. We can only wonder what blessing might have come if Ahaz would have surrendered and sacrificed to the Lord with the same energy and whole heart that he surrendered to the Assyrian king.
ii. When anyone appeals to God saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me,” then God answers. It is true that the Assyrian king answered and delivered Ahaz; but it was short-lived deliverance. He could have really secured his kingdom by surrendering and sacrificing to God in the same way.
iii. “How different was his great ancestor David! ‘In my distress,’ he says, ‘I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God’ (Psalm 18:6). Even his wicked grandson Manasseh sought the Lord his God ‘when he was in affliction.’ But Ahaz seemed determined to fill up the measure of his sins.” (Knapp)
C. Ahaz perverts worship at the temple.
1. (10-11) He has a heathen altar made and set up in the temple court
Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship. Then Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus. So Urijah the priest made it before King Ahaz came back from Damascus.
a. Now King Ahaz went to Damascus: It was unusual for the kings of Judah to make official visits to other kingdoms; they generally stayed within the borders of the Promised Land. Yet this was much more than a visit – this was an official act of submission from Ahaz unto Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria.
b. King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern: Using the plans sent from Ahaz, Urijah imitated the pagan altar at Damascus and had it ready by the time Ahaz returned from the Syrian capital. He did this both to please his new lord Tiglath-Pileser, and to incorporate the latest trends in altar design into the national worship of Judah.
i. 2 Chronicles 28:23 explains why King Ahaz was attracted to the worship he saw in Damascus: For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, saying, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.
ii. This explains why many churches today put their trust in the tools, techniques, and principles of worldly success: they think the gods of Damascus will give them victory. “This introduction of the altar of a heathen shrine into the holy temple of Jerusalem reminds us the many rights in modern religious observances which have been borrowed from paganism, and warns us that the Church has no right to go to the world for its methods and principles.” (Meyer)
c. Then Urijah the priest built an altar: Of course, Ahaz bears the greater blame in this matter; but the high priest Urijah also bore significant blame in the replacement of the Lord’s altar with this one of pagan design.
i. Curiously, Isaiah 8:1-2 calls Uriah the priest a “faithful witness.” Apparently, he was a good and faithful man who later compromised. The corruption of King Ahaz spread to other leaders in Judah.
2. (12-20) Ahaz directs the renovation of the temple court, giving preference to the new altar.
And when the king came back from Damascus, the king saw the altar; and the king approached the altar and made offerings on it. So he burned his burnt offering and his grain offering; and he poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. He also brought the bronze altar which was before the Lord, from the front of the temple; from between the new altar and the house of the Lord; and put it on the north side of the new altar. Then King Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “On the great new altar burn the morning burnt offering, the evening grain offering, the king’s burnt sacrifice, and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, their grain offering, and their drink offerings; and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice. And the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.” Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that King Ahaz commanded. And King Ahaz cut off the panels of the carts, and removed the lavers from them; and he took down the Sea from the bronze oxen that were under it, and put it on a pavement of stones. Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the temple, and he removed the king’s outer entrance from the house of the Lord, on account of the king of Assyria. 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? So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.
a. So he burned his burnt offering and his grain offering; and he poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar: Ahaz served as a priest at the altar of his own design. Since he created his own place of worship, it also made sense that he would disregard God’s command that a king must not serve as a priest (Numbers 18:7).
i. Ahaz’s grandfather Azariah (Uzziah) dared to enter the temple and serve God as a priest (2 Chronicles 26). Yet at least Azariah falsely worshipped the true God. Ahaz falsely worshipped a false god of his own creation. “Uzziah for so doing was smitten with leprosy; but Ahaz of a far worse disease, an incurable hardness of heart.” (Trapp)
ii. “Ahaz wildly experimented, trying to inject the religion of Judah with new life. He seemed to be drawn to the most lurid elements in the pagan religions around him. Like the Athenians in Acts 17 who ‘spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing,’ Ahaz was addicted to the lure of the sensational.” (Dilday)
b. Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that King Ahaz commanded: Urijah not only allowed Ahaz to do this; he participated in his evil and idolatrous plans. This was in dramatic contrast to the priests in the days of King Uzziah, who did all they could to restrain the madness of king (2 Chronicles 26:17-18).
