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THE REIGN OF AHAZ IN JUDAH
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 16:2. Twenty years old was Ahab when, &c.—The Sept. MS. of the Vatican, and other MSS., give “twenty-five” in the corresponding account of 2 Chronicles 28:1. Adopting this alteration, he died at the age of forty-one, having reigned sixteen years. He could only have reached the age of fifteen when his son Hesekiah was born, for the son was twenty five at his father’s death (chap. 2 Kings 18:2). Yet a youth of fifteen is not unduly young for such a relationship in the East.
2 Kings 16:3. Made his son to pass through the fire—This is the first record of human sacrifice among the Israelites. The force of evidence is against the lighter interpretation of the king’s act, viz., that this was a mere fire-baptism, an act of lustration and purification—passing his son through the heat or flames. The phrase “go through the fire” is shown in Numbers 31:23 to mean a testing in the fire, as metal, &c. (2 Kings 16:20), so that what could be consumed by the fire was consumed; and 2 Chronicles 28:3 records that Ahab “burnt his children in the fire.” It was the immolation of his children to Moloch, in the Valley of Hinnom. Comp. chap. 2 Kings 17:31; Jeremiah 19:5. Josephus delares it to have been a holocaust: καὶ ἴδιον ὡλοκαύτωσε παὶδα. There remains, however, the probability that the children were “slain” before being committed to the fires of Moloch (cf. Ezekiel 16:20, and Psalms 106:37).
2 Kings 16:7. Ahab sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser—Israel had asked Assyrian help (chap. 2 Kings 16:9); now Judah throws herself upon the protection of a heathen power. Already Jehovah had become discarded in the nation’s worship; how could any trust in his guardianship continue? Yet he sinned against most emphatic expostulations from Isaiah, and assurances sealed by supernatural signs (Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:4).
2 Kings 16:9. King of Assyria took Damascus, and carried the people captive to Kir—The aid Ahaz sought was purchased with the treasures of the palace and the Temple (2 Kings 16:8). Tiglath vanquished the confederate kings—Rezin of Syria, and Pekah of Israel—and seized Damascus. This occurred B.C. 732. A year later he held a court of his vassals there, and twenty-three abject kings there did him obeisance, among them being mentioned Pekah, king of Israel, and Ahaz, king of Judah. “Kir” is thought to have been Karine, now Karend, in Media.
2 Kings 16:10. Ahaz saw an altar that was at Damascus—Charmed with its elegance and novelty, he transmitted a sketch of it to Urijah the priest at Jerusalem, and ordered that one be made forthwith to supplant the altar of Jehovah in the Temp’e. Yet that old altar was designed under express direction and authority of the Lord God! It is called “the great altar” (2 Kings 16:15), doubtless more because of its gorgeous splendour. The priest of Jehovah raised no remonstrance, so perfidious had become the sacerdotal spirit (2 Kings 16:16).
2 Kings 16:15. The brazen altar shall be for me to enquire by—Jehovah’s sacrifices were transferred to a heathenish altar. There were as yet no idolatrous offerings sacrificed in the Temple; no discontinuance of outward worship to the God of Israel. But the Divine altar was removed from its position in the Sanctuary, and left neglected; its destination was not yet clear to Ahaz, he would consider about it. For the words, “for me to enquire by,” is the simple significance of the phrase יִהְיָה לִּי לְבַקֵּר
2 Kings 16:17. Ahaz out off the borders of the bases, &c.—Spoiling the adornments to gratify his capricious fancies in, probably, decorating his own palace. Thus men debase what is sacred to suit their own purposes, but God watches the sacrilege, and He will requite the dishonour done to Him.
