1 - 4 Ahaz King of Judah
1 Ahaz [was] twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do right in the sight of the LORD as David his father [had done]. 2 But he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel; he also made molten images for the Baals. 3 Moreover, he burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills and under every green tree.
Ahaz succeeds his God-fearing father Jotham as king (verse 1). He is then twenty years old. He reigns as long as his father, sixteen years old (2Chr 27:1), but the contrast with his father is enormous. Just as nothing wrong is said of Jotham, nothing good is said of Ahaz. However, his life is not compared to that of his father Jotham, but to that of “David his father”. It is not written of Ahaz that he does what is evil in the sight of the LORD, but that he does not do what is right in the sight of the LORD. David did. David is the man after God’s heart, while God finds nothing in the life of Ahaz that is a joy to His heart. Ahaz completely lacks the good.
Jotham has ordered his ways before the LORD, but Ahaz walks “in the ways of the kings of Israel” (verse 2). He rejects his father’s good example. The wicked kings of Israel, of whom not one does good in the sight of the LORD, are the examples that appeal to him. But that is not all. “Moreover”, so on top of that, he makes idols for the Baals. Ahaz cancels the covenant with the LORD. His sins accumulate. He burns incense to the idols. He does so “in the valley of Ben-hinnom”. From the name of the valley and the practices that take place there, the name Gehenna, hell, is derived (2Chr 33:6; Mk 9:43).
He also serves the Baals in a gruesome way by sacrificing his sons to them (verse 3). With this Ahaz completely follows in the footsteps of the heathen peoples who commit these atrocities. The LORD has driven out the nations of the Gentiles before the eyes of the Israelites, and with them has shown His people His abhorrence of those nations, and their practices. That Ahaz unites himself with what God abhors by accepting their atrocities again is a great and gross insult to the LORD. His idolatry is so general that he makes any place he considers suitable for it a place where can be sacrificed to the idols (verse 4).
We may be surprised and wonder how it is possible that such a God-fearing father has such a godless son. There is no easy answer to that. We see it more often. David has had rebellious sons like Absalom and Adonijah. Even today there are God-fearing believers who have children who live in revolt against God.
Sometimes there are demonstrable errors in upbringing, partly due to a lack of self-restraint, as with David. We must learn from that. But sometimes it cannot be explained. We must learn to accept that and not think that we can explain the causes. If we know those cases, the best response is that it brings us to prayer for them and their parents.
It is certain that each child has its own responsibility in the choices it makes. If the child makes wrong choices, the parents should not be held liable. God does not do that either. Everyone is punished for his own sins, the parents not for those of the children and the children not for those of the parents (Deu 24:16).
5 - 7 The Discipline of the LORD
5 Wherefore, the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Aram; and they defeated him and carried away from him a great number of captives and brought [them] to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who inflicted him with heavy casualties. 6 For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah 120,000 in one day, all valiant men, because they had forsaken the LORD God of their fathers. 7 And Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim, slew Maaseiah the king’s son and Azrikam the ruler of the house and Elkanah the second to the king.
The unfaithfulness of Ahaz brings the discipline of God upon him (verse 5). God is here called “his God”. That is not because Ahaz has any connection with God, but because God does not give up His rights to His land and His representative in that land. Ahaz can deny these rights, but God does not give them up therefore. That is precisely why He brings discipline upon him and his people (Amos 3:2). He exercises this discipline by giving him into the power of the king of Aram or Syria and the king of Israel.
Syria and Ephraim have joined forces to make themselves strong against Assyria. God uses this reprehensible alliance of the ten tribes with Syria as a disciplinary rod for the two tribes. A large group of prisoners is taken by the king of Syria to Damascus. The king of Israel inflicts a heavy blow on Ahaz. Ahaz has chosen to walk in the ways of the kings of Israel (verse 2) and now experiences what that brings. Whoever connects with wickedness, experiences wickedness.
Pekah, king of Israel, has the opportunity to kill 120,000 men in Judah in one day (verse 6). That so many men, who were also “valiant men”, and that in one day, are killed, shows the speed and fierceness of this judgment of the LORD. Pekah is able to do this because Judah – that is king and people, “they” – has forsaken the LORD. This does not mean that Pekah and the ten tribes are in connection with the LORD. They are just as independent from the LORD and just as ungodly. But Judah has a greater responsibility, because the LORD still dwells in His house in Jerusalem in their midst. The departure of both kingdoms from the LORD has led to this unprecedented drama of brotherhood.
