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2 Kings 16:1-20
REIGN OF AHAZ OVER JUDAH. WAR OF AHAZ WITH PEKAH AND REZIN. EXPEDITION OF TIGLATH-PILESER AGAINST THEM. RELIGIOUS CHANGES MADE BY AHAZ. HIS DEATH.
2 Kings 16:1-4
General character of the reign of Ahaz. Ahaz was the most wicked king that had as yet reigned in Judah. The author, therefore, prefaces his account of the reign by a brief summary of some of the king's chief iniquities.
(1) He departed from the way of David (2 Kings 16:2);
(2) he made his son pass through the fire to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3); and
(3) he took an active part in the worship at the high places and in the groves, at which most previous kings had winked, but which they had not countenanced.
2 Kings 16:1
In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham King of Judah began to reign. (For the chronological difficulties connected with this statement, see the comment on 2 Kings 15:27.)
2 Kings 16:2
Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign. As sixteen years afterwards his son Hezekiah was twenty-five (2 Kings 18:2), it is scarcely possible that Ahaz can have been no more than twenty at his accession, since in that case he must have married at ten years of age, and have had a son at eleven! The reading of "twenty-five" instead of "twenty," found in some Hebrew codices, in the Vatican manuscript of the Septuagint, and elsewhere, is therefore to be preferred. And reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. So the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 28:1) and Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 2 Kings 9:12. § 3). The reign of Ahaz probably lasted from B.C. 742 to B.C. 727. And did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord his God, like David his father. Compare what is said of Abijah (1 Kings 15:3), but the form of speech here used is stronger. Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2) and Amon (2 Kings 21:20-22) alone, of all the kings of Judah, receive greater condemnation.
2 Kings 16:3
But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. Not, of course, by establishing a worship of calves, but by following the worst practices of the worst Israelite kings, e.g. Ahab and Ahaziah, and reintroducing into Judah the Phoenician idolatry, which Joash and the high priest Jehoiada had cast out (2 Kings 11:17, 2 Kings 11:18). As the writer of Chronicles says (2 Chronicles 28:2), "He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim." Baalim is either a plural of dignity, or a word denoting the different forms under which Baal was worshipped, as Melkarth, Adonis, Rimmon, etc. Yea, and made his son to pass through the fire. In Chronicles (2 Chronicles 28:3) we are told that "he burnt incense in the valley of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire," as if he had sacrificed more than one son. The practice of offering children in sacrifice was not a feature of the Assyro-Babylonian religion, as some suppose, but an intrinsic part of the worship of the Phoenicians, common to them with the Moabites, Ammonites, and others. It was based upon the principle of a man's offering to God that which was dearest and most precious to himself, whence the crowning sacrifice of the kind was a man's offering of his firstborn son (see 2 Kings 3:27; Micah 6:7). Some hare supposed that the rite was a mere dedication or lustration, the children passing between two fires, and being thenceforward employed only in God's service. But the expressions used by the sacred writer and others, and still more the descriptions that have come down to us from heathen and patristic authors, make it absolutely certain that the "passing through the fire' was no such innocent ceremony as this, but involved the death of the children. The author of Chronicles says, "Ahaz burnt his children in the fire;" Jeremiah 19:5, "They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal;" Ezekiel 16:21, "Thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire." Josephus declares of Ahaz that he "made his own son a whole burnt offering (ἴδιον ὠλοκαύτωσε παῖδα)." Diodorus Sicalus describes the ceremony as it took place at Carthage, the Phoenician colony. There was in the great temple there, he says, an image of Saturn (Moloch), which was a human figure with a bull's head and outstretched arms. This image of metal was made glowing hot by a fire kindled within it; and the children, laid in its arms, rolled from thence into the fiery lap below. If the children cried, the parents stopped their noise by fondling and kissing them; for the victim ought not to weep, and the sound of complaint was drowned in the din of flutes and kettle-drums (Died. Sic; Ezekiel 20:14). "Mothers," says Plutarch ('De Superstitione,' § 13), "stood by without tears or sobs; if they wept or sobbed, they lost the honor of the act, and the children were sacrificed notwithstanding." The only doubtful point is whether the children were placed alive in the glowing arms of the image, or whether they were first killed and afterwards burnt in sacrifice; but the description of Diodorus seems to imply the more cruel of the two proceedings. According to the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord east out from before the children of Israel. (On the practice of this terrible rite by the Canaanitish nations at the time of the Israelite invasion, see Le Ezekiel 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:9,Deuteronomy 18:10; Psalms 106:37, Psalms 106:38.)
2 Kings 16:4
And he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places. The special sin of Ahaz here noted is that he not only allowed the high-place and grove worship, as so many other kings of Judah had done, e.g. Solomon (1 Kings 3:2), Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:23), Asa (1 Kings 15:14), Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:43), Joash (2 Kings 12:3), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:4), Azariah (2 Kings 15:4), and Jotham (2 Kings 15:35), but himself countenanced and took part in it, which no other king appears to have done. It was probably the stimulus that his example gave to the cult which induced Hezekiah to abolish it (see 2 Kings 18:4). And on the hills, and under every green tree.
2 Kings 16:5, 2 Kings 16:6
War of Ahazleith Pekah and Rezin.
2 Kings 16:5
Then Rezin King of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah King of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war. The alliance between Rezin and Pekah has been already glanced at (2Ki 16:1-20 :37). It began, apparently, in the reign of Jotham. The policy which brought it about was one that was entirely new. Since Syria developed an aggressive tendency under the first Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:1), there had till now been no alliance made with her by either of the two Israelite kingdoms. She had been reckoned as their common enemy; and while they had on two occasions been allied together against her (1 Kings 22:4-36; 2 Kings 8:28), never as yet had either asked her help against the other. Now, however, Ephraim became confederate with Syria against Judah. The new policy must be ascribed to the new condition of things consequent upon the attitude assumed by Assyria under Tiglath-pileser. Assyria had been under a cloud for forty years. The nations of the western coast of Asia had ceased to fear her, and had felt at liberty to pursue their own quarrels. Her recovery of vigor altered the whole situation. It was at once evident to the statesmen who directed the policy of the small western states that, unless they combined; they were lost. Hence the alliance between Pekah and Rezin. Probably they would have been glad to have drawn Ahaz into the confederacy; but it would seem that he did not share their fears, and would not join them. Hereupon the design was formed to dethrone him, and set up in his place a new ruler, a certain Ben-Tabeal (Isaiah 7:6), on whose assistance they could rely. The two confederate princes then began the campaign. Pekah invaded Judaea, and gained a great victory over Ahaz, which is perhaps exaggerated in 2 Chronicles 28:6-15; Rezin carried his arms further south, took Elath, and reestablished the Edomites in power (see the comment on 2 Chronicles 28:6). Then the allies joined forces and proceeded to besiege Jerusalem. And they besieged Ahaz, but could not ever-come him. The siege is mentioned by Isaiah 7:1, who was commissioned by God to comfort Ahaz, and assure him that the city would not fall (Isaiah 7:7). The fortifications of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:9) and Jotham (2 Chronicles 27:3) had, no doubt, greatly strengthened the city since the time when (as related in 2 Kings 14:13) it was captured so easily by Joash.