2 Kings 16:18. The covert for the Sabbath—A portico used by the priests. Dr. Abraham Geiger renders these words “molten images of the Shame” (i.e., Baal), following 2 Chronicles 28:2; but מֵיסָךְ was, says Keil, “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 Sabbath or feast days.” So went forward the abasement of Jadah; the Church yielding every trust for the sake of retaining State favour and glory. Jehovah deposed from supremacy in His own Temple, that a corrupt Court might be gratified, and the smile of a depraved king be retained. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy” (1 Corinthians 3:17).—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 16:1-20
AN IDOLATROUS RULER A NATIONAL SCOURGE
AHAZ inherited the wealth and magnificence that had accumulated under the masterly government of his father, Jotham, and his grandfather, Azariah, but he had also inherited the pernicious effects of luxury and indulgence that ever follow in the train of prosperity. From his earliest years he seems to have fallen into the hands of a court party who championed idolatry, and he never acquired strength of character sufficient to shake off the baleful influence of their teaching and example. He was fundamentally weak. He cringed before the great Assyrian power (2 Kings 16:7), but, like all other cowards, he was imperious and exacting towards those who were subject to him (2 Kings 16:10-16). Under his feeble and idolatrous administration, Judah sank lower and lower, till it was brought to the verge of ruin. There was nothing to mitigate the successive series of national disasters: his influence upon the nation constantly operated as a blighting, withering curse. Observe—
I. That idolatry becomes a dangerous power in a nation when patronised and encouraged by royalty (2 Kings 16:2-4).
1. The religious leanings of a youthful prince are anxiously seanned. “Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 16:2). The heathen party and the worshippers of Jehovah were on the outlook as to what stand the young king would make. Would he set his face against the idolatrous innovations which had already gone too far: and would he show more zeal and fidelity than his immediate predecessors had done towards the ancient faith? Neither party were kept long in suspense. The old court party triumphed; they had intrigued and flattered to some purpose. The idolatrous tendencies of Ahaz were soon detected; and the emphatic condemnation of the sacred writer was richly merited—he “did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord his God.” It is a sincere grief to the good to witness a reign begun in defiance of the great religious principles which had given life and prestige to the nation. The fate of such a reign it is not difficult to predict.
2. Idolatrous practices rapidly degenerate to the level of the most atrocious examples (2 Kings 16:3-4). Ahaz excelled his idolatrous predecessors not only in imbecility, but also in cruelty. He descended to the most inhuman practices of the heathen: he “made his children to pass through the fire”—an abomination against which the Israelites were solemnly warned (comp. Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:24; Deuteronomy 18:10). The Jewish rabbis have mildly interpreted this passing through the fire as merely passing between two burning pyres as a purificatory rite; but the truth is, the victims were first slain and then burned (vide 2 Chronicles 28:3, compared with Psalms 106:37; Psalms 106:8; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:4-5; Ezekiel 16:20-21; Ezekiel 23:37). The brazen image of the idol was made red-hot, and the victim passed within its glowing arms. Other kings of Judah had allowed their people to sacrifice and burn incense in the high places; but Ahaz was the first, so far as we know, to countenance the practice by his own example (2 Kings 16:4). Idolatry debauches the moral sense, and prepares its votaries for the worst abominations.
II. That an idolatrous ruler wantonly sacrifices the national prestige and independence (2 Kings 16:5-9). I. His weakness exposes the nation to invasion and loss (2 Kings 16:5-6). The kings of Syria and Israel, who had been held in check by the strong hand of Azariah and Jotham, despised the feebleness of Ahaz, and harassed his kingdom with war and siege. They aimed at dethroning Ahaz and substituting a nominee of their own, whom they could compel to unite with them in resisting the encroachments of the Assyrian power. Had Ahaz been decided and open in his attachment to Jehovah, they would not have insulted him and his people with a proposal to form a league with Judah, nor would they have dared to use force. But the idolatry of Ahaz was a sufficient plea for them to take liberties: he was now so much like themselves that they might readily conclude he would be willing to unite with them in any enterprise. When the ruler sinks in moral reputation and force, the stringency of a wholesome government is relaxed, and the nation suffers.
2. He tamely subjects his people to the oppression of a foreign power (2 Kings 16:7). Judah had injured and oppressed Israel, and could not therefore hope to wean her from her compact with Syria. Israel and Syria had already won two battles against Judah, in which the flower of her troops had been destroyed. Egypt was at this time too weak to afford any assistance, and Ahaz was conscious of serious disaffection spreading among his own people (Isaiah 7:13). In this emergency he abjectly throws himself at the feet of the Assyrian monarch, and piteously implores his help. It might be that this was Judah’s only alternative from a point of view; but what a fall was this compared with the days of Azariah and Jotham! There was one resource yet open to Ahaz: he might have fallen back on Jehovah. But his apostacy was too complete and his idolatry too flagrant to allow such a thought to take deep root. Blind with infatuation he runs for refuge into the embrace of a power that erelong uses its advantage in oppressing his people.
