Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament2 KINGS 16
THE WICKED REIGN OF AHAZ OVER JUDAH
Ahaz was one of the very worst of Judah's kings, only Manasseh and Ammon either reaching or exceeding his state of wickedness and rebellion against God. The full name of this king was Jehoahaz, the same as that of one of the kings of Israel (2 Kings 13:1), as revealed by the discovery of an ancient seal.F1 LaSor dated his reign from 732 to 716 B.C., with a co-regency from 735 B.C.F2
THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF AHAZ'S REIGN
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 he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: and he did not that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah his God, like David his father. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations, whom Jehovah 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.
Three charges against Ahaz are made here. (1) He did not walk in the way of David; (2) he offered his son as a burnt offering to Molech; and (3) he participated in the licentious worship in the high places. The prior kings had winked at the old Canaanite worship still going on in the high places, but Ahaz was the first king of Judah actually to engage in it himself. There was nothing innocent about that worship in the high places. One should compare the phrase "under every green tree," as used here with the use of it in Jer. 3:6, where that prophet wrote that Israel had played the harlot "under every green tree." Yes, "harlotry" was used as a metaphor for worship of pagan gods, but the religious prostitutes were a vital part of that worship, and the words are also literally true.
Twenty years old was Ahaz when he began to reign
(2 Kings 16:2). Sixteen years afterward, his son was said to be twenty-five years old, which would mean that he married at ten years of age and had a son when he was eleven.F3 Although that was not impossible, it appears to be better to take the Septuagint (LXX) rendition of twenty-five years for the age of Ahaz when he began to reign.
He made his son to pass through the fire
(2 Kings 16:3b). This was not a symbolic rite.F4 Diodorous Siculus, as quoted by Hammond, describes such worship as it was practiced in Carthage, where there was a great temple in honor of Saturn (Molok), where there was the horribly ugly image of the god, a human form with a bull's head, having outstretched arms, where the children were laid and rolled downward into the bronze belly of the god. A furnace heated the whole image to a red-hot intensity; and as the screaming child was thrown into the god's arms, the noise was drowned out by flutes and kettle-drums.F5
"This is the first instance of an actual Molech-sacrifice among the Israelites."F6 However, it was practiced quite frequently afterward as indicated by the denunciations of it by Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Ahab's horrible sacrifice here was doubtless made in that temple which Solomon had erected to Molech (1 Kings 11:7); "Thus we see the frightful flowering of the seed planted by Solomon."F7 Moses himself had warned God's people against such sacrifices, and all of God's prophets had vigorously denounced and condemned it. Ahaz's sacrifice of his son, "Was probably on some extraordinary occasion, like the sacrifice of his son by the king of the Moabites (2 Kings 3:27).F8
Keil pointed out that, "In the closing year's of Ahaz's reign he actually closed the temple hall and suspended the temple worship (2 Chronicles 28:24)."F9
THE WAR AGAINST AHAZ BY PEKAH AND REZIN OF SYRIA
Verses 5, 6
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 drove the Jews from Elath; and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there, unto this day.
"2 Kings 16:5 here is practically identical with Isa. 7:1."F10 In fact, Isaiah probably is the author of a great many passages in Kings. From the account in Isaiah we learn the reason for this war against Judah. Syria, mentioned first here, was the leader of a coalition in which they had also enlisted Pekah with a projected purpose of forming a wide-spread alliance against the rising authority of Assyria. They desperately wanted Judah to join this coalition, and when Ahaz refused, Syria and Israel under Pekah decided to replace Ahaz on the throne of Judah with a man of their own choice, Ben-Tabeel (Isaiah 7:6).
Cook pointed out that, "A large party in Judah were weary of the house of David (Isaiah 7:13) and were ready to join the coalition."F11 Their siege of Jerusalem was for that purpose, but although they inflicted great damage and casualties upon Judah, they could not compel the removal of Ahaz.
We shall not comment on 2 Kings 16:6, as it appears here, because scholars generally agree that the text is defective, as indicated by the RSV rendition as follows:
"2 Kings 16:6, (RSV): At that time the king of Edom recovered Elath for Edom, and drove the men of Judah from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, where they dwell to this day."
The Hebrew words for Aram and Edom are quite similar, and the translators switched the passage to Edom, rather than Aram (Syria), because of the more appropriate meaning. The inclusion of this information here seems to have been for the purpose of showing how the difficulties against Ahaz were multiplied.
AHAZ CALLS IN TIGLATH-PILESER, 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, who rise up against me. And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of Jehovah, 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; and the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried [the people of] it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin.
Snaith has an excellent summary of what is revealed here. "Rezin of Syria-Damascus and Pekah of Israel tried to bully Ahaz into joining their coalition against their common Assyrian overlord. Ahaz called for help from Assyria, buying it with great treasure, and was saved from his immediate enemies. Damascus was captured, its people deported, and their king Rezin killed."F12 "This was the end of Syrian Damascus as a power.F13 This destruction of Damascus had been prophesied by Amos (Amos 1:3-5). "The word translated `present' in 2 Kings 16:8 is the same word also rendered `bribe'."F14
This request of Ahaz for Assyrian help must have been celebrated gloriously in the pagan temples of Nineveh, because, Assyria which had designs against Egypt would naturally have to conquer Judah first; and now, with no cost whatever to Assyria, Judah became, to all intents and purposes, a vassal of Assyria.
The foolishness of Ahaz in what he did could have been prevented if he had heeded the warning of Isaiah (Isa. 7:4ff), but that weak, wicked monarch followed his own secular advisers, and only the providential slaughter of Sennacherib's army prevented the destruction of Judah much sooner than it eventually happened.