2 Kings 16:6
At that time Rezin, King of Syria recovered Elath to Syria. The Syrians had certainly never previously been masters of Elath, which had always hitherto been either Jewish or Edomite (see 1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 22:48; 2 Kings 14:22). Hence it seems to be necessary that we should either translate the Hebrew verb צֵשִׁיב by "gained," "conquered," instead of "recovered;" or else change אַרַם, "Syria," into אֱדֹם "Edom." The Syrians could "recover" Elath for Edom; they could only "gain" it for themselves. And drave the Jews from Elath—i.e. expelled the Jewish garrison which had been maintained in Elath from the time of its conquest by Uzziah (2 Kings 14:22)—and the Syrians came to Elath; rather, the Edomites—אֲדוֹמִים for אֲרוֹמִים. Rezin could not have thought of holding a place so remote from Damascus as Elath; and, had he done so, the danger of his kingdom in the next year would have necessitated the relinquishment of so distant a possession. And dwelt there unto this day. It is quite certain that Elath belonged to Edom, and not to Syria, at the time when the Books of Kings were written.
2 Kings 16:7-9
Expedition of Tiglath-pileser against Pekah and Rezin. In the extremity of his danger, when the confederacy had declared itself, or perhaps later, when he had suffered terrible defeats, and was about. to be besieged in his capital (2 Chronicles 28:5, 2 Chronicles 28:6), Ahaz invoked the aid of Tiglath-pileser, sent him all the treasure on which he could lay his hands (2 Kings 16:8), offered to place himself and his kingdom under the Assyrian monarch's suzerainty, and entreated him to come and "save him out of the hands" of his enemies (2 Kings 16:7). Humanly speaking, he might be justified. He had not called in one foreign power until Pekah had called in another. There was no other prospect (again humanly speaking) of escape. But, had he accepted the offers of Isaiah 7:4-16, and relied wholly on Jehovah, his position would have been far better. However, he was unable to see this; he made his application; and Tiglath-pileser "came up," and utterly crushed the Syro-Israelite confederacy (Isaiah 7:9).
2 Kings 16:7
So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria, saying. This appeal to man rather than to God, this trust in "an arm of flesh," was exactly what Isaiah had been endeavoring to prevent, what he viewed as unfaithfulness, and as inevitably drawing down God's wrath both upon king and kingdom. Ahaz was young, was weak, and had no doubt a large body of advisers, who considered the prophet to be a fanatic, who had no belief in supernatural aid, and who thought that in any emergency recourse was to be had to the measures which human prudence and human policy dictated. The aid of Tiglath-pileser seemed to them, under the circumstances, the only thing that could save them; and they persuaded the weak prince to adopt their views. I am thy servant and thy son. The offer of submission was unmistakable. "Servant," in the language of the time, meant "slave." Complete subjection, enrollment among Assyria's feudatories, the entire loss of independence, was well understood to be the price that had to be paid for Assyria's protection. Ahaz and his worldly advisers were prepared to pay it. They surrendered themselves, body and soul, into the hands of the great world-power of the period. 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. Syria is put forward as at once the more formidable of the two foes, and the one most open to Assyrian attack. Already Damascus had been more than once menaced by Assyrian armies, while the kingdom of Samaria had only suffered at her extremities (2 Kings 15:29). Samaria could not well be approached excepting through Syria, and after Syria's downfall.
2 Kings 16:8
And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house. Hitherto the temple treasures had been diverted from their proper use, and secularized for the sole purpose (except in one instance) of buying off the hostility of foreign foe, who threatened the city and the temple itself with destruction (see 1 Kings 14:26; 2 Kings 12:18; 2 Kings 14:14). Now, as on one former occasion (1 Kings 15:18), they were utilized to purchase an alliance. And sent it for a present to the King of Assyria. So Gyges King of Syria sent presents to Asshur-bani-pal to purchase his aid against the Cimmerians, and Susub of Babylon sent his temple treasures to Umman-Minan of Elam, to purchase his assistance against Sennacherib.
2 Kings 16:9
And the King of Assyria hearkened unto him. Overtures of the kind were almost certain to be accepted. The great conquering monarchs of the East were always glad to receive small states into their alliance for a time, and even to allow them a shadow of independence, while they made use of their services against their near neighbors. Tiglath-pileser was already bent on conquering Samaria and Damascus, and could not fail to perceive that their subjugation would be greatly facilitated by his having the support of Judaea. For the King of Assyria—rather, and the King of Assyria—went up against Damascus. Damascus was naturally attacked first, as nearer to Assyria than Samaria, and also as more wealthy and more important. Tiglath-pileser's records contain an account of the campaign, but it is unfortunately much mutilated. We may gather from it, however, that Resin began by meeting his assailant in the field, and engaging him in a battle which was stoutly contested. Eventually the Assyrians were victorious, and Resin, having fled hastily to Damascus, shut himself up within its walls. Tiglath-pileser pursued him, laid siege to the city, and eventually took it, though not perhaps till it had resisted for above a year. The Assyrian monarch thus describes the siege: "Damascus, his city, I besieged, and like a caged bird I enclosed him. His forests, the trees of which were without number, I cut down; I did not leave a tree standing. [I burnt] Hadara, the house of the father of Rezin, King of Syria." And took it. The ancient Damascene kingdom, which had lasted from the time of Solomon (1 Kings 11:24), was thus brought to an end. Damascus gave the Assyrians no further trouble; and within little more than thirty years it had been so absolutely absorbed into the empire that its governor was one of the Assyrian eponyms. The capture of the city, foretold by Amos 1:4, Amos 1:5, was followed by the destruction of its walls and palaces. And carried the people of it captive. The system of transplanting large masses of the population from one part of the empire to another seems to have begun with Tiglath-pileser. In his very imperfect and fragmentary annals we find the removal of above thirty thousand captives recorded, of whom more than half are women. His example was followed by his successors on a still larger scale. To Kir. The situation of "Kir" (קִיר) is wholly uncertain. It has been identified with Kis (Elam or Kissia); with the country watered by the Kur; with Kourena or Koura, on the river Mardus; with Karine, the modern Kirrind; with Kirkhi near Diartekr; and with Kiransi in the Urumiyeh country. But the similarity of sound is the sole basis for each and all of these identifications. It is best to confess our ignorance. And slew Rezin. This is perhaps implied, but it is not distinctly stated, in the extant annals of Tiglath-pileser.
2 Kings 16:10-18
Religious changes introduced into Judea by Ahaz. The new position into which Ahaz had brought himself with respect to Assyria was followed by certain religious changes, which were probably, in part at any rate, its consequence, though some of them may have been the result of his own religious (or irreligious) convictions. He had a new altar made and introduced into the temple, which at first he used for his own private sacrifices (2 Kings 16:10-13); then, that his new altar might occupy the pest of honor, he removed from its place the old brazen altar of Solomon, and put it in an inferior position (2 Kings 16:14). After this, he required all sacrifices to be offered on the new altar (2 Kings 16:15). Finally, he proceeded to interfere with several other of Solomon's arrangements, with what particular object is not very apparent (2 Kings 16:17, 2 Kings 16:18). In carrying out all these changes, he had the high priest of the time for his obsequious servant.
2 Kings 16:10
And King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria. It was a practice of the Assyrian monarchs to hold durbar's, or courts, at central places in the provinces, in the course of their military expeditions, whereat to receive the subject princes of the neighborhood, who were expected to do homage, and bring with them presents, or their fixed tribute. Tiglath-pileser held one such court in the earlier part of his reign at Arpad, a Syrian town, at which were present the kings of Comma-gene, Syria, Tyre, Carchemish, Gaugama, and others. He seems to have held another at some unknown place, about B.C. 732, which was attended by the kings of Commagene, Carchemish, Gebal, Hamath, Gaugama, Tubal, Arvad, Ammon, Moab, Askelon, Gaza, Edom, and Judah, the last-mentioned being Yahu-khazi (Jehoahaz), by which is probably meant Ahaz. It is with reason conjectured that this was the occasion mentioned in the text, when "King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser." And saw an altar that was at Damascus. It is almost certain that this was an Assyrian altar. Ahaz may at one time have turned for help to the gods of Syria (2 Chronicles 28:23), and asked their aid against his enemies; but the glory of Syria was now gone, her gods were discredited, and the place of power was occupied by Assyria, which had asserted its supremacy. When Ahaz visited Tiglath-pileser at Damascus, and "saw an altar," it was, in all probability, Tiglath-pileser's altar. The Assyrian kings were accustomed to carry altars about with them, and to have them set up in their fortified camps, or in other convenient places. They also, not infrequently, set up altars to the great gods in the countries which they conquered, and required the inhabitants to pay them reverence. Ahaz may either have been required by Tiglath-pileser to set up an Assyrian altar in the temple, or he may have volunteered the act as one which was likely to please his suzerain. And King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest—i.e; the high priest—the fashion of the altar and the pattern of it. Assyrian altars were quite different from Jewish ones. Generally they were of small size, either square with a battlemented edge, or round at the top and supported on a triangular base. It is scarcely likely that Ahaz was particularly pleased with the pattern (Keil), and therefore wished to have one like it. He probably merely wished to satisfy his suzerain that he had conformed to some of his religious usages. According to all the workmanship thereof. Though not very elaborate, the Assyrian altars have an ornamentation which is peculiar and unmistakable. Careful instructions would be needed for workmen who had never seen the sort of object which they were required to produce.
2 Kings 16:11
And Urijah the priest. No doubt the Uriah of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:2), who might be a "faithful witness" to the record of a fact, though a bad man, over-complaisant in carrying out the will of the king. Built an altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus:—rather, built the altar, i.e. the altar commanded by the monarch—so Urijah the priest made it against King Ahaz came from Damascus. A bold high priest like Azariah (2 Chronicles 26:17) would have refused to work the king's will in such a matter, which was certainly a desecration of the temple, and to some extent a compromise with idolatry. But Urijah was a man of a weaker fiber, and does not seem to have thought even of remonstrance, much less of resistance.
2 Kings 16:12
And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon. It is not necessarily implied in these words that Ahaz, like Uzziah, usurped the priestly functions, though conceivably he may have done so, and Urijah may have stood tamely by. What the writer has it in his mind to record is that the king, on his return from Damascus, at once made use of the new' altar for his private sacrifices. If he had meant to tax Ahaz with so great a sin as that which brought the curse of leprosy upon Uzziah, he would almost certainly have made his meaning clearer.
2 Kings 16:13
And 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. (On the different kinds of offerings, see Leviticus 1-7.)
2 Kings 16:14
And he brought also the brazen altar, which was before the Lord. One sin leads on to another. Having introduced his self-invented quasi-idolatrous altar into the temple, and so inserted "the thin end of the wedge," Ahaz was not satisfied, but proceeded to another innovation. Urijah, having had no express order from the king with respect to the position of the new altar, had placed it in front of the old one, between it and the eastern gate of the court. Thus the old altar, which was directly in front of the temple porch, seemed to cut the new altar off from the temple. Ahaz would not have this continue, and resolved on removing the altar of Solomon from, its place, and putting it elsewhere. From the forefront of the house, from between the altar—i.e; the new altar—and the house of the Lord—i.e. the temple building—and put it on the north side of the altar. The removal of Solomon's altar from its place of honor to a side position left the space clear between the temple and the new altar, which thus, without exactly occupying the same site, took practically the place of Solomon's altar. Solomon's altar, shifted to one side, was put, as it were, in the background; the eye rested on the new altar, right in front of the porch and temple, which so became "the main altar" (הַמִּזְבַּת צַגָּדוֹל), as it is called in the next verse.
2 Kings 16:15
And King Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying. Here the king, no doubt, stepped out of the sphere of his duties, not to usurp exactly the priestly office, but to give directions in matters which belonged, not to the regale, but to the pontificale. Urijah ought to have refused obedience. Upon the great altar. Certainly not so called because of its size (Keil), for it was probably much smaller than the old altar, but because of its position (see the comment on 2 Kings 16:14). Burn the morning burnt offering, and the evening meat offering—i.e. offer the daily sacrifice both morning and evening—and the king's burnt sacrifice, and his meat offering—i.e. the customary royal sacrifices (see 1 Kings 8:62)—with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their meat offering, and their drink offerings—i.e; all the private offerings of the people for themselves—and sprinkle upon it all the blood of the burnt offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice (comp. Exodus 29:16, Exodus 29:20; Le Exodus 1:5, Exodus 1:11; Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:13; Exodus 7:2; Exodus 17:6; Numbers 18:17, etc.) and the brazen altar shall be for me to inquire by; rather, and as for the brazen altar, it will be for me to inquire concerning it; i.e. I shall hereafter determine what use, if any, it shall be put to. As, by the king's directions, all the regular and all the occasional sacrifices were to be offered upon his new altar, the other would practically be superfluous. It would have been only logical to remove it, or break it up; but this the king was probably afraid of doing. He therefore said that he would take time to consider what he should do.
2 Kings 16:16
Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that King Ahaz commanded. An emphatic condemnation of the high priest, whose subserviency evidently pro-yokes the writer's indignation.
2 Kings 16:17
And King Ahaz cut off the borders of the bases. By "the bases" are probably meant the stands of the ten brazen layers, which Hiram the Tyrian artificer made for Solomon, and which Solomon placed outside the temple, five on either side of the entrance (1 Kings 7:39). The "borders of the bases" seem to have consisted of ornamental panels, on which were carved, in relief, figures of lions, oxen, and cherubim (1 Kings 7:29), The object of Ahaz in these mutilations may have been merely destructive, as we find Egyptian kings, after a change of religion, mutilating the tablets, and erasing the inscriptions put up in honor of those gods who had ceased to be in favor with them. Or, possibly, he may, as Keil supposes, have wished to transfer the ornamental carvings to some other edifice, e.g. an idolatrous temple or a palace. And removed the laver from off them—removed, i.e; from each base "the laver" which stood upon it—and took down the sea from off the brazen oxen that were under it. The "sea" was probably removed from off the backs of the oxen, in order that they might be made use of, as ornaments, elsewhere. And put it upon a pavement of stones; rather, upon a pedestal of stone (ἐπὶ βάσιν λιθίνην, LXX.).
2 Kings 16:18
And the covert for the sabbath that they had built in the house. The "covert for the sabbath" was probably (as Keil notes) "a covered place or stand in the court of the temple, to be used by the king whenever he visited the temple with his retinue on the sabbath, or on feast-days." It may have been elaborately ornamented. And the king's entry without. This may have been "the ascent into the house of the Lord," which Solomon constructed for his own use (1 Kings 10:5), and which was among those marvels of art that made the spirit of the Queen of Sheba faint within her. Turned he from the house of the Lord for the King of Assyria. It is not clear what meaning our translators intended to express, and it is still less clear what was the sense intended by the original writer. Ahaz did something to the royal stand inside the temple, and to the;' ascent" which led to it, and what he did was done, not "for the King of Assyria," but "for fear of the King of Assyria;" but what exactly his action was, we cannot say. No satisfactory meaning has been assigned to הֵסֵב בֵית יְהֹוָה by any commentator.