3. He does not scruple to strip the temple of God of its sacred treasures to purchase an idolatrous alliance “And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 16:8). Here begins the work of spoliation. It does not appear that he took anything from the shrines of the idols he loved so much—that would be sacrilege in his eyes—and yet without compunction or misgiving he desecrates and robs the temple of Jehovah. In this we have another proof of the debasing influence of his heathenism, and how completely he had severed himself from Jehovah and His worship. The man who turns his back on God is ready for any deed of infamy.
III. That an idolatrous ruler is reckless in the introduction of innovations in worship which are an insult to the only true God (2 Kings 16:10-18).
1. He substitutes a heathen altar in the place of the one used in the worship of Jehovah (2 Kings 16:10). Carried away with the idolatrous ritual of the Assyrians, Ahaz, captivated with the pattern of a certain altar, has one made after the same model and placed in the inner court of the temple. Human fancies and predelictions are indulged in defiance of Divine authority and commandment. The temple altar was made after a Divine pattern (Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30; Exodus 27:1); and the introduction of the Assyrian specimen was an insulting and sinful intrusion.
2. He finds co-workers in those whose duty is to resist all heathenish innovations (2 Kings 16:11-16). The supine conduct of Urijah is in marked contrast with the stout, heroic opposition of Azariah and his priests to the proud assumptions of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:16-18). Ahaz was too weak a character to have succeeded in winning over Urijah to idolatry, either by threats or cajolery, unless there had been a predisposition on Urijah’s part. He was infected with the theological laxity of the period, and instead of boldly maintaining the absolute supremacy of Jehovah, he was beginning to recognize Him as but one among the many deities to be worshipped. With confused ideas and impaired convictions, Urijah was not prepared to risk the loss of his place and income by opposing the wishes of the capricious monarch. 3. He adopts methods calculated to disparage and pour contempt on the worship of Jehovah (2 Kings 16:17-18). We are prepared now for any act of impiety Ahaz may commit. His reverence for God is gone, and with it his reverence for the sanctuary. The sacred vessels are mutilated, the treasures and costly ornaments appropriated to political exigencies, and the royal entrance to the Temple closed. There was no distinction now between Judah and the most idolatrous nations. The safeguard of Judah—the love and worship of Jehovah—was broken down, and the nation soon became a prey to the invader and involved in ruin.
1. Idolatry debauches the moral sense of king and poople.
2. A wicked king will always find those who will imitate him in his most extravagant follies and vices.
3. The ruler who systematically ignores the claims of God inevitably drags his people into degradation and suffering.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 16:1. Under this most wicked prince prophesied Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, and Nahum, but with little good success, so incorrigibly flagitious were now all sorts grown.—Trapp.
2 Kings 16:2-4. An idolatrous enthusiast—
1. Eagerly embraces the advantage gained by his accession to power and authority in propagating his favourite theories. “Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign, and did not that which was right” (2 Kings 16:2).
2. Is ever ready to quote and imitate the examples of those whose policy favoured his own views. “He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Kings 16:3).
3. Soon outstrips the most notorious examples, and sinks to the abominations of the rudest heathenism. “Yea, and made his son to pass through the fire” (2 Kings 16:3).
4. Spreads the blight of his pernicious system in every available place. “He sacrificed in the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:4).
2 Kings 16:2. The character of this king’s reign, the voluptuousness and religious degeneracy of all classes of the people, are graphically portrayed in the writings of Isaiah. The great increase of worldly wealth and luxury in the reigns of Azariah and Jotham had introduced a host of corruptions which, during the reign and by the influence of Ahaz, bore fruit in the idolatrous practices of every kind which prevailed in all parts of the kingdom (see 2 Chronicles 28:24).—Jamieson.
