AHAZ (ā'hăz, Heb. ’āhāz, he has grasped). Reigning over the southern kingdom of Judah, 735-715 b.c., Ahaz was a king of great significance. Historically during his reign and as a result of his policies, the people of God became vassals of Assyria and never again did the throne of David exist in its own sovereign right. Ahaz began that prolonged period of foreign domination that continued beyond the time of the coming of Christ. The dominant political power changed—Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome—but the vassalage did not. In addition, Ahaz is significant theologically, for his policies involved a denial of the way of faith. The essential cause of the demeaning of the throne of David and its enslavement was unbelief. The message of the reign of Ahaz remains as Isaiah summarized it: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isa.7.9).
Ahaz is often represented as a weak, ineffective king. This is not the case. He gave his country firm and resolute leadership—but in the wrong direction. In 745 b.c. Tiglath-Pileser gained the throne of Assyria, the contemporary “super-power”; at once the Assyrians threw off the lethargy of the previous years and began to pursue imperialist policies. The states of Western Palestine, particularly Syria (Aram) and Israel (the northern kingdom of the people of God), felt their security threatened and determined on a defensive, military alliance. Desiring a united Palestinian front, these northern powers determined to coerce Judah into their anti-Assyrian bloc. From the time of Jotham, Ahaz’s father, Judah had been under this pressure (2Kgs.15.37), but it was not until Ahaz’s day that events reached a climax. A large-scale invasion brought the northern powers the successes reported in 2Chr.28.5-2Chr.28.8, though for reasons no longer clear they failed to capitalize on success by taking Jerusalem (Isa.7.1). A further incursion was planned. This time Edomite and Philistine (2Chr.28.17-2Chr.28.18) armies also took the field, with the clearly defined objective of bringing the monarchy of David to an end and replacing the Davidic king, perhaps with an Aramean puppet (Isa.7.6). This threat to the dynasty of David made the events of the reign of Ahaz crucially significant. In the face of the threat we may well ask, “What made the people of God secure? How did they keep hold of their God-given possessions and privileges?”
The Bible makes it clear that Ahaz had prepared the way for his own spiritual downfall by religious apostasy long before the decisive moment came (2Kgs.16.14; 2Chr.28.1-2Chr.28.4). It comes as no surprise that his decisions to abandon the way of faith opened the door to further and greater religious decline (2Kgs.16.10-2Kgs.16.18; 2Chr.28.22-2Chr.28.23).
2. A great-grandson of Jonathan, son of King Saul; one of four sons of Micah and the father of Jehoaddah (1Chr.8.35-1Chr.8.36).——JAM
, he has possessed;
; Josephus, ̓Αχαζης
). The name is shortened from Jehoahaz (whom Jehovah has possessed
) which, in turn, is the same as Ahaziah by transposition of the elements, -iah (=jah) and Jeho- being abbreviations of Jehovah, or, Yahweh.
A cuneiform inscr. of Tiglath-pileser III mentions Ahaz among those from whom he received tribute by the name “Yauhazi [i.e. Jehoahoz] of Judah” (FLAP, pp. 207, 208, ANET, p. 282; ANEA, p. 193, ARAB, sect. 801, BDB, p. 28 cf. p. xiv). His story is told in 2 Kings 16:1-20
and 2 Chronicles 27:9-28:27
, the second account enlarging greatly on his disastrous religious, military and diplomatic ventures. Isaiah 7-12
, the “Book of Immanuel,” relates to his time also. He was the thirteenth king of Judah of David’s line.
Ahaz’ family connections.
His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were among the best of the Davidic line (2 Chron 27:6; 26:4, 5). His son Hezekiah is the most noted for godly faith of the entire dynasty (2 Kings 18:5, 6).
Chronology of life and reign.
