2 Kings 16

Ahaz, King of Judah

Ahaz, the son of Jotham, began to reign over Judah three years before the death of Pekah, king of Israel, who reigned twenty years at Samaria. As though God would spare bring­ing shame to his mother, her name is not given us. Instead of serving the Lord, he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and returned to the evil days of ungodly Ahab, es­tablishing in Judah the worship of Baal and that of Moloch, to whom he sacrificed his sons (2 Chr. 28: 2). His predeces­sors had never abolished the high places, and had allowed the people to burn incense there without themselves join­ing in this idolatry. Ahaz himself "sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, and on the hills, and under ev­ery green tree" (2 Kings 16: 4). He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord like the kings of Israel. Let us observe that this designation "evil" is always given us in reference to the Lord. It no doubt happens that forsaking God delivers the guilty one to all sorts of moral evil, to crime and impu­rity, but it is not always so. Jeroboam I, Joash of Israel, and Jeroboam II were remarkable monarchs in the eyes of men. Two of them were "saviors" of their nation, contributing to establish its repute and to reconquer its domains. But for God, the question is a different one. It is a matter of determining the relationship that these kings, as Ahaz king of Judah here, had with Him. The simple fact that the moral stature of a man is found in his conduct relative to God is especially forgotten in our days. A man may be a freethinker, even an atheist; if he conducts himself morally and renders service to humanity, even Christians will regard him as an excellent man, as though God could accept something from him or in some way exempt him from believing in Him on account of His good conduct. This is a fatal error for such a man, but it is especially distressing when one sees it sanctioned by Christians who thus are not recognizing that without the fear of God there cannot be even the beginning of wisdom for man. When these unbelievers appear before God, they will be convicted by Him-alas! too late for them-of having done that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Christians who have excused their unbelief will be responsible for having by their guilty approbation of them closed the path of repentance. Ahaz "walked in the ways of the kings of Israel" (v. 3). Double condemnation for this king who, knowing the worship of the true God in Judah, turned his back upon Him in order to follow the abominations of the idolatrous nations.

Also the judgment which was prepared for the people under Jotham now overtakes Ahaz on account of his unfaithfulness. We are told, "Then Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah son of Remaliah, the king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to battle; and they besieged Ahaz, but were unable to conquer him" (v. 5).1 Although we must, to limit ourselves, postpone the mention of the prophets of Judah till we study 2 Chronicles, we are obliged here and there to depart from this rule and to refer here to Isaiah, the more so as Pekah, son of Remaliah, king of Israel, plays an important role there. The king of Israel, once at war with Syria, is now its ally, no doubt in order to free himself on the one side from the yoke to Tiglath‑pileser, king of Assyria, who, as we have seen previously, had stripped him of a large part of his territory, but also to regain, while serving the designs of his ally, that which Judah had taken from him.

These two kings, then, went up against Jerusalem and "besieged Ahaz, but were unable to conquer him." The hearts of Ahaz and his people are agitated "as the trees of the forest are shaken with the wind" (Isa. 7: 2). The Lord sends Isaiah to meet the king The prophet is accompanied by his son Shear-jashub, whose name signifies "the remnant shall return" (cf. Isa. 10: 21). He speaks in grace to this wicked king It is true that whatever may happen, God remains faithful to His promises, and He will renew His relationships with Israel and Judah in the persons of Christ and of the remnant. But how touching is the patient grace God has toward this evil king! He reassures him instead of crushing him; He announces deliverance to him; He says to him, "Take heed and be quiet" let Me act. He says, "Fear not" to him who on his part had everything to fear. He gives him the date when Ephraim "shall ... be broken, so as to be no more a people." Evil is decreed for a fixed and irrevocable time, and in spite of everything, if he would believe, then Judah would yet continue to exist for a little while (Isa. 7: 9). The Spirit of God, through the prophet, says to Ahaz: "Ask for thee a sign from Jehovah thy God." Ahaz answered, "I will not ask, and will not tempt Jehovah" (Isa. 7: 10‑12), coloring his unbelief and his disobedience with an appearance of piety. To tempt the Lord was to distrust Him, but in fact, Ahaz did much more than distrust Him: he did not believe the word of the Lord. Then God announced a sign to him: Judah, that is to say, the house of David represented by Ahaz, had wearied the patience of God, who would replace him by Immanuel, the Seed of the woman (v. 14). But before the second son who to be born to the prophet would know "to refuse the evil, and to choose the good, the land whose two kings thou fearest shall be forsaken" (v. 16). Before this Maher‑shalal‑hash‑baz (haste ye, haste ye to the spoil) should know "to cry, My father! and, My mother!" the lands of Pekah and of Rezin should be forsaken. This prophecy was literally accomplished, and the design of these kings to establish "the son of Tabeal" over Judah was brought to naught.2

Ahaz prefers to confide in the king of Assyria against Pekah and Rezin than to confide in the Lord and to obey Him. This explains his answer to Isaiah. He had "sent messengers to Tiglath‑pileser king of Assyria, saying: "I am thy servant and they son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, who have risen up against me. And Ahaz took the silver and the gold that was found in the house of Jehovah, and in the treasures of the king's house, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria hearkened to him; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried it captive to Kir, and put Rezin to death" (2 Kings 16: 7‑9). Also God declares to Him: "Jehovah will bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days which have not come since the day when Ephraim turned away from Judah-even the king of Assyria" (Isa. 7: 17); and against Israel and Syria: "The riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria" (Isa. 8: 4). Thus, that which the Lord had pronounced against Israel which had sought the support of Assyria (Hosea 5: 13‑14), He now pronounces against Judah, who sough this same alliance. The first result of this trust in Assyria seemed to be favorable for Judah. Tiglath‑pileser seized Damascus, carried away its inhabitants, and slew Rezin. The prophecy pronounced long before by Amos (Amos 1: 3‑5) is now fulfilled.

Ahaz is not at the end of his transgressions. Isaiah's prophecy had no effect upon his conscience. He went to Damascus to meet the king of Assyria, whom he congratulated for his help and for his success. Having seen Rezin's idolatrous altar, he sends its pattern to Jerusalem and has it erected in the court of the temple. He finds a high priest to accomplish this act of sacrilege. 2 Chronicles 28: 22 tells us that Ahaz sacrificed to the gods of Damascus, for to burn a sacrifice upon an altar other than the brazen altar was to sacrifice to false gods.

Do we not find something similar in today's religions when men professing to be Christians think that they are able to approach God by another altar than that of expiation, in which they do not believe? Like Rezin's altar, theirs is much broader, has a much more beautiful appearance than that of God. The old‑fashioned religious narrowness has given place to broader views, they say. It is no longer the blood of the cross that justifies and redeems the sinner. They have another Christ than that One, a Christ who by His life has renewed humanity's ties with God, His cross being nothing more than the crowning act of a life of devotion. The new altar has no point of contact with the old. Its form and its beauty render it infinitely more desirable to the world than the brazen altar, so the latter is removed from its place, set aside (v. 14); it is no longer the indispensable way of approach when presenting oneself before God in His sanctuary. In sum, there is a new way of approach; a new religion is set up, and the first is relegated to a corner. At most, the brazen altar may serve to "inquire by" (v. 15), not, as one has said, that one might think of what one must make of it, but in order to use it for superstitious practices. It is thus that in one whole part of Christendom the use of the cross is misdirected and employed for grossly superstitious practices. Ahaz's religion, when it is a matter of so‑called worship of the Lord, on the one hand ends in unbelief regarding the very foundation of the faith, the cross of Christ, and on the other hand, ends in superstition when it is a matter of this same foundation.

Ahaz's sacrilege extended to the lavers (v. 17), which as we have seen in our meditations on 1 Kings, served for washing the victims, typifying the complete absence of defilement in Christ offered for expiation. Ahaz removes the lavers from their bases. And here again, do we not find an analogy with that which is taking place in our sight or that is being spoken of round about us? The thought of the perfect purity of Christ, the Lamb of God, is given up by making Him subject to the same tendencies that we have and by presenting Him as One tempted by internal lusts to which He never yielded. While keeping the lavers, they remove them from their bases.

It was the same for the brazen sea (v. 17), vessel for the daily purification of the priests. This was set upon oxen, symbolic of the God's patience toward His people with regard to their practical purification. This purification could not be accepted except by virtue of God's longsuffering in all His ways toward His people. Ahaz removed the basin from that which constituted its base and "put it upon a stone pavement." Is not this stone pavement a striking picture of the nature and heart of man? All the religious tendencies of the present day are established upon the pretension that the human element and not the character of God are the basis of our practical consecration for His service, and that man's resolution of will renders him able to walk without defilement and without sin in God's pathway here on earth.

Lastly, Ahaz changes the entry of the house of Jehovah (v. 18) which was prohibited to others besides the king He does so "on account of the king of Assyria." He disowns his own privileges as head of the people of God, and also the "covered way of the sabbath," the privilege of the people themselves-all this in order to avoid offending the world whom he is serving Now the king of Assyria may declare himself satisfied! The very foundations of Israel's religion, by which the people were sanctified for God, have disappeared. Why should not the world henceforth enter into relationship with the God of Israel by means of the altar of Damascus? This religion, modified and stripped of its power and of its privileges, suits it perfectly!

 

Footnotes:

1 We will not speak here of the victories won by Rezin and Pekah over Judah, nor of the Prophet Oded, who succeeded in reaching the consciences of some of the chief men of Ephraim, making them send away their prisoners and the spoil taken from Judah instead of retaining these captives. All this account will be found in its place in our study of Chronicles.

2The name of Tabeal, which has somewhat intrigued scholars, would seem to indicate by its roots, a man bound both to Syria and to Ephraim, whom these two powers were interested in choosing as a candidate for the throne of Judah.