Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.Ch. 16. Reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. He reigns wickedly. Israel and Syria make war upon Jerusalem. Ahaz obtains assistance from Tiglath-pileser (2 Chronicles 28:1-21)
1. In the seventeenth year of Pekah] It is clear that some error has crept into the chronological statements of this period. In the previous chapter (2 Kings 15:30) we read that Pekah was murdered by Hoshea in the twentieth year of Jotham. From the present verse it seems that Ahaz began to reign, and so Jotham died, before Pekah’s death. In reference to Ahaz too the figures are not without some difficulty. He begins his reign at 20 years old and reigns 16 years. But his son Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:2) was twenty-five years old at his accession, and so must have been born when Ahaz was not more than eleven.
With reference, however, to the death of Pekah in the reign of Jotham, we see from Isaiah 7:1, that Pekah was still alive and conducting operations against Judah in the reign of Ahaz. This agrees entirely with verse 5 of the present chapter. Therefore in any chronological calculation the words of 2 Kings 15:30 ought to be neglected. It is not easy to explain how the error arose, but it is manifest that there is an error.
Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, and did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD his God, like David his father.2. and did [R.V. he did] not that which was right] This negative form of statement has not occurred in the account of any previous king of Judah. The offences of Ahaz were exceptional.
But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel.3. he walked in the way of the kings of Israel] This is more fully explained by the Chronicler, and means that he followed after all kinds of heathen idolatry, not that he introduced the worship of the calves from Israel into Judah. ‘He made molten images for the Baalim, and burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom.’ ‘It is hard not to be infected with a contagious neighbourhood. Whoever read that the kingdom of Israel was seasoned with the vicinity of the true religion of Judah? Goodness, such as our nature is, is not so apt to spread. A tainted air doth more easily affect a sound body, than a wholesome air can clear the sick’. (Bp. Hall.)
yea, and made his son to pass through the fire] i.e. To Moloch. Thus introducing into Judah once more, as in Solomon’s days (1 Kings 11:7) the worship of ‘the abomination of the children of Ammon’. The words of this verse might be made to refer only to a passing through flame, as a ceremony significant of purification. But the words of the Chronicler are stronger: ‘he burnt his children in the fire.’ From which it would appear that not one son only was offered. That the children offered in such sacrifices were actually burnt is seen from 2 Kings 17:31; Ezekiel 16:21; and many other passages. But from the words of Ezekiel it may perhaps be inferred that the victims were first slain and then burnt. ‘Thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters whom thou hast borne unto me and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured … thou hast slain my children and delivered them up in causing them to pass through the fire unto them.’
according to the abominations of the heathen] The word ‘abomination’ is constantly employed of idols and their worship, their rites being often of the foulest character. The heathen practices of Tyre and Sidon, of the Ammonites, and of the Syrians of Damascus all now found place and worshippers in Jerusalem.
And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.4. And he sacrificed, &c.] Hitherto we have heard only that the people continued the worship in the high places. Now the king takes part in the same, and so makes it doubly popular.
under every green tree] Expressly mentioned (Deuteronomy 12:2) as among the wrong doings of the heathen: ‘Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations, which ye shall possess, served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills, and under every green tree’.
Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him.5. came up to Jerusalem to war] The plans which had been formed in the reign of Jotham (see 2 Kings 15:37) were now put into execution. And from Isaiah 7:2 we can see into what agitation the people of Judah were brought by the advance of the allied enemies. ‘It was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim (i.e. Israel). And his heart was moved and the heart of his people as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind’.
they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him] i.e. They never took Jerusalem (cf. Isaiah 7:1). This is the security which Isaiah was instructed to promise to Ahaz. But it is evident from the narrative of the Chronicler that much damage was done in the land by the invasion. He says (2 Chronicles 28:5) that Ahaz was delivered into the hand of the king of Syria, who smote him and carried away a great multitude of captives and brought them to Damascus, and he was also delivered into the hand of Pekah king of Israel, who slew in Judah a hundred and twenty thousand men in one day, and carried away captive two hundred thousand, women, sons and daughters, along with much spoil. We can understand the stir caused in Jerusalem by the approach of an army which had already inflicted such blows upon the land.