2 Kings 16:19, 2 Kings 16:20
The death of Ahaz. The writer terminates his account of the reign of Ahaz with his usual formulae, which in this instance are wholly colorless. Ahaz's acts were written in the book of the chronicles of the kings; he died, and was buried with his fathers; Hezekiah, his son, reigned in his stead. This is all that he thinks it needful to say.
2 Kings 16:19
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? The writer of Chronicles adds some important facts not found in the narrative of Kings. Among them are the following:
(1) The complete defeat of Ahaz by Pekah, who "smote him with a great slaughter" (2 Chronicles 28:5), killing a hundred and twenty thousand of his soldiers, and carrying Off two hundred thousand captives, men, women, and children (2 Chronicles 28:8); these captives were, however, afterwards restored (2 Kings 16:15).
(2) His defeat by the Syrians (2 Kings 16:5). This is, perhaps, implied in 2 Kings 16:6; but it is not expressly stated.
(3) His defeat by the Edomites, who invaded his land, and made a largo number of prisoners (2 Chronicles 28:17).
(4) The conquest in his reign of a considerable portion of Southern Judaea by the Philistines (2 Kings 16:18).
(5) The fact that Ahaz at one time in his life adopted the Syrian worship, and "sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which smote him" (verse 23).
(6) The fact that in his latter years he shut up the temple (verse 24), closing the doors of the porch (2 Chronicles 29:7), extinguishing the lamps (2 Chronicles 29:7), and putting an end to the burning of incense and the offering of sacrifice.
(7) The fact that, not content with the previously existing high places, he set up a number of new ones, so that there should be a "high place" in every several city (2 Chronicles 28:25). The religious condition of Judaea can scarcely have been worse in the worst time of Manasseh or Amon.
2 Kings 16:20
And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. This must be taken in the same sense, and with the same limitations, as the same phrase in 2 Kings 12:21. The writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 28:27) says, "And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, even in Jerusalem: but they brought him not into the sepulchers of the kings." Like Uzziah, he was not thought worthy of sepulture in the royal catacomb (see the comment on 2 Kings 12:21).
2 Kings 16:1-4
The godliness of parents does not secure the perseverance of their children in well doing, but increases the children's guilt if they take to evil courses.
Ahaz, the worst of all the kings of Judah, is the son of one of whom it is said that "he did right in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 15:34). Manasseh, perhaps the next worst, is the child of the one king for whom the sacred writers have no word of blame. Wicked Abimelech is the son of the pious Gideon (Judges 9:1). We naturally expect the contrary of this to happen. We suppose that education does everything, and we look to see the children of godly parents grow up godly, and are apt, without any inquiry into the circumstances, to suppose that every ill-conducted young man must have been badly brought up. The dictum of the wise man, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6), may be quoted in justification of such views, and is often so quoted, as if it were a rule without any exception. But no proverb is of this character. All are general rules, which admit of exceptions; and the exceptional character of this particular proverb is continually allowed in the Scriptures (Proverbs 17:21, Proverbs 17:25; Proverbs 19:13; Ezekiel 18:10, etc.). The points to be urged practically are—
I. THAT PARENTS SHOULD MAKE EVERY POSSIBLE EFFORT, JUST AS IF THEIR CHILDREN'S CHARACTERS DEPENDED ENTIRELY UPON THEM. "Instruction," education, training, though sometimes of no avail, have, in the majority of cases, very great weight. Even when they seem to have failed, it often happens that their results remain deep buried in the soul, and in the end show themselves, and are of sufficient force to snatch many a brand from the burning. The parent must not despair because he does not see much fruit of his labors at once. He has to do his best, to "liberate his own soul," to see that, if his child be lost, it is not owing to his neglect. He has to "hope against hope," to persevere with his efforts, to be unwearied in his prayers, to do the utmost that lies in his power to lead his children into the right path. A parent ought never to despair. While there is life there is hope. The way of repentance is open to all; and, historically, there have been repentances from such a depth of depravity that no case should seem quite hopeless. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). The mercy of God is unsearchable, unfathomable. There is no saying what sinner may not turn from his sin, put away the iniquity of his doings, and become a true servant of the Most High.
II. THAT PARENTS SHOULD NOT BE OVER-SORROWFUL, OR DEPRESSED BEYOND MEASURE, BECAUSE THEIR EFFORTS TO KEEP THEIR CHILDREN IN THE RIGHT PATH HAVE IN SOME CASES FAILED. If, indeed, they have had many children, and their efforts have failed with all, they may reasonably suspect some defect in themselves or in their system. But if the results are varied, if a portion of their children have been all that they could wish, while others—despite all that they could do—have preferred to "walk in the way of sinners," and even to "sit in the seat of the scornful," then they have no need to sorrow overmuch, or to regard themselves as culpable. The influences which go to form each man's character are countless, and with hundreds of them a parent has nothing to do. Again, there is "the personal equation," There do seem to be some who, "as soon as they are born, go astray and speak lies." It is among the mysteries of man's existence here on earth that natural dispositions should so greatly vary. No parent of many children but knows, by certain experience, that this is so. One child gives no trouble, and scarcely requires any guidance. Another is willful, perverse, headstrong, almost devoid of good impulses, and full of inclination to evil. Parents are answerable for neglect, for unwisdom, above all for bad example; but they need not fear, if they earnestly endeavor to do their duty by their children, that in God's just judgment the iniquity of their children will be imputed to them. "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son" (Ezekiel 18:20); "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4).
III. THAT CHILDREN WHO HAVE BEEN RELIGIOUSLY BROUGHT UP, IF THEY TURN TO EVIL COURSES, INCUR A FEARFUL RESPONSIBILITY. "It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (2 Peter 2:21). If children, notwithstanding a godly training, take to an evil life, what must we suppose that they would have done had they been born, as so many are, amidst adverse influences, and from infancy exposed to contact with indecency, drunkenness, blasphemy? Alas! every blessing abused becomes a curse; and to have a pattern of goodness before our eyes, to have virtue instilled into us, and then to reject it—to choose the evil and refuse the good—is to provoke God's heavy displeasure, and bring down his severe judgments upon us. What excuse can such persons offer for their misconduct? They know that by sin they displease God, grieve their parents, injure themselves, ruin their worldly prospects, imperil their salvation; yet for a little present pleasure they shut their eyes to all future consequences, and rush to their destruction. Their conduct is folly, madness, idiocy; but not the sort of madness which shuts out responsibility. They are answerable for it, and will have to answer at God's judgment-seat. Oh! that they would pause ere it is too late, recognize the folly of their evil courses, and "put away their iniquity!" God is still willing to pardon all whom he suffers to live. Let them "arise, and go to their Father," and say unto him, "We have sinned;" and he will go out to meet them, and receive them, and "there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God over each such sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (Luke 15:7, Luke 15:10).
2 Kings 16:5-7
God's punishments of a nation's sins are often long delayed, but, when they come, it is not by degrees, but suddenly, violently, and at once.