i. Corrupt political leaders have almost always been able to find corrupt religious leaders to help them.
ii. Wiseman on the phrase, on account of the king of Assyria: “All these changes are said to have been made ‘from before the face of the king of Assyria’ (mt), perhaps ‘because of’ (rsv) the installation of an alien royal statue. Most interpret these actions as carried out by a vassal in deference to the king of Assyria, but that is not the only interpretation possible.”
c. And King Ahaz cut off the panels of the carts, and removed the lavers . . . he removed the Sabbath pavilion . . . he removed the king’s outer entrance: Ahaz could not bring in his pagan, corrupt innovations without also removing what had stood before at the temple. This was an ungodly exchange, taking away the good and putting in the bad – including the king’s outer entrance built in the days of his father, King Jotham. Collectively, all these things served to discourage the worship of the true God at the temple of God.
i. During these changes, Ahaz shut down the operation of the temple and established small pagan altars all around Judah (2 Chronicles 28:24-25).
ii. “Ahaz’s appropriation of the panels and bases from the sacred furniture does not seem to be for the purpose of sending a further gift to Tiglath-pileser but rather for deemphasizing their importance in the worship services. Perhaps he planned to reuse them in some other decorative way. At any rate death overtook him before his attention could be turned to them. They are mentioned among the several items that were carried away in the later Babylonian despoiling of Jerusalem (25:13-14; Jeremiah 27:19-20; 52:17-23).” (Patterson and Austel)
iii. “The plain brazen altar seems to have offended his aesthetic eye; so it was relegated to a place of relative obscurity on the north side of his own foreign substitute.” (Knapp)
iv. We remember that all this took place at the temple Solomon built unto the Lord. The mere location did not make it true worship. Sometimes idols are worshipped at a house that was once dedicated to the true God.
v. “It would seem as though the light of truth were absolutely extinguished. It was not so, however, for it is likely that throughout the whole reigns of Jotham and Ahaz, Isaiah was uttering his message, and that during the reign of Ahaz Micah also was delivering the word of God.” (Morgan)
d. Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did: So ended the reign of perhaps the worst king of Judah. Micah – who prophesied during the reign of Ahaz – describes the man who works to successfully do evil with both hands (Micah 7:3). The idea is that the man pursues evil with all his effort, with both hands. He may very well have had King Ahaz in mind.
i. Yet in many ways, Ahaz is a warning to our generation. He could be considered a church leader from the 21st Century in many ways.
· Based on his admiration of the altar of Damascus, we can say that Ahaz was a man with an artistic sense of style.
· Ahaz also seemed to be impressed with technology, apparently introducing the Babylonian innovation of the sundial to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20:11).
· He was in love with innovation and new things, and didn’t hesitate to bring these innovations into worship.
· At the same time, he seemed to be a nice man. He did not have the persecuting spirit of his grandson Manasseh who persecuted the prophets and people of God (2 Kings 21:16).
· Ahaz had the advantage of many great prophets and messengers (such as Isaiah and Micah).
· Ahaz had the blessing of a great deliverance of God, when God spared Jerusalem and Judah from total defeat when the armies of Israel and Syria came against them.
· Ahaz had the influence of a godly father and a godly heritage from the line of David.
ii. The key was that Ahaz had no relationship with God. He was interested in spiritual things, and would even make great spiritual sacrifices (such as sacrificing his own sons to Molech). Yet he destroyed the link that his father Jotham made between the palace and the temple, and this was an illustration of his destroyed relationship with God. For Ahaz, it wasn’t enough to have a spiritual interest and all the aforementioned advantages.
iii. Despite all this, he put his trust in himself and in man – instead of in the living God who reigns from heaven. Therefore his reign was a disaster, probably the worst among the kings of Judah. “He was possessed (Ahaz – possessor) of much that men admire and magnify to-day; but all this, without godliness, is of absolutely no worth.” (Knapp)
© 2006 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission