Sermon preached on 2 Kings 16 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 09/13/2020 in Novato, CA.
It is very fitting that the Bible records King Ahaz’s name for us exclusively as Ahaz. What I mean is that the Assyrian records under the King Tiglath-Pileser mentioned in this chapter record his name as King Jehoahaz. The Assyrians were pretty good at keeping records and they have a record at this time of the different kings that paid them tribute. Our Ahaz here is listed there as Jehoahaz. Ahaz, of course, is a shortened version of that name. Ahaz is a short form of Jeho-ahaz, or Jehoahaz. Such shortened versions of names were not uncommon, but in Ahaz’s case it was especially fitting. You see, the full name of Jehoahaz means, “Yahweh has held” or “Yahweh has possessed”. Many of the Davidic kings took names that had references to Yahweh God in them. So then, the Bible refers to the king as simply Ahaz. In other words, that shortened version takes the Yahweh part out of his name. But that is a very fitting name for this king because that is exactly what we see him doing: effectively taking Yahweh God out of his life. This godless king is one of the worst of all the Davidic kings. We will see instead in this chapter on whom he seeks and on whom he looks to follow and emulate.
Let us begin in our first point for today by looking at the summary of his reign in verses 1-4. Sadly, we are told in verse 2 that he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. Notice in there that it likewise says that he did not do as his father David had done. We’ll see different people today that he does model his life after, but sadly his godly forefather David was not one of them. Notice that this summary is also a break in the common refrain we’ve been seeing over the last several generations of David kings. Typically here it would have said that the king did right in the eyes of the LORD his God, like his father, but not like his father David. Instead here, he doesn’t even measure up to the somewhat good report of his more recent fathers, and definitely he was not a David.
So then, look at who Ahaz was like according to this summary. Verse 3 says that he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. When you read that, I think you should think first of Baal worship. In fact, the parallel reading of 2 Chronicles 28 tells us that Ahaz brought Baal worship into the land. That was the way of the most notorious kings of Israel – specifically that wicked house of Ahab and Omri. Similarly, when verse 4 says that he worshiped on the various high places, etc, the Chronicles account clarifies that much of this was to other gods. Ahaz had become a rank polytheist. So, not only did Ahaz not model his religious life after his recent fathers let alone David, he instead chose to model his life after the first-commandment-breaking kings of Israel. When we hear that he followed after the ways of the Israelite kings, we might also remember their persistent second-commandment violations with their different perversions of worship of Yahweh God through things like the golden calves and an illegitimate priesthood. We do see various second-commandment violations by Ahaz in this passage, and we’ll consider them when we get to our third point for today.
These summary verses of King Ahaz also tell us one more role model of sorts for Ahaz. Verse 3 says that he followed the despicable practices of the nations by burning his son as an offering. This was an egregious practice at that time – where some of the pagan nations would perform child sacrifice in their heathen cultic practices. Here that wicked practice gets introduced into what was supposed to be the godly kingdom of Judah. We learn elsewhere that the place this was conducted at was in a valley known as the Valley of Hinnom and the ritual involved sacrifice of children by fire. Later the prophet Jeremiah would bring the word of God to speak against this great evil, that God said this kind of sacrifice he did not command, nor did it even come into his mind (Jeremiah 7:31). This Valley of Hinnom with its fire sacrifices became such a notorious place, that by the time you get to the New Testament it’s name is used as a metaphor for hell. Depending on your translation, you might see the language of Gehenna as the place of God’s fiery judgment for the wicked. Well, Gehenna is just a transliterated pronunciation for the Hebrew “Valley of Hinnom”. And it is Ahaz here who introduces such an evil and notorious practice in Judah. And he does so modeling his life after the despicable practices of the pagan nations.
So then, notice what this brought the pagan nations before. Verse 3 says that God drove out such people. What this is talking about is that these wicked practices like child sacrifice were the sorts of evil things that the various Canaanite peoples were doing before God brought Israel into their land and conquered them and drove them out. God gave Israel the land of Canaan not only to bless Israel, but also in judgment against how wicked the Canaanite peoples were in things like savagely murdering their children. You can appreciate, why, many Christians today are greatly concerned when our nation murders so many children in abortion unto the god of Convenience. But the point here with Ahaz is that he’s modeling his life after peoples and practices that previously had resulted in the strong hand of God’s judgment in ridding the former peoples from this land of promise.