One man from Pekah’s army receives a special mention. That is “Zichri, a mighty man of Ephraim” (verse 7). Zichri is called “mighty man”, but in a different sense than for example the mighty men of David. The mighty men of David have become mighty men in a battle for David and against the enemies of Israel. Zichri is a mighty man in the eyes of the people.
He kills three people who belong to God’s people. He does so from a strategic point of view. The people he kills have a close relationship with the king. It concerns a family member, a ruler of the house and the prime minister. The death of these men will have smashed Ahaz’s last hope for some support in his immediate surroundings. On that support he relies, for there is no thought with him of the LORD.
In Isaiah 7 we read the purpose of the attack by Syria and Israel. That is to dethrone Ahaz and appoint a Syrian king over Judah, a certain “son of Tabeal” (Isa 7:6). There it also appears that Ahaz is very much in a tight spot. It seems as if the house of David is over. Then Isaiah comes to him. Ahaz may ask for a sign. His answer is false, hypocritical (Isa 7:10-13). He has long hoped for Assyria. There is no desire whatsoever with him to ask the LORD for help.
Then comes the prophecy, not for Ahaz, but for the house of David, about the virgin who conceives (Isa 7:14). This is what we see fulfilled in Matthew 1 (Mt 1:18-23). In that dark history God thus lets the light of the future shine. In Christ Who according to the prophecy by Isaiah is born of the virgin, the lamp for David’s house remains lit.
8 - 11 The LORD Speaks to the Israelites
8 The sons of Israel carried away captive of their brethren 200,000 women, sons and daughters; and they took also a great deal of spoil from them, and brought the spoil to Samaria. 9 But a prophet of the LORD was there, whose name [was] Oded; and he went out to meet the army which came to Samaria and said to them, “Behold, because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, He has delivered them into your hand, and you have slain them in a rage [which] has even reached heaven. 10 Now you are proposing to subjugate for yourselves the people of Judah and Jerusalem for male and female slaves. Surely, [do] you not [have] transgressions of your own against the LORD your God? 11 Now therefore, listen to me and return the captives whom you captured from your brothers, for the burning anger of the LORD is against you.”
The Israelites have already killed 120,000 men (verse 6). Now they also take 200,000 “women, sons and daughters” as prisoners (verse 8). It is noticeable that it says that they carry away “of their brethren”. It is a brother-people. From them the Israelites also take a great deal of spoil which they take with them to Samaria. Judah suffers an enormous loss of people and goods. Deviation from the LORD never results in profit, but always in loss. The fact that all this is happening among brothers makes the matter even more tragic. In fact, the winners are also losers. That is clear from the sequel.
There comes a prophet from Samaria, Oded (verse 9). It is remarkable that he is there, in the center of godless Israel. He goes to the army that is on his way to Samaria with the prisoners and the spoil. The prophet has no pleasant message for them. He does not come to congratulate them on their victory, but to point out their sins in God’s Name and to announce judgment to them. It is a testimony of great courage to speak in this way to a people in a rush to victory and to call upon them to become humble because of their own condition (cf. Deu 9:5; Rom 11:20-21).
Oded reminds the Israelites that they owe the victory only to the LORD’s anger with Judah. The prophet strongly admonishes them about the way in which they have dealt with Judah. They raged in such a way that the cries of their victims raised to heaven. And as if all this were not enough, they also subjected the Judeans and the people of Jerusalem to themselves to use them as male and female slaves (verse 10a), something the LORD explicitly forbids (Lev 25:46b). Do they have no idea how much they themselves are guilty toward the LORD their God (verse 10b)?
Oded tells the ten tribes that the wrath of the LORD rests upon them. God has used them as a rod to punish Judah. But the anger of God also comes over the rod of discipline when they act as they see fit. We see this also in Assyria, for example, which is used by God as a disciplinary rod against Israel. That people will also be judged because of their unfaithfulness to the LORD (Isa 10:5-19).
After his serious words, Oded calls on them to listen to him and to do what he says (verse 11). They must bring back to Judah the prisoners “whom you captured from your brothers”. They must do so because the LORD’s burning anger is against them. The LORD is very wroth with their revenge. They did bring His discipline over Judah, but they did not take Him into account in its execution, nor did they take into account their own sinful practices. They did it in pride and bloating.
