When I taught my two year long Bible study on Isaiah, I used The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell to give me a starting point and rough outline of the material covered in the chapters. In this article, when you read the phrase “my commentary”, I am referring to this volume.
Read Isaiah 7:10-11. The Lord speaks through the mouth of his prophet, Isaiah. God is incredibly generous here saying, “ask for a sign, any sign, and I will give it!” Ahaz could have asked for something as incredible as being levitated in the air or of the aqueduct and the Upper Pool suddenly overflowing with wine or even of having an angel suddenly appear before him! God was giving him permission to ask for anything, as an affirmation that what Isaiah was saying was true.
Why did God make this offer? Because He wanted Ahaz to believe Isaiah and trust that the Lord would take care of him, and return to a right relationship with the Lord. If only Ahaz had had the soft and receptive heart of the apostle Nathanael, who was the recipient of a simple miracle and believed whole-heartedly as a result. Read John 1:43-51
But Ahaz didn’t want to believe Isaiah and ask, for if he did, and God did provide the sign, Ahaz knew he would have to change his ways and give his life over to God. He wanted to be “king” and be in control. Read Isaiah 7:12. You get the feeling that even if Ahaz had seen the heavens open, and the angels ascending and descending, he was too stubborn and heart calloused to change his ways. He couches his refusal in “religious” language, saying “I will not put the Lord to the test” which is ridiculous, of course, since it was God, Himself, who told him to ask for a sign.
So Ahaz rejects God’s offer of help. As you can imagine, neither God nor Isaiah are pleased with his stubbornness and stupidity, but before we study the next section in Isaiah, let’s see what Ahaz does instead of trusting God.
Read 2 Kings 16:7-9. Ahaz turns to godless Assyria, sinning even further by using the gold and silver vessels of the temple to bribe King Pul. It sounds like he also beggars the royal treasury, as well.
On the surface it appears like he made a good political move: Judah is rescued from the siege and her enemy Syria (Aram) is defeated, her king Rezin killed. The reality was that Ahaz just traded one earthly master for another, instead of being under Syria, Judah was now under the yoke of Assyria.
Read 2 Chronicles 28:16-21. Here no mention is made of the Israel-Syrian siege, but the Edomites are mentioned again, as well as a new enemy, the Philistines. (Though, of course the Philistines had been around for a long time, a constant thorn in Israel & Judah’s sides. They would be defeated, then come back again, as God called them in as a tool to chastise his people. We will learn more about the history of Philistia when we study Isaiah 14, which has a prophecy against this nation.) Philistia borders the Great Sea (the Mediterranean Sea) and the foothills of the Judean Mountains. All the cities mentioned here were most likely border towns and therefore more vulnerable to be retaken.
So now we know that Judah is surrounded by many enemies: Edom, Philistia, Israel, and Syria. Here is Chronicles the author says Assyria “gave him trouble instead of help” which may appear to be confusing and contradictory when compared to the parallel passage in 2 Kings. The reality is that the Chronicles, as books, tend to emphasize the spiritual and moral aspect of any given situation, while the Kings, as books, tend to put more emphasize on historic events. And as we will see later, no, Assyria didn’t really help Judah in the long run; she simply removed Syria’s yoke from Judah and replaced it with an Assyrian one.
Read 2 Chronicles 28:22-23. This section seems to me to be some of the saddest verses in the whole Bible. Ahaz is spiritual enough to recognize that his defeat and troubles are not by chance, they are spirit caused, but rather than turning to the one true God, he turns to the idols of his enemy, Aram, reasoning that if Aram defeated Judah, than her idols must be stronger than Judah’s gods, the Baals. Remember he was not trusting in Jehovah, the true God, when he was defeated, nor did he ever call on the Lord in his troubles. He isn’t even willing to try the Lord, he is so stubborn and calloused.
As an interesting side note, the name of one of Aram’s (Syria’s) gods was Rimmon; Rimmon was associated with the weather, lighting storms, etc. There is a wonderful story in the Bible of a story of an Aramean (Syrian) who turns from worshipping Rimmon to worshipping the one true God. This happened about 100-125 years earlier, when Elisha was the prophet to Judah.
Read 2 Kings 5:1-18. Naaman recognizes Jehovah’s power after humbling himself to not only go to the prophet for help, but also in doing the demeaning task asked of him. Ahaz, in contrast, wouldn’t even ask, though God, in a sense, appears to bend over backward for him in offering to show him a sign (Isaiah 7:11). Ahaz, a king of Judah, rejects Jehovah to follow after Rimmon, while here we have a Syrian soldier reject Rimmon, to follow after Jehovah!
