2 Kings 16
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
In the opening chapters of Isaiah we have an account of the condition of the kingdom of Judah at the time that Ahaz succeeded to the throne. The prosperity which the country had enjoyed under Uzziah had been continued and increased under the righteous reign of his son Jotham. And now the grandson, Ahaz, a young man of twenty, finds the country abounding in wealth, full of silver and gold. Isaiah says there was no end of their treasure; their land also was full of horses, neither was there any end of their chariots. Their commerce, too, was in a thriving condition. "The ships of Tarshish, sailing from Elath, could boast their gilded prows and stems, and purple sails, and brought home rich cargoes from the distant East" (Geikie, 'Hours with the Bible: Rehoboam to Hezekiah,' p. 292). But before Ahaz died, all this was changed. Enemy after enemy invaded his country. The land became desolate. The king was reduced to great extremities to obtain money. Instead of the sunshine of prosperity, there was on every side the dark shadow of desolation and decay. We have the explanation of it all in the third and fourth verses. Ahaz began badly, and every fresh movement in his life was a step from bad to worse. His history is a further illustration of how one sin leads to another. It was a continuously downward path.

I. THE FIRST STEP IN THE DOWNWARD CAREER OF AHAZ WAS HIS IDOLATRY. (Vers. 3, 4.) He forsook the worship of the true and living God, and worshipped the gods of the heathen. Even that step he would seem to have taken gradually. At first he began with the high places, which bad never been taken away. Then graven images and other heathen customs were used in the worship of God; and finally the idols of the false gods themselves were set up. The policy of compromise had now reached its fitting conclusion. When the right makes compromise with the wrong, the wrong is sure to gain the victory. So it was in this case. The people had got accustomed to the high places. They saw no harm in them. And now they see no harm in the idols. Isaiah describes the universal corruption when he says, "Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made." And what a worship it was to substitute for the worship of the only true and living and almighty God! A useless worship, as Isaiah indicates, to worship the work of their own hands. It brought them no help in their hour of distress. But it was worse than useless. It was a foul and degrading worship. It is best described in the words of the third verse, "the abominations of the heathen." We can have but a faint conception of the loathsome practices associated with the worship of the pagan deities. The passage before us speaks of one act of worship - by no means the worst, though sufficiently cruel and revolting. This was the worship of Moloch Kings In the valley of Hinnom, afterwards called Gehenna or Tophet, an image of Moloch was erected. Dr. Thomson, in 'The Land and the Book,' refers to the passage in Jeremiah (19) where the valley of Hinnom is spoken of, and thinks, because it is said there that the image of Baal was there, that Moloch and Baal were one and the same. At any rate, part of the worship of Moloch consisted in making children pass through the fire before his image, or in actually burning them in it. The cries of the children were drowned by the sound of musical instruments and the shouts of the frenzied worshippers. It is to this that Milton refers when he says -

"First, Moloch, horrid king, besmear'd with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears;
Though for the noise of drums and timbrels loud
Their children's cries unheard, that passed through fire
To his grim idol." Such was the worship which Ahaz, in his infatuation and desire to be like the nations round about him, substituted for the spiritual, elevating worship of the great Father of us all. After all, was he much worse than many in modern times who profess to be so enlightened that they regard the Christian religion as a superstition? And what do they give us in place of it? A worship of dead matter, of blind force; of a mere supposition of their own minds. If Christianity be a superstition, what are some of the fancies of our philosophers? Before we give up our Christian religion, let us know, what we are to have in place of it. Let us compare the results of Christianity with the results of any rival system, and how immeasurably superior to them all it stands, in the purity of its teaching, in the power it exercises to elevate and ennoble human life, and in the blessings it has brought to the nations! How it alone lights up the darkness of the grave, and breathes into the bereaved heart the inspiration and comfort of the heavenly hope! This was the first downward step in the career of Ahaz - forsaking the worship of God. So many a man has begun the downward path. The empty seat in the house of God indicates often the beginning of a useless and wasted life. Or if he comes to the house of God, he worships God in form only. His thoughts are far away. Self and the world, money and pleasure, - how often are these the idols men worship with the thoughts of their hearts and with all the efforts of their lives!