For us, this is a lesson if we have to point out a mistake to someone personally or if discipline is required in the church. We must then be aware that we are not better and also should not exercise discipline in a haughty attitude (Gal 6:1; 1Cor 5:2).
12 - 15 Reaction to the Word of Oded
12 Then some of the heads of the sons of Ephraim—Azariah the son of Johanan, Berechiah the son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah the son of Shallum, and Amasa the son of Hadlai—arose against those who were coming from the battle, 13 and said to them, “You must not bring the captives in here, for you are proposing [to bring] upon us guilt against the LORD adding to our sins and our guilt; for our guilt is great so that [His] burning anger is against Israel.” 14 So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the officers and all the assembly. 15 Then the men who were designated by name arose, took the captives, and they clothed all their naked ones from the spoil; and they gave them clothes and sandals, fed them and gave them drink, anointed them [with oil], led all their feeble ones on donkeys, and brought them to Jericho, the city of palm trees, to their brothers; then they returned to Samaria.
Rarely has the admonishing word of a prophet been heard so quickly and so radically. The word of God through the prophet hits four men (verse 12). They are family heads of Ephraim, whose names the Spirit mentions. He does this because what they do is so valuable to the LORD (cf. Lk 10:30-37; Mt 25:31-40; Rom 12:20). In those wicked ten tribes there appear to be men who are open to God’s Word. They are among the “7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal” (1Kgs 19:18). They turn against those who come from the army and, following Oded, have the courage to speak to them about their condition against God.
The four men underline what Oded said and supplement it with their confession of guilt (verse 13). There already has been sinned much, there is already much guilt and the burning anger is against Israel. Should they add even more by bringing their brothers as prisoners from Judah to Samaria?
The four men also find direct hearing. The armed men do not oppose, but give all the spoils out of their hands and give them to the officers and all the assembly (verse 14). They react in an unexpectedly consenting way that is completely unusual for soldiers who have the spoil in their hands. Such surrender can only be the work of God’s Spirit. It is a bright spot in the history of the ten tribes.
The Spirit works even further in the hearts. A number of men, indicated by their names (verse 15) – certainly including the four men mentioned (verse 12) – act as true ‘good Samaritans’ (Lk 10:30-35). We can safely call their merciful treatment of prisoners of war unique.
The nudes are dressed and shod with clothes and footwear from the booty. They give them food and drink. The wounded are treated with oil (cf. Eze 16:9). Those who are too weak to walk are “led on donkeys” and transported. They treat their prisoners with remarkable gentleness. So all prisoners come back to their brothers in Jericho. Then the ‘good Samaritans’ return to Samaria.
We can learn from this. Our mission is to do our enemies well and treat them with gentleness rather than do them evil and hurt them. It is our task to pray for them (Mt 5:44-45) and to overcome evil in them through good (Rom 12:20-21). If we do, we will be perfect as our “heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). We may feel that this is not the case. It is not about our feelings, however, but about what is right in the sight of the Lord. If we do what is right in His sight, our feelings will join in. He will fill our hearts with His love.
16 - 19 Further Discipline of the LORD
16 At that time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria for help. 17 For again the Edomites had come and attacked Judah and carried away captives. 18 The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the lowland and of the Negev of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, and Soco with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages, and they settled there. 19 For the LORD humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had brought about a lack of restraint in Judah and was very unfaithful to the LORD.
Ahaz cannot be brought to an acknowledgment of his sins by discipline, nor by the just granted proofs of grace. “At that time”, that is the time when he is threatened by the king of Syria and the king of Israel, he does not resort to God, but seeks support from the kings of Assyria (verse 16). There have also come Edomites who have defeated Judah and carried away captives (verse 17; Oba 1:11; Joel 3:19). The Philistines also report (verse 18). They invade several places and live there.
Ahaz’s behavior causes God’s people suffering enormous losses of territory and freedom. The same goes for the lives of people who deviate from God. They lose their blessings and freedom. They may think they are living in freedom because they experience life according to God’s will as a yoke. However, they will experience that living without God is a life in slavery of sin.
