Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
B.—The Reign of Ahaz in Judah
2 Kings 16:1–20. (2 Chron. 28)
1IN the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign [became king]. 2Twenty 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. 3But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations 1of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel. 4And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree.
5Then 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 6[prevail]. 2 At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered [won] Elath to [for] Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians 3 came to Elath, and dwelt [dwell] there unto this day. 7So 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. 8And 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. 9And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for [and] the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.
10And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion [pattern] of the altar, and the pattern [plan] of it, according to all the workmanship thereof. 4 11And 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. 12And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon [went up upon it]. 13And 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. 14And he brought also the brazen altar, which was before the Lord, from the forefront of the honse, from between the [new] altar and the house of the Lord, and put it on the north side of the altar. 15And 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 [as for] the brazen altar shall be for me to inquire by [I will consider further]. 5 16Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded.
17And 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, 18and put it upon a pavement [structure] of stones. And [he altered] the covert [covered way] 6 for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king’s entry without, turned he from [omit turned he from.—Insert in] the house of the Lord [,] for [fear of] the king of Assyria.
19Now 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? 20And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
2 Kings 16:1. Ahaz became king, &c. On the year of Ahaz’s accession see the chronological discussion after chap. 17
2 Kings 16:2. If Ahaz was 20 years old at his accession and reigned 16 years, so that he was 36 years old when he died, then he must have begotten his son Hezekiah in the tenth year of his age, for Hezekiah, according to 18:2, ascended the throne in his 25th year. This would not be an impossibility, for even yet marriages occur in the East between boys of 10 and girls of 8 years (see the instances quoted by Keil in his Comment. on the verse). It is, however, very improbable, and there is no similar instance in Scripture. It is very likely, therefore, that the reading “twenty-five” instead of twenty, which is presented by some MSS., by the Vatican MS. of the Sept., as well as by the Syriac and Arabic translations on 2 Chron. 28:1, is the original and correct one (Ewald, Thenius, and Keil).
2 Kings 16:3. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. This cannot mean that he transplanted the Israelitish worship of the calves into Judah, for the relation between Judah and Israel had become hostile even in the last years of his father Jotham (2 Kings 15:37). Moreover, there is not a hint of that form of worship in the history of Judah. The words only mean, generally, that Ahaz forsook the covenant of Israel as the Israelitish kings had done. The parallel passage 2 Chron. 28:2 and 3 adds directly the words: “And made also molten images for Baalim. Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom.” This sentence “is evidently taken from the original authority” (Thenius). Probably it was omitted by the author of the Book of Kings because it seemed to him to be implied in the statement already made that he “walked in the way of the kings of Israel,” for these had had images of Baal (1 Kings 16:32; 2 Kings 3:2; 10:26 sq.). He desired to go on at once to the things which this king had done other than what had been done by the kings of Israel. We have not, therefore, to understand, by the images of Baalim, calf-images like those of Jeroboam (Keil), but idol-images. On the valley of Hinnom see notes on 2 Kings 23:10.—Yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, viz., לְמֹלֶךְ. This must be supplied, as we see, from 2 Kings 23:10; Levit. 18:21; Jerem. 19:5. The meaning of the phrase הֶעֱבִיר בָּאֵשׁ is distinctly stated in Numb. 31:23. It has accordingly been supposed by some that, where בֵּן or בָּנִים is the object, and not gold or silver, it refers to a literal passage through fire, and that it was an act of lustration or purification (Theodoret, Grotius, Spencer, and others). It is clear, however, from 2 Chron. 28:3, where וַיַּבְעֵר stands for it, that it is not a simple passage through, but a burning up. The same is clear from 2 Kings 17:31: Deut. 12:31; Jerem. 19:5; Ezek. 16:20 sq.; 23:37. Josephus declares plainly of Ahaz: καὶ ἴδιον ὡλοκαύτωσε παῖδα (Cf. Gesen. Thesaurus, II, p. 985). Another question arises, however, viz., whether we must understand that the children were burned alive, or that they were killed and then burned. The rabbis assert the former (see the passages quoted from Jarchi in Winer’s R.-W.-B. II., s. 101), but their authority is overturned by other and better testimony. In Ezek. 16:20 it is said: “Thou tookest thy sons and thy daughters, which thou hadst borne to me, and slewest them (וַתִּזְבָּחִים) [as a sacrifice] to them [i.e., to the false gods] לֶאֱכוֹל [i.e., to consume them]. Was thy whoredom too slight a thing that thou slowest (וַתִּשְׁחֲטִי) my sons, and gavest them away בְּהַעֲבִיר אוֹתָם”—[i.e., in that thou causedst them to go through, or, to be burned up in, the fire]? Ps. 106:37 sq. speaks only of the slaughter of children in sacrifice to idols, not of burning them: “And they slew their sons and daughters in sacrifice (וַיִּזְבְּחוּ) to false gods, and shed innocent blood—blood of their sons and daughters whom they sacrificed (זִבְּחוּ) to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by the shedding of blood (בַּדָּמִים).” Diodorus Siculus (20:12) describes the brazen statue of Kronos (Moloch) with its outstretched arms, glowing hot from an internal fire, but he does not say that the children were laid living upon them. Eusebius (Præp. Evang. 4:16) states in regard to the human sacrifices which were offered at Salamis that they were first killed by the priest with a spear and then burned upon the pile. Slaying, and cutting in pieces, and shedding blood, are essentials in sacrifice, so that זבח, i.e., to slaughter, means, to sacrifice. We have certainly to understand, therefore, in the case of the child-sacrifices, that they were killed before they were burned (Hävernick, Comm. über Ezech. s. 237 sq.). Such seems to have been the case also in the incident mentioned in 2 Kings 3:27. The only remaining question is this: if the procedure was the same in the case of the child-sacrifices as in the ordinary burnt offerings, why do we find the expression העביר באשׁ used only of the former? The probable explanation is that the expression only referred originally to a passage through the fire without consumption, a sort of fire-baptism, as purifications by fire were practised by various peoples, and that it was not connected with human sacrifice. Not until a later time did this become corrupted into a real sacrifice and burning, but the original expression was retained and became general (see Keil on Levit. 18:21). It may be, too, as Witsius (Miscell. p. 616) suggests, that the practice was not always and everywhere the same, but both living and dead children were burned, and this expression was used in both cases.
[This is the point in the history of the Israelites at which they became acquainted with the Assyrio-Chaldean idolatry. The gods Baal and Ashtaroth became known to them from the Phœnicians by the marriage of Jezebel with Ahab. That that was the point of contact between the Jehovah-worship and the Baal-worship s proved by the fact that this pair (Baal and Ashtaroth) are the ones whom the Israelites worshipped, and that that was the couplet which was worshipped at Sidon (see note on 2 Kings 17:17). Now, however, Pekah and Ahaz came into close intimacy with the Assyrians, and learned from them the astral conception of the same heathen religion. Ashtaroth always had sidereal character, but her worship, so far as it was introduced into Israel, seems to have been confined rather to its voluptuous rites. Ahaz introduced the astral worship into Judah. In order to understand the influence of these heathen religious conceptions on Judah, and the origin of the rite of passing through the fire, it is necessary to take a somewhat comprehensive view of these heathen religious conceptions. Here follows a description of the cultus. On the astral ideas see note on 17:17. The religious conceptions of the nations of Western Asia were all closely related to each other. The deity was conceived of as one, simple, formless, and universal, but in a pantheistic sense. It has often been observed that behind the polytheism of these nations (and of Egypt also) there was an idea of one sole and original deity, and it has been inferred that there was a pure and true monotheistic idea at the root, and that the polytheism was only popular. In fact, however, the corruption of these heathen religions was rooted in the pantheistic conception of this original divine essence. Then his attributes were deified (hence the plural Baalim), and not only his good attributes but also his destructive and profane and base attributes. Hence, by a legitimate deduction, all the cruel and licentious rites of pretended religion. In different countries the chief and original God took different names according to the especial point of view from which he was regarded. The Assyrians called him Asshur, or, in a still more pantheistic conception, Ilu; and among the Canaanites he was called El as the “Mighty One,” the first and simplest conception of God as strength. He was also very widely named Baal (Babylonian Bel [Merodach]), as the “Lord;” also Yaoh (Hebr. Yahvah [Jehovah]), as the “Eternal,” the pure conception of being or existence. The Aramæans named him Hadad or Hadar, “The Only One;” the Ammonites, Moloch, the “King;” the Moabites, Chemosh, the “Governor.” Then he received different names according to his attributes, and was worshipped by each nation under the name of the attribute which they kept most in mind. As the deity which presided over generation he was Thammuz or Adon (Hebr. Adonay; Greek, Adonis); as protector and preserver he was Chon; as destroyer he was Moloch; as “presiding over the decomposition of those destroyed beings whence new life was again to spring,” he was Zebub (Beelzebub). Hence, probably, Baal-zebub was the god of restoration to health from dangerous sickness. See 2 Kings 1:2. In this last sense probably the main idea was that of resurrection or life from death. The flies on carrion seemed to spring to life out of it. The Egyptian beetle probably embodies the same idea. Moloch was therefore the supreme deity in his attribute of destroyer. Fire, lightning, war, pestilence, and so on, represented him. He was worshipped under this form when his appetite for devouring and destroying was being satiated. Hence his rites consisted in sacrifices of things cast into the fire. Those who robbed themselves of something which they cast into the fire appeased the god and averted the assaults which, were to be apprehended from him if his appetite for destruction was not satisfied. The parents who thus sacrificed their children might hope that this frightful sacrifice would save them from further or other losses. When the king of Moab found the fight going against him he offered his son to Chemosh, that the god, appeased by this, might not push on the destruction of war. No doubt he considered that this sacrifice was successful when the horrified Israelites desisted from the war (2 Kings 3). So far as we can judge, the children were cast alive into the flames.—The religion of Israel differed from these heathen religions in that its supreme deity was personal, spiritual, and holy, and that the Israelites refrained from deifying his attributes as emanations or hypostases of himself.—W. G. S.]
Instead of בְּנוֹ in 2 Kings 16:3 and 2 Kings 21:6, the Chronicler (II. 28:3 and 33:6) has the plural בָּנָיו. Thenius regards this as a contradiction, or, at least, as an exaggeration of the passage before us, but the plural stands here, as it often does (Matt. 9:8; 2:20; Gesen. Lehrgeb. s. 664 sq.), rhetorically, in order to say, in general, that Ahaz and Manasseh had incurred the guilt of child-sacrifice. “The pure, abstract idea of child-sacrifice, apart from any idea of number, is expressed by the plural” (Bertheau, Keil). In like manner, Cicero (De Prov. Cons. xiv. 35): jucundissimi liberi, although Cæsar had only a single daughter (cf. also Proverbs Lege Manil. 12). On 2 Kings 16:4 cf. 1 Kings 14:23. The sense is: The centralization of the worship of God, such as the law prescribed, came to an end; the very contrary came to pass. Thenius seizes upon the fact that we have בְּ before בָּמוֹת, instead of עִל, which we find before הַגְּבָעוֹת, as a support for his interpretation of the former word as “grove” or “sacred enclosure” (see Exeg. on 1 Kings 2:2 and 3). It stands here, as it often does, for בֵּית הַבָּמָה, Ahaz offered incense in the sacred places on the tops of the mountains and on the hills, i.e., on heights where there was no בּית but only an altar.
2 Kings 16:5. Then Rezin, king of Syria. See on this and the following verse: Caspari, Ueber den Syrisch-ephraimitischen Krieg unter Jotham und Ahaz. Christiania, 1849. After the author has described the reign of Ahaz in its broad and general features (2 Kings 16:1–4), the detailed account of the particular incidents begins in 2 Kings 16:5. אז only means, therefore, after Ahaz had succeeded to the throne. The attacks began under Jotham (2 Kings 15:31), but there had not yet been any formal and united expedition. [The first attempt was frustrated by the attack of Tiglath Pileser on Damascus and Samaria. See Supp. Note, p. 161.] No real attack was made until Ahaz was on the throne. The object was, according to Isai. 7:6, to conquer Judah and to set upon the throne a person called “the son of Tabeel,” of whom we know nothing further. [Mention of this confederation occurs in the Assyrian inscriptions. We learn there that the name of this “son of Tabeel” was Ashariah.] Whether “they hoped thereby to be able to oppose larger means and stronger force to the aggressions of the Assyrian empire” (Thenius), is a matter for mere supposition. [This supposition is now very strongly confirmed.] They came as far as Jerusalem, which they besieged (וַיָּצֻרוּ means besiege, as it does in 2 Sam. 20:15; Jerem. 21:4; 39:1; Ezek. 4:3, and not merely: “they pressed forward towards it”), but were not able to take it, for the city had been strongly fortified on all sides by Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chron. 26:9; 27:3), and, in the providence of God, it was otherwise decreed (Isai. 7:7).
2 Kings 16:6. At that time Rezin won Elath for Syria, &c. בָּעֵת הַהִיא does not mean “thereupon” or “afterwards,” but designates in general the time of the Syriac-ephraimitic war against Judah. 2 Kings 16:6 is a sort of parenthesis, so that 2 Kings 16:7 is the real continuation of 2 Kings 16:5. The author desires to record the danger which threatened Jerusalem, for this was the chief event in this war, and, besides this, to record the fact that Judah, during this reign, lost the city which was its most important seat of commerce, and one of the chief sources of the prosperity of the country (cf. on Elath, notes on 1 Kings 9:26 and 2 Kings 14:22). 2 Kings 16:7 then joins on to 2 Kings 16:5, for Ahaz sent to Tiglath Pileser, not on account of the loss of Elath, but on account of his endangered capital, with which the whole kingdom must stand or fall. Many expositors, both ancient and recent, have desired to change לַאֲרָם to לֶאֱדוֹם, because Elath never belonged to Syria, and therefore could not be “restored” to it. But this conjecture is not supported by a single manuscript or ancient version, and, as Winer and Keil observe, הֵשִׁיב does not necessarily imply the idea of “back again.” It means, in general, to turn away from something to something else (Isai. 1:25, and Knobel’s note thereon; Ps. 81:14; Amos 1:8; Dan. 11:18). It means, therefore, that Rezin took away Elath from Judah, to which it had previously belonged, and joined it to Syria. The case is similar with the word וַאֲרוֹמִים, for which the keri offers ואדומים, the Sept., ’Ιδουμαῖοι, and the Vulg., Idumœi, but evidently incorrectly. The Edomites did not need to come to Elath and to settle there; they had always lived in this city, which lay in their own country, and had remained there even when it was in the hands of the Jews. What is asserted, however, is, that Rezin expelled the Jews and brought thither Syrians, who settled there for purposes of trade, and remained there “until this day,” i. e., at the time that these books were written the Syrian commercial colony was yet in Elath. Yet one question further suggests itself here, viz., whether Rezin took Elath before or after the attack which he and Pekah made upon Jerusalem. The answer to this question depends upon another one: What is the relation between the record before us and that in the parallel passage in Chronicles? In the latter there is no mention of the expedition against Elath, nor of the siege of Jerusalem. On the other hand, it is recorded that Jehovah gave Ahaz into the hand of the king of Syria, who defeated him, and took away many captives to Damascus; likewise into the hand of the king of Israel, who, in a great battle, won a great victory over him (2 Kings 16:5 and 6). This narrative the rationalistic school formerly regarded as an invention and unworthy of belief (Gesenius, De Wette, Gramberg), but that view has been abandoned even by this school. Thenius, amongst others, regards the narrative as unquestionably historical, and as a supplement to the record before us. Nevertheless there is some disagreement as to whether the campaign described in Chronicles is the same one which is described here. Caspari has examined this question very carefully in the work mentioned above; we, therefore, refer in general to that work and here add only what follows. Those, like Vitringa, Movers, Hävernick, and others, who adopt the hypothesis of two sucessive expeditions, appeal for their proof especially to Isai. 7:1–9. At the commencement of the war against Judah, when it is made known to the house of David that the Syrians are already in Ephraim, the prophet announces to Ahaz the complete failure of the enterprise of the two kings. As, however, according to the account in Chronicles, Ahaz was defeated by each of these kings, it is inferred that that must have taken place in a different expedition from the one here referred to, and that it took place before the latter; furthermore, that the capture of Elath took place during the second expedition and after the siege of Jerusalem, since it is narrated in the history after that event (2 Kings 16:6). It is certain that the two battles mentioned in 2 Chron. 28:5 and 6, must have taken place before the siege of Jerusalem, but it does not follow that they occurred in an earlier expedition. As it was the intention of Rezin and Pekah to put an end to the kingdom of Judah and to put “the son of Tabeel” (probably a Syrian general) upon the throne, it is not by any means to be supposed that they would have abandoned the attempt after gaining two victories over Ahaz, and then would have undertaken a new expedition in order to besiege Jerusalem. On the contrary, it is plain that they would try, after winning two victories, to complete their enterprise by taking Jerusalem. The words in Isai. 7:2, עַל־אֶפְרַיִם נָחָה אֲרָם do not mean, as they are often translated: “The Aramæans are encamped in Ephraim” (Bunsen), nor: “The Syrians stand [are under arms] in Ephraim” (De Wette), so that it would follow, that Rezin first advanced into Ephraim at the outbreak of the war, in order to advance, in conjunction with Pekah, against Jerusalem. The phrase must be explained as it is in the Chaldee paraphrase: “The king of Syria has joined himself (אתחבר, societatem iniit) with (עם) the king Israel.” So the Sept. translate: συνεφώνησεν ’Αρὰμ πρὸς τὸν ’Εφραίμ. “The verb נוה with על is never used of an army encamping, and it does not seem fitting to take אפרים as referring to the country, and ארם as referring to the people” (Hengstenberg). נוח means, to lie down to rest, and it expresses, when it is used as it is here of a person who rests upon or over (על) another, a being with or by, a being in connection with him (cf. Numb. 11:25, 26; Isai. 11:2; Ps. 125:3). [An examination of these passages will show that they do not justify any such rendering of נוח על as, to be in alliance with. They contain “the spirit rests upon” or some similar sense of נוח על, which is a different sense of “rest” and a different sense of “upon” from the one here to be proved. Hengstenberg’s objection, that Aram is used of the people and Ephraim of the territory, has force, but the most fair rendering of the words is: “Aram is encamped in Ephraim” (Bunsen, Ewald). נוח is not indeed the technical word for the encamping of an army, but it is used for special force. They have settled down, are stationed, are resting and recruiting, but when an army does this it encamps.—W. G. S.] What made Ahaz and his people tremble, as the trees of the forest tremble before the wind, was, not the fact that Syria was in camp in Ephraim, but the fact that the kings of Syria and Israel had joined forces against Judah. The prophet promised that this enterprise should not succeed, and his promise was fulfilled. The supposition that Rezin began the war by taking up a position in the land of Ephraim is, therefore, totally unfounded. Moreover, it was not necessary for him, in order to make war upon Jerusalem, to go through Ephraim. He could just as well advance on the other side of the Jordan, and this he no doubt did. As for the capture of Elath, 2 Kings 16:6 of the chapter before us does not force us to the assumption that it took place before the siege of Jerusalem, for, as we have said above, 2 Kings 16:6 is a parenthesis and 2 Kings 16:7 follows 2 Kings 16:5. It is also difficult to believe that Rezin gave up the siege, because Jerusalem could not be taken (2 Kings 16:5). and then, because he “was unwilling that the expedition should have been made entirely in vain” (Thenius), that he made a long march around the southern end of the Dead Sea in order to return home. After Ahaz had called upon Tiglath Pileser for aid, and the latter was actually advancing against Syria, it is impossible that Rezin can have undertaken this long march; he must have hastened home by the most direct route. In view of all this we come to the following conception of the course of the events. Rezin made an alliance with Pekah and advanced on the east side of the Jordan and won a great victory over Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:5). At the same time, on this side the Jordan, Pekah invaded Judah, and also inflicted a severe defeat on Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:6). As a consequence of his victory Rezin marched on southward to Edom, where he put an end to the hated supremacy of Judah over Edom, and captured Elath, an important source of commercial prosperity to Judah (2 Kings 16:6). From thence he moved northwards on this side of the Dead Sea and made a junction with Pekah, who had in the mean time been devastating the country, in order, with him, to make a united attack upon Jerusalem, and so to come to the end of his entire undertaking, namely, to the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah and of the dynasty of David. [It may hardly be worth while to balance conjectures where the basis of testimony on which to build them is so slight. The above construction is open to considerable objection. If a king set out, in alliance with another, against Judah, would it not be strange that he should march through Edom to Elath and then up to Jerusalem before joining his ally? What is more, it is very remarkable that Isaiah, when he prophesies deliverance to Ahaz, makes no reference to two defeats which the king is supposed to have suffered already. We expect a sentence in this form: although thou hast been defeated, yet, &c. The king looks for aid to Assyria. The prophet rebukes this. He evidently expects that the physical form of the deliverance will be something else than Tiglath Pileser’s advance. It is more consistent to suppose that the city was found too strong, that the two kings commenced to devastate the country, that Ahaz was twice defeated when he sallied out to try to restrain them, or before he was shut up in the city, and that Rezin pushed forward as far as Elath. Probably it was not until they had made some progress in plundering the country that they heard that Tiglath Pileser was advancing. The information derived from the Assyrian inscriptions strongly sustains this view. Rezin and Pekah revolted in 734–3. Haste was necessary above all things. It was deemed necessary to conquer Judah and force it into the confederated revolt. Hence the news comes suddenly to Ahaz in this startling form: The Syrians are in Ephraim. Before the end of 731 the war was all over and Tiglath Pileser held his court in Damascus. (See Supp. Note at the end of this section.) The whole campaign in Judah was therefore very brief. There was no time for a siege. The two “battles” were fought in the open country, and the “captives” were taken thence, and the long expedition to Elath was undertaken in order to bring the strongest possible pressure to bear on Ahaz to force him to join the revolt, next to the capture of his capital.—W. G. S.] As the Edomites and Philistines had also invaded Judah (2 Chron. 28:17 sq.), Ahaz, pressed on every side, turned to Assyria for help in spite of the warnings and promises of Isaiah (7:1 sq.). This induced Rezin to desist from his advance and to hurry home. There he was defeated and slain by Tiglath Pileser.—It is scarcely possible to combine the two narratives in any other than this simple and direct way. Keil also places the capture of Elath before the siege of Jerusalem, but leaves it undecided whether Rezin advanced northwards from Elath, against Jerusalem, or whether, after his victory over Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:5), “he sent a portion of his army into Idumea to detach that country from Judah, while he, in conjunction with Pekah, led the rest of the army against Jerusalem.” Against this view arises the objection that 2 Kings 16:6 makes no mention of a detachment sent into Idumea, but says that Rezin himself marched thither and drove the Jews out of Elath.
2 Kings 16:7. Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath Pileser. He did not take this step as soon as hostilities commenced, but, as has already been said, when he saw himself hard pressed. He did not heed the prophet’s warning and counsel Isai. 7:4); on the contrary, by the words: thy servant and thy son, he placed himself in servitude to the king of Assyria as well as under his protection. He sent the presents of gold and silver (2 Kings 16:8) after the allied armies had withdrawn from Jerusalem, and Damascus had been taken (2 Kings 16:9). Tiglath Pileser took the captured inhabitants of Damascus to Kir. By this we have not to understand, as the ancient Expositors did, the Median city Κουρήνα or Καρίνη, but the country around the river Kur (Κῦρος, Κύῤῥος), which flows through the northern part of Iberia, the modern Georgia, into the Caspian sea (Isai. 22:6 [cf. also Amos 1:3–5]). “Tiglath Pileser transferred the inhabitants of Damascus to the most remote portion—in the extreme north—of his dominions, and yet to the place from which their ancestors had originally migrated (Amos 9:7).” (Thenius). After the subjugation of Syria, Tiglath Pileser advanced against Israel, and accomplished what is recorded in 2 Kings 15:29. It may be that Pekah submitted at once to the approaching enemy and thereby averted from himself the fate of Rezin. [See Supp. Note, p. 161.]—The statement 2 Chron. 28:20 sq., according to which Tiglath Pileser marched against Ahaz, and besieged him but did not overcome him, is discussed in detail by Caspari (work above cited, ss. 56–60). He strives to reconcile it to the statements of the passage before us, but does not in all respects succeed. So much is certain; Ahaz, in spite of all his gifts to Tiglath Pileser, did not find in him a true helper and friend; on the contrary, he was harshly treated by him: “It did him no good.” [The meaning of 2 Chron. 28:20 seems to be more correctly given in the English translation: “He came unto him (not against him), and distressed him (not necessarily besieged him), and strengthened him not.”]
2 Kings 16:10. And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath Pileser, i.e., in order to testify to his gratitude towards him for his deliverance, and at the same time to secure the continued favor of the king of Assyria. The latter must, therefore, have remained at Damascus for some time. Perhaps Ahaz himself brought the presents which are mentioned in 2 Kings 16:8. While he was at Damascus he saw an altar which pleased him so much that he sent orders to Urijah the priest to make one like it. This Urijah can hardly be the same one who is mentioned in Isai. 8:2. [We should unhesitatingly infer that these two were the same individual, if it were not for the improbability that a man, who would build and introduce into the temple a new altar built on a heathen model, should be called by a prophet a “faithful” witness. The solution may be that the prophet took the priest as a faithful witness on account of his official position solely. The priest seemed the most fit and proper witness, however much the prophet may have had to find fault with (as to which he tells us nothing one way or the other) in his administration of his office.—W. G. S.] It was undoubtedly an altar consecrated to an Assyrian deity which Ahaz saw, but he desired to have one like it for the service of Jehovah (2 Kings 16:15). דְּמוּת has a general signification: shape, image; תַּבְנִית designated more particularly the model; and מַעֲשֶׂה the sort of workmanship, decoration, &c.—In 2 Kings 16:12, וַיַּעַל עָלָיו is not to be translated: “and he sacrificed upon it” (Luther, De Wette, and others), but: “and he ascended upon it.” See 1 Kings 12:32, 33. It does not follow from this, however, that “Ahaz was not willing to give up the royal prerogative of exercising the high-priestly office upon occasion” (Thenius). The words mean simply that this was his sacrifice, namely, the one which he offered for his fortunate return from Damascus. He led the way by his own example. We have not to understand that he usurped any priestly functions. It is no more intended to assert in 2 Kings 16:13 that he himself sprinkled the sacrificial blood, than it is in 2 Kings 16:14, that he, with his own hand, removed the altar. [The translation: “He went up upon it,” is justly preferred by Bähr, but it does not remove the difficulty about the king’s share in the sacrifice. Why did he go up upon the altar, if not to perform the rites himself? There is no other evidence at all that any one but the person officiating at the sacrifice went up upon the altar. Furthermore, 2 Kings 16:13 is not a case of the ultimate agent being said to do what others do by his command. The fact that the king could sacrifice unrebuked by the priest is not any more astonishing than that the priest should make an altar on a heathen pattern, and put it in the place of the one built by Solomon. Both incidents belong to the picture of this reign.—W. G. S.] The thank-offering was the chief thing (2 Kings 16:13), but it was preceded by a burnt-offering as usual (Symbol, d. Mos. Kult. II. s. 362, 423, 435). 2 Chron. 28:23 does not contradict the passage before us. It does not refer to the new altar and the sacrifice which was offered upon it, but to the sacrifices which Ahaz offered elsewhere (cf. 2 Kings 16:4).
2 Kings 16:14 and 15. And he brought also the brazen altar, &c. וַיַּקְרֵּב cannot mean: “he removed,” “Er that weg” (Luther), nor: he moved away; “Er rückte hinweg,” but: he brought nearer, he moved closer up to. [The sense of “away from” is, of course, in מֵאֵת. The first meaning of וַיַּקְרֵב is certainly: “he brought nearer,” but as it is not clear what it was brought nearer to, the word seems to have lost this force and to mean simply, he moved. Bähr translates: “But the brazen altar (i.e., the altar of burnt-offering), which was before Jehovah (i.e., which was immediately before the house of Jehovah), he moved nearer, away from (the place) before the house (i.e., away from the point) between the (new) altar and the house of Jehovah, and he put it by the side of the new altar towards the north.” It is not clear what it was nearer to.—W. G. S.] The altar of burnt-offering was called the “brazen” altar, in contradistinction from the golden altar of incense in the interior of the temple. It stood in the middle of the court of the priests in front of the temple-building. Urijah had placed the new altar in front of this, but Ahaz ordered the brazen altar to be moved away from its former position to the north side of the new one. This he did evidently because the position which was nearer to the dwelling-place of the divinity seemed to be more holy, and he did not wish that the old altar should be regarded as superior in honor or sacredness to the new one. As they were now upon the same line, they were, in so far, equal; while the new one, being in the middle, was, if anything, superior. In 2 Kings 16:15 the new altar is called הַגָּרוֹל; hardly because “it was somewhat larger than Solomon’s altar” (Keil), for the latter was very large, twenty cubits long and wide and ten cubits high (2 Chron. 4:1). It seems better, with Thenius, “to understand it as in כֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל and to translate: ‘the chief altar.’ ” According to Ahaz’s orders, all the offerings were now to be made upon the new altar; the regular morning and evening sacrifices, and the special ones of particular individuals, whether the king or others. He did not, therefore, forbid the worship of Jehovah—he did not dare to do that—but nevertheless this worship was to be celebrated only upon an altar imitated from one which belonged to the heathen.—The morning burnt-offering and the evening meat-offering. “It might seem from this that there was no meat offering in the morning and no burnt-offering in the evening, which would be contradictory to Ex. 29:38–42 and Num. 28:3–8. But, as no burnt-offering was brought without a meat-offering (Numb. 7:87; 15:2–12), the latter is assumed as a matter of course in the morning offering; and, as the burnt-offering was to burn throughout the whole night (Levit. 6:9), the meat-offering was the only part of the evening sacrifice at which the people could assist” (Thenius). The final words: And as for the brazen altar יִהְיֶה־לִּי לְבַקֵּר, are translated by the Vulg.: erit paratum ad voluntatem meam; similarly Philippson: “But to inquire at the brazen altar is my prerogative.” This rendering is evidently incorrect, for בִּקֵּר means to investigate but not to seek out or inquire, much less to be at one’s disposition (Levit. 27:33). It has here the same meaning as in Prov. 20:25, to consider, so that the phrase is to be translated: “I will consider [farther]” (Fürst). Thenius, very unnecessarily, desires to read לְבַקֵּשׁ for לְבַקֵּר, because הָיָה לְ, as he maintains, always means to serve a certain purpose. The meaning would then be “shall be mine for prayer;” i.e., that the old altar should be retained as a “prayer-altar.” הָיָה לְ is used here, however, as it is in Gen. 15:12; 1 Sam. 4:9; Josh. 2:5. No distinction between prayer-altars and altars of sacrifice was recognized in ancient times. Ahaz did not desire that the altar of Solomon, which had hitherto been held very sacred, should be removed at once, but he desired to wait and see how the people would regard the innovation. He therefore reserved his further commands for a time.
2 Kings 16:17. And king Ahaz cut off, &c. Thenius maintains that this and the following verse are a continuation of the first half of verse 10, and that a more precise statement is here added to the re-report of Ahaz’ journey to Damascus which is there spoken of, viz., that it was impossible for him, after he had obtained the needed assistance, to appear before Tiglath Pileser with empty hands; that the treasury was empty (2 Kings 16:8); that he was, therefore, compelled to take for this gift anything which could be made available; and that this is what is meant by the closing words of 2 Kings 16:18: “for the king of Assyria.” But 2 Kings 16:17 and 18 clearly carry on the narrative of what occurred after the return of the king from Damascus (2 Kings 16:12). They are therefore a direct continuation of 2 Kings 16:10–16. Besides the removal of the brazen altar, Ahaz undertook still further changes in the sanctuary, namely those which are mentioned in 2 Kings 16:17–18. As the brazen oxen are among the things which he removed, and as they were not carried away from Jerusalem until the Babylonians carried them off (Jerem. 52:20), it is not to be understood that they were carried as a gift to Damascus by Ahaz. As it was with the oxen, so it must have been also with the other decorations mentioned in 2 Kings 16:17. Finally the words: “for (מִפְּנֵי) the king of Assyria,” cannot be understood in the sense of: “In the service of the king of Assyria” (Luther), or, “In order to obtain (by abstracting the decorations mentioned) the necessary gifts for the king” (Thenius); for מִפְּנֵי means for in the sense of from fear of anybody (cf. Judges 9:21; Gen. 7:7; Isai. 20:6; 2 Kings 22:19; Hos. 11:2, &c), but never for the sake of any one, or out of love to him. Ahaz removed all these valuable objects “before the king of Assyria” not in order to make him a present of them, but either because he thought that they would give him offence or because he feared that he might want them and demand them of him. [This last is the true explanation. He wanted to escape the cupidity of the Assyrians by hiding evidences of wealth.—W. G. S.]—On the מִזְגְּרוֹת of the bases and on כִּיֹּר and the brazen sea, see notes on 1 Kings 7:27 sq. Ahaz did not set the last “upon the stone pavement” (Luther), but upon a foundation built of stone.—The מֵיסָךְ was “unquestionably a covered place, a platform or hall, in the forecourt of the temple, set apart for the king when he visited the temple with his retinue on the Sabbaths or feast-days” (Keil). This addition was built later than the rest of the temple. Its form cannot be definitely discovered, for it is only mentioned here. The Sept. have for it: τὸν θεμέλιον τῆς καυέδρας τῶν δαββάτων, which does not throw any light upon it, as they evidently read מוּסָר, foundation, for מוּסָךְ. The king’s entry without is perhaps the “ascent” mentioned in 1 Kings 10:5. According to Thenius it was “the entrance at the eastern gate of the inner court, which lay towards the outer fore-court through which the king alone entered (Ezek. 46:1, 2), and it is mentioned in contrast to the platform of the king in the inner forecourt, which has just been mentioned.” Keil translates הֵסֵב, which applies to both the localities, “he transferred into the house of Jehovah,” but the platform (מוּסָךְ), which was in the inner court, cannot possibly have been transferred into the temple itself, still less the outer entrance. Moreover, why should this transfer have taken place “before” or “for fear of” the king of Assyria? הֵסֵב means strictly: to make something turn about, to change a thing so that it is not what it was. Hence it often means to change one’s name (2 Kings 23:34; 24:17), and it can only be understood here in the same sense. Thenius: “He ‘changed’ in the same way as he had changed or altered the bases, &c.” This no doubt took place in this way, that he took off from them what was valuable. בֵּית יְהוָֹה is the ordinary accusative of place, “in the sanctuary.”—We see from 2 Kings 23:12 that Ahaz was not contented with the arrangements for worship here made, but also erected altars on the roof of his “upper chamber.”—In regard to the sepulture of king Ahaz (2 Kings 16:20), 2 Chron. 28:27, says: “They buried him in the city, in Jerusalem, but they brought him not into the sepulchres of the kings of Israel.” It is not evident why this is an “error,” as Thenius asserts. It does not contradict the record before us, and the same thing occurred in regard to Uzziah, although not for the same reason (cf. 2 Kings 15:7 and 2 Chron. 26:3).
[SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE on the references to contemporaneous history in chap. 16, incorporating the results of Assyrian investigations.—As we saw above (p. 161), chap. 15 gives an account of the intervention of Assyria in the history of Israel. Chap. 16 gives the history of the intervention of Assyria in Judah. The first revolt of Pekah and Rezin against Assyria, and their conspiracy to attack Judah and force it to join in the attempt, in the last year of Jotham (742), was crushed before it gained any strength. In 734 they once more united in revolt, and renewed their policy of attacking Judah. Ahaz, hard pressed by them (see Exeg. on 2 Kings 16:7), called to Tiglath Pileser for aid, and paid him tribute. The aid was promptly given, as Tiglath Pileser regarded Rezin and Pekah as rebels. Ahaz was thus relieved from this danger (732). Tiglath Pileser, after dealing with the rebels as described on p. 162, marched into Philistia and took Gaza and Ashdod, and also Dumah in Arabia, and came back to Damascus. It was probably on this march that he “came to” Ahaz, and distressed him; and it was probably at this time that Ahaz removed the furniture of the temple and took away its decorations, lest they might present an appearance of wealth to Tiglath Pileser, and excite his cupidity (see Exeg. on 2 Kings 16:18). In 731, before leaving Damascus to return to Assyria, Tiglath Pileser “held a court” of his vassals at that city. Twenty-three such vassals came. Among them are mentioned Pekah of Israel and Ahaz of Judah (Lenormant I. 389 and 390). Continued in the Supp. Note after the Exeg. section on chap. 17—W. G. S.]
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. The reign of king Ahaz was the most disastrous through which Judah had yet passed. The kingdom sank so low, both internally and externally, religiously and politically, that it was on the verge of ruin. Such an incapable ruler had never before ascended the throne. The predominant feature in his character was weakness, weakness of spirit and weakness of intellect. History records nothing about him which is worthy of respect. Although Judah and Israel had had many perverse, wicked, and godless rulers, yet these had been at least brave and energetic soldiers; but of Ahaz even this much cannot be said. When the enemy approached “his heart was moved as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind” (Isai. 7:2). No word of prophetic promise or encouragement could deliver him from his despair. He was defeated; he did not win a single victory׃ all the conquests of his two predecessors were lost; the land was devastated and robbed of all its sources of revenue. Finally he turns in his distress, in spite of every warning, to the threatening Assyrian power and purchases its help, not only by the treasures of the temple and the palace, but also with the independence and honor of his kingdom. As is usually the case with weak rulers, he cringes before the mighty, but is arrogant and domineering towards his subjects (cf. 2 Kings 16:7–16). As for the main point, the attitude towards Jehovah, his apostasy was deeper than that of any other king of Judah or even of Israel. He not only tolerated idolatry, but practised it zealously himself, and even went so far in his error as the abomination of sacrificing his own son. The historical books, which only state the facts, do not tell how it came about that a king of Judah, a descendant and successor of David, fell so low, but the prophetical books give us an insight into the religious and moral status of the kingdom. The kingdom of Judah had attained to power and glory under Uzziah and Jotham, as Israel did under Jeroboam II. Flourishing trade and lively intercourse with foreign countries produced wealth, and with it also foreign manners and customs. Finally foreign divinities were introduced. The result was great luxury, effeminacy, debauchery, and excess which soon, especially in the upper classes, led to immorality and vice of every kind. The foreign forms of worship, which were, for the most part, brilliant and’ attractive, and connected with vice, pleased this degenerate generation better than the simple, severe, and earnest Jehovah worship, which indeed continued, but had degenerated into a mere external ceremonial. Uzziah and Jotham had indeed, as we have said above, done their utmost for the external prosperity of the kingdom. They also remained true to the worship of Jehovah, but they were not filled with warm zeal for it, and they did not oppose effective resistance to the invading corruption. Isaiah, who commenced his prophetical labor in the year in which Uzziah died (Isai. 6:1), says, in the passage in which, according to the generally received opinion, he is speaking of the time of Jotham: “Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people, the house of Jacob, because they be replenished from the East [filled with Eastern rites and acts] and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they please themselves in the children of strangers. Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots; their land is also full of idols, they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made” (Isai. 2:6–8). In another passage, which, though it does not belong to the time of Jotham, yet fails in the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, the prophet describes the degeneracy of morals, the debauchery, licentiousness, pride, deceit, alienation from God, injustice, oppression, &c., of the time (Isai. 5:8–25). In such circumstances the youthful Ahaz had grown up. Such was the atmosphere which he had breathed from his childhood up. He was emphatically a child of his time, a faithful representative of the majority of the nation, corrupted by foreign modes of thought and morals. By nature he was weak and vacillating. He allowed himself to be swept away by the stream, and sank deeper into a depraved character and career, so that even the heavy judgments which befell him did not avail to bring him into other courses.
2. The idolatry which was practised in Judah, in the time of Ahaz, by the side of the worship of Jehovah, was not of the form peculiar to any particular people, but was like that which Solomon allowed his wives to practise (see Exeg. on 1 Kings 11:5 and Hist. §§ 3 and 4 on 1 Kings 11:1–13), a mixture of the different kinds of worship which predominated in western Asia. Since, as we saw from Isai. 2:6–8, such a cultus had been established in Judah even in the time of Jotham, and Ahaz found it in existence when he ascended the throne, it follows that it cannot have been Assyrian in origin, for, in Jotham’s time, Judah had not come in contact with Assyria at all. In the book of Chronicles, as well as in the book of Kings, the sacrifice of children is presented as the extreme of apostasy. In its nature this form of sacrifice is the most utter contrast to the worship of Jehovah (see Pt. II., p. 36). As it is not mentioned as having been committed at all before the time of Ahaz, but, on the contrary, he was the first who went so far astray, it has been supposed that he was led to it by becoming acquainted with the Assyrian fire-gods, Adrammelech and Anammelech (2 Kings 17:31) (cf. Movers, Phöniz. I. s. 65; Winer, R.-W.-B. II. s. 101). The record, however, distinctly contradicts this notion by the words: “According to the abominations of the heathen whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel.” The Assyrians did not belong to this category and the words apply here, as they do wherever they occur (2 Kings 17:8, 11; cf. Numb. 33:51–55; Deut. 4:38), to the Canaanitish nations, that is, the nations of western, not of upper, Asia. It is an unquestioned fact that among the former, especially among the Phœnicians, child-sacrifices were common, and that Moloch, to whom they were offered, was worshipped in western Asia (cf. Levit. 18:21, 27 sq.; 20:1–5). Moreover, it cannot be proved that Ahaz did not perform such sacrifices until after he became acquainted with the Assyrian cultus. It is mentioned in the most general terms as a sign of his apostasy. His sacrificing and offering incense “under every green tree” does not point to Assyrian star-worship, but to the Astarte and Aschere-worship of western Asia. Duncker’s notion that Ahaz first offered child-sacrifice when Rezin and Pekah were before Jerusalem, and he was most hardly pressed on all sides (“In vain the king offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus in order to turn the fortunes of war; in vain he sacrificed his own son as a burnt-offering”), is nothing but a pure construction on the basis of 2 Kings 3:27. The biblical text does not offer the slightest hint of it. It is in fact very questionable whether child-sacrifices were common among the nations of Upper Asia, and especially among the Assyrians. It cannot, at any rate, be proved from 2 Kings 17:31. It cannot, indeed, be denied that Ahaz, after he had met Tiglath Pileser in Damascus, became acquainted with the Assyrian cultus and transplanted at least some parts of it to Jerusalem. This is proved, not so much by the fact that he caused an altar to be built after the pattern of the one which he had seen in Damascus, as rather from 2 Kings 23:12, where “altars upon the upper-chamber of Ahaz” are mentioned, evidently referring to Assyrio-Chaldean star-worship (see note below on the place mentioned). The chariots and horses of the sun which are there mentioned most probably belonged to the time of Manasseh. For the rest, Ahaz tolerated the Jehovah-worship after his return from Damascus; for the sacrifices which he commanded the high-priest Urijah to make (2 Kings 16:15) upon the new altar were not offerings to idols but to Jehovah. The weak man had not the courage formally to abolish the Jehovah-worship, for a party which could not be despised still clung to it. He worshipped all possible gods according to his own tastes and notions. In his time there was in Judah complete religious anarchy and license. [See the bracketed note on 2 Kings 16:3 under Exegetical. That note presents the facts in regard to the point discussed in this section according to the latest and best knowledge. It will be seen that it modifies and corrects some of the above statements.]
3. The war which the confederated kings of Israel and Syria undertook against Judah is “one of the most notable and most important events in the Israelitish history” (Caspari). It was the first time that one of the two sister-kingdoms formed an alliance, with the hereditary enemy against the other, in order to destroy it. This was a most unnatural alliance and was a sign of the process of dissolution which was commencing; for it showed that the consciousness of forming with Judah a common nationality based upon common blood and faith had been lost by Israel. The importance and the external prosperity, which had been won by Judah under Uzziah and Jotham (see above, § 1), had perhaps reawakened Ephraim’s ancient, deep-rooted hate and envy of Judah (see 1 Kings 12; Hist. § 1), and incited the faithless and ambitious Pekah to the alliance with Rezin. In addition to this was the fact that Israel had, under Menahem, fallen into a certain position of dependence upon, and subjection to, the growing and threatening Assyrian power, and that Syria had also, in this power, a dangerous neighbor. In order to recuperate Israel at the expense of Judah, and to find a protection on the side of Assyria in the intervening nation of Syria, Pekah formed an alliance with Rezin, who was also eager for conquest, and these two “fire-brands” (Isai. 7:4) formed the plan of putting an end to the nation of Judah and the house of David. They made their first efforts in this direction in the last years of Jotham, but without success (2 Kings 15:37). “When, however, the weak and incapable Ahaz came to the throne, the right time for carrying out their plan seemed to them to have come. But the Lord said: “Take counsel together and it shall come to naught; speak the word and it shall not stand” (Isai. 8:10). At the moment when they were close to their object they were obliged to give up their plan, and they ran to their own destruction. Rezin lost his kingdom and his life; Pekah was made subject to Tiglath Pileser, and a part of his people were led away into exile (2 Kings 15:29). Ahaz also lost his kingdom and his people, and had to bow beneath the supremacy of Assyria. The whole war was a heavy judgment upon the three kingdoms. The kingdom of Syria-Damascus, which had, up to this time, been the instrument of the divine judgments against Israel, disappeared forever from the scene. Israel went on with hasty steps to its destruction, for Pekah was murdered by Hoshea in consequence of his subjection to the Assyrians, and Hoshea, as he refused to pay the tribute to Assyria, was taken captive by Shalmaneser. Thus the kingdom of Israel came to an end (2 Kings 17:3 sq.). [See Supp. Note, p. 161.] “As the hostility to Judah had given it its origin, so the same hostility brought about its destruction: born from this, it also perished by it” (Caspari). Judah itself, finally, as a punishment for its apostasy from Jehovah, came into that contact with Assyria, from this time on, which had such a deep influence upon its history. From this time the conflicts with the small nationalities ceased and those with the great world-monarchies began. In so far this war was, for Judah also, the beginning of the end. It was a turning-point for both nations which had not heeded the chastisements nor the proofs of the goodness and long-suffering of God, but had hardened themselves more and more in their apostasy. “It was in the highest degree providential that the great world-monarchies began to interfere in Israel just at the time when this hardening took place”(Caspari). But this “war between Judah and the allied kingdoms of Ephraim and Syria is still further especially remarkable for this fact, that the grandest prophecies were spoken in it, and that it forms the historical basis of a product of the Old-Testament prophecy which is of the very highest, or, in fact, of unique significance. This fact stands in connection with the position of this war at the turning-point of the Old-Testament history; in the middle of the Israelitish history, at the end of the first and beginning of the second period, in which latter the fortunes of the people of God under the world-monarchy, its period of suffering, falls. It stood, therefore, at the point where a prospect offered itself to the eye of the prophet which reached out over the whole future development of the kingdom of God” (Caspari).