There is a serious problem with the numerical data. According to 2 Chronicles 28:1 and 2 Kings 16:2, Ahaz would have died at the age of thirty-six, yet, according to 2 Chronicles 29:1, his son Hezekiah succeeded to the throne at the age of twenty-five, upon the death of his father, Ahaz—thus making Ahaz only eleven years of age at the birth of his son Hezekiah. The LXX has twenty years in 2 Kings 16:2 for the age of Ahaz at his accession, but in 2 Chronicles 28:1 the figure is ἔι κοσι και πεντε (twenty and five). Biblia Hebraica notes considerable textual support for the higher figure in the Chronicles text, but not in the Kings text. The lower figure is not, however, impossible, for as is well-known, children of very young age—below ten—are frequently married in the Orient. The kings of Judah, more often than not, were conceived when their fathers were in middle or late “teens.” Coming to the throne about 735 b.c., Ahaz’ reign lasted sixteen years. By supposing a co-regency with his father, Jotham, a somewhat longer reign is possible. Accordingly, scholars frequently assign his reign’s length as twenty or twenty-one years.
Events of reign.
Early in his reign the two nearest northern neighbor kingdoms, Israel under Pekah the son of Remaliah and Syria under Rezin of Damascus, formed an alliance bent on conquest of Judah and termination of the reign of the Davidic dynasty by placing a certain “son of Tabeel” (Isa 7:6) upon the throne. Who this person might have been is unknown—the name suggests a non-Heb., hence likely, a scion of some leading Syrian family. That the king of Israel would co-operate in a project so alien to the history and faith of the Mosaic institutions speaks volumes for the low state of affairs in the northern kingdom at that time. In this time of national peril and of testing for Ahaz the young king, Isaiah, with holy zeal and great faith, encouraged the king, by the Word of the Lord, promising early deliverance of Jerusalem, if not of the whole land of Judah (Isa 7:3-9). Ahaz responded with a great lack of faith (Isa 7:10-13). The prophecy was fulfilled anyway, for though great losses were sustained, Jerusalem was spared, to the encouragement of Isaiah and his faithful disciples (Isa 7:14-8:22).
The narratives are not crystal clear at this point, but presumably in connection with the attacks of the combined forces of Israel and Syria, a truly enormous number of captives were taken from outlying portions of Judah and transported to Samaria (2 Chron 28:8ff.). Supported bravely by several Ephraimite chieftains (2 Chron 28:12) the remonstrances of the prophet Oded, who pointed out the contrariety of such action to the Mosaic law and threatened divine judgment, brought about return of the captives, with provisions for life and decency, to their homes. The vile Pekah, king at Samaria, however, had slain 120,000 “in one day” in the process of his depredations—a loss which could not be restored (2 Chron 28:5, 6). The author of Chronicles states that these disasters came because they of Judah “had forsaken the God of their fathers” (2 Chron 28:6).
At this time Judah, till now a strong power in the Levant, suffered other serious losses of territory and strength. The Edomites not only reasserted their independence of Judah, but captured Elath, long time seaport for Judah on the Gulf of Aqabah to the S (cf. 2 Kings 14:22) and even successfully invaded the S of Judah (2 Chron 28:17-19; 2 Kings 16:6). (It is possible that the expulsion of Jews from Elath may have been by Syria. The obscurity roots in similarity of אֲרָ֤ם [Syria] and אֱדֹ֛ום [Edom] in Heb. script. See the textual notes in BH on 2 Kings 16:6.) The long quiescent Philistines raided cities of Judah in the Negeb and Shephelah and occupied them (2 Chron 28:17-20).
The spiritual significance of Ahaz.
Spiritually Ahaz was a disaster to the whole nation. All three accounts—Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah—point out that Ahaz imported the corrupt pagan religious practices of Mesopotamia to Jerusalem. This involved worship of the heavenly bodies (stars and planets), child sacrifice and consulting with wizards and necromancers (2 Chron 28:22-25; Isa 8:19). His name is connected with heathen abomination (sun worship) which survived until the times of Josiah nearly a cent. later (2 Kings 23:11). Of course there were minor cultural “benefits” from the importations—enough to provide their advocates (of false religion) a certain plausibility (then as now), for a beautiful “altar of Damascus” was adopted—no doubt to the delight of “modernizing” esthetes (2 Kings 16:10-16) and the courts now had the benefit of a “timepiece”—a sundial prob. imported (Isa. 38:8).