II. THE NEXT STEP IN THE DOWNWARD PATH OF AHAZ WAS THE ALLIANCE HE ENTERED INTO. (Vers. 5-7.) The Syrians made war on him along with the King of Israel. Ahaz, in his difficulty, sought the help of the King of Assyria. How humiliating is his entreaty! "I am thy servant and thy son," was the message he sent: "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." There was nothing wrong in itself in seeking the help of friendly kings. On this occasion, however, God absolutely warned Ahaz against seeking their help. But, to begin with, there was something wanting. Ahaz did not seek God's guidance in the matter. He did not seek God's help. He who had rejected the service of the living God, makes himself the cringing slave of the King of Assyria, and humbles himself to a heathen for help. What a mistake when a nation trusts to its resources or its strong alliances, and forgets to look to that Divine power from whom all blessings flow! There may be nothing wrong in all our efforts to improve our worldly position, but there may be something wanting. There may be nothing wrong in your life, but there may be something wanting. You may be anxious to be useful in the world; but are you setting about it in the light way? One thing is needful, one thing is essential to all true happiness, to all true usefulness. That is the presence and help of God. Is the Lord Jesus dwelling in your heart? Whatever else may disappoint you, he will never fail.

"When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me:"

III. THE NEXT DOWNWARD STEP WHICH AHAZ TOOK WAS HIS PLUNDERING- THE HOUSE OF GOD. (Vers. 8, 9, 17, 18.) Ahaz paid dear for his alliance with the King of Assyria. He had already disobeyed and dishonored God by his idolatry. He had already dishonored God by refusing to heed the warnings which Isaiah gave him. But now he commits a still more flagrant act of defiance and desecration. In order to reward the Assyrian king for his help, and to retain his friendship, he actually takes the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and sends it for a present to the King of Assyria. The world's friendships are often dearly bought. We pay for them, in peace of mind, in peace of conscience, in loss of money, in loss of time, a greater price than they are worth. Sooner or later the crisis must come in every man's life when he must choose between the friendship of God and the friendship of the world. What choice are you making? What choice would you make if you were put to the test now? Perhaps you are being put to the test in your daily life. Perhaps you are being tempted, for the sake of worldly friendship, for the sake of your business, for the sake of popularity, to sacrifice some principle, to trample on some command of God, to neglect some plain duty which conscience and the Word of God alike point out. Business! The great business of your life, of every man's life, is to fear God and keep his commandments. "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever." Oh what a fearful thing it is to take from God that which rightfully belongs to him! It is a crime against law, against morality, to take from our fellow-creatures, without their permission, that which belongs to them. But how much more guilty is he who would take from God that which is his! We condemn Ahaz for his impiety and sacrilege in taking from the temple those things which had been consecrated to God. But let us look into our own hearts and lives. Are we giving God that which is his due? Are we keeping back nothing from him? Has he no greater claim on our daily thoughts than a hurried prayer at morning or evening, or none at all? Has he no greater claim on our money than the few shillings, or, it may be, few pounds we give to him every year? Let us measure our service of God much less by what others do and give, and much more by our own responsibilities, by our own overflowing cup of mercies, by the relation of our own soul to God.

IV. THE NEXT DOWNWARD STEP OF AHAZ WAS TO SET UP A HEATHEN ALTAR IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD. (Vers. 10-17.) Ahaz had gone to Damascus to meet the King of Assyria. While there he saw an altar used in the worship of the heathen gods. Its workmanship may perhaps have pleased him. He sent to Urijah the priest a description, perhaps a drawing of it, and Urijah, influenced more by the fear of the king than by the fear of God, caused a similar altar to be erected in the temple at Jerusalem. When Ahaz returned, he substituted this altar for the altar of the Lord, although God himself had given the pattern of that altar to Moses and to David. But all the idols and sacrifices of Ahaz did not benefit him much. He thought the gods of the heathen would help him; but, says the writer in 2 Chronicles, "They were the ruin of him and of Israel" So in everyday experience many a man finds, when he forsakes the gospel of Christ, and turns his back upon the Law of God, to follow worldly gain or pleasure, or society, or dissipation, that these things are the ruin of him. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." - C.H.I.

In the seventeenth year of Pekah, etc. Throughout all lands, almost throughout all times, two functionaries have been at the head of the peoples, too often treading them down by oppression, and fattening on them by their greed. One of these functionaries was not, among the Jews, of Divine ordinations; for the Almighty is represented as saying, "They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not." Let us notice each functionary as presented in this chapter - the king and the priest - the one named Ahaz, the other Urijah.