2 Kings gives us more specifics about Ahaz’s actions in turning to the Aramean gods. Read 2 Kings 16:10-16. Not only does Ahaz have a new pagan altar made (copying what he saw in Damascus), he steals the bronze altar from the temple to use it with his pagan worship!
Who is Uriah? (His name means “Jehovah is light.”) There are actually 3-4 Uriahs mentioned in the Bible (remember Uriah the Hittite? Bathsheba’s first husband…) From this section all we know about him is that he is a priest (probably the high priest), which would make him from the house of Levi, and that he is willing to follow the King’s orders and participate in pagan worship. There is only one other place in scripture where he (this specific Uriah) is mentioned, Isaiah 8:1-2.
But here God calls Uriah a “reliable witness!” There appears to be a duality to this priest. As we know, people are complex and often weak. My guess is that Uriah was a good man, who out of fear and intimidation, gives into the king’s commands, rather than risk his life. He reminds me of his ancestor/distant relative Aaron, the first high priest. Remember, he, too, gives into his fear and participates in idol worship. Read Exodus 31:1-6.
We know that Aaron was forgiven for his sin (which implies he repented), but we simply don’t have enough information about Uriah to say either way. We can only hope.
Ahaz’s treachery doesn’t end with him building and worshipping on a pagan altar and coercing the high priest into helping him. Read 2 Chronicles 28:24-25, 2 Kings 16:17-18.
Once more as we read these descriptions we see how each author has a different emphasis or tone: the writer of Chronicles focuses on how Ahaz shuts up the temple and corrupts his people even further, by setting up pagan altars throughout Judah. This writer mentions how God is angered by this. The writer of Kings, however, doesn’t even mention these other altars, or even God, he focuses on the historic, specific details of what are done to the furnishings in the temple.
What is the “Sea”? This is also sometimes called the “Molten Sea” or the “Brazen Sea.” This is one of the temple furnishings, made in Solomon’s day. Let’s read a description of its making. Read 1 Kings 7:23-25. This was a large basin used for the ceremonial washings of the priests’ hands and feet before entering the sanctuary. The 12 bulls represented the 12 tribes of Israel. The fact that Ahaz had the Sea taken down from the bulls’ back and set onto stone implies that he took the bronze bulls from the temple for himself, perhaps melting them down or cutting them up for other uses.
This Sea is important enough that God gives Jeremiah a prophecy regarding it, and the other temple furnishings. Read Jeremiah 27:19-22.
Part of Jeremiah’s prophecy came true during Judah’s final rebellion against Babylon. Read 2 Kings 25:13-15. Here we read that the Sea is broken up for its bronze and taken to Babylon, as well as the gold and silver vessels of the temple. The second part of Jeremiah’s prophecy, that the vessels would be returned to the temple later, is fulfilled in Ezra 1:7-11. Sadly, the Sea is never replaced (the best I can tell, from the scripture.) Apparently God does not include it under His promise that the “vessels” will be returned to the temple, though it is possible that Ezra is given some of the original bronze as part of the “other articles” mentioned in the inventory list.
Let’s wrap up the history of King Ahaz. Read 2 Kings 16:19-20, 2 Chronicles 28:26-27.
Once more these sections are almost identical, with 2 Chronicles giving us one extra piece of information. Though Ahaz is buried in Jerusalem (the City of David) he is not buried in the family (royal) tombs. I found this quite interesting. If you are a king, who gets to decide where you are buried? Your successor, of course.
Read 2 Chronicles 29:1-2. We see here that Ahaz’s successor was his son Hezekiah and that he is a good king, a godly man. The fact that he refuses to bury his father in the royal tombs demonstrates that he did not approve of his father and what he did during his reign. We’ll learn a lot more about Hezekiah later on in the study as he plays a pivotal role in Isaiah.
So now we’ve studied the historic record of what happens after Ahaz refuses God’s offer to help him deal with the attacking Israelites and Syrians, as described in Isaiah 7. Let’s return to Isaiah and examine God’s response to Ahaz’s refusal and see how Isaiah’s prophecy matches up to what happened historically.
To be continued…
H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (editors). The Pulpit Commentary Volume 10: Isaiah