At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day.6. Rezin … recovered Elath to Syria] Elath was a place of much importance to the Jews. It was situate at the top of the gulf of Akabah (sinus Ælaniticus), and was part of the land of Edom. But when the Edomites were in subjection to Judah, the port was to all intents and purposes a harbour of Judah. Now the Jews were driven from it, and the Syrians came and occupied it, having overrun Edom in their progress towards Elath.
the Syrians came to Elath] The LXX. says the ‘Idumæans’, i.e. the Edomites came to Elath, and this is supported by the marginal reading (Keri) of the Hebrew Bible. But it is a reading which cannot be accepted. The Edomites were at Elath already. It was part of their own land. Therefore they could not be said to come to it. There is very little difference in Hebrew between ‘Idumæans’ i.e. Edomites, and Aramæans, i.e. Syrians. The latter is ארומים, the former ארומים, a difference only in one letter and that of the slightest kind. Hence the confusion.
and dwelt there unto this day] On this expression as a mark of faithful reproduction by the compiler of what he found in the document he was using, see note on chap. 2 Kings 2:22.
The Chronicler, before mentioning the appeal of Ahaz to Tiglath-Pileser, which is here related in the next verse, gives an account how the two hundred thousand captives taken by the Israelites (see above on verse 5) were brought to Samaria, and how Oded, a prophet of the Lord, forbad in God’s name that the children of Judah and Jerusalem should be kept by Israel for bondmen and bondwomen. Some also among the chief men of Israel declared that the captives should not be brought into Samaria. They were in consequence set free, and, after being fed and clothed, were conducted homeward as far as Jericho. The Chronicler also records the names of the men who thus withstood the bringing in of the Jewish prisoners as if he were taking them from some contemporary record.
So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy 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, which rise up against me.7. So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria] According to 2 Chron. (2 Chronicles 28:17-18) it was not only by Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel that Ahaz was straitened when he sent for help to Assyria. ‘The Edomites had again come and smitten Judah, and carried away captives. The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the low countries, and of the south of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh and Ajalon with Gederoth, and Socho with the villages thereof, and Timnah likewise and Gimzo, and they dwelt there.’ So that on north and south alike Ahaz was sorely beset. ‘For the Lord brought Judah low, because of Ahaz, for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the Lord’.
I am thy servant and thy son] Ahaz, in return for the help he seeks, offers to make himself the vassal of Assyria. With the name ‘son’, as used in such an address, may be compared the ‘brother’ which Ahab uses of the conquered Benhadad (1 Kings 20:32). Ahaz in his petition naturally only mentions those enemies on the north upon whom Tiglath-pileser could most readily fall. Perhaps he felt that, if relieved from them, he could dispose of the Edomites and Philistines by his own power.
And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king's house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria.8. silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord] Ahaz appears to have dealt very irreverently with the treasures of the temple. The Chronicler says he ‘gathered together the vessels of the house of God and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God’. This looks as if he melted down the gold and silver to send to Tiglath-pileser.
for a present] The word is not that term for present which literally signifies ‘blessing’ (see note on v. 15). This word has rather the sense of a ‘bribe’. In Exodus 23:8 it is ‘the gift that blindeth the wise’. In Deuteronomy 27:25 it is ‘the reward taken for slaying the innocent’. In 1 Samuel 8:3 it is a ‘bribe’. In Ezekiel 22:12 it is a gift taken for shedding blood. So that the present of Ahaz is not represented by this word as of a noble character.
And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.9. the king of Assyria went up against Damascus] In the Assyrian records it appears that Tiglath-pileser went first against Damascus in b. c. 733, but not being successful came again next year and then reduced the city. (Schrader, p. 152.) Cf. Amos 1:3-5.
the people of it captive] See above on 2 Kings 15:29.
to Kir] The LXX. does not represent these words, and we have no certain data to guide us to the locality intended. Isaiah, who lived close amid all these events, places Elam and Kir in close conjunction (2 Kings 22:6). Elam was in lower Mesopotamia, Kir was therefore most likely in the same district. Rawlinson suggests that it is a variant for Kish or Cush (Susiana) which was just on the south of Elam.
and slew Rezin] Thus making himself entire master of Syria. Hence, as we see immediately, Tiglath-pileser appears to have stayed some time in Damascus.
And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof.10–18. Ahaz goes to Damascus. Finds a heathen altar, the like of which he sets up in the court of the temple. Further desecration of the temple furniture (2 Chronicles 28:22-25)
10. king Ahaz went to Damascus] Summoned no doubt by the Assyrian king to make full submission to the power which had relieved him from the attacks of Rezin. ‘I am thy servant’ was to find expression in more than mere words.
and saw an [R.V. the] altar] The noun is definite in the original, and probably the most conspicuous and grandest among the altars of Damascus is intended. We know from the story of Naaman that the house of Rimmon was the place to which the Syrian king of that day went to worship. We must think of the most splendid altar in Rimmon’s finest temple as the pattern which Ahaz sent home. Either from inclination, or because policy required him to acknowledge the deities of his superior lord, he is reported by the chronicler to have said (2 Chronicles 28:23), ‘Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them that they may help me’.
sent to Urijah the priest] This may be the same person who is mentioned by Isaiah 8:2 as one of the faithful witnesses whom he chose for himself. If this be so, he must have grievously fallen away ere the priest of Jehovah’s temple would be agent for the manufacture of an idolatrous altar. Bp Hall says on this, ‘Never any prince was so foully idolatrous, as that he wanted a priest to second him. A Urijah is fit to humour an Ahaz. Greatness could never command anything which some servile wits were not ready both to applaud and justify.’
And Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus: so Urijah the priest made it against king Ahaz came from Damascus.11. so Urijah … Damascus] These words are omitted by the LXX. though not in all MSS. Perhaps because the preceding clause ends with the same word as this, the eye of a scribe may have been misled. The part played by Urijah in this business is not mentioned by the Chronicler. The R.V. renders this clause So did Urijah the priest make it. This is done to shew that the word ‘so’ refers to the previous phrase ‘according to all that king Ahaz had sent’.
And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon.12. and the king approached to [R.V. drew near unto] the altar] The rendering adopted by R.V. is much the most frequent in A.V. Except in this verse ‘approach’ is not used of ‘drawing near’ to an altar, but always ‘come near’ or ‘draw near’.
and offered thereon] At such an altar he might be his own priest. The LXX. does not represent these words.
And he burnt his burnt offering and his meat offering, and poured his drink offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings, upon the altar.13. his meat offering] R.V. meal-offering. See above 2 Kings 3:20 note. The same change is to be made three times over in verse 15 below. The king’s wish and order was that not only all his own sacrifices, but all those of the people, should be offered upon the new altar. He did not propose to put down the worship of Jehovah and to substitute any other, but that instead of the altar made according to a divine pattern there should be used one of a fashion which pleased himself, and which would shew to the Assyrians that he was not unfavourable to their divinities.
And he brought also the brasen altar, which was before the LORD, from the forefront of the house, from between the altar and the house of the LORD, and put it on the north side of the altar.14. And he brought &c.] The R.V. adheres to the Hebrew order. And the brasen altar which was before the Lord, he brought from the forefront of the house. This brasen altar is described 2 Chronicles 4:1, its length and breadth being each twenty cubits, and its height ten cubits. It is also mentioned, but not described, 1 Kings 8:64. This altar, placed in its position when the temple was built, and standing exactly in front of the porch and entrance to the temple, Ahaz now removed.
from between the [R.V. his] altar and the house] At first the new altar was set a little behind the brasen one, but on the same line as one looked at them from the temple-porch. This arrangement Ahaz changes, and taking away the brasen altar, he leaves his own in the front of the temple, and carries the older and more sacred altar to the north side of the new one. Thus they both stood in a line parallel to the front of the house, but the king’s new altar had the place of honour, before the temple-doors.
north side of the [R.V. his] altar] As before.
And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, Upon the great altar burn the morning burnt offering, and the evening meat offering, and the king's burnt sacrifice, and his meat offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings; and sprinkle upon it all the blood of the burnt offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice: and the brasen altar shall be for me to inquire by.15. Upon the great altar] By this name he distinguishes his own altar. We know nothing of its dimensions but we need not refer the adjective ‘great’ to the size of the structure. The king calls it so, because he means it to be the ‘principal’ altar. The same adjective is used for the ‘eldest’ among sons, and for the ‘chief’ among priests.
For an account of the burnt offering, which was accompanied also by a meal offering and a drink offering, see Exodus 29:38-42. These burnt offerings were offered, according to the original ordinance, every morning and every evening, and double as much on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10). It would almost appear that in the time of Ahaz the Mosaic ritual was relaxed, and the burnt offering made in the morning and the meal offering in the evening. But this is not clear.
the king’s burnt sacrifice] R.V. offering. The word is the same as in the previous clause, and in that which follows immediately.
all the blood of the sacrifice] The change made in the previous note was most needful, because here we have a different word, and one which is always rendered ‘sacrifice’. The distinction between ‘burnt offering’ and ‘sacrifice’, of both which all the blood is commanded to be sprinkled on the new altar, is that in the former the whole animal was consumed in the fire, whereas in ‘sacrifices’, e.g. of peace offerings, only some portion of the victim was burnt, and the other parts eaten by the offerers.
and [R.V. but] the brasen altar shall be for me to inquire by] No doubt the verb here used is found in the sense of ‘to inquire’ after God and God’s will, as in Psalm 27:4 ‘to inquire in His temple’, though in that verse some render ‘to consider’ ‘to look with pleasure upon’. But Ahaz was not minded to do any such thing. He was casting away Jehovah’s worship as fully and as fast as he could. It seems better therefore to render these words ‘but as regards the brasen altar it shall be for me to inquire’, i.e. I will see later on what shall be done with it. The Vulgate renders ‘paratum erit ad voluntatem meam’, i.e. it shall be used as I hereafter decide. So the verb is found in Proverbs 20:25, ‘It is a snare … after vows to make inquiry’, i.e. to deliberate and consider whether they shall be paid or not. The LXX. has read the verb with different vowel points and renders it ‘for the morning’ (εἰς τὸ πρωὶ).
Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded.
And king Ahaz cut off the borders of the bases, and removed the laver from off them; and took down the sea from off the brasen oxen that were under it, and put it upon a pavement of stones.17. Ahaz cut off the borders of the bases] For a description of these bases, which were moveable stands to carry the lavers used for the sacrifices, see 1 Kings 7:27-39. The borders were of highly wrought ornamental work, made by Hiram of Tyre for king Solomon.
removed the laver from off them] i.e. From each of them. There were ten bases, with a laver on the top of each one.
and took down the sea from off the brasen oxen] This sea was also the work of Hiram. See 1 Kings 7:23-26. It was supported by twelve oxen, three looking each way, and standing with their tails beneath the huge vessel. Ahaz took these beautiful castings away and allowed the sea to rest upon stone supports. As all these acts are in the next verse said to be done ‘because of the king of Assyria’ we may suppose that Tiglath-pileser was disposed to ask for the beautiful things which he saw, and as it was not in Ahaz’s power to say him nay, the king removed these treasures that the Assyrian monarch might not see and ask for them.
And the covert for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king's entry without, turned he from the house of the LORD for the king of Assyria.18. And the covert [R.V. the covered way] for the sabbath] The noun, which occurs nowhere else, signifies some colonnade along which the king could pass when on the sabbath he went to the temple. It is not mentioned in the description of the temple building, and must have been added afterwards, and most likely was richly adorned.
that they had built in the house] i.e. in the temple court, not in the interior of the temple-building.
and the king’s entry without] This is perhaps the ‘ascent’ mentioned 2 Chronicles 9:4 and which called forth the great admiration of the queen of Sheba. We may be sure it was made as beautiful as Solomon’s workmen and wealth could make it. This was outside the temple precincts but perhaps was closely joined to the covered way before mentioned so that the whole of the king’s progress might be made in private.
turned he from [R.V. unto] the house of the Lord] There is considerable difficulty in this clause. One thing however is clear, that ‘from’ cannot be correct. The accusative is the case of direction, and there is no preposition expressed in the original. Hence ‘unto’ must be the sense. The A.V. seems to have intended to describe the removal or alteration of these two passages so as to separate them from the temple, the R.V., which gives in the margin ‘round’, appears to imply that both the erections, the one from the palace to the temple area, the other within the court, were brought into closer proximity to the temple-building. But the verb rendered ‘turned’ signifies ‘changed’ also, and it seems not unlikely that it refers to an alteration made in these colonnades similar to that which had been made with the bases and the brasen sea. From them all the decorative portion had been taken away lest it should excite the cupidity of the Assyrian. And in the richly decorated ascent and covered way a like dismantling took place and for a like reason. If this be the sense, then ‘unto the house of the Lord’ must be taken as an adverbial clause explaining that the removal of ornaments and gold took place throughout the whole length, even up to the very temple building.
for [R.V. because of] the king of Assyria] The preposition=literally ‘from the face of’ is a form constantly employed after verbs of fleeing (Genesis 16:8), of seeking help (Isaiah 19:20) and so of fearing, humbling oneself, trembling, &c. This is its sense here. Ahaz did what he did, because he was fearful that otherwise the Assyrian king would seize on all that was choicest. The tribute already claimed had doubtless been large, and the subject monarch though glad of his deliverance from Rezin and Pekah, felt that the drain on his resources ought to be allowed to extend no farther, if he could prevent it. We need not suppose that Tiglath-pileser was about to come in person to visit Jerusalem. His emissaries were sure to be there, and the report of existing treasure was sure to give rise to enlarged demands.
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?19, 20. Death of Ahaz. Hezekiah king of Judah (2 Chronicles 28:26-27)
19. the rest of the acts of Ahaz] The Chronicler gives us somewhat more detail concerning the doings of this king. ‘He gathered together the vessels of the house of God, and cut them in pieces: he shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem, and in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers.’ Some part of this conduct may have been to satisfy the demands of the conqueror to whom he had become a vassal; but much of it was due to the love for foreign idolatry, for Baal and Rimmon and Moloch and the excesses which attended on their worship.
in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah] In 2 Chronicles 28:26 we are referred to the record of Israel as well as of Judah, and the war with Pekah would no doubt form a large chapter in the history of the former kingdom.
And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead.20. was buried with his fathers] The last three words are not represented in the LXX., and the Chronicler says ‘they buried him in the city, even in Jerusalem, but they brought him not into the sepulchres of the kings of Israel.’ For bodily leprosy Uzziah had been treated in the same way after death and the moral and spiritual leprosy of the idol-loving Ahaz was worthy of a like deprivation. ‘Of all the kings of Judah hitherto, there is no one so dreadful an example, either of sin or judgment, as this son of good Jotham. I abhor to think that such a monster should descend from the loins of David. Where should be the period of this wickedness? He began with the high places … from thence he falls to a Syrian altar, to the Syrian god: then from a partnership, he falls to an utter exclusion of the true God, and blocking up of His temple, and then to the sacrifice of his own son; and at last as if hell were broken loose upon God’s inheritance, every several city, every high place of Judah hath a new god. No marvel if he be branded (2 Chronicles 28:22) by the spirit of God with “This is that king Ahaz” ’ (Bp. Hall).