I. THE KINGHOOD. It is said, "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." Here we learn that Ahaz, who was the son of Jotham, began to reign over Judah in his twentieth year, and that his reign continued for sixteen years. Elsewhere we are told that Hezekiah, his son, succeeded him at the age of twenty-five (see 2 Kings 18:17). According to this he became a father when he was only eleven years of age. This is not, necessarily, a mistake of the historian, since among the Jews in Tiberias there are mothers of eleven years of age and fathers of thirteen. And in Abyssinia boys of ten years and twelve years enter into the marriage relationship (see Keil). The account given of Ahaz in this chapter furnishes us with an illustration of several enormous evils.

1. The dehumanizing force of false religion. Ahaz was an idolater. "He walked in the way of the kings of Israel," we are told. Instead of worshipping the one true and living God, he bowed down before the idols of the heathen. This false religion of his made him so inhuman that he "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; and he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree." Moloch was this idol-god of fire, and the rabbins tell us "that it was made of brass, and placed on a brazen throne, and that the head was that of a calf, with a crown upon it. The throne and image were made hollow, and a furious fife was kindled within it. The flames penetrated into the body and limbs of the idol, and, when the arms were red hot, the victim was thrown into them, and was almost immediately burnt to death." The revolting cruelty of Moloch-worship is thus described by Milton -

"In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such
Audacious neighborhood, the wisest heart
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build

His temple right against the temple of God
On that opprobrious hill; and made his grove
The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna call'd, the type of hell." Thus the idolatrous religion of this Ahaz dehumanized him, by destroying within him all parental affection and transforming him into a fiend. This is true, more or less, of all false religions. Idolatry is not the only religion that makes men cruel. A corrupt Judaism and a corrupt Christianity generate in their votaries the same dehumanizing results. False religion kindled in Paul the savage ferocity of a wild beast. "He breathed out slaughter." Ecclesiastical history abounds with illustrations.

2. The national curse of a corrupt kinghood. 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. 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." These two kings, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel, had their eyes upon this Ahaz, saw, perhaps, how his wickedness had injured his people, had taken away their heart and exhausted their resources, until they felt that this was the time for striking at Jerusalem, taking possession of the metropolis, and subjugating the country. And they made the attempt. Although they could not "overcome" Ahaz, and failed to strike him down personally, yet they "recovered Elath to Syria [or, 'Edom'], and drave the Jews from Elath." So it has ever been; corrupt kings expose their country to danger, they invite the invader and make way for him.

"Proudly up the regal heights they sit in pampered power,
While fires smoulder underground that strengthen every hour."

3. The mischievous issues of a temporary expediency. Ahaz, in order to extricate himself from the difficulties and trials which Rezin and Pekah had brought on his country, applies to the King of Assyria. "So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser 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. 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. 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." What else could he do? To whom could he have looked for help in his emergency? The right thing to have done would have been the utter renunciation of his idolatry, submission to the Divine will, and invocation of the Almighty's help; but he followed what appeared to him the expedient, not the right, and hence two evils ensued.

(1) He degraded himself. He sold himself as a slave to the king whose help he invoked. "I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the King of Syria." What more dishonorable thing can a man do than to renounce his independence and become the slave of another? He loses his self-respect, which is the very essence of true manhood.

(2) He impoverished his people. "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." This silver and gold belonged to the nation. It was public property. What right had he to dispose of a fraction? No right whatever. Alas! it is not uncommon for kings to rob their people, consume what they have never produced, live on the property of others, and thus impoverish their subjects! What happened with Ahaz must happen with all, in the long run, who pursue the expedient rather than the right. The right alone is truly expedient.

II. HIS PRIESTHOOD. Urijah is the priest. There seems to have been more priests than one of this name, and little is known of this Urijah more than what is recorded in the present chapter. He was the priest, who at this time presided in the temple of Jerusalem. He seems to have been influential in the state, and, although a professed monotheist, was in far too close connection with Ahaz the idolatrous king. Two things are worthy of note concerning him, which too frequently characterize wicked priests in all times.