Let’s move now to our second point and consider Ahaz’s response to this military threat of Syria and Israel. We find this in verses 5-9. Starting in verse 5, we find that Syria and Israel had teamed up in order to attack Judah. Many history scholars think that part of the strategy by Syria and Israel is that they had been trying to get Judah’s support to stand against the rising power of Assyria. Well, our passage shows in verse 6 that the Syrian-Israel coalition was starting to have some success in taking parts of Judah. I would also note that we learn about this conflict as well in Isaiah 7, not to mention the parallel account in 2 Chronicles.
Those two additional accounts are helpful. On the one hand, the other account tells us that God allowed to a degree Israel and Syria to afflict Judah as a chastening on Ahaz for his great disobedience. But on the other hand, we see that Israel and Syria wanted to completely annihilate the house of David and put their own king on the throne of Judah – and that was something God would not allow. In the Isaiah 7 account, it especially brings out how God would graciously put down the Syrian-Israelite threat, thought it at the same time it highlights Ahaz’s own lacking faith.
And so, while the prophecy of Isaiah should have encouraged the faith of Ahaz in Yahweh God, instead we see where he turns to for help instead. Look at verse 7. There we see Ahaz seek help and salvation from the king of Assyria, Tiglath-pileser. Notice how he humbles himself to the Assyrian King. Ahaz says, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me.” That would have made a fine prayer to God. But it makes for a horrible petition to a wicked pagan king. Where is that hope found in Psalm 2 that the nations would fail when they take their stand against the LORD and his anointed king in Zion? But that was the hope of Ahaz’s father David, not his own. Gone too here is the hope of King David’s Psalm 20 which spoke of trusting in the name of the LORD instead of in chariots and horses. Ahaz doesn’t put his trust in the LORD, and not even in his own chariots and horsemen. Ahaz puts his trust in the name of Tiglath-pileser, King of Assyria, and in the Assyrian chariots and horsemen.
Such allegiance to Assyria comes with a great cost for Ahaz. Verse 8, now like too many of his forefathers in the David house, follows suit and pillages the treasuries from the temple and palace to come up the tribute for Assyria. So, the only thing we see him following his forefathers on is in their failings. Then notice verse 18 where it references “because of the king of Assyria”. It’s unclear exactly what this means, but it’s saying that at least some of the temple architectural changes that Ahaz made were in some way due to Assyria. Either they started making requirements of them, or he felt the need to do them in somehow deference to the king of Assyria. The bottom line is we see him in a way subservient and indebted and therefore controlled by the evil Assyrians. Not a good result for where he put his hope. In fact, Isaiah 7 even prophesied that this would be an outcome of the current matters – the king of Assyria’s overbearing presence being felt in Judah. Ahaz’s folly in seeking help from Assyria is all the more confirmed in the very next generation. Under the reign of his son King Hezekiah, Assyria almost conquers Jerusalem. It would only be a great miracle from God that would save Judah at that time.
Let’s turn now to our third point and consider Ahaz’s perversions to the temple worship per verses 10-18. What we see here is especially troubling. It begins with his attraction to the Syrian gods. He is up in Damascus, the capital of Syria, with the King of Assyria. Apparently, this is the aftermath of Assyria defeating the Syrians. Well, verse 10 tells us that he becomes enamored with the pagan altar there at Syria and copies down all its details in some sort of model which he then sends to the priest Uriah in Jerusalem to fashion for the temple of the LORD. The Chronicles’ account further explains that at this time Ahaz started worshipping the Syrian gods because he coveted their help like they had previously helped the Syrians against Judah. So, again, we see more of the same sort of problem with Ahaz. He again sets his heart on the wrong things – here on the false gods of Syria and their pagan worship style.
And so, then we see Ahaz comes back to Jerusalem and starts giving further instructions to Uriah on changes to the temple. He has the real altar relocated from its place of prominence and replaced with this new Syrian style altar. He removes the bronze stands from the ten bronze basins. He also alters the large Brazen Sea by removing the bronze oxen that were under it and just puts it on a stone pedestal. And he also made other architectural changes as we read in verse 18. My initial reaction to this is, “How dare he do this!” And, “What presumption!” Notice in verses 12-13 we see Ahaz then worshipping on this pagan-style altar. And in verse 15 he gives new instructions for how the worship was to be conducted in the temple.
We’ve talked today about Ahaz looking to be like people that he shouldn’t want to be like. Well, when we read of his work on the temple, it might look like he’s trying to be a little like his predecessor Solomon who built the temple and saw to its worship. You might even remember that Psalm 110 spoke of the idea of a Melchizedekian priesthood coming forth from the Davidic messiah – maybe Ahaz presumed to be such. But when you look at what Ahaz does here with the temple and the worship, we realize quickly he is at best a bad parody of Solomon and by no means measures up to a Melchizedekian priest. Rather, the one he most closely resembles in Israel’s history is Jeroboam. Jeroboam who was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel who instituted the various perversions of worship for them at Bethel and Dan with the golden calves.