This subject may best be treated, as the last, under three heads, viz.
(1) the sins of Judah, which had provoked God;
(2) the long delay in their punishment; and
(3) the suddenness and overwhelming force with which the punishment came at last.
I. THE SINS OF JUDAH. Though, on the whole, less guilty than her sister, Ephraim, still Judah had, from the division of the kingdom of Solomon, been more or less unfaithful to Jehovah in several respects.
1. An unauthorized and illegitimate high-place worship, tinged with superstition and perhaps even idolatry, had maintained its place by the side of the authorized Jehovah-cult, throughout the whole period of the divided monarchy, from the accession of Rehoboam to the death of Ahaz (1 Kings 14:23; 1Ki 15:14; 1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 2Ki 14:4; 2 Kings 15:4, 2 Kings 15:35; 2 Kings 16:4).
2. The worship of Baal had been introduced from the sister kingdom by the influence of Athaliah, and had prevailed during the reigns of her husband, Jehoram, her son, Ahaziah, and her own (2Ki 8:18, 2 Kings 8:27; 2 Kings 11:18).
3. Luxury and effeminacy had crept in, especially during the prosperous reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, and had led on to debauchery and licentiousness (Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 2:6-8; Isaiah 3:16-24; Isaiah 5:11, Isaiah 5:12; Joel 1:5; Amos 6:1-6, etc.).
4. Injustice and oppression had become rife. The rich men sought to "join house to house, and field to field' (Isaiah 5:8); they stripped the poor of their small properties by legal chicanery (Isaiah 3:14), oppressed them, and "ground their faces" (Isaiah 3:15). The judges in the courts accepted bribes (Isaiah 1:23) and gave wrong judgments (Isaiah 5:23). Widows and orphans were the special objects of attack, on account of their weakness and defenselessness (Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:2).
5. The forms of religion were kept up, but the spirit had evaporated. Men thronged God's courts, brought abundant offerings, made many prayers, kept the new moons and the sabbaths and the appointed feasts, but without any real care for the honor of God or any thought of seeking to serve and obey him. Hence their worship was "an offence;" their ceremonies were mockeries, their oblations "vain," their solemn meetings "iniquity" God was "weary to bear them" (Isaiah 1:11-15).
II. THE LONG DELAY IN THEIR PUNISHMENT. More than two centuries had elapsed since Judah began to "do evil in the sight of the Lord, and to provoke him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done" (1 Kings 14:22). Above a century had passed since the apostasy of Jehoram and Ahaziah. During all this time Judah had maintained her independence, had received no severe blow, fallen under no crushing affliction. Latterly, she had even prospered. Under Uzziah she had recovered Elath (2 Kings 14:22), conquered a part of Philistia (2 Chronicles 26:6), defeated the Arabians and Mehunim (2 Chronicles 26:7), and made the Ammonites her tributaries (2 Chronicles 26:8); under Jotham she had maintained these conquests, and when Ammon revolted bad reduced her to subjection (2 Chronicles 27:5) without any difficulty. God, in his long-suffering mercy, bore with his people. He would win them by kindness, draw them to him by cords of love, at any rate give them ample time for repentance. But it was in vain. The longer he left them unpunished, the further they wandered from the right way, and the more they hardened their hearts. The time came when the prophet could only say of them, "Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores" (Isaiah 1:4-6).
III. THE SUDDENNESS AND OVERWHELMING FORCE WITH WHICH THE PUNISHMENT DESCENDED WHEN IT CAME. Bishop Butler remarks how, in the punishment which God brings upon vicious individuals in this world, there is often a long respite. "After the chief bad consequences, temporal consequences, of their follies have been delayed for a great while; at length they break in irresistibly, like an armed force; repentance is too late to relieve, and can only serve to aggravate their distress; the case is become desperate, and poverty and sickness, remorse and anguish, infamy and death, the effects of their own doings, overwhelm them, beyond possibility of remedy or escape". And so it is often with nations; so it was now with the nation of the Jews. As soon as the punishment began, blow was dealt upon blow. First, Rezin "smote them, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus" (2 Chronicles 28:5). Then they were delivered into the hand of Pekah, who "smote them with a great slaughter, slaying a hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men" (2 Chronicles 28:5, 2 Chronicles 28:6). Next, Edom had her fling at the sick lion, and "came and smote Judah, and carried away captives" (2 Chronicles 28:17). Then Philistia attacked the cities of the low country, and of the south of Judah, and took a number of them, "and dwelt there" (2 Chronicles 28:18). Presently, Pekah and Rezin, joining their forces, advanced together to the siege of Jerusalem. All was lost, except only honor; and then honor was thrown into the gulf; Judah went down on her knees to Assyria, and implored aid, gave tribute, accepted a suzerain, made the inglorious confession, "I am thy servant and thy son" (2 Kings 16:7). Having incurred defeat, disgrace, the loss of military honor, the loss of the flower of her troops, she crowns all by giving up her national independence, inviting a master, and herself placing a foreign yoke upon her own shoulders. But for the wonderful efforts made by Hezekiah when he ascended the throne (2 Kings 18:3-8), Judaea's ruin would have been completed under Ahaz; and the punishment so long delayed, when it came, would have been final, "without escape or remedy."
2 Kings 16:10-17
A wicked king allowed to have his way by a weak priest.
The double regime, civil and ecclesiastical, which it pleased God to establish in his first Church, the Jewish, and to continue, with certain modifications, in his second Church, the Christian, seems to have been designed for the mutual advantage of both parties. Authority, in whatever hands it is placed, is always liable to be abused, to over-assert itself, to grow arbitrary, autocratic, tyrannical. Hence the necessity of checks, of a balance of forces, of counterpoise, of an arrangement by which the undue preponderance of any single authority shall be prevented. It is sometimes needful that the civil authority shall interpose to keep the spiritual within due bounds, and disallow the establishment of sacerdotal tyranny. It is quite as often requisite for the spirituality to assert itself, and check the endeavors of kings and nobles to establish an unlimited autocracy. From time to time the two independent authorities, the civil and ecclesiastical, the regale and the pontificale, are sure to come into collision. Our own history presents instances in the struggles of Anselm against Rufus, of Becket against Henry II; and of the seven bishops against the last of the Stuart kings. Under such circumstances weakness on either side constitutes a serious peril to the community. A weak king, priest-ridden, makes dangerous concessions to the ecclesiastical order, and imperils the peace and prosperity of his kingdom by so doing. A weak priest, timid and timeserving, allows the rights of his order to be trampled on, and lays up no less an amount of trouble in the future for the nation to which he belongs. If Ahaz had been succeeded by another worldly minded and ambitious king, instead of the pious Hezekiah, there is no saying how low the ecclesiastical authority might not have sunk, or how soon the kingly office might not have freed itself from all checks, arid have become absolute, and in a short time tyrannical. Urijah did his best to destroy the constitution of his country, and to turn the Judaean limited monarchy into a pure despotism. He was weak rather than wicked; but his weakness might have had the worst results. It was only the accident of Ahaz being succeeded by a truly religious prince that prevented the precedent, which he had set, from entailing ruinous consequences.
HOMILIES BY C.H IRWIN
2 Kings 16:1-20
Steps in a downward path: the reign of Ahaz.
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". 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. (Verses 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. (Verses 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. (Verses 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. (Verses 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.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 16:1-20
A people's king and priest; or, kinghood and priesthood.
