1 - 4 Ahaz Becomes King of Judah
1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, became king. 2 Ahaz [was] twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David [had done]. 3 But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.
In this chapter the historian continues with the description of the kings who ruled over the two tribes realm. Ahaz the son of Jotham has come to power. This whole chapter is devoted to him and gives a clear picture of his reign. That picture is not rosy.
The summary of his reign, which lasted sixteen years, is that “he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David [had done]”. It does not say that he did what was evil, but that he did not do what was right. This is to make the contrast with David clear. David did in all what was right in the sight of the LORD. Everything Ahaz does is completely and radically contrary to what David did. That there is also talk of “the LORD his God” is said, because this was his confession.
The deeds described of Ahaz bear witness to great corruption. They are acts modelled on the kings of Israel. Ahaz even adds a little extra: He “even made his son pass through the fire”. He sacrifices his son to the realm of the dead. So it is not just a way of acting like the kings of Israel, but he does “according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel”. This man has lost every connection with the LORD his God. There is the greatest possible contrast between what he confesses and what he does.
His entire attitude towards idols and idolatry is evident from the sacrificial places he has. He offers not only on the high places that were first dedicated to the LORD, but on all that is raised above the earth.
5 - 9 Ahaz Makes an Alliance with Assyria
5 Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to [wage] war; and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. 6 At that time Rezin king of Aram recovered Elath for Aram, and cleared the Judeans out of Elath entirely; and the Arameans came to Elath and have lived there to this day. 7 So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son; come up and deliver me from the hand of the king of Aram and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are rising up against me.” 8 Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house, and sent a present to the king of Assyria. 9 So the king of Assyria listened to him; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and captured it, and carried [the people of] it away into exile to Kir, and put Rezin to death.
While Ahaz is so idolizing, enemies come towards him: “Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah.” They come “to Jerusalem to [wage] war”. As always, enemies attack God’s people when the people depart from God. Without God they are always weaker than the weakest enemy. At the same time, a hostile people is a means in God’s hand to bring His people back to Him. And what an abhorrent role does Pekah play in his covenant with Syria: he, the king of Israel, wants to help put an end to the house of David.
In Isaiah 7 we read more details about this coming up of Rezin and Pekah to Jerusalem. There we see that God wants to act in grace with Ahaz. In His grace God does not allow these enemies to take Jerusalem (Isa 7:1). Then through Isaiah He has a message for Ahaz “at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field” (Isa 7:3). It is a symbolic place. It is a place that speaks of purifying and refreshment that are offered to him if he is willing to listen to the voice of the LORD.
Isaiah presents the enemies, “Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah” (Isa 7:4), as completely trivial. He prophesies about their end by the power of Assyria, from which Ahaz expects his help. Isaiah encourages Ahaz that there is a solution, if he quietly trusts in the LORD. Ahaz even gets the offer to ask a sign from the LORD, so he can be sure that the LORD will deliver him from those enemies. But Ahaz refuses this offer with pretended piety (Isa 7:10-12). He has his own politics.
Then the LORD Himself gives a sign, not to Ahaz, but to the house of David. He promises the Messiah (Isa 7:13). He is the answer to all political questions. He also lets Ahaz know that he himself will perish by the ally on whom he has placed his hope, because he refuses to trust in the LORD (Isa 7:17).
Ahaz is one of those figures who only trust on their own mind and perception. Trust in the LORD, Someone you cannot see, and with Whom you just have to wait or what He says will happen, is too vague for him. Then look at Assyria. He is nearby, you can see him and he helps immediately.
Isn’t that a tension field that we recognize, in which we too can find ourselves? Don’t we often choose a direct solution instead of submitting to what God says? Do I choose what I think works, or do I wait for what God has offered? For example, let us think of tensions in a marriage. In a marriage disappointments can occur. Is the husband then looking for the conversation with his wife, perhaps also with the help of someone else, so that they can pray together again for their need? Or is he seeking refuge with another woman, someone from his work, with whom he can tell his story, someone ‘who understands me so well’?
The request for help to Assyria may also cost some money. The costs for the help are paid with silver and gold from the temple, “the house of the LORD”. Every covenant a Christian enters into with the enemy of God, the world, is at the expense of the truth of reconciliation, of which the silver speaks, and at the expense of the glory of God, of which the gold speaks. Again and again the temple is looted for the benefit of the world. God and His interests no longer matter.
The covenant seems to work and to be worth the price. The king of Assyria does what was asked of him. He goes up against Damascus, defeats the Syrians and thus takes away the threat to Ahaz from these enemies. This makes Ahaz all the more captured in the snare of the devil. His next steps make it clear that he settles with the LORD. He will replace Him by what is attractive to him.