We might note here that not only does Ahaz not seek to model his life after godly examples or to seek truly after the LORD, but he also brings down others in the process. I think of this Uriah the priest. What a fall from just two generations back with King Uzziah. When King Uzziah foolishly tried to act like a priest and offer incense in the temple, the high priest Azariah tried to stop him. But here, Uriah offers no protest but simply complies with all these instruction by Ahaz to pervert the true worship of God.
So then, in summary, we see in these three points for today that King Ahaz looked to gods and peoples in all the wrong places. He modeled his kingship after the evil Israelite kings, instead of the godly Davidic kings in his own heritage. He went after the pagan worship practices and false gods of the Gentiles around him, instead of being true to his full name Jehoahaz and trusting in Yahweh God. He sought help from an evil heathen king instead of from the LORD. He desecrated the temple and removed some of the things that made it distinctly a temple in the name of the LORD God and began to fashion after the world’s ways of worship. Instead of leading the people in positive progress as a nation unto the LORD, he moved the nation in the opposite direction, devolving them into godlessness.
To be fair, his godlessness involved a lot of what he and others might call religion. He had his own personal altar. He oversaw what he considered improvements to the national temple. He established lots of additional places of “worship” throughout the country. From an unbeliever’s perspective he was an extremely religious king. But from the perspective of the faithful, he was one of the most godless kings in Judah’s history. Probably the only one worse was Manasseh, but at least Manasseh is recorded as having a late in life repentance unto the LORD. No such repentance is ever recorded for Ahaz.
I am sure it obvious how bad this is. But let me paint the picture further by pointing out where 2 Kings 16 stands in the context of the book. It stands after chapter 15, and before chapter 17. Chapter 15 just recorded how much of Israel was conquered and exiled by Assyria. Chapter 17 will record how the rest of Israel will then be conquered and exiled by Assyria. Israel had made themselves like the despicable worldly nations that God had previously driven out before them. And so now God has driven Israel out of the land into Assyrian exile. And so, sandwiched in the middle of the story of Israel’s final demise, is a story of a king who set his heart on being like Israel and the world. Should Judah expect any different of an outcome if they continue down this path? Of course not.
And yet, in the heart of Ahaz’s folly, I mentioned that God sent him Isaiah the prophet. Not only did Isaiah tell him that Israel and Syria wouldn’t completely wipe out Judah at that time. But Isaiah also gave Ahaz, and us, a sign of the even greater things God would yet do for Judah and his people. That sign of salvation is recorded in Isaiah 7:14, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Immanuel, of course, means, God with us. God gives this godless king a promise of a godly savior. Think about it. God’s earlier promises to bring forth an everlasting king and kingdom from David’s line doesn’t look to be going too well when you see the king of godless king that Ahaz was. But God’s response to King Ahaz’s godlessness is to double down on his promises. The faithful God even graciously gives this revelation to Ahaz that yet one would be raised up who would bring God to Judah and his people. As Isaiah’s prophecies continue to unfold in the rest of his recorded ministry, this child born from this virgin birth would be the long-awaited messiah from David’s lineage who would be God with the people – Immanuel!
This Jesus is everything that Ahaz wasn’t. He set his heart fully on the LORD God and the right worship of him in Spirit and truth. It was his pleasure to do his father’s will. And he was the long-awaited King who was also a great high priest in the order of Melchizedek – offering even himself unto God for the formation of a new temple of his redeemed people by the Spirit. This is the Prophet, Priest, and King of our faith. In him we trust, and in him we have eternal life.
Let us then live up to King Ahaz’s name in a way that he never did. By the grace of God, let us indeed delight to be the possession of the LORD. Let us delight to forsake the world and its false gods and its despicable practices. Let us renounce worldliness again today. Let us cling to God in Christ Jesus.
It might be easy to sit here today and think how foolish Ahaz was. Yet, in practice, if we are honest with ourselves, it is far too easy to fall into the same trap Ahaz fell into. How many people are you tempted to look up to or emulate, that aren’t worthy of your affections? Or, how easy it is to want to spruce up and redesign how we worship God to make it more entertaining in the world’s eyes or more pleasing to our own senses. How often are we tempted to look to the world’s wisdom for help with our life’s problems instead of going to God first? Worldliness and godlessness are easy temptations. May Ahaz’s life be a warning that we don’t need to become more like the godless world; rather what we need is to have the reality of Immanuel formed within us. That is what God holds out to us in Jesus Christ and by faith in his name. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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