1. An obsequious obedience to the royal will. The Assyrian king, having taken Damascus, is visited by Ahaz in the city, the object of his visit being, no doubt, to congratulate him on his triumphs. While at Damascus, Ahaz is struck with the beauty of an altar. He seems to have been so charmed with it that he commands Urijah, the priest, to make one exactly like it. "And King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof." Knowing the king's wishes, with shameful obsequiousness he sets to the work. "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. And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon." This obsequious priest not only did this, but, without one word of protest or reproof, he witnessed the sacrifices of the king at the altar, and allowed the position of the brazen altar in the temple to be altered; further, he actually engaged, according to the king's command, in the services. "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 offerings 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 brazen altar shall be for me to inquire by. Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that King Ahaz commanded." Thus wicked priests have too often acted.

2. An obsequious silence to the royal profanation. See what the king did, no doubt in the presence of the priest. "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 brazen oxen that were under it, and put it upon a pavement of stones. 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." This fawning, sacerdotal traitor not only "did according to all King Ahaz commanded," but he stood by silently and witnessed without a word of protest this spoliation of the holy temple. Had he acted according to his profession as a minister of the most high God, he would have risen up in all the sternness of honesty and manhood against the first intimation of Ahaz concerning the construction of an unauthorized altar. He would have said, "We have a divinely sanctioned altar already; we do not need another." And when the command came to him to make such an altar, he would have felt it an insult to his conscience, an outrage on his loyalty to Heaven, and have broken into thunders of reproof. When he saw the king's hand employed in disturbing and altering the furniture of the temple, he would have resisted him, as Azariah resisted Uzziah when he wished to offer incense. But instead of this, he, like some of his class in almost every age, seems to have been transported with the honor of seeing the royal presence, hearing the royal voice, and doing the royal bidding. A true priest should, by inflexible loyalty to Heaven, mould kings to be lords paramount in all mundane affairs, and in none other; and should lead them to be very kings of men, governing, not by craft and force, fraud and violence, but by royal thoughts, actions, and aims. - D.T.

The history has passed rapidly over the later kings of Israel. That kingdom was lost beyond recovery. "The victim having once got his stroke-of-grace, the catastrophe can be considered as almost come. There is small interest now in watching his long low moans; notable only are his sharper agonies, what convulsive struggles he may make to cast the torture off from him; and then, finally, the last departure of life itself" (Carlyle). In Judah the crisis too is approaching, but it is not yet reached. Prophets and good kings are yet to do their utmost for the nation. But a reign like that of Ahaz is a sensible step in the advance to the catastrophe.

I. THE CHARACTER OF THE KING. Though the son of the vigorous Jotham, and already twenty or twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne, Ahaz proved one of the weakest and most incapable of rulers. One sees in him the reflection of the luxurious and effeminate age described by Isaiah 3:12-26. Feeble, petulant, arbitrary, in his ways of acting; without strength of mind or strength of will; busying interests of his kingdom were at stake; craven in war; above all, full of religiosity and himself in dilettante fashion with novelties, with altars and sun-dials, while the greatest superstition without the faintest spark of true religion - "this is that King Ahaz" (2 Chronicles 28:22). Possibly his father Jotham was too much occupied with state and public affairs to give the necessary attention to his softs education - a fatal mistake not unfrequently committed by parents.

II. HIS ABOUNDING IDOLATRIES. Ahaz displays great zeal of his own kind in religion, but it is zeal of the most perverse and suicidal description. We observe:

1. His imitation of the kings of Israel. He took for his pattern, not his ancestor David, the type of the true theocratic king, but the wicked kings of the northern kingdom, whose idolatries were bringing their own realm to ruin. He made, like them, molten images to Baal, and sacrificed to them (2 Chronicles 28:2). Wicked men seem absolutely impervious to warning. The northern kingdom was an object-lesson, to those who had eyes to see, of the folly and fatal effects of this very course on which Ahaz was now entering. Yet he would not be deterred.

2. His reversion to Canaanitish practices. Not content with importing the licentious Baal-worship patronized in Israel, Ahaz revived the worst abominations of the old Canaanitish religions. He even went so far as to sacrifice his own son to Moloch in the valley of Hinnom - a deed indicating a degree of fanaticism, a blunting of the moral sense, and a depth of superstition which could hardly have been believed possible in a King of Judah. It was, moreover, a daring defiance of the direct letter of God's Law (Deuteronomy 12:31). Well might such a deed bring down wrath on Judah!

