Steps in a Downward Path: the Reign of Ahaz
2 Kings 16:1-20
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.…

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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.

WEB: In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign.

A People's King and Priest; Or, Kinghood and Priesthood
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