"In the seventeenth year of Pekah," etc. Throughout all lands, almost throughout all times, two functionaries have been at the head of the peoples, too often treading them down by oppression, and fattening on them by their greed. One of these functionaries was not, among the Jews, of Divine ordinations; for the Almighty is represented as saying, "They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not." Let us notice each functionary as presented in this chapter—the king and the priest—the one named Ahaz, the other Urijah.
I. THE KINGHOOD. It is said, "In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah Ahaz the son of Jotham King of Judah began to reign. Twenty 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." Here we learn that Ahaz, who was the son of Jotham, began to reign over Judah in his twentieth year, and that his reign continued for sixteen years. Elsewhere we are told that Hezekiah, his son, succeeded him at the age of twenty-five (see 2 Kings 18:17). According to this he became a father when he was only eleven years of age. This is not, necessarily, a mistake of the historian, since among the Jews in Tiberias there are mothers of eleven years of age and fathers of thirteen. And in Abyssinia boys of ten years and twelve years enter into the marriage relationship (see Keil). The account given of Ahaz in this chapter furnishes us with an illustration of several enormous evils.
1. The dehumanizing force of false religion. Ahaz was an idolater. "He walked in the way of the kings of Israel," we are told. Instead of worshipping the one true and living God, he bowed down before the idols of the heathen. This false religion of his made him so inhuman that he "made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the children of Israel; and he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree." Moloch was this idol-god of fire, and the rabbins tell us "that it was made of brass, and placed on a brazen throne, and that the head was that of a calf, with a crown upon it. The throne and image were made hollow, and a furious fife was kindled within it. The flames penetrated into the body and limbs of the idol, and, when the arms were red hot, the victim was thrown into them, and was almost immediately burnt to death." The revolting cruelty of Moloch-worship is thus described by Milton—
"In Argob and in Basan, to the stream
Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such
Audacious neighborhood, the wisest heart
Of Solomon he led by fraud to build
His temple right against the temple of God
On that opprobrious hill; and made his grove
The pleasant valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna call'd, the type of hell."
Thus the idolatrous religion of this Ahaz dehumanized him, by destroying within him all parental affection and transforming him into a fiend. This is true, more or less, of all false religions. Idolatry is not the only religion that makes men cruel. A corrupt Judaism and a corrupt Christianity generate in their votaries the same dehumanizing results. False religion kindled in Paul the savage ferocity of a wild beast. "He breathed out slaughter." Ecclesiastical history abounds with illustrations.
2. The national curse of a corrupt kinghood. Then "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. At that time Rezin King of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day." These two kings, Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel, had their eyes upon this Ahaz, saw, perhaps, how his wickedness had injured his people, had taken away their heart and exhausted their resources, until they felt that this was the time for striking at Jerusalem, taking possession of the metropolis, and subjugating the country. And they made the attempt. Although they could not "overcome" Ahaz, and failed to strike him down personally, yet they "recovered Elath to Syria [or, 'Edom'], and drave the Jews from Elath." So it has ever been; corrupt kings expose their country to danger, they invite the invader and make way for him.
"Proudly up the regal heights they sit in pampered power,
While fires smoulder underground that strengthen every hour."
3. The mischievous issues of a temporary expediency. Ahaz, in order to extricate himself from the difficulties and trials which Rezin and Pekah had brought on his country, applies to the King of Assyria. "So 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. And 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. And the King of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the King of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin." What else could he do? To whom could he have looked for help in his emergency? The right thing to have done would have been the utter renunciation of his idolatry, submission to the Divine will, and invocation of the Almighty's help; but he followed what appeared to him the expedient, not the right, and hence two evils ensued.
(1) He degraded himself. He sold himself as a slave to the king whose help he invoked. "I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the King of Syria." What more dishonorable thing can a man do than to renounce his independence and become the slave of another? He loses his self-respect, which is the very essence of true manhood.
(2) He impoverished his people. "And 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." This silver and gold belonged to the nation. It was public property. What right had he to dispose of a fraction? No right whatever. Alas! it is not uncommon for kings to rob their people, consume what they have never produced, live on the property of others, and thus impoverish their subjects! What happened with Ahaz must happen with all, in the long run, who pursue the expedient rather than the right. The right alone is truly expedient.
II. HIS PRIESTHOOD. Urijah is the priest. There seems to have been more priests than one of this name, and little is known of this Urijah more than what is recorded in the present chapter. He was the priest, who at this time presided in the temple of Jerusalem. He seems to have been influential in the state, and, although a professed monotheist, was in far too close connection with Ahaz the idolatrous king. Two things are worthy of note concerning him, which too frequently characterize wicked priests in all times.
1. An obsequious obedience to the royal will. The Assyrian king, having taken Damascus, is visited by Ahaz in the city, the object of his visit being, no doubt, to congratulate him on his triumphs. While at Damascus, Ahaz is struck with the beauty of an altar. He seems to have been so charmed with it that he commands Urijah, the priest, to make one exactly like it. "And King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof." Knowing the king's wishes, with shameful obsequiousness he sets to the work. "And 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. And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king approached to the altar, and offered thereon." This obsequious priest not only did this, but, without one word of protest or reproof, he witnessed the sacrifices of the king at the altar, and allowed the position of the brazen altar in the temple to be altered; further, he actually engaged, according to the king's command, in the services. "And 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 offerings 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 the brazen altar shall be for me to inquire by. Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that King Ahaz commanded." Thus wicked priests have too often acted.
2. An obsequious silence to the royal profanation. See what the king did, no doubt in the presence of the priest. "And 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, and put it upon a pavement of stones. And the covert for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king's entry without, turned he from the house of the Lord for the King of Assyria." This fawning, sacerdotal traitor not only "did according to all King Ahaz commanded," but he stood by silently and witnessed without a word of protest this spoliation of the holy temple. Had he acted according to his profession as a minister of the most high God, he would have risen up in all the sternness of honesty and manhood against the first intimation of Ahaz concerning the construction of an unauthorized altar. He would have said, "We have a divinely sanctioned altar already; we do not need another." And when the command came to him to make such an altar, he would have felt it an insult to his conscience, an outrage on his loyalty to Heaven, and have broken into thunders of reproof. When he saw the king's hand employed in disturbing and altering the furniture of the temple, he would have resisted him, as Azariah resisted Uzziah when he wished to offer incense. But instead of this, he, like some of his class in almost every age, seems to have been transported with the honor of seeing the royal presence, hearing the royal voice, and doing the royal bidding. A true priest should, by inflexible loyalty to Heaven, mould kings to be lords paramount in all mundane affairs, and in none other; and should lead them to be very kings of men, governing, not by craft and force, fraud and violence, but by royal thoughts, actions, and aims.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 16:1-4
The wickedness of Ahaz.