3. His extravagance in worship. It is further narrated that Ahaz sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. Worship in this reign seemed to have run riot; yet there was no true religion in it. All this depraved religiosity was but a manifestation of self-will, of subjective caprice; it had its origin in superstition and an impure craving for excitement, not in the fear of God. Yet Ahaz, in his dilettante way of looking at things, may have thought that he was introducing improvements into Jewish religion. He may have flattered himself that he was robbing it of its narrowness, and giving it the philosophic breadth suitable to persons of taste and culture. He might argue that there was something good in all religions; that all were but diverse expressions, equally acceptable to God, of the fundamental instinct of worship; and that none, therefore, ought to be despised. We hear such arguments nowadays, and they may very well have been used then. Ahaz was but going in for a species of Jewish Broad-Churchism. But the Bible brands this so-called breadth of view as treason against the God who has definitely revealed his will to men, and taught them how they are, and how they are not, to worship him. The true lessons to be learned from this conduct of Ahaz is that religiosity - delight in sensuous and impure religious services - is far different from religion; that altars may be multiplied, yet multiplied only to sin (Hosea 8:11); that the religious instinct, itself the noblest part of man, is capable of the most perverted developments; that only worship according to his own commandment is acceptable to God.

III. NOT ALONE IN SINNING. The lengths to which Ahaz could go, apparently without awakening any public opposition, show that the heart of the nation also had widely departed from God. This is borne out by the descriptions in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 2:6-8; Isaiah 3:16-26; Isaiah 5:8-25). The king's innovations were acceptable to a people wearied of the severer worship of Jehovah. They were glad to have the services adapted to their corrupt and dissolute tastes. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). - J.O.

Again was the truth to be verified that national sins bring in their train national calamities. God is not mocked. He vindicates the reality of his moral government by visiting the transgressor with manifest strokes of his displeasure. In addition to the invasion of Pekah and Rezin spoken of below, we read of assaults of the Edomites and of the Philistines, by which Judah was brought very low (2 Chronicles 28:17-19). The kingdom also was brought into a state of servitude to Assyria.


1. The Syro-Israelite conspiracy. Israel and Syria had been hereditary enemies. Now they make common cause, on the one side against Assyria, and on the other against Judah. Their object in invading Judah was probably not the simple one of plunder, but the political one of still further strengthening themselves against the King of Assyria. Pekah was a mere military adventurer, and would be restrained from attacking Judah by no scruples of brotherhood. He and Rezin had begun their attacks while Jotham was still alive, but now that Ahaz was on the throne, their plans took bolder shape. They conceived the project of removing Ahaz, and putting a certain "son of Tabeal" in his place (Isaiah 7:6). The news of their expedition terrified Ahaz and his people. Instead of putting their trust in God, their hearts were moved "as the trees of the wood are moved by the wind" (Isaiah 7:2). They had cause to fear, for they showed no desire to forsake their sins, and when a people forsake God, they have no reason to hope that God will protect them.

2. The assault on Jerusalem, and its discomfiture. The earlier part of the joint expedition was crowned with great success. We read in Chronicles of terrible battles that were fought, and severe defeats that were sustained by the army of Judah. Large numbers of captives, with their spoil, were taken to Samaria, and were only restored by the intercession of the Prophet Oded (2 Chronicles 28:6-13). God permitted Judah to be thus far humbled. But when, elated with victory, the conquerors pressed on, and invested Jerusalem, he interposed to prevent their further progress. Not for the sake of Ahaz, but for his own Name's sake, he saved Jerusalem, and hindered the invaders from accomplishing their purpose of overthrowing the house of David. Isaiah had predicted this deliverance (Isaiah 7:7), and, but for the unbelief of Ahaz, and his sinful recourse to the King of Assyria, it is unlikely that the adversaries would have been permitted to go so far even as they did. Wicked men often receive mercies of which they are wholly undeserving. God spares them, not because they have any claim upon his favor, but for the sake of some oath or promise of his own, or from regard to the righteous who remain, or in order to give the sinners yet another opportunity of repentance. Because God had sworn to David that his seed should sit upon the throne (2 Samuel 7.), he did not allow even the wicked Ahaz to be removed. In the ease of Pekah and Rezin, we see how entirely human movements are under the Divine control. It appeared as if these bold men would sweep all before them, but God had said, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further" (Job 38:11), and there their proud waves were stayed.