The LORD stands behind all this. He humbles Judah (verse 19), because Ahaz, the leader of his people, precedes the people in breaking his faith with him. The whole policy of Ahaz is aimed at preventing the people from serving God. This is a great dishonor to Him. He cannot leave such actions unpunished. Ahaz, however, does not allow himself to be moved by anything to “humble himself under the mighty hand of God” (1Pet 5:6). We will see that in the sequence.
20 - 25 Further Unfaithfulness of Ahaz
20 So Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him. 21 Although Ahaz took a portion out of the house of the LORD and out of the palace of the king and of the princes, and gave [it] to the king of Assyria, it did not help him. 22 Now in the time of his distress this same King Ahaz became yet more unfaithful to the LORD. 23 For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they became the downfall of him and all Israel. 24 Moreover, when Ahaz gathered together the utensils of the house of God, he cut the utensils of the house of God in pieces; and he closed the doors of the house of the LORD and made altars for himself in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 In every city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked the LORD, the God of his fathers, to anger.
The request of Ahaz to the kings of Assyria to help him (verse 16) has a counterproductive effect (verse 20). The king of Assyria does come to Ahaz, but that is not to help him. On the contrary, he puts Ahaz in a tight corner. He is a new enemy of Ahaz, the umpteenth. Ahaz empties the house of the LORD, his own house and the houses of the rich princes, to get the king of Assyria on his hand (verse 21). It is all in vain. He remains alone in his misery with all the enemies that make his life very difficult.
It also has no effect on its relationship with the LORD. His need does not drive him to the LORD. He continues with his unfaithfulness to Him (verse 22). In his folly he even resorts to the gods of Damascus and sacrifices to them (verse 23). He simply replaces the God of Israel with the idols of Syria.
The Holy Spirit mentions the foolish reasoning he follows. He argues that the gods of the kings of Syria help them to victory. That is why he also wants to secure their support by sacrificing to them. To make these sacrifices Ahaz even copied the altar of Damascus (2Kgs 16:10-13). How far a man can deviate from God.
And Ahaz is not alone in his deviation from God. All Israel follows him in this. Someone who deviates from God, and certainly if it is someone who has a leading position in God’s people, never goes that way alone. We can also think of parents in relation to their children. Ahaz is a warning example for all who give a slate thing, in whatever context.
Ahaz is completely in the power of the devil. This is the case with people, especially religious people, who do not allow themselves to be corrected in any way by God, not by His Word and not by dramatic events. Like Ahaz, they run on the road to and from destruction. Nothing can slow them down. Through their, what they call, traumatic experiences with God, they have had it all with Him. Everything that reminds of Him is removed from their lives and surroundings. Instead, they look for it in alternative ways of believing. Everything is good, as long as it is not the God of the Bible. This is the way Ahaz works.
Ahaz has completely done with God. He gathers the objects of the house of God with which He is served, and cuts them into pieces (verse 24). Away with it. It must also be made impossible for others to enter God’s house. So, close those doors. Not that he has finished with religion, but he does decide for himself how he experiences it. It must be possible to express your religious emotions wherever you need it. Therefore he “made altars for himself in every corner of Jerusalem”. Away with the narrow-mindedness of the LORD.
What he does in Jerusalem, he does in every city in Judah (verse 25). Everyone must be able to “burn incense to other gods”. That is also open-minded. He is not interested in God’s judgment on this matter. However, the Spirit makes the death bell to ring: he “provoked the LORD, the God of his fathers, to anger”. With these serious words the chronicler concludes his description of the life of Ahaz, a life in which he has been unable to discover anything positive.
26 - 27 The Death of Ahaz
26 Now the rest of his acts and all his ways, from first to last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel. 27 So Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem, for they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel; and Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.
The description of the rest of the history of Ahaz and his ways can be found “in the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (verse 26). We don’t know that book. This is not necessary, because what we have read about Ahaz in the previous verses, draws him out in full. All his deeds and ways described in that book, which is unknown to us, are only more of the same.
The wicked life of Ahaz comes to an end. When he dies, he is buried in Jerusalem. However, there is no tomb of honor for him. He is not buried in the graves of the kings of Israel.
After this concluding remark the chronicler places the son of Ahaz, Hezekiah, before our attention. Hezekiah becomes king instead of Ahaz. In the next four chapters (2 Chronicles 29-32) we will see the great grace of God. That grace is that God has given a king as wicked as Ahaz a son as God-fearing as Hezekiah and the blessing He gives His people with that.