“In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, became king” (2 Kings 16:1). In both 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28, we read about a very young king named Ahaz, who lived a terribly wicked life and brought a great deal of suffering on himself and his people. In the sense that the Old Testament is given to us “for our instruction” (Romans 15:4) and that all things in Israelite history “happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved” (1 Corinthians 10:6), the story of the failed administration of King Ahaz is a rather dark example of how not to live. Essentially, he did everything wrong – he blundered every opportunity, wasted every chance for redemption, rejected God’s mercy on numerous occasions, and ended his life by breaking the commands of the Law to such an absolutely excessive point that few kings in the Bible can compare.
To help us understand the setting, let us consider some of the main characters in our story. Ruling over the ten tribes of Israel is Pekah, another terribly wicked man who filled the shoes of his predecessors well. Being of the Northern kingdom, he has a natural tendency toward hatred for the people of Judah. In league with Pekah is Rezin, the king of the Aramites. Together, these two men make up a relatively powerful alliance – capable, at least, of decimating the Judean army and leaving 120,000 valiant soldiers dead in a single day of combat (2 Chronicles 28:6), and capturing around 200,000 women, sons, and daughters of Judah (2 Chronicles 28:8). Tilgath-pilnesar also plays an important part in our text, for he is the king of Assyria to whom Ahaz will be closely associated in upcoming verses. The Assyrians were a kingdom on the rise. They had not reached their peak yet, but were slowly conquering nations and enslaving them as vassals. Being one of the most powerful forces at the time, it is only natural that Ahaz would turn to the Assyrians for aid during times of troubles. Establishing these peaceful relationships was essential in the survival of ancient kingdoms. Beyond these main characters, there is also Urijah, the worthless priest, who “did according to all that king Ahaz commanded” (2 Kings 16:16).
For this lesson, I would like to walk through the text and make applications for three main points. How did Ahaz respond to the problems in his life? Did he consult God? Did he consider the Scriptures? Did he turn to prayer and fasting? In moral matters, how does he approach life? In military matters, to whom does he turn for help? In religious matters, who is at the center of his worship? The question that we cannot help but propound in the life of Ahaz is, “What about God?”
In Moral Matters
2 “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. 3 But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and even made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had driven out from before the sons of Israel. 4 He sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:2-4). In situations that helped shape his moral character, Ahaz made himself a name as one who practiced evil in excess. First, he did not do the things that were right in the eyes of God, but chose to follow in the footsteps of the wicked kings of Israel who had reigned before him in the Northern Kingdom. Given the choice between following after King David and God, and doing what was unrighteous like so many of his predecessors, Ahaz never once makes the right decision. It is sad that so many people still look to the wrong kind of role models when determining their course in life. Are celebrities the best kind of examples? Are politicians? What about rock stars, activists, or extremists? What ever happened to our role models being Bible characters? It is interesting that our children prefer to dress up as fictional superheroes on appropriate occasions but never even think that Samson, David, or Elijah would make much more exciting and edifying heroes!
What separates Ahaz from many of the other evil kings of Israel and Judah is the fact that he takes his evil to the furthest extreme. He is not like some of the former kings who simply envisioned high places and established idolatrous practices – he took after the most wicked of all Israelite royals, Ahab and Ahaziah. It was not just calf worship, but Baal worship that was reintroduced to Judah, and it was not simply animal sacrifice but also child sacrifice that stained the people of God. The text says that “Ahaz even made his son pass through the fire…” (2 Kings 16:3), which most likely means he burned the child alive. Some have argued that Ahaz simply forced his son to pass in between two fires as a ritual in preparation for service to idols. One writer notes, however, “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… but involved the death of the children” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. V, 313). Other scriptures seem to use the same language, and back up the assertion that this practice led to the slaughter of innocent children. Jeremiah 19:5 describes the worshipers of Baal as literally burning their sons in the fire as burnt offerings. Also see Ezekiel 16:21 and the parallel story of Ahaz in 2 Chronicles 28:3.