The history has passed rapidly over the later kings of Israel. That kingdom was lost beyond recovery. "The victim having once got his stroke-of-grace, the catastrophe can be considered as almost come. There is small interest now in watching his long low moans; notable only are his sharper agonies, what convulsive struggles he may make to cast the torture off from him; and then, finally, the last departure of life itself" (Carlyle). In Judah the crisis too is approaching, but it is not yet reached. Prophets and good kings are yet to do their utmost for the nation. But a reign like that of Ahaz is a sensible step in the advance to the catastrophe.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE KING. Though the son of the vigorous Jotham, and already twenty or twenty-five years old when he ascended the throne, Ahaz proved one of the weakest and most incapable of rulers. One sees in him the reflection of the luxurious and effeminate age described by Isaiah 3:12-26. Feeble, petulant, arbitrary, in his ways of acting; without strength of mind or strength of will; busying interests of his kingdom were at stake; craven in war; above all, full of religiosity and himself in dilettante fashion with novelties, with altars and sun-dials, while the greatest superstition without the faintest spark of true religion—"this is that King Ahaz" (2 Chronicles 28:22). Possibly his father Jotham was too much occupied with state and public affairs to give the necessary attention to his softs education—a fatal mistake not unfrequently committed by parents.
II. HIS ABOUNDING IDOLATRIES. Ahaz displays great zeal of his own kind in religion, but it is zeal of the most perverse and suicidal description. We observe:
1. His imitation of the kings of Israel. He took for his pattern, not his ancestor David, the type of the true theocratic king, but the wicked kings of the northern kingdom, whose idolatries were bringing their own realm to ruin. He made, like them, molten images to Baal, and sacrificed to them (2 Chronicles 28:2). Wicked men seem absolutely impervious to warning. The northern kingdom was an object-lesson, to those who had eyes to see, of the folly and fatal effects of this very course on which Ahaz was now entering. Yet he would not be deterred.
2. His reversion to Canaanitish practices. Not content with importing the licentious Baal-worship patronized in Israel, Ahaz revived the worst abominations of the old Canaanitish religions. He even went so far as to sacrifice his own son to Moloch in the valley of Hinnom—a deed indicating a degree of fanaticism, a blunting of the moral sense, and a depth of superstition which could hardly have been believed possible in a King of Judah. It was, moreover, a daring defiance of the direct letter of God's Law (Deuteronomy 12:31). Well might such a deed bring down wrath on Judah!
3. His extravagance in worship. It is further narrated that Ahaz sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. Worship in this reign seemed to have run riot; yet there was no true religion in it. All this depraved religiosity was but a manifestation of self-will, of subjective caprice; it had its origin in superstition and an impure craving for excitement, not in the fear of God. Yet Ahaz, in his dilettante way of looking at things, may have thought that he was introducing improvements into Jewish religion. He may have flattered himself that he was robbing it of its narrowness, and giving it the philosophic breadth suitable to persons of taste and culture. He might argue that there was something good in all religions; that all were but diverse expressions, equally acceptable to God, of the fundamental instinct of worship; and that none, therefore, ought to be despised. We hear such arguments nowadays, and they may very well have been used then. Ahaz was but going in for a species of Jewish Broad-Churchism. But the Bible brands this so-called breadth of view as treason against the God who has definitely revealed his will to men, and taught them how they are, and how they are not, to worship him. The true lessons to be learned from this conduct of Ahaz is that religiosity—delight in sensuous and impure religious services—is far different from religion; that altars may be multiplied, yet multiplied only to sin (Hosea 8:11); that the religious instinct, itself the noblest part of man, is capable of the most perverted developments; that only worship according to his own commandment is acceptable to God.
III. NOT ALONE IN SINNING. The lengths to which Ahaz could go, apparently without awakening any public opposition, show that the heart of the nation also had widely departed from God. This is borne out by the descriptions in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 2:6-8; Isaiah 3:16-26; Isaiah 5:8-25). The king's innovations were acceptable to a people wearied of the severer worship of Jehovah. They were glad to have the services adapted to their corrupt and dissolute tastes. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7).—J.O.
2 Kings 16:5-9
Again was the truth to be verified that national sins bring in their train national calamities. God is not mocked. He vindicates the reality of his moral government by visiting the transgressor with manifest strokes of his displeasure. In addition to the invasion of Pekah and Rezin spoken of below, we read of assaults of the Edomites and of the Philistines, by which Judah was brought very low (2 Chronicles 28:17-19). The kingdom also was brought into a state of servitude to Assyria.
I. THE ATTACK OF PEKAH AND REZIN.
1. The Syro-Israelite conspiracy. Israel and Syria had been hereditary enemies. Now they make common cause, on the one side against Assyria, and on the other against Judah. Their object in invading Judah was probably not the simple one of plunder, but the political one of still further strengthening themselves against the King of Assyria. Pekah was a mere military adventurer, and would be restrained from attacking Judah by no scruples of brotherhood. He and Rezin had begun their attacks while Jotham was still alive, but now that Ahaz was on the throne, their plans took bolder shape. They conceived the project of removing Ahaz, and putting a certain "son of Tabeal" in his place (Isaiah 7:6). The news of their expedition terrified Ahaz and his people. Instead of putting their trust in God, their hearts were moved "as the trees of the wood are moved by the wind" (Isaiah 7:2). They had cause to fear, for they showed no desire to forsake their sins, and when a people forsake God, they have no reason to hope that God will protect them.
2. The assault on Jerusalem, and its discomfiture. The earlier part of the joint expedition was crowned with great success. We read in Chronicles of terrible battles that were fought, and severe defeats that were sustained by the army of Judah. Large numbers of captives, with their spoil, were taken to Samaria, and were only restored by the intercession of the Prophet Oded (2 Chronicles 28:6-13). God permitted Judah to be thus far humbled. But when, elated with victory, the conquerors pressed on, and invested Jerusalem, he interposed to prevent their further progress. Not for the sake of Ahaz, but for his own Name's sake, he saved Jerusalem, and hindered the invaders from accomplishing their purpose of overthrowing the house of David. Isaiah had predicted this deliverance (Isaiah 7:7), and, but for the unbelief of Ahaz, and his sinful recourse to the King of Assyria, it is unlikely that the adversaries would have been permitted to go so far even as they did. Wicked men often receive mercies of which they are wholly undeserving. God spares them, not because they have any claim upon his favor, but for the sake of some oath or promise of his own, or from regard to the righteous who remain, or in order to give the sinners yet another opportunity of repentance. Because God had sworn to David that his seed should sit upon the throne (2 Samuel 7:1-29.), he did not allow even the wicked Ahaz to be removed. In the ease of Pekah and Rezin, we see how entirely human movements are under the Divine control. It appeared as if these bold men would sweep all before them, but God had said, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further" (Job 38:11), and there their proud waves were stayed.
3. The loss of Elath. The war was not wholly without gain to the Syrians. They possessed themselves of the port of Elath, at the head of the Red Sea, and thus stripped Judah of another important dependency.
II. THE APPEAL TO ASSYRIA. In the distress to which the repeated attacks on his territory reduced him, Ahaz, instead of casting himself on Divine protection, foolishly betook himself to the King of Assyria.
1. Short-sighted policy. Israel had set the example of resort to the Assyrian, but the prophets had always denounced such insensate conduct (Hosea 5:13; Hosea 8:9, Hosea 8:10; Hosea 10:6). Even from the point of view of worldly policy, the action was foolish. As well might the lamb invoke the help of the lion against the wolf, as any lesser power invoke the help of the King of Assyria against an enemy. The conqueror, pleased with any pretext for interfering in another nation's affairs, would not refuse his help, but only that the weaker power which had solicited the help might in the end be despoiled and devoured. Thus Ahaz found it. The King of Assyria was glad enough of the occasion to march against Israel and Damascus, but when once the conquest was effected, Ahaz found that he had derived no benefit, but only exchanged one oppressor for another.
