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273

CHAPTER XXIV

THE APOSTASIES OF AHAZ

2 Kings xvi. 1-18

"For when we in our wickedness grow hard,
Oh misery on't! the wise gods seal our eyes;
In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us
Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut
To our confusion."

Ahaz was indifferent to these prophecies because his heart was otherwhere. It is clear from our authorities that this king had excited an unusually deep antipathy in the hearts of those later writers who judged religion not only from the earlier standpoint, but from the stern and inexorable requirements of the Deuteronomic and the Priestly Codes. The historian, adopting an unusual phrase, says that "he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel." He not only continued the high places, as the best of his predecessors had done, but he increased their popularity and importance by personally offering sacrifices and burning incense "on the hills and under every green tree." It is probable, too, that he introduced into Judah horses and chariots dedicated to the sun.454454   See 2 Kings xxiii. 11, which shows that this was not an innovation of Manasseh's. They were common in Persia. See Q. Curtius, iii. 3. "He made274 molten images for the Baalim," says the Chronicler, "and burnt incense in the valley of the son of Himmon."

This last was his crowning atrocity: he actually sanctioned the revolting worship of the abomination of the children of Ammon, which Solomon had tolerated on the mount of offence. "He made his son to pass through the fire." The Chronicler expresses it still more dreadfully by saying that "he burnt his children in the fire."455455   2 Kings xvii. 31; Ezek. xvi. 21, xxiii. 37, xxxiii. 6; Deut. xii. 31; Jer. xix. 5. See 2 Chron. xxviii. 3; for "his son," בְּנוֹ, it uses בָּנָיו "his sons," but perhaps generically. Moloch-worship may have been stimulated by accounts of the Assyrian fire-god Adrammelech (Movers, Phöniz., ii. 101). On this sacrifice of children to Moloch, which the Phœnicians referred back to the god El or Il, once King of Byblos, who in a crisis of danger sacrificed his eldest son Icond, see Plut., De Superst., § 13; Diod. Sic., xx. 12-14; 2 Kings iii. 27, xvi. 3, xxi. 6; Mic. vi. 7; Döllinger, Judenthum u. Heidenthum (E. T.), i. 427-429.

In the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, or of the Benî-Hinnom, of which the name is perpetuated in Gehenna, the place of torture for lost souls, there stood a frightful image of the king—Moloch, Melek, Malcham. It represented the sun-god, worshipped, not only as Baal under the emblems of prolific nature, but, like the Egyptian Typhon, as the emblem of the sun's scorching and blighting force. It was perhaps a human figure with the head of an ox. The arms of the brazen image sloped downwards over a cistern, which was filled with fuel; and when a human sacrifice was to be offered to him, the child was probably first killed, and then placed on these brazen arms as a gift to the idol. It rolled down into the flaming tank, and was consumed amid the strains of music. Recourse was only had to the275 most frightful form of human sacrifice—the burning of grown-up victims—in extremities of disaster, as when Mesha of Moab offered up his eldest son to Chemosh on the wall of Kir-Hareseth in the sight of his people and of the three invading armies. But the sacrifice of children was public, and perhaps annual. Hence Milton, following the learned researches of Selden in his Syntagma De Dis Syriis, writes:—

"First, Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood

Of human sacrifice, and parents' tears;

Though, for the noise of drums and timbrels loud,

Their children's cries unheard that pass'd through fire

To his grim idol. Him the Ammonite

Worshipp'd in Rabba and her watery plain,

In Argob and in Basan, to the stream

Of utmost Arnon. Nor content with such

Audacious neighbourhood, the wisest heart

Of Solomon he led by fraud to build

His temple right against the Temple of God

On that opprobrious hill, and made his grove

The pleasant Valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence

And black Gehenna call'd, the type of hell."456456   This worship was to be punished by stoning (Lev. xviii. 21, xx. 2-5; Deut. xviii. 10). On the whole subject see Movers, Phöniz., 64; Jarchi on Jer. vii. 31; Euseb., Præp. Ev., iv. 16.

But it may be doubted whether Ahaz, in spite of his frightful position, or, in later days, the less excusable Manasseh, really destroyed the lives of their young sons.457457   Josephus says that Ahaz made "a whole burnt-offering" of his son; but his authority is very small (καὶ ἴδιον ὡλοκαύτωσεν παῖδα). Comp. Psalm cvi. 37. The ancients had a notion that they could easily cheat their devil-deities. If a white ox of Clitumnus became unfitted for a victim to Jupiter of the Capitol by having on its body a few black spots, it276 was quite sufficient to make it pass with the Dî faciles by chalking the black spots over it.458458   Ignorant Romanists have often cherished the same notions about the saints. For centuries in Spain the people bought the old gowns and cowls of the monks, and buried their dead in them, to deceive St. Peter into the notion that they were Dominicans or Franciscans! If human victims had to be thrown into the Tiber to Hercules, Numa taught the people that little wickerwork images (scirpea) would suit the purpose just as well.459459   See Ovid, Fasti, v. 659: "Scripea pro domino Tiberi jactatur imago." They were also called Argei, id. 621; Varro, L. L., vi. 3. Figures of dough were sometimes offered instead of human beings on the altar of Artemis of Tauris. Thus it became the custom, it is believed, merely to throw or to pass children through or over the flames, and conventionally to regard them as having been sacrificed, though they might escape the ordeal with little or no hurt. This was called februatio, or "lustration by fire."460460   Varro, L. L., v. 3. We may hope that this device was adopted by the two Judæan kings, and, if so, they did not add to their horrible apostasy the crime of infanticide. If, however, Ahaz was even to the smallest extent implicated in