3. The loss of Elath. The war was not wholly without gain to the Syrians. They possessed themselves of the port of Elath, at the head of the Red Sea, and thus stripped Judah of another important dependency.

II. THE APPEAL TO ASSYRIA. In the distress to which the repeated attacks on his territory reduced him, Ahaz, instead of casting himself on Divine protection, foolishly betook himself to the King of Assyria.

1. Short-sighted policy. Israel had set the example of resort to the Assyrian, but the prophets had always denounced such insensate conduct (Hosea 5:13; Hosea 8:9, 10; Hosea 10:6). Even from the point of view of worldly policy, the action was foolish. As well might the lamb invoke the help of the lion against the wolf, as any lesser power invoke the help of the King of Assyria against an enemy. The conqueror, pleased with any pretext for interfering in another nation's affairs, would not refuse his help, but only that the weaker power which had solicited the help might in the end be despoiled and devoured. Thus Ahaz found it. The King of Assyria was glad enough of the occasion to march against Israel and Damascus, but when once the conquest was effected, Ahaz found that he had derived no benefit, but only exchanged one oppressor for another.

2. Expensive help. To purchase the aid of Tiglath-pileser, Ahaz had

(1) to become a vassal of the King of Assyria; and

(2) to send him a large present of gold and silver.

This he could only obtain by emptying once more the often-ransacked treasuries of the temple and the palace. The accumulations of years of prosperity under Uzziah and Jotham were again dispersed, and the freedom of the country was sold to boot. God's people passed formally under the yoke of a Gentile conqueror. To such straits was the kingdom brought by Ahaz's godless policy.

3. The Assyrian a broken reed. The King of Assyria marched against Pekah and Rezin, and soon reduced them to his power. Damascus was severely dealt with. Its king was slain, and the people carried captive. Pekah was also chastised; his territory was ravaged, and considerable parts of the population were removed (2 Kings 15:29). The instruments employed in punishing Ahaz were thus themselves punished. The fact that men are used as instruments in God's providence does not exonerate them from guilt. Ahaz, however, as we learn from the parallel narrative, reaped no benefit, for "Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria came unto him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not" (2 Chronicles 28:20). It was his own ends, not those of his foolish vassal that the King of Assyria was serving. Ahaz leaned on a bruised reed, and only got his hand pierced. Thus it usually is with those who put their trust in the help of man. They reap from their assiduous sowing but the gall and wormwood of chagrin and disappointment. - J.O.

The remaining events of the reign of Ahaz recorded in this chapter shed a strong light on the king's frivolous and arbitrary character.


1. Ahaz at Damascus. We are now introduced to Tiglath-pileser holding court in Damascus, and Ahaz is there as one of the vassals and tributaries of the Assyrian king. He does not seem to feel the humiliation of his position, but is probably pleased to figure as part of so brilliant an assemblage. Thus the sinner, renouncing true freedom in God's service, for a time positively hugs the chains which sin binds upon him. He counts them no dishonor, but delights to wear them. Yet in the end they shall eat into his very flesh.

2. The new altar. So lightly does his vassalage sit on Ahaz, that his mind is free to lose itself in admiration of the pattern and workmanship of an altar he chanced to behold in that city. It was, no doubt, an altar to some heathen deity, but that did not matter. He was charmed with its appearance, and nothing would serve him but to have the like of it set up in Jerusalem. What a measure of this man's soul - frittering away his interest upon the shape and decorations of an altar, while his kingdom is sold into servitude; toying with trifles, while doing obeisance to a conqueror! Yet is the conduct of Ahaz any more strange than that of multitudes whose sole concern is for the vanities of time, while the realities of eternity stand unheeded? When men who are at variance with God, and bond slaves of sin, are found eagerly amusing themselves with worldly trifles, what are they doing but repeating the error of this frivolous monarch? There is the same lack of the sense of proportion in things; the same sacrifice of substance to shadow; the same indifference to supreme interests.