2. Expensive help. To purchase the aid of Tiglath-pileser, Ahaz had
(1) to become a vassal of the King of Assyria; and
(2) to send him a large present of gold and silver.
This he could only obtain by emptying once more the often-ransacked treasuries of the temple and the palace. The accumulations of years of prosperity under Uzziah and Jotham were again dispersed, and the freedom of the country was sold to boot. God's people passed formally under the yoke of a Gentile conqueror. To such straits was the kingdom brought by Ahaz's godless policy.
3. The Assyrian a broken reed. The King of Assyria marched against Pekah and Rezin, and soon reduced them to his power. Damascus was severely dealt with. Its king was slain, and the people carried captive. Pekah was also chastised; his territory was ravaged, and considerable parts of the population were removed (2 Kings 15:29). The instruments employed in punishing Ahaz were thus themselves punished. The fact that men are used as instruments in God's providence does not exonerate them from guilt. Ahaz, however, as we learn from the parallel narrative, reaped no benefit, for "Tiglath-pileser King of Assyria came unto him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not" (2 Chronicles 28:20). It was his own ends, not those of his foolish vassal that the King of Assyria was serving. Ahaz leaned on a bruised reed, and only got his hand pierced. Thus it usually is with those who put their trust in the help of man. They reap from their assiduous sowing but the gall and wormwood of chagrin and disappointment.—J.O.
2 Kings 16:10-20
The remaining events of the reign of Ahaz recorded in this chapter shed a strong light on the king's frivolous and arbitrary character.
I. THE DAMASCUS ALTAR.
1. Ahaz at Damascus. We are now introduced to Tiglath-pileser holding court in Damascus, and Ahaz is there as one of the vassals and tributaries of the Assyrian king. He does not seem to feel the humiliation of his position, but is probably pleased to figure as part of so brilliant an assemblage. Thus the sinner, renouncing true freedom in God's service, for a time positively hugs the chains which sin binds upon him. He counts them no dishonor, but delights to wear them. Yet in the end they shall eat into his very flesh.
2. The new altar. So lightly does his vassalage sit on Ahaz, that his mind is free to lose itself in admiration of the pattern and workmanship of an altar he chanced to behold in that city. It was, no doubt, an altar to some heathen deity, but that did not matter. He was charmed with its appearance, and nothing would serve him but to have the like of it set up in Jerusalem. What a measure of this man's soul—frittering away his interest upon the shape and decorations of an altar, while his kingdom is sold into servitude; toying with trifles, while doing obeisance to a conqueror! Yet is the conduct of Ahaz any more strange than that of multitudes whose sole concern is for the vanities of time, while the realities of eternity stand unheeded? When men who are at variance with God, and bond slaves of sin, are found eagerly amusing themselves with worldly trifles, what are they doing but repeating the error of this frivolous monarch? There is the same lack of the sense of proportion in things; the same sacrifice of substance to shadow; the same indifference to supreme interests.
3. The pliant priest. Having obtained a pattern of the coveted altar—its fashion and workmanship—Ahaz sent the same to Urijah the priest, to get a similar one made for the temple at Jerusalem. This priest was of a different mould from that Azariah, who, with four score other priests, resisted King Uzziah in his presumptuous attempt to usurp sacerdotal functions (2 Chronicles 26:17, 2 Chronicles 26:18). Urijah was a courtier first, and a priest of the Lord afterwards, and he at once set about executing the orders he had received from the king. Facile priests of Urijah's stamp have not been rare in history. The tendency of high dignitaries in many countries to follow court fashion, and put a king's pleasure in room of every higher law, is notorious. Ecclesiastics cannot plead exemption, though in them the sin is greatest. When even ministers of the Lord cease to testify against evil, and willingly yield themselves as tools to the working out of a wicked king's purposes, religion is in bad case. But here most probably the proverb held true, "Like people, like priest" (Hosea 4:9)—the general decay of religion reacted on the sacerdotal orders.
II. REVISED ORDINANCES. Like a child with a new toy, Ahaz, on his return home, pleased himself to the top of his bent with his new altar.
1. He offered his own sacrifices upon it. The event was made the occasion of a great display. Ahaz is thought by some to have mounted the altar, and himself performed the sacrifices; none of the priests, apparently, daring to remonstrate with him. He offered his burnt offering and his meat offering, and poured out his drink offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings upon the altar. An artistic altar, however, does not make acceptable sacrifices. This pompous ritual was but an empty form, ministering, not to God's glory, but to a king's vanity. The motive was wrong; the method was unauthorized; the multitude of sacrifices but added to the magnitude of the hypocrisy. It is such ritual observances the prophet denounces: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams," etc. (Isaiah 1:11). The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord. The only acceptable worship is that which comes from the heart.
2. He changed the position of the altar. The altar which Solomon made for burnt offering—the brazen altar—was not good enough for King Ahaz. It must be shifted aside, and his brand-new altar take its place. This was to arrogate a right of altering the arrangements of the temple which no king had yet assumed. Ahaz was governed by a love of novelty, and perhaps by a desire to introduce the artistic into worship. Art has its legitimate place in the worship of God, but it is not to be the governing consideration. When a service degenerates into a mere artistic performance, intended to gratify the tastes of those who have no relish for spiritual worship, it is hateful in God's sight. The perfection of the art may conceal the utter absence of life. Most of all when central doctrines are removed—such doctrines as the atonement—to give place to rites and ceremonies which appeal to the carnal sense, is God mocked by the pretence of worship.
3. He improvised new sacrificial arrangements. The interference of Ahaz with the temple order did not yet cease. He altered the whole sacrificial usage, transferring the regular and occasional sacrifices to his new altar—now termed by him "the great altar"—and relegating the brazen altar, which still stood in the court, to a secondary condition. This usurpation by the king of the right to dictate the order of the temple services was tamely submitted to by Urijah, who did faithfully all that he was told. One is reminded of Wolsey's words, "Had! but served my God with half the zeal I served my king," etc. Happy for the nation had Urijah been as faithful in serving God as he was in carrying out the behests of Ahaz.
III. MINOR CHANGES. The history tells of other alterations effected by Ahaz in the temple. He cut off the borders of the bases of the layers, and took down the sea from off the bronze oxen on which it had rested, substituting for the latter a pedestal of stone; he changed also the position of some other erections in the sacred courts. These changes are said to have been wrought "before," or for fear of, "the King of Assyria"—perhaps to hide any evidences of wealth. Other novelties introduced by Ahaz, such as "the altars which were on the top of the upper chamber of Ahaz" (2 Kings 23:12), had for their motive imitation of Assyrian or Damascene idolatries. What a contemptible picture of the king is thus presented! On the one hand, cringing before the King of Assyria, and dismantling the temple to avoid exciting his cupidity; on the other, slavishly imitating the religion of the foreigners—if indeed this also was not an attempt to court Assyrian favor. How total the loss of self-respect and of the spirit of independence! Other instances of the folly and sin of Ahaz are given in Chronicles; e.g; his worship of the gods of Damascus for the reason, "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me" (2 Chronicles 28:23). One does not wonder after this to hear that Ahaz "shut up the doors of the house of the Lord," while he "made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 28:24). At length his sixteen years' reign ended, and the people, by this time sick of his doings, marked their sense of his unworthiness by refusing him a sepulcher in the tombs of the kings (2 Chronicles 28:27).—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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