A certain Micah, great-grandson of King Saul through Jonathan, had a son named Ahaz (1 Chron 8:35, 36; 9:42). Nothing is known of the history of this person.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(’achaz, "he has grasped," 2Ki 16; 2Ch 28; Isa 7:10 ff; Achaz).
The name is the same as Jehoahaz; hence appears on Tiglath-pileser’s Assyrian inscription of 732 BC as Ia-u-ha-zi. The sacred historians may have dropped the first part of the name in consequence of the character of the king.
2. The Accession:
Ahaz was the son of Jotham, king of Judah. He succeeded to the throne at the age of 20 years (according to another reading 25). The chronology of his reign is difficult, as his son Hezekiah is stated to have been 25 years of age when he began to reign 16 years after (2Ki 18:2). If the accession of Ahaz be placed as early as 743 BC, his grandfather Uzziah, long unable to perform the functions of his office on account of his leprosy (2Ch 26:21), must still have been alive. (Others date Ahaz later, when Uzziah, for whom Jotham had acted as regent, was already dead.)
3. Early Idolatries:
Although so young, Ahaz seems at once to have struck out an independent course wholly opposed to the religious traditions of his nation. His first steps in this direction were the causing to be made and circulated of molten images of the Baalim, and the revival in the valley of Hinnom, south of the city, of the abominations of the worship of Moloch (2Ch 28:2,3). He is declared to have made his own son "pass through the fire" (2Ki 16:3); the chronicler puts it even more strongly: he "burnt his children in the fire" (2Ch 28:3). Other acts of idolatry were to follow.
4. Peril from Syria and Israel:
5. Isaiah’s Messages to the King:
Amid the general alarm and perturbation, the one man untouched by it in Jerusalem was the prophet Isaiah. Undismayed, Isaiah set himself, apparently single-handed, to turn the tide of public opinion from the channel in which it was running, the seeking of aid from Assyria. His appeal was to both king and people. By Divine direction, meeting Ahaz "at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller’s field," he bade him have no fear of "these two tails of smoking firebrands," Rezin and Pekah, for, like dying torches, they would speedily be extinguished (Isa 7:3 ff). If he would not believe this he would not be established (Isa 7:9). Failing to win the young king’s confidence, Isaiah was sent a second time, with the offer from Yahweh of any sign Ahaz chose to ask, "either in the depth, or in the height above," in attestation of the truth of the Divine word. The frivolous monarch refused the arbitrament on the hypocritical ground, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt Yahweh" (Isa 7:10-12). Possibly his ambassadors were already dispatched to the Assyrian king. Whenever they went, they took with them a large subsidy with which to buy that ruler’s favor (2Ki 16:8). It was on this occasion that Isaiah, in reply to Ahaz, gave the reassuring prophecy of Immanuel (Isa 7:13 ff).
6. Isaiah’s Tablet:
As respects the people, Isaiah was directed to exhibit on "a great tablet" the words "For Maher-shalal-hash-baz" ("swift the spoil, speedy the prey"). This was attested by two witnesses, one of whom was Urijah, the high priest. It was a solemn testimony that, without any action on the part of Judah, "the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria" (Isa 8:1-4).
7. Fall of Damascus and Its Results:
It was as the prophet had foretold. Damascus fell, Rezin was killed (2Ki 16:9), and Israel was raided (2Ki 15:29). The action brought temporary relief to Judah, but had the effect of placing her under the heel of Assyria. Everyone then living knew that there could be no equal alliance between Judah and Assyria, and that the request for help, accompanied by the message, "I am thy servant" (2Ki 16:7,8) and by "presents" of gold and silver, meant the submission of Judah and the annual payment of a heavy tribute. Had Isaiah’s counsel been followed, Tiglath-pileser would probably, in his own interests, have been compelled to crush the coalition, and Judah would have retained her freedom.
