The Word Made Fresh
1In the seventeenth year of the reign of Pekah son of Remaliah, Ahaz son of Jotham began to rule as king of Judah. 2He was twenty years old when his reign began, and he ruled for sixteen years in Jerusalem. He was not a good king as was his forefather, David. 3He fell into the practices of the kings of Israel. He even sacrificed his own son in fire, following the disgusting practices of the people the LORD drove out before the Israelites. 4He offered sacrifices and gave offerings at the hilltop shrines and under so-called sacred trees.
5During his reign King Rezin of Aram and king Pekah of Israel came to battle Ahaz at Jerusalem but were unable to defeat him. 6The king of Aram was able to recover Elath, driving out the Judeans there, and the Edomites resettled Elath and live there to this day. 7But Ahaz sent envoys to king Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria to say to him, “I am your servant and your son. Come and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and the king of Israel. They have come to attack me.” 8He sent payment consisting of the gold and silver in the LORD’s temple and the treasury in the king’s palace. 9The Assyrian king then attacked Damascus and captured it and carried the people captive to Kir. He killed King Rezin of Aram.
10King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with Tiglath-Pileser and saw the altar there. He sent a model of it along with a detailed drawing to the priest Uriah, 11who then built an exact copy of it. It was completed before King Ahaz returned from Damascus. 12When the king returned he went to examine the altar 13and placed on it his burnt and grain and drink offerings and dashed the blood of his sacrificed animals against it. 14He removed the bronze altar that stood before the LORD from the front of the temple and placed it on the north side of his new altar. 15He ordered the priest Uriah to use the new altar for all the morning and evening sacrifices, including the king’s own, along with his grain offerings and the grain offerings brought by the people as well as their drink offerings, and to dash the blood of the sacrifices against it. “The bronze altar,” he said, “shall be for my personal use to seek guidance.” 16The priest Uriah followed the orders of King Ahaz to the letter.
17Then king Ahaz destroyed the frames from the stands which held the basins and took the great sea from atop the bronze oxen and mounted it instead on a stone platform. 18He removed the king’s covered sabbath entrance from inside the palace and removed the king’s outer entrance to the temple; all in accordance with the king of Assyria’s example.
19The rest of the deeds of Ahaz are written in the Book of the Acts of the Kings of Judah. 20He died and was buried with his ancestors in the city of David. He was succeeded by his son Hezekiah.
1-4: Ahaz came to the throne in Jerusalem during the reign of Pekah of Israel. He was a very religious man – he worshiped every god he could get his hands on. In the eyes of the historian who composed 2 Kings, that made him much, much worse than David. There is wide speculation about what passing his son through the fire means; most scholars agree that it was a human sacrifice – that is, his son’s life is taken. It was certainly a religious ritual connected with a cult other than the faith of the God of Abraham.
5-9: Rezin of Aram (Damascus) and Pekah of Israel (Samaria) form an alliance and attack Jerusalem. The siege is unsuccessful, but it prevents Ahaz from defending his territories and the Edomites take Elath (modern Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel on the Gulf of Aqaba). Ahaz is in dire straits, and resorts to buying help from Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria (ruled 745-727 BC). The Assyrian emperor responds by conquering Damascus and killing Rezin. It is the Assyrian practice to deport subject peoples to other locations around the empire, and that is what they do now to the population of Damascus. They will do the same to the population of Israel in chapter 17.
10-16: Ahaz goes up to Damascus to meet with his new boss, Tiglath-Pileser. While there he is impressed with the religion of the Arameans and sends drawings of their great altar back to Jerusalem to the priest Uriah with orders to replicate it and place it in front of the temple. Upon his return from Damascus, he has the original bronze altar moved to a less prominent site and set aside for his own personal use and designates the Damascus copy as the altar for public sacrifices.
17-20: Ahaz makes a number of modifications to the temple, apparently inspired by the religion of Tiglath-Pileser. In a rule that lasts only 16 years, he seems to have done a lot of damage to the worship of the LORD in Jerusalem. His son Hezekiah, however, will prove to be a better man.
Faith in God is a simple thing. When we try to embellish it with fancy rituals and material trappings it is inevitably turned into something else, and only serves to distance us from the One who created us.