Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.
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.XVI.
THE REIGN OF AHAZ.
(Comp. 2 Chronicles 28)
(2) Twenty years old.—The number should probably be twenty -and- five, according to the LXX., Syriac, and Arabic of 2Chronicles 28:1. Otherwise, Ahaz was begotten when his father was ten (or, eleven) years old—a thing perhaps not impossible in the East, where both sexes reach maturity earlier than among Western races.
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) But he walked in the way.—See Notes on 2Chronicles 28:2.
Made his son to pass through the fire.—The chronicler rightly explains this as a sacrifice by fire. That such an appalling rite is really intended may be seen by reference to 2Kings 17:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Ezekiel 16:20; Ezekiel 23:37; Jeremiah 32:35. The expression, “To make-to pass through the fire to Moloch” (Leviticus 18:21) may have originated, as Movers suggests, in the idea that the burning was a kind of passage to union with the deity, after the dross of the flesh had been purged away; or it may be a mere euphemism. Ahaz appears to have been the first Israelite king who offered such a sacrifice. He, no doubt, regarded it as a last desperate resource against the oppression of his northern enemies. It is absurd to suppose that the king intended it in love to his child, as Thenius suggests. (See Judges 11:31.) Such dreadful sacrifices were only made in cases of dire extremity. (Comp. 2Kings 3:27.)
The heathen.—More particularly the Ammonites, who made such sacrifices to Molech or Milcom.
And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.(4) In the high places.—These are evidently distinguished from “the hills,” two different prepositions being used in the Hebrew as in the English. A bāmāh, or “high-place,” was a local sanctuary, and it appears that a sacred pillar or altar might be called a bāmāh. Mesha king of Moab speaks of his pillar as “this bāmath” (See Note on 2Kings 1:1.)
Under every green tree.—Comp. 1Kings 14:23; Hosea 14:8. Thenius says not so much a green as a thick-foliaged and shadow-yielding tree. “They burn incense . . . under oaks, and poplars, and teil trees, because the shadow thereof is good” (Hosea 4:13).
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) Then Rezin king of Syria . . . to war.—This verse agrees almost word for word with Isaiah 7:1. The time is soon after the accession of Ahaz. “Jotham, the last of a series of strong and generally successful princes, had died at a critical moment, when Pekah and Rezin were maturing their plans against his kingdom. The opposing parties in northern Israel suspended their feuds to make common cause against Judah (Isaiah 9:21), and the proud inhabitants of Samaria hoped by this policy to more than restore the prestige forfeited in previous years of calamity (Isaiah 9:9-10). At the same time the Syrians began to operate in the eastern dependencies of Judah, their aim being to possess themselves of the harbour of Elath on the Red Sea, while the Philistines attacked the Judeans in the rear, and ravaged the fertile lowlands (Isaiah 9:12, 2Kings 16:6). A heavy and sudden disaster had already fallen on the Judean arms, a defeat in which ‘head and tail, palm-branch and rush’ had been mown down in indiscriminate slaughter (Isaiah 9:14). Ahaz was no fit leader in so critical a time; his character was petulant and childish, his policy was dictated in the harem (Isaiah 3:12). Nor was the internal order of the state calculated to inspire confidence. Wealth, indeed, had greatly accumulated in the preceding time of prosperity, but its distribution had been such that it weakened rather than added strength to the nation. The rich nobles were steeped in sensual luxury, the court was full of gallantry, feminine extravagance and vanity gave the tone to aristocratic society (Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 3:16; comp. Isaiah 3:12; Isaiah 4:4), which, like the noblesse of France on the eve of the Revolution, was absorbed in gaiety and pleasure, while the masses were ground down by oppression, and the cry of their distress filled the land (Isaiah 3:15; Isaiah 5:7).”—Prof. Robertson Smith.
They besieged Ahaz.—The allies wanted to compel Judah to join them in their attempt to throw off the burdensome yoke of Assyria, imposed in 738 B.C. (2Kings 15:19); and thought the best way to secure this was to dethrone the dynasty of David, and set up a creature of their own—“the son of Tabeal” (Isaiah 7:6).
Could not overcome him.—Literally, they were not able to war, as in Isaiah 7:2. The allies could not storm the city, which had been strongly fortified by Uzziah and Jotham (2Chronicles 26:9; 2Chronicles 27:3).
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) At that time.—Bähr regards this verse as a parenthesis, so that 2Kings 16:7 is the strict continuation of 2Kings 16:5, and “At that time” simply assigns this war as the epoch when Judah lost its only harbour and chief emporium—a grave blow to the national prosperity. It is perhaps impossible to weave the various data of Isaiah, Kings, and Chronicles into a single narrative which shall be free from all objection. But it seems probable that, after the successes recorded in 2Chronicles 28:5, seq., the confederates advanced upon Jerusalem, and that Ahaz despatched his envoys to Tiglath Pileser. The allies soon despaired of a siege, and Pekah fell to ravaging the country, while Rezin pushed on to Elath, determined not to return home without having achieved some permanent success. The approach of Tiglath Pileser compelled the two kings to give up their enterprise, and hasten to defend their own frontiers.