At almost every opportunity, Ahaz made his life worse by choosing evil over good. Before Ahaz became king, the good administrations of Jotham and Uzziah had produced great prosperity and peace in the land of Judah. “But before Ahaz died, all this was changed. Enemy after enemy invaded his country. The land became desolate… 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” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. V, 321). By choosing unrighteousness, Ahaz simply made sank both himself and his country deeper into sin, angering the Lord at every corner, and leading his people into such apostasy that it took his death and a grand revival in later years to bring them back from the brink of self-destruction. We see similar situations today. How often do we destroy ourselves by choosing further sin? It has always been true that one lie naturally leads to another, that one sin brings about a perceived need for more sins. If we want to stop sin in our lives, we must learn to root it out early and quickly. A decisive victory is the only kind that can truly lead to conquering sin! We are exhorted by Paul in 1 Timothy 6:11 to “flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”
Ahaz failed to remove sin from himself, and suffered great consequences. Perhaps the entire life of this man can be summed up in one verse from the text; “For the Lord humbled Judah because of Ahaz, for he had brought about a lack o restraint in Judah for he was very unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:19). This immense desire for evil led him to live in gluttony and waste. He had no restraint when it came to sin. He could say “no” to none of the temptations that infiltrated his heart. When given the chance to sin more, he took it. For example, look at 2 Kings 16:4, “And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.” He did not simply burn incense in a few places, but practiced his sin at nearly every agreeable location possible! When given the chance to repent, he turned his hard heart away and looked to everything else in the world for help but the Almighty God. In moral matters, he looked to the evil kings of Israel for guidance, and never once pondered God or His word. What about God?
In Military Matters
At some point during the reign of Ahaz, Judah comes under the attack of a force that is under the control of both Rezin, the king of Aram, and Pekah, the king of Israel. Perhaps motivated by greed, power, and larger borders, these two kings lead their armies through Judah, capturing several cities, and finally arriving at the walls of Jerusalem. During the fighting, two of Ahaz’s most important counselors, his son Maaseiah and his second-in-command Azrikam, are killed, along with 120,000 valiant men of Judah. Beyond that, as has already been mentioned before, a great number of the women and children are carried away to Israel and Damascus to become slaves. One wonders what must have been going through the mind of Ahaz as all of this is happening. Many kings would realize quite quickly that all of this has come about because of God. In fact, the Lord is given direct credit for allowing these events to transact. “Wherefore, the Lord his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Aram…” (2 Chronicles 28:5). It was because God was angry with Ahaz that he was beaten so badly during these conflicts.
With this fact so plainly stated by the circumstances, does Ahaz return to God for help, guidance, or mercy? Let us continue reading to reveal the king’s answer to his country’s problems. 16 “At that time King Ahaz sent to the kings of Assyria for help. 17 For again the Edomites had come and attacked Judah and carried away captives. 18 The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the lowland and of the Negev of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh, Aijalon, Gederoth, and Soco with its villages, Timnah with its villages, and Gimzo with its villages, and they settled there. 19 For the LORD humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel…” (2 Chronicles 28:16-19). With enemies all around him, and almost no hope from within his kingdom, Ahaz decides to turn to the Assyrians for help – the very kingdom that would become Judah’s enemy in years to come was being called to aid it in its darkest hour. At Ahaz’s wits’ end, he does not choose God’s help, but the helping hand of a wicked nation eager to conquer territories! What about God?
The Assyrians make an interesting “ally.” In fact, Tilgath-pilneser, the king of Assyria, does not seem to help Ahaz at all, according to the account in 2 Chronicles 28:20-21. Rather than helping this weakly nation, the Assyrians decide to take advantage of the Judeans and afflict them, even after receiving a bribe straight from the treasury of the Temple. “But it did not help him…” Such a “matter-of-fact” statement almost seems comical in the context. With no sympathy for Ahaz, the events are simply told as they happened. No bribe in the world can really “help” any of us. Rather, bribes and other forms of extortion only lead to further moral decay. At this point in the story, some will argue that there is an inconsistency in the scriptures. In the other account, 2 Kings 16:7-9, the writer informs us that the king of Assyria actually does accept the gift from Ahaz and helps him defeat his enemies to the north. While this may seem at first to be a contradiction in the Bible, it makes much more sense to see it as just another excellent example of how fickle our “friends of the world” can be. In one instant, the Assyrians listen to the pleas of Ahaz, and help him defeat his enemies – while in the very next moment, Tilgath-pilneser turns around and begins inflicting great suffering on Judah! Is this a trustworthy ally? Is this the kind of bedfellow that Ahaz needs in his kingdom? Do we make friends like this today? There are so many “friends” that exist who will turn around and stab their companions in the back on a whim, whenever it suits there evil desires. This story just shows us how terribly true this concept is! In our own lives, what kind of friends have we been making? Unfortunately, we live in a world of “fakes” – people who claim to be your friend but have no guilt in abandoning you on a whim. “Wealth adds many friends” according to Proverbs 19:4, but surely these are not the kind of friends who stick around when the money runs out! The prodigal son (Luke 15:13-14) had many friends in the distant land, but did any of those people help him when he hit rock bottom? Tilgath-pilneser wanted power, and used Ahaz as his pawn to not only defeat Israel and Damascus, but also to abuse the nation of Judah at the same time.