4. After his visit to Damascus, Ahaz caused certain changes to be made in the arrangements of the temple at Jerusalem which were of greater or less significance. The record mentions some of these very briefly, but speaks more at length of those which affected the altar of burnt-offering. because these were by far the most important, Since the entire cultus was concentrated in the sacrifice, and all sacrifices, those of the individual as well as those of the entire people, were to be offered on this one altar (Levit. 17:8, 9; Deut. 12:13, 14), it formed the centre of the sanctuary, which, without it, would have lost its significance. Its form and shape, its position in the sacred edifice, its entire construction, were, therefore, by no means indifferent matters, but they were strictly prescribed in accordance with its character and purpose, so that any alteration of it seemed to be a sort of denial or contradiction of the religious idea which it was constructed to serve. Merely to take away the four horns from its four corners was to desecrate and destroy it (Amos 3:14; Judith 9:8. Symbol. d. Mosaisch. Cult. I. s. 473). Now when Ahaz caused this altar to be removed and another made on a pattern obtained from Damascus, this was nothing less than an indirect setting aside of the lawful Jehovah-worship, and it bore witness not only to an entire want of comprehension of that worship, but also to an unheard-of self-will. He ordained, indeed, that the priest should offer all the sacrifices which had hitherto been offered—that is to say, all the sacrifices to Jehovah—upon the new altar. He did not diminish the amount of worship to be paid to Jehovah; the crime and folly were that an- idol-altar was used for the worship of Jehovah. It appears that Ahaz intended to gradually transform the Jehovah-worship in this way. Certainly the ground for it was not merely that the form of the altar which he saw “in a city where, according to all the indications which we possess, the fine arts were highly developed, pleased him better than that of the large brazen altar in the forecourt of the temple at Jerusalem” (Ewald), so that “he had rather an æsthetic than a religious reason for the change” (Thenius). For, aside from the fact that there is not an indication of any especial fondness for art in Ahaz, as, for instance, there was in Solomon, and that he was a weak and incapable man, we must notice that he removed even the works of art which were in the temple; he took away the brazen oxen and he destroyed the artistic “bases” upon which the laver rested. He desired that the new altar should be made exactly like the one he had seen at Damascus, and to this end he sent a model of it to Jerusalem. This shows that his object was not so much to have a beautiful work of art as it was to have an altar made on a pattern borrowed from Damascus; his interest in it was not artistic but political. “When he perceived the zeal of the Assyrian rulers for the propagation of their national cultus, he commanded his priests to change the arrangements of the temple so as to conform to this desire” (Duncker). His ordinance in this respect was simply a contemptible captatio benevolentiœ for the Assyrian king. The removal of the twelve oxen of the brazen sea, which he then placed upon a mere foundation of stone, was, if we consider the significance of this piece of the temple furniture as it is stated above (1 Kings 7, Hist. § 6), a degradation of the Israelitish priesthood and a contradiction of the destiny of Israel as the chosen priest-people, as well as an assault upon the character of the Israelitish religion. The same is true in regard to the removal of the Misgeroth from the bases, for upon them were the characteristic emblems of the inner sanctuary, cherubim and palms (see above, 1 Kings 7, Hist. § 7). Movers’ opinion (Relig. der Phön.), that Ahaz removed the oxen, &c., because the symbolism of animals was especially abominable to the Assyrians, who were addicted to star-worship, seems to us to be entirely erroneous. The changes, finally, which Ahaz made in the gallery and standing-place of the king are not more definitely specified. Possibly there were emblems upon them also which were peculiar to the Jehovah-worship. “We hear nothing of any changes in the interior of the sanctuary. Those which were made affected only the objects which stood in the fore-court, so that they were prominently before the eye and might offend the Assyrians. The additional statement in Chronicles (2 Chron. 28:24), that Ahaz closed the doors of the temple, is often brought in question, and asserted to be an exaggeration (Thenius, Bertheau, and others). As it does not stand alone, however, but is supported by the assertion in 2 Kings 29:3, that Hezekiah opened the doors again, which again is assumed in 2 Kings 16:7 and 17, we have as little reason to reject this as any of the other additions to these books which are supplied by the Chronicles. The “upper chambers” with their altars, which, according to 2 Kings 23:12, Ahaz caused to be made, are not mentioned in this place, although they were in existence. We must not forget that Ahaz did not do all at once, but went on from step to step in his apostasy. As it is certain that he did not begin with the sacrifice of his son in the valley of Hinnom, so it is certain also that he did not commence by closing the doors of the temple; on the contrary, these were the extremes to which he allowed himself to be driven under the influence of the heathen party. Fortunately, his reign was not a long one.
5. The conduct of the high-priest, Urijah, under the commands of the king, stands in glaring contrast with that of the high-priest Azariah and the eighty other priests when Uzziah attempted to usurp priestly functions (2 Chron. 26:17 sq.). Instead of resisting the commands of the weak and capricious Ahaz, he keeps silence, bows in acquiescence under his will, “and does all that king Ahaz commanded him” (2 Kings 16:16). Neither did the other priests stir; they allowed everything to go on without opposition. “We cannot believe that this was the same Urijah whom Isaiah designates as a faithful witness of Jehovah (Isai. 8:2, 16). [Cf. Exeget. note on 2 Kings 16:10] We should have to suppose that he fell so low after a long interval. Nothing similar had ever been done before by any priest in Judah. It seems that he, like his companions in office, was only anxious for his revenues. At any rate, his conduct is a sign of the character and standing of the priests of that time. They were dumb dogs who could not bark; they all followed their own ways, every one his own gain (Isai. 56:10 sq.). Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah stand over against them, grand and noble, speaking without fear, rebuking the sins both of high and low, and announcing the threatening judgments of God.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
2 Kings 16:1–9. King Ahaz. a) The way in which he walked, 2 Kings 16:1–4. (An apostate from the God of Israel even to the point of offering sacrifices to Moloch.) b) The distress into which he came, 2 Kings 16:5 and 6 (2 Chron. 28:5. The land was devastated; Elath, the fountain of the national prosperity, was cut off; the throne was in danger. He trembled like the trees of the forest in the wind. Isai. 7:2) c) The help which he sought, 2 Kings 16:7–9. (Instead of seeking help from the living God, to whom the prophet pointed him, he seeks it from the king of Assyria. Ps. 124:8; Jerem. 17:5, 7. Instead of seeking it with prayer and supplication, he seeks it with silver and gold. Ps. 1:1–5.)
