Ahaz, son of Jotham

“Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done. For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals. He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.” (2Ch 28:1-4, NKJV)

Of the four Judean kings under which Isaiah prophesied (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah), Ahaz was the wicked one of the four. He was a syncretist meaning he combined the worship of the High Places, the worship of the Golden Calf, the worship of Baal, and the worship of Molech. He promoted this polyglot blend of all the idolatries plaguing both Israel and Judah. He went so far as to sacrifice his own children to the Ammonite god Molech.

At this point in history, the Assyrian empire was in expansion mode on a conquest to assimilate its smaller neighbors. Syria's king Rezin (capital at Damascus), and Israel's king Pekah (capital at Samaria) united together, but they were still too weak to withstand the Assyrians. Judah with its capital at Jerusalem had built up a strong army under kings Uzziah and Jotham. Early in Ahaz's reign, this Syro-Israeli alliance sought out Judah's help to defeat the Assyrians, but he refused.

A series of conflicts ensued in which Judah was not conquered, but suffered much loss in various battles. Syria attacked and carried off a great multitude of Judah's populace as captives. Israel attacked, slaughtering one hundred and twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all valiant men, because they had forsaken the God of their fathers. Israel took much spoil, and carried away captive of their brethren two hundred thousand women, sons, and daughters and brought them to Samaria. This act by Israel exceeded God's judgment upon Judah. He sent the prophet Oded to protest this viciousness and warn Israel that if they did not return the captives, God's wrath would be upon them. Amazingly, the apostate Israelites complied by delivering the freed captives to Jericho (2Ch 28:5-15)

The two confederate kingdoms then developed a strategy to do away with Ahaz. They may have succeeded if all they wanted was to do away with Ahaz. However, their design was to remove the House of David, and setup a brand new dynasty, the dynasty of Tabeel. This was not merely a threat to Ahaz personally, it was also a threat to the whole House of David. If the confederacy were to be successful in removing the House of David, it would render the Davidic Covenant null and void.

The Syrian army captured the port city of Elath in the south, and then combined forces with Israel in their ongoing siege against Jerusalem. One of the most significant messianic prophecies was given at this juncture (see Messianic Christology for complete and fascinating details), as is recorded in Isaiah chapter seven. God sent the prophet to tell Ahaz to believe in the promises of the Davidic Covenant, and to have faith in Him for deliverance. Faithless Ahaz refused to do so, but instead sent to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, saying: “I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me.” (2Ki 16:7)

Ahaz paid the Assyrian king handsomely with gold and silver from the Temple and palace treasuries, and pledged to become his vassal in exchange for his military intervention. This proposal was accepted and according to Assyrian records, in 733 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser III's army besieged Damascus. Assyria was victorious after two years of war, and Syria's king Rezin was executed and the populace was deported to Kir.

“Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship.” (2Ki 16:10)

Ahaz, apparently enamored with this pagan altar sent back a blueprint with orders to have it replicated and erected in the Temple. Upon his return to Jerusalem, Ahaz sacrificed thereon, and further commanded that henceforth all offerings and sacrifices were to be conducted upon this “new great altar.” The legitimate Solomonic bronze altar (1Ki 8:22, 54, 64) was relocated and converted into an object of divination (2Ki 16:15). The sea was removed from off the bronze oxen and placed upon a bed of stones, and other aspects of the Temple compound were corruptly remodeled in order to please the king of Assyria, whom Ahaz served instead of God.

Other than temporary relief from the conquest of Damascus, Ahaz's alliance with Assyria proved to be more grief than gain. Because Ahaz was continually unfaithful and had encouraged so much moral decline in Judah, the LORD brought him low. The Edomites attacked again and carried away captives. The Philistines invaded and took over numerous cities throughout southern Judah. Ahaz appealed to Tiglath-Pileser III for help, however the Assyrian monarch demanded further tribute payment and this time delivered nothing in return except more distress (2Ch 28:16-21).

At his breaking point, Ahaz responded by stepping up his insane promotion of idolatry. He sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had earlier defeated him, reasoning that maybe they would help him. He tore up the articles of the house of God, and shut its doors. In every corner of Jerusalem he built pagan altars, and in every single city of Judah he constructed high places to burn incense to other gods. This wanton embrace of apostasy provoked to anger the LORD God of his fathers (2Ch 28:22-25).

In conclusion, it was God who preserved Judah from total destruction during this time, not Tiglath-Pileser. God brought judgment against Judah because of Ahaz's sins, but providentially tempered it to preserve his covenant with David. In the end, Ahaz's alliance with Assyria only added to his woes by costing the kingdom of Judah much human life, treasure, cities, and independence. It also contributed immeasurably towards a national slide into idolatry.

“So Ahaz rested with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem; but they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel. Then Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.” (2Ch 28:27)