Compared to Tilgath-pilneser, what kind of friend is God? Is he fickle? Does He turn on us when we need Him most? Does He accept our love, our pleas, and our repentance and then stomp on it when we are at our wits’ end? The Lord Himself tells us in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” No other friend loves us the way that God loves us, and He proves it time and time again by His great mercy!
Did any of these circumstances cause humility in the heart of Ahaz? “Now in the time of his distress this same King Ahaz became yet more unfaithful to the Lord” (2 Chronicles 28:22). What about you? When trouble hits in your life, do you use it as an opportunity to grow and become stronger? Does adversity lead you to depend on God more or less? It is always tempting to look at our various lots in life and become discouraged, but we must always remember that it is not necessarily God’s fault that bad things happen. Truly, bad things happen in this world because of sin! Death happens because sin came into this world, and all have sinned (Romans 5:12). Suffering happens because of the greed of wicked people. War happens as a result of evil ambition. Beyond that, there is the undeniable truth that some things just happen because of “time and chance” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Instead of always blaming God for our troubles, let us instead use those things as opportunities to become better Christians. If you are not a Christian, then why are you living like Ahaz? Why have you turned away from serving the true Lord? “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness…” (Hebrews 3:7-8). What about God?
In Religious Matters
In matters of religion, did Ahaz ever consult or consider God? Let us examine the words of 2 Chronicles 28:23-25. 23 “For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him, and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they became the downfall of him and all Israel. 24 Moreover, when Ahaz gathered together the utensils of the house of God, he cut the utensils of the house of God in pieces; and he closed the doors of the house of the LORD and made altars for himself in every corner of Jerusalem. 25 In every city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked the LORD, the God of his fathers, to anger.” What logic! As if rejecting God was not already bad enough, Ahaz feels the need to seek help from the idols of the people who had defeated him. Perhaps instead of seeking help from the gods who he thinks helped ravage his country, he should have sought forgiveness from the true God who caused the devastation! But when we are a slave to sin and corruption, our logic is often clouded and unable to see simple truths before our very eyes. Paul even describes the person in sin thus, “That they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). For Ahaz, the very gods that he turned to for help “became his downfall.” “By what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). Again, we see the excessiveness of Ahaz’s sin as he proceeds to build high places and altars in his honor in “every” city of Judah.
In 2 Kings 16:10-16, we also see some very interesting points that can be made about Ahaz’s treatment of religion. He begins by being very curious about the “pattern” of the altars in Damascus, and goes to inspect them with his own eyes. Is this not how every apostasy begins, though – with curiosity? We may simply start by inspecting false doctrines, or dabbling in them, but it will inevitably escalate to outright falsehood! So which pattern do we seek? Have become so tired of God’s pattern that we go to today’s Assyrian and Damascan patterns? After this, he orders Urijah the priest to completely copy the Assyrian altar in Jerusalem. “And the bronze altar, which was before the Lord, he brought from the front of the house, form between his altar and the house of the Lord, and he put it on the north side of his altar” (2 Kings 16:14). The bronze altar was used for various temple activities, and was a central piece of furniture. The very first thing that would be seen upon entering the Jerusalem temple would be the bronze altar, devoted to the Lord. But because Ahaz was not interested in pleasing God in his religious activities, he set aside the bronze altar for his own “modern” altar. From a purely human perspective, this new altar was better than God’s old, bronze altar. More ornate, more beautiful, larger, more updated, and significantly more “contemporary” with the false religions of the time. Of course, Ahaz does not want to completely reject certain parts of God’s law, and keeps the bronze altar for his own purposes (2 Kings 16:15). Essentially, Ahaz wants kind of a religious “medley.” He wants a little bit of the Assyrian religion, a little of the Damascan, and still a few parts of the Jewish religion. But can we have religion on our own terms? Is this pleasing in the sight of God? While some people of the world will look at the many accomplishments of Ahaz and cry, “Wow! Such diversity! So many apparent successes! New high places! New gods! Tolerance of all the religions of the world! What a king this Ahaz is!” – what about God? “And in every city of Judah he made high places to burn incense to other gods, and provoked the Lord, the God of his fathers, to anger” (2 Chronicles 28:25). It makes God very angry when we set Him aside for “other gods,” which is why the first commandment is “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
If there is anybody who reads the story of Ahaz and feels uncomfortable, then it is time to change your ways and repent. While this horrible man turned his heart away from God at every opportunity, you now have an opportunity to take hold of the love of our Savior and become a part of His church. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16).