2 Kings 16:3. A man that is once fallen from truth knows not where he shall stay. From the calves of Jeroboam is Ahaz drawn to the gods of the heathen; yea, now bulls and goats are too little for those new deities; his own flesh and blood is but dear enough. Where do we find any religious Israelite thus zealous for God! Neither is our dull and niggardly heart ready to gratify Him with more easy obediences. O God, how gladly should we offer unto thee our souls and bodies, which we may enjoy so much the more when they are thine, since zealous Pagans stick not to lose their own flesh and blood in an idol’s fire!—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 16:3-4. 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 blood, or when they have rejected the same (Romans 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. 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.—Lange.
2 Kings 16:4. Wherever God has a Church, the devil builds a temple by the side of it.
2 Kings 16:5-9. The disastrous results of national apostasy.—
1. The enemy is emboldened to make combined attacks upon the nation (2 Kings 16:5).
2. Involves loss of prestige and of territory (2 Kings 16:5).
3. The national spirit is demoralised (2 Kings 16:7).
4. The nation is put in the power of those who, while professing to help and protect it, drain its resources and ultimately hasten its ruin (2 Kings 16:7-9).
2 Kings 16:7. The more plausible, really the more insane, desire of Ahaz to secure the favour of an empire which was the common enemy of all nations, that he might get rid of the two that were tormenting him, showed that faith had departed from Judah also. The idols of silver and gold had driven God out of its heart, and made the worship of Him a mockery.—Maurice.
2 Kings 16:10-18. Innovations in Divine worship.—
1. Are not to be confounded with an improved fervour and spirituality of service.
2. Are evidences of religious decline.
3. Are an insult to the Divine Being.
4. Should be firmly resisted by the faithful minister of God.
5. May lead to the most reprehensible acts of contempt and sacrilege.
—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 religions as well as in similar matters, and can control everything according to their own good pleasure.—Lange.
—A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined views. People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.—Burke.
—It is a dangerous presumption to make innovations if but in the circumstances of God’s worship. Those human additions, which would seem to grace the institution of God, deprave it. That infinite Wisdom knows best what pleases itself, and prescribes accordingly. The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Idolatry and falsehood are commonly more gaudy and plausible than truth. That heart which can, for the outward homeliness, despise the ordinances of God, is already alienated from true religion, and lies open to the grossest superstition.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 16:10. A fit helve for such a hatchet. Urijah had been a maintainer of God’s true worship in the temple, and by the prophet Isaiah counted and called a faithful witness (Isaiah 8:1-2); but now he becometh an apostate, as Damascen turned Mahommedan, after he had written against that execrable impiety; and Ahaz knew him, belike, to be a temporiser.—Trapp.
2 Kings 16:13. Uzziah, for so doing, was smitten with leprosy; but Ahaz of a far worse disease, an incurable hardness of heart.—Trapp.
—For the heathens, and Ahaz’s imitation of them, offered the same sorts of offerings to their false gods which the Israelites did to the true, the devil being noted to be God’s ape in his worship.—Pool.
2 Kings 16:16. 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 favour of men, nor the goods and honours of the world, ought to be the rule from which we ought not to turn aside, although it may involve risk of life or limb to speak the truth.—Lange.
2 Kings 16:19-20. The reign of Ahaz was the most disastrous of any 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 worthy of respect.—Bahr.
—Of all the kings of Judah hitherto, there is none so dreadful an example, either of sin or judgment, as this son of good Jotham. I abhor to think that such a monster should descend from the loins of David. Where should be the period of this wickedness? He began with the high places; thence he descended to the calves of Dan and Bethel; from thence he falls to a Syrian altar, to the Syrian god; then he falls to an utter exclusion of the true God and blocking up His temple; then to the sacrifice of his own son; and at last, as if hell were broken loose on God’s inheritance, every several city, every high place of Judah, has a new God. No marvel if he be branded by the Spirit of God—This is that “king Ahaz!”—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 16:20. His subjects complain that he died so late; and, as repenting that he ever was, denying him a room in the sepulchres of kings, as if they had said—“The common earth of Jerusalem is too good for him that degenerated from his progenitors, spoiled his kingdom, depraved his people, forsook his God.—Ibid.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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