3. The pliant priest. Having obtained a pattern of the coveted altar - its fashion and workmanship - Ahaz sent the same to Urijah the priest, to get a similar one made for the temple at Jerusalem. This priest was of a different mould from that Azariah, who, with four score other priests, resisted King Uzziah in his presumptuous attempt to usurp sacerdotal functions (2 Chronicles 26:17, 18). Urijah was a courtier first, and a priest of the Lord afterwards, and he at once set about executing the orders he had received from the king. Facile priests of Urijah's stamp have not been rare in history. The tendency of high dignitaries in many countries to follow court fashion, and put a king's pleasure in room of every higher law, is notorious. Ecclesiastics cannot plead exemption, though in them the sin is greatest. When even ministers of the Lord cease to testify against evil, and willingly yield themselves as tools to the working out of a wicked king's purposes, religion is in bad case. But here most probably the proverb held true, "Like people, like priest" (Hosea 4:9) - the general decay of religion reacted on the sacerdotal orders.

II. REVISED ORDINANCES. Like a child with a new toy, Ahaz, on his return home, pleased himself to the top of his bent with his new altar.

1. He offered his own sacrifices upon it. The event was made the occasion of a great display. Ahaz is thought by some to have mounted the altar, and himself performed the sacrifices; none of the priests, apparently, daring to remonstrate with him. He offered his burnt offering and his meat offering, and poured out his drink offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings upon the altar. An artistic altar, however, does not make acceptable sacrifices. This pompous ritual was but an empty form, ministering, not to God's glory, but to a king's vanity. The motive was wrong; the method was unauthorized; the multitude of sacrifices but added to the magnitude of the hypocrisy. It is such ritual observances the prophet denounces: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams," etc. (Isaiah 1:11). The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord. The only acceptable worship is that which comes from the heart.

2. He changed the position of the altar. The altar which Solomon made for burnt offering - the brazen altar - was not good enough for King Ahaz. It must be shifted aside, and his brand-new altar take its place. This was to arrogate a right of altering the arrangements of the temple which no king had yet assumed. Ahaz was governed by a love of novelty, and perhaps by a desire to introduce the artistic into worship. Art has its legitimate place in the worship of God, but it is not to be the governing consideration. When a service degenerates into a mere artistic performance, intended to gratify the tastes of those who have no relish for spiritual worship, it is hateful in God's sight. The perfection of the art may conceal the utter absence of life. Most of all when central doctrines are removed - such doctrines as the atonement - to give place to rites and ceremonies which appeal to the carnal sense, is God mocked by the pretence of worship.

3. He improvised new sacrificial arrangements. The interference of Ahaz with the temple order did not yet cease. He altered the whole sacrificial usage, transferring the regular and occasional sacrifices to his new altar - now termed by him "the great altar" - and relegating the brazen altar, which still stood in the court, to a secondary condition. This usurpation by the king of the right to dictate the order of the temple services was tamely submitted to by Urijah, who did faithfully all that he was told. One is reminded of Wolsey's words, "Had! but served my God with half the zeal I served my king," etc. Happy for the nation had Urijah been as faithful in serving God as he was in carrying out the behests of Ahaz.

III. MINOR CHANGES. The history tells of other alterations effected by Ahaz in the temple. He cut off the borders of the bases of the layers, and took down the sea from off the bronze oxen on which it had rested, substituting for the latter a pedestal of stone; he changed also the position of some other erections in the sacred courts. These changes are said to have been wrought "before," or for fear of, "the King of Assyria" - perhaps to hide any evidences of wealth. Other novelties introduced by Ahaz, such as "the altars which were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz" (2 Kings 23:12), had for their motive imitation of Assyrian or Damascene idolatries. What a contemptible picture of the king is thus presented! On the one hand, cringing before the King of Assyria, and dismantling the temple to avoid exciting his cupidity; on the other, slavishly imitating the religion of the foreigners - if indeed this also was not an attempt to court Assyrian favor. How total the loss of self-respect and of the spirit of independence! Other instances of the folly and sin of Ahaz are given in Chronicles; e.g., his worship of the gods of Damascus for the reason, "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me" (2 Chronicles 28:23). One does not wonder after this to hear that Ahaz "shut up the doors of the house of the Lord," while he "made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 28:24). At length his sixteen years' reign ended, and the people, by this time sick of his doings, marked their sense of his unworthiness by refusing him a sepulcher in the tombs of the kings (2 Chronicles 28:27). - J.O.

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