Recovered Elath to Syria . . . the Syrians.—The words for Syria and Edom, Syrians and Edomties, are very much alike in Hebrew writing, and the Hebrew margin, many MSS., the LXX. and Vulg. read Edomites for Syrians here. If this be correct, we must also restore Edom for Syria, as many critics propose. The meaning then becomes this: Rezin emancipated the Edomites from the yoke of Judah imposed on them by Uzziah (2Kings 14:22) in order to win their active co-operation against Judah. Bähr, however, prefers the readings of the ordinary text, and supposes that Rezin simply expelled the Jews from Elath, and established there a commercial colony of Syrians.
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.—See Notes on 2Chronicles 28:16; 2Chronicles 28:20.
Which rise up against me.—Or, which are assailing me. “The vain confidence of the rulers of Judah, described by Isaiah in his first prophetic book, was rudely shaken by the progress of the war with Pekah and Rezin. Unreasoning confidence had given way to equally unreasoning panic. They saw only one way of escape—namely, to throw themselves upon the protection of Assyria.” (Robertson Smith.)
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) Ahaz took the silver and gold.—“He was well aware that the only conditions on which protection would be vouchsafed were acceptance of the Assyrian suzerainty with the payment of a huge tribute, and an embassy was despatched laden with all the treasures of the palace and the Temple. The ambassadors had no difficulty in attaining their object, which perfectly fell in with the schemes of the great king. The invincible army was set in motion, Damascus was taken, and its inhabitants led captive, and Gilead and Galilee suffered the same fate” (Robertson Smith). (Comp. 2Kings 15:29.) According to Schrader, the expedition “to Philistia”in 734 B.C., was directed against Pekah, who probably saved himself by an instant submission. It was only after Tiglath had settled matters with the northern kingdom, and so isolated Damascus, that he turned his arms against Rezin. Two whole years were spent in reducing him (733-732 B.C. ) In an inscription dating from his seventeenth year, Tiglath Pileser mentions that he received tribute from Eniel, king of Hamath, Muthumbaal, king of Arvad, Sanibu of Ammon, Salamanu of Moab, Mitinti of Asca-lon, Jahuhazi (Jehoahaz, i.e., Ahaz) of Judah, Qausmalaka of Edom, Hanun of Gaza, and other princes. This probably relates to the expedition of 734 B.C. , in which year, therefore, Ahaz (Jehoahaz) must have put himself under the protection of Assyria (Schrader, K.A.T., p. 257 seq.).
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) Went up against Damascus, and took it.—We learn from the inscriptions that Damascus stood a two years’ siege. (The Eponym-list makes Tiglath Pileser march against Damascus for two successive years, namely 733 and 732 B.C. )
Carried the people of it captive to Kir.—(Comp. Amos 1:5; Amos 9:7.) The name Kir is not found in the fragmentary remains of the annals of Tiglath Pileser. Schrader (p. 261 seq.) gives a mutilated inscription, apparently relating to the fall of Damascus.
And slew Rezin.—Sir H. Rawlinson found this fact recorded on a tablet of Tiglath Pileser’s, since unfortunately lost. In the inscription just referred to Tiglath says: “I entered the gate of his city; his chief officers alive [I took, and] on stakes I caused to lift them up” (i.e., impaled them).
Kir was the aboriginal home of the Arameans, according to Amos 9:7. It is mentioned along with Elam in Isaiah 22:6. “It has been generally identified with the district by the river Cyrus (the modern Georgia). But, besides the linguistic objection pointed out by Delitzsch (Qir cannot be equivalent to Kúr), it appears that the Assyrian empire never extended to the Cyrus. We must, therefore, consider Kir to be a part of Mesopotamia.” (Cheyne.)
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) Ahaz went to Damascus, to meet Tiglath-pileser.—The great king appears to have held his court there after the capture of the city, and to have summoned the vassal princes of Palestine thither to do him homage in person before his departure. (See the Note on 2Kings 16:8.)
And saw an altar.—Rather, and he saw the altar, namely, that of the principal Temple. Upon the account which follows Prof. Robertson Smith well remarks that the frivolous character of Ahaz “was so-little capable of appreciating the dangers involved in his new obligations, that he returned to Jerusalem with his head full of the artistic and religious curiosities he had seen on his journey. In a national crisis of the first magnitude he found no more pressing concern than the erection of a new altar in the Temple on a pattern brought from Damascus. The sundial of Ahaz (2Kings 20:11), and an erection on the roof of the Temple, with altars apparently designed for the worship of the host of heaven (2Kings 23:12), were works equally characteristic of the trifling and superstitious virtuoso, who imagined that the introduction of a few foreign novelties gave lustre to a reign which had fooled away the independence of Judah, and sought a momentary deliverance by accepting a service the burden of which was fast becoming intolerable” (Proph. of Israel, p. 251).