8. Sun-Dial of Ahaz:
The political storm having blown over for the present, with the final loss of the important port of Elath on the Red Sea (2Ki 16:6), Ahaz turned his attention to more congenial pursuits. The king was somewhat of a dilettante in matters of art, and he set up a sun-dial, which seems to have consisted of a series of steps arranged round a short pillar, the time being indicated by the position of the shadow on the steps (compare 2Ki 20:9-11; Isa 38:8). As it is regarded as possible for the shadow to return 10 steps, it is clear that each step did not mark an hour of the day, but some smaller period.
9. The Lavers and Brazen Sea:
Another act of the king was to remove from the elaborate ornamental bases on which they had stood (compare 1Ki 7:27-39), the ten layers of Solomon, and also to remove Solomon’s molten sea from the 12 brazen bulls which supported it (compare 1Ki 7:23-26), the sea being placed upon a raised platform or pavement (2Ki 16:17). From Jer 52:20, where the prophet sees "the 12 brazen bulls that were under the bases," it has been conjectured that the object of the change may have been to transfer the layers to the backs of the bulls.
10. The Damascus Altar:
To this was added a yet more daring act of impiety. In 732 Ahaz was, with other vassal princes, summoned to Damascus to pay homage to Tiglath-pileser (2Ki 16:10; his name appears in the Assyrian inscription). There he saw a heathen altar of fanciful pattern, which greatly pleased him. A model of this was sent to Urijah the high priest, with instructions to have an enlarged copy of it placed in the temple court. On the king’s return to Jerusalem, he sacrificed at the new altar, but, not satisfied with its position, gave orders for a change. The altar had apparently been placed on the east side of the old altar; directions were now given for the brazen altar to be moved to the north, and the Damascus altar to be placed in line with it, in front of the temple giving both equal honor. Orders were further given to Urijah that the customary sacrifices should be offered on the new altar, now called "the great altar," while the king reserved the brazen altar for himself "to inquire by" (2Ki 16:15).
11. Further Impieties:
Even this did not exhaust the royal innovations. We learn from a later notice that the doors of the temple porch were shut, that the golden candlestick was not lighted, that the offering of incense was not made, and other solemnities were suspended (2Ch 29:7). It is not improbable that it was Ahaz who set up `the horses of the sun’ mentioned in 2Ki 23:11, and gave them accommodation in the precincts of the temple. He certainly built the "altars .... on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz," perhaps above the porch of the temple, for the adoration of the heavenly bodies (verse 12). Many other idolatries and acts of national apostasy are related regarding him (2Ch 28:22 ff).
12. Recurrence of Hostilities:
In the later years of his unhappy reign there was a recurrence of hostilities with the inhabitants of Philistia and Edom, this time with disaster to Judah (see the list of places lost in 2Ch 28:18,19). New appeal was made to Tiglath-pileser, whose subject Ahaz, now was, and costly presents were sent from the temple, the royal palace, and even the houses of the princes of Judah, but without avail (2Ch 28:19-21). The Assyrian `distressed’ Ahaz, but rendered no assistance. In his trouble the wicked king only "trespassed yet more" (2Ch 28:22).
13. Death of Ahaz:
Ahaz died in 728, after 16 years of misused power. The exultation with which the event was regarded is reflected in Isaiah’s little prophecy written "in the year that King Ahaz died" (Isa 14:28-32). The statement in 2Ki 16:20 that Ahaz "was buried with his fathers in the city of David" is to be understood in the light of 2Ch 28:27, that he was buried in Jerusalem, but that his body was not laid in the sepulchers of the kings of Israel. His name appears in the royal genealogies in 1Ch 3:13 and Mt 1:9.
W. Shaw Caldecott