RELIGIOUS INNOVATIONS WHICH WERE PROBABLY REQUIRED BY ASSYRIA
And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and saw the altar that was at Damascus; and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof. And Urijah the priest built an altar: according to all that king Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so did Urijah the priest make it against the coming of king Ahaz from Damascus. And when the king was come from Damascus, the king saw the altar: and the king drew near unto the altar, and offered thereon.
From the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser, we learn that his custom was to hold court in various conquered cities, demanding the appearance (with their tribute) of all the vassal kings throughout the area.F15 It was to such a court in Damascus that king Ahaz was summoned by the king of Assyria. There were three types of altars used in Nineveh, and one was the portable altar which Tiglath-pileser carried with him in his campaigns. It was probably that portable altar from Assyria that Ahaz copied, very likely upon the insistence of Tiglath-pileser. Montgomery noted that, "Ahaz's attendance upon Tiglath-pileser at Damascus and the resulting ritual innovations in the temple, and certain reconstructions, were after the usual Assyrian manner."F16 "The altar Ahaz copied was Assyrian, and Ahaz was doing honor unto the Assyrian gods."F17
It was a terrible price that Ahaz had paid for Assyrian assistance. When he wrote, I am thy servant and thy son, it was understood from that time forward that, Ahaz and his advisers had surrendered themselves body and soul into the hands of the great world-power of that period. It meant complete submission and enrollment among Assyria's tribute-paying vassal states.F18 Urijah the priest made it
(2 Kings 16:11). This reprobate priest was named by Isaiah as a witness (Isaiah 8:2), but what the man did here was evil. A bold priest like Azariah (1 Chronicles 26:17) would have refused to do what the king requested, which was a desecration of the temple and at least an evil compromise with idolatry.F19
FURTHER CORRUPTIONS OF THE TEMPLE WORSHIP BY AHAZ
And he burnt his burnt-offering and his meal-offering, and poured his drink-offering, and sprinkled the blood of his peace-offerings, upon the altar. And the brazen altar, which was before Jehovah, he brought from the forefront of the house, from between his altar and the house of Jehovah, and put it on the north side of his altar. And king Ahaz commanded Urijah the priest, saying, Upon the great altar burn the morning burnt-offering, and the evening meal-offering, and the king's burnt-offering, and his meal-offering, with the burnt-offering of all the people of the land, and their meal-offering, and their drink-offerings; and sprinkle upon it all the blood of the burnt-offering, and all the blood of the sacrifice: but the brazen altar shall be for me to inquire by. Thus did Urijah the priest, according to all that king Ahaz commanded.
All Christians should beware of the false claims of radical critics. Snaith, for example, wrote that, "There was nothing in pre-exilic times to prohibit the king from performing all the functions mentioned here. It was only the post-exilic regulations which made Ahaz's actions illegal and improper."F20 Of course, this is untrue. Saul was rejected as king of Israel for doing exactly what Ahaz is here said to have done, only on a much smaller scale. The radical fairy tale that the Pentateuch was written after the Babylonian exile is only that, a fairy-tale.
The brazen altar shall be for me to inquire by
(2 Kings 16:16). The brazen altar, of course, was the true one; but as all of its functions were transferred to the new altar designed after Ahaz's instructions, the true altar was relegated to a secondary position, where Ahaz proposed that he would use it to inquire by. Thus the Babylonian system of omen-sacrifices, which the Law of Moses abominated (cf. Ezek. 21:36) was intruded into the temple worship.F21
"God Himself had prescribed the form of his sanctuary (Exo. 25:40; 26:30; 1 Chr. 28:19); and therefore any altar planned by man and patterned after a heathen model was idolatrous."F22
It is clear that all of the changes made here by Ahaz were to accommodate the wishes of Tiglath-pileser, as indicated by the words, "Because of the king of Assyria" (2 Kings 16:18).
STILL FURTHER CHANGES ORDERED BY AHAZ
And king Ahaz cut off the panels 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 stone. And the covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king's entry without, turned he unto the house of Jehovah, because of the king of Assyria. 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? And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David: and Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead.
"All of the alterations and changes mentioned here had been demanded by the king of Assyria as tokens of Judah's reduction to the status of a vassal state."F23 Montgomery thought that the removal of the brazen oxen from under the laver, etc. was for the purpose of, "Smelting the brass and using it for tribute to Assyria."F24 However, Cook disputed this, pointing out that, "The oxen and the sea were not destroyed, because they remained at Jerusalem until its final capture (Jeremiah 52:17-20)."F25
"From this time on, with the exception of two or three rebellions, Judah is a vassal state of Assyria -- a fact usually overlooked by Bible students."F26
And Hezekiah his son reigned in his stead
(2 Kings 16:20). J. C. J. White noted that, The fall of Samaria came in the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign (that was in 722 B.C.), and yet the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib is dated in 701 B.C., in the fourteenth year of his reign. It seems best therefore to assume that Hezekiah was co-regent with Ahaz from circa 729 B.C.F27
This brings us to the obituary for Northern Israel as reported in the next chapter.
Footnotes for 2 Kings 16
1: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 456.
2: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 360.
3: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 5b, p. 312.
4: International Critical Commentary, p. Kings, p. 456.
5: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 313.
6: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 3b, p. 399.
7: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 466.
8: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 457.
9: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 401.
10: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 457.
11: Albert Barnes, Kings, p. 272.
12: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 3, p. 273.
13: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 459.
14: Ibid., p. 458.
15: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 273.
16: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 259.
17: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 361.
18: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 214.
19: Ibid., p. 316.
20: The Interpreter's Bible, op. cit., p. 275.
21: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 461.
22: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 406.
23: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 466.
24: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 461.
25: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 273.
26: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 361.
27: The New Bible Dictionary, p. 524.