10 - 18 Replacing the Altar of the LORD
10 Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar which [was] at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the pattern of the altar and its model, according to all its workmanship. 11 So Urijah the priest built an altar; according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, thus Urijah the priest made [it], before the coming of King Ahaz from Damascus. 12 When the king came from Damascus, the king saw the altar; then the king approached the altar and went up to it, 13 and burned his burnt offering and his meal offering, and poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. 14 The bronze altar, which [was] before the LORD, he brought from the front of the house, from between [his] altar and the house of the LORD, and he put it on the north side of [his] altar. 15 Then King Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, “Upon the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening meal offering and the king’s burnt offering and his meal offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land and their meal offering and their drink offerings; and sprinkle on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice. But the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire [by].” 16 So Urijah the priest did according to all that King Ahaz commanded. 17 Then King Ahaz cut off the borders of the stands, and removed the laver from them; he also took down the sea from the bronze oxen which were under it and put it on a pavement of stone. 18 The covered way for the sabbath which they had built in the house, and the outer entry of the king, he removed from the house of the LORD because of the king of Assyria.
Ahaz goes to Damascus to greet his benefactor and protector, the king of Assyria. It seems that the place of meeting is the altar in Damascus. Ahaz is impressed by that altar. It is a great altar (verse 15). Possibly it is an originally Assyrian altar. He sees that the gods of Assyria have helped them. Now he also wants to secure the favor of these gods and sacrifice to them. Therefore he wants to have an altar like theirs.
While he is still in Damascus, he sends a pattern of it to the priest Uria. Uria is a faithful man (Isa 8:2a), but also a man without a backbone. He has no strength to say no. He does what he has been told, and even so quickly, that the altar is ready before Ahaz is back. When Ahaz is in Jerusalem again and sees the altar, he approaches the altar and sacrifices on it. Verse 12 speaks emphatically about Ahaz as “king” (three times in this verse). There is a strong similarity with the first king Jeroboam and his altar (1Kgs 12:32-33). We have to conclude that Jeroboam and his altar service have now entered Judah.
The sacrifices Ahaz brings (verse 13), we know from Leviticus 1-7. Remarkable is that the sin offering is missing. It emphasizes that his service is only an external service. There is no sense of sin. He arranges everything as he sees fit. It is totally a self-willed religion. We also see this when he removes the bronze altar of burnt offering from the place where it belongs and instead places his own imitation altar (verse 14). The altar of Ahaz must be central.
The altar of the LORD is not completely removed. It is placed at a distance, so that it reminds of the LORD’s service in the distance, as it were, at the place where it stands.
Ahaz determines that from now on the great altar, his altar, must be used to bring the prescribed sacrifices (verse 15). He ordered the priest Uria to see to it that it happens as he had ordered. The bronze altar of the LORD is dismissed for him as for the sacrificial service to the true God. Instead, he makes it a place where he can approach demons to seek their advice.
Ahaz’s drive for innovation knows no bounds. The next part of the old worship that is removed is the bronze sea that stands on twelve oxen. He cuts off the borders of the stands, and removes the laver from them (verse 17). He also takes down the sea from the bronze oxen. He settles (in this picture) with the thought that cleanliness is necessary to be able to do service in the house of the LORD.
The oxen are not a decoration for the bronze sea, but form the basis for cleansing. It is a picture that speaks of the fact that cleansing must be done on the ground of the sacrifice of Christ. Oxen speak of His service which He continually performs for us. That foundation is replaced by a stone floor, a foundation made by people.
The covered way for the sabbath is also sacrificed for its innovativeness (verse 18). What exactly the covered way for the sabbath has been is not clear. It is thought that there is a covered place in the temple where the king sat on the sabbath during his visit to the temple. This may well be possible, because the removal of the covered way for sabbath is linked to the removal of “the outer entry of the king” (cf. 1Kgs 10:5; Eze 46:1-2). It shows his contempt for the sabbath – which speaks of the rest of God and His people – and the absolute unwillingness as king to be connected to the dwelling place of God, with which he refuses to acknowledge that he can only be king if he acknowledges that God is his Lord.
He lets remove everything that reminds of the service of the true God. All his actions mean the abolition of true service to God. He establishes a religion that is completely to his taste. That is the tried and tested method of dealing with what God has to say about it. It is important to ask God how He wants us to worship. For us, that means that we consult His Word in an attitude of submission to what He says.
It does not mean that our worship must always follow certain fixed patterns through standard formulations. The Holy Spirit will show us different aspects each time for which we can and want to worship God. There is no liturgy to be devised.
Someone rightly said: We should not play with our worship and cheer it up with interviews and entertaining performances. Remarkably enough, he added: “In the church I serve, our worship is carefully planned so that we never have the same thing on two consecutive Sundays.
When I read this, I couldn’t help but feel that the writer himself acted after Ahaz’s model, which he first (rightly) accused. Isn’t the Holy Spirit the only One Who can lead the worship of the church in such a way that every time worship is different, new and fresh, and that it still meets the ancient truths of God’s Word (cf. Jn 4:23-24)?
19 - 20 Death of Ahaz
19 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz which he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 20 So Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David; and his son Hezekiah reigned in his place.
With the above, God has said in this book all about Ahaz what can be said of him and what is useful for us to know. “The rest” is “written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah”. That “rest” cannot be darker than what God’s Spirit has told us in this chapter, but it can be more in detail. We don’t need to know those particularities. What we are told contains a severe warning not to turn to the world for help and not to follow our own ideas in serving God.
The last verse gives a ray of hope in the people of God in this deeply dark period. That ray of hope is Hezekiah. God prepares a revival by making a God-fearing son king instead of his godless father Ahaz.