King Ahaz

The opening verse of Isaiah 7 refers to the campaign of Syria (Aram) and northern Israel (Ephraim, “the northern kingdom”) against Judah during the reign of Ahaz. The campaign in question took place between 735 and 733 B.C.E. (see 2 Kings 16) and is known as the Syro-Ephraimite war. Syria and Israel had already been paying tribute to Assyria since 738 B.C.E. but had now decided to revolt by withholding payment. Judah had refused to join the alliance. As yet Ahaz had no quarrel with Assyria, and in any case hopes of success were remote. Israel and Syria then attempted to overthrow Ahaz and replace him with a king more amenable to their wishes.

What is important to our understanding is that rather than rely upon God, Ahaz submitted to Assyrian power as its protector.  While that enabled Judah to survive the catastrophe which overtook the northern kingdom in 722 BC, it took the God’s chosen people farther from the covenant. It was not only in this matter that Ahaz led the people astray. The Books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles detail his reign and provide an assessment of King Ahaz:

  • He placed an altar from Damascus into the Jerusalem temple (2 Kings 16:10–16) and began to introduce Canaan indigenous cultic worship, thus perverting the worship of God. Ahaz’s sacrificial cult is described in 2 Chronicles 28:23 as being carried out in honor of the “gods of Damascus.”
  • Ahaz is also seen as reviving the cult of child sacrifice associated with Molech. The phrase “he made his son pass through the fire” is taken as a reference to child sacrifice rather than some ritual ordeal.
  • He is condemned with the standard assessment that “he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD …,”
  • Even further, as a King of Judah, is further reviled by being compared in his wickedness to the kings of the north/Israel/Ephraim (2 Kings 16:3; see 2 Kings 8:18).

Ahaz added significantly to this spiral of decline of the covenant people – so much so that 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles devote significantly more verses to his condemnation that the usual reign of a Judean king. The significance of 2 Kings 16 is that it stands immediately before the important editorial section in 2 Kings 17 detailing the destruction of the Northern Kingdom (“Israel”)  for its apostasy. The present context, therefore, highlights that the Southern kingdom is progressing at an ever-increasing rate to be an apostate state, soon to meet a similar fate.


Image credit: Dream of St Joseph, c. 1625–1630, by Gerard Seghers | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Public Domain

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