2 Kings 16:1–3. WÜRT. SUMM.: Not all pious parents are blessed with pious children. It is, indeed, a great trial for parents when children do not turn out well, but when the parents have not failed in their discipline, then they can leave the rest to God, and have a good conscience that they have done their best.
2 Kings 16:3 and 4 STARKE: Men are so blind that they think they serve God most truly by those very actions by which they sin most grossly against him.—The Moloch-sacrifice, or child-sacrifice, is a proof of the extravagance of error into which men can fall when they have not the knowledge of the living God and His revealed word, or when they have rejected the same (Rom. 1:21, 22). This abomination, which still continues among heathen nations, is the strongest and most direct call to all, who know the living God and who possess his word, to take part in the work of missions, and to help to bring it about that light may come to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and that they may come to a knowledge of salvation (Luke 1:79; 2:32).—God commands us to give our dearest and best to Him, but not to Moloch. There are no longer any sacrifices to Moloch in Christendom, but it happens often enough, even now, that parents sacrifice their children to the idols of the world, which consume them so that they are lost eternally.—PFAFF. BIB.: He who trains up his children to evil, sacrifices them to the Moloch of hell, that is, to the devil.—STARKE: As a corrupt atmosphere can taint a healthy body far more easily than a pure atmosphere can purify a tainted one, so also bad companions can lead good people astray more easily than good men can convert bad ones. Evil is more easily propagated than good.—For two hundred years the people in Judah had kept themselves free from idolatry and heathen abominations, and yet Ahaz succeeded in a short time in filling the land with these (Isai. 1:5, 6). The higher a people stands, the lower it may fall. Judah sank even lower than Israel. There have been, and there are even yet, Christian nations which have sunk lower than the heathen. The fall of one who has been most highly blessed is often the heaviest and deepest. Therefore, Be sober! &c, 1 Peter 5:8.
2 Kings 16:4. Happy is he who, under every green tree and on every height, has learned, not to serve the world and its gods, but to praise the one holy, living, and gracious God.—Wherever God has a Church, the devil builds a temple by the side of it.
2 Kings 16:5 and 6. The War of Rezin and Pekah against Judah (see Histor. and Ethical, § 3). The object, the result, and the significance of it (Isai. 8:10; 7:6, 7).—The unnatural alliance of the two enemies against Judah. Compare the alliance of Herod and Pilate. Ps. 33:10 applies.—The allies could not succeed in their enterprise, not on account of a vigorous resistance, but because it was otherwise ordained in the counsels of God. He who says to the turbulent sea: “Hitherto shalt thou come and no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11)—He fixes limits and restraints for all human powers, however great and mighty, however victorious and proud they may be.
2 Kings 16:7. CRAMER: He who will not be God’s servant must be the servant of men, and must lose all his independence, his honor, and his dignity.—“I am thy servant and thy son, come and help me!”—Address this promise and this prayer in all your need and distress, not, as Ahaz did, to an earthly, human king, however great and mighty he may be, but to the King of all kings, in whom alone is our help (Hos. 13:9), for “It is better,” &c. (Ps. 118:9; 146:3, 5).—The friendship and help which is bought with silver and gold has no duration and no value. So it is said of Ahaz here: “He helped him not” (2 Chron. 28:21). The great and mighty, when they listen to the prayer of the humble and the weak for aid, generally have no other object in view than their own advantage, and the increase of their own power.
2 Kings 16:10–18. The Sacrilege upon the House of God. a) The king’s self-willed assault upon the established institutions; b) the high-priest’s concession. BERLEB. BIB.: See in this a clear picture of the lack of Christian spirit in the two highest ranks. The State desires to see everything arranged according to its whims: the Church yields for the sake of the temporal advantage.—It is the fashion of depraved rulers that they think they can command in religious as well as in secular matters, and can control everything according to their own good pleasure.—Those who tremble themselves and cringe before the great are almost always imperious and haughty to those who are below them.—Ahaz’ sinful and insane arrangement of sacrificing and offering incense to the Lord upon an idol-altar, is one which may still be observed where the heart is addicted to sin and to love of the world, and is alienated from the living and true God, while yet homage is paid to him.—“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16 sq.; 6:19 sq.) Whosoever destroyeth the temple of God, him will God destroy. In this temple also there may be only one altar; he who sets up another by the side of it destroys it.
2 Kings 16:16. NEUE WÜRT. SUMM.: There would not be so much harm done by wicked rulers if they did not find so many people who allow themselves to be used as instruments of their evil designs, and who approve of their undertakings in order to win their favor. OSIANDER: Ecclesiastics have always been found who esteemed the favor of great men more than the honor of Almighty God. Would that such men were no longer to be found in the Christendom of to-day!—WÜRT. SUMM.: We have in this high-priest a specimen of those hypocrites and belly-servants who say: “Whose bread I eat, his song I sing;” who veer about with the wind and seek to be pleasant to all men; “dumb dogs who cannot bark;” who wish to hurt no one’s feelings, but teach and say just what any one wants to hear. But God’s word alone, and not the favor of men, nor the goods and honors of the world, ought to be the rule and norm, from which we ought not to turn aside out of favor to any man, although it may involve risk of life or limb to speak the truth. For if any talk and teach according to the desires of their hearers, for the sake of their own comfort, their honor will come to shame and their end is condemnation (Phil. 3:19; Acts 4:19).
2 Kings 16:18. “For fear of the king of Assyria.” It is shameful to introduce changes in religious matters for political reasons.
2 Kings 16:3.—[Abominable rites or usages.
2 Kings 16:5.—[Cf. Isai. 7:1, where we find עָלֶיהָ after לְהִלָּחֵם, Was not able to make war against it,” i. e. successfully.
2 Kings 16:6.—[The chetib is to be retained. Cf. Exeg. Ewald, Thenius, Böttcher (Lehrb. § 976), and others, who follow the keri, also change לַאֲרָם above, to לֶאֱדוֹם. The entire conception of the incident is then changed. Resin does not conquer Elath for himself, but restores it to Edom, in order to strengthen the hereditary enemy of Judah and gain his alliance. Keil very justly objects that אדום is written defectively אדם only once in the O. T. (Ezek. 15:14). His explanation of the form אֲרוֹמִים is also simpler than the above change. He considers it a Syriac (Aramaic) form (u for a), and points to other similar forms in the same chapter, הַקּוֹמִים for הַקָּמִים (2 Kings 16:7); אֵילוֹת for אֵילַת (2 Kings 16:6); דוּמֶּשֶׂק for דַמֶּשֶׂק (2 Kings 16:10). Böttcher gives the euphonic and other grounds for these exceptional forms in §§ 1132, 9, 1; 351, a.
2 Kings 16:10.—[I. e. with full details how it was made.
2 Kings 16:15.—[“I will consider further what shall be done with that.” Thenius defends the rendering given in the E. V. He denies that יִהְיֶה־לִּי can have the sense which we give it, but he finds it necessary to change לבקר into לְבַקֵּשׁ.
2 Kings 16:18.—[The keri is supported by the Vulg.: Musach. However, we find other instances of י—instead of וּ in the first syllable of a word before ש or ם. See וַיִּישֶׂם for וַיּוּשֶׂם Gen. 24:33; יִיסָךְ for יוּסָךְ, Ex. 30:32. See also Ezek. 12:8. (Böttcher, § 460, b).—The massorah requires that החיצונה shall be accented milel, because it will not recognize a feminine in this adjective which agrees with מָבוֹא. Cf. הגלילה, 2 Kings 15:29, Gramm. note.—W. G. S.]
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.