Urijah the priest—i.e., the high priest, who appears to be identical with the “credible witness” of Isaiah 8:2. His high official position would secure Urijah’s credit as a witness.
Fashion . . . pattern . . . workmanship.—These terms indicate that the king’s interest in the matter was artistic rather than religious.
And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon.(12) The king approached to the altar, and offered thereon.—So the Targum renders. But all the other versions: “The king approached to the altar, and went up thereon.” (Comp. 1Kings 12:32-33.) It thus appears that Ahaz, like Uzziah, personally exercised the priestly function of sacrifice.
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) And he burnt his burnt offering . . .—The verse describes the thank-offering of Ahaz for his late deliverance from deadly peril. From the present narrative it does not appear but that he offered it to Jehovah. The account in 2Chronicles 28:23 must be understood to refer to other sacrifices instituted by Ahaz, who, like most of his contemporaries, thought the traditional worship of Jehovah not incompatible with the cultus of foreign deities. (Comp. 2Kings 16:3-4.)
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 also the brasen altar . . .—Literally, And as for the brasen altar, he brought it near (to the new one), away from the front of the house, to wit, from between the (new) altar, and the house of Jehovah; and put it at the side of the (new) altar northward. The brasen altar used to stand “before the Lord,” i.e., in the middle of the court of the priests, and in front of the Temple proper. The verse seems to imply that Urijah had pushed it forward nearer to the sanctuary, and set the new Syrian altar in its place. Ahaz, not satisfied with this arrangement, which appeared to confer a kind of precedence on the old altar, drew it back again, and fixed it on the north side of his new altar.
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) The great altar—i.e., as we say, “the high altar,” the new Syrian one. So the high priest is sometimes called “the great priest” (kôhèn hāggādôl), Ahaz orders that the daily national sacrifices, the royal offerings, and those of private individuals, shall all be offered at the new altar.
The morning burnt offering, and the evening meat offering.—Not that there was no meat offering in the morning, and no burnt offering in the evening. (See Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8.) The morning meat offering is implied in the mention of the burnt offering, because no burnt offering was offered without one (Numbers 7:87; Numbers 15:2-12). On the other hand, the evening meat offering was the only part of the evening sacrifice which the congregation could stay out, for the burnt offering had to burn all the night through (Leviticus 6:9).
The brasen altar.—The contrast seems to imply that the new altar was of a different material.
Shall be for me to enquire by—i.e., for consulting God. So Rashi. Others (as Keil): “I will think about what to do with it.” Perhaps it is simply, “It shall be for me to look at,” i.e., an ornamental duplicate of the other altar. (Comp. Psalm 27:4.) Grätz suggests “to draw near” (i.e., to sacrifice), transposing the last two letters of the verb, which does not suit the context; and Thenius would read, “to seek,” after the Syriac, which has “to ask” (i.e., to pray), as if the old altar of sacrifice were henceforth to be an altar of prayer. (?)
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, 18) And king Ahaz cut off.—The key to the right understanding of these verses is given in the last words of 2Kings 16:18. Ahaz spoiled the Temple of its ornamental work, not out of wanton malice, but from dire necessity. He had to provide a present for the king of Assyria. Thus these verses are really a continuation of the first statement of 2Kings 16:10. They inform us how Ahaz managed not to appear empty-handed at Damascus. (So Thenius.) Prof. R. Smith says: “Ahaz, whose treasures had been exhausted by his first tribute, was soon driven by the repeated demands of his masters to strip the Temple even of its ancient bronze-work and other fixed ornaments. The incidental mention of this fact in a fragment of the history of the Temple incorporated in the Book of Kings is sufficient evidence of the straits to which the kingdom of Judah was reduced.”
Borders of the bases.—See 1Kings 7:28. Thenius thinks Ahaz replaced them with unadorned plates, and set the laver up in a different fashion; but the text does not say so. (Comp., however, 2Kings 25:13; 2Kings 25:16; Jeremiah 52:17.)
The brasen oxen.—These were ultimately carried off by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 52:20).
A pavement of stones—i.e., a pedestal or foundation of stonework: ἐπὶ βάσιν λιθίνην (LXX.).
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) The covert for the sabbath.—A very obscure expression. The best interpretation is “the covered hall (or stand) set apart for the use of the king and his attendants when he visited the Temple on holy days” (reading, with the Hebrew margin, mûsak, which is attested by the Vulg., musach, and the Syriac “house of the sabbath”). The thing is not mentioned anywhere else.
In the house—i.e., in the sacred precincts, probably in the inner forecourt.
The king’s entry without.—The outer entry of the king, i.e., the gate by which the king entered the inner court (Ezekiel 46:1-2).
Turned he from the house of the Lord.—Or, he altered in the house of the Lord, i.e., stripped them of their ornamental work.
For.—Or, from fear of . . .—But comp. Genesis 6:13, “through them.” Ahaz durst not appear before Tiglath without a present. It is possible also that he anticipated a visit from the great king.
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) Which he did.—Some MSS., and the LXX., Syriac, and Arabic have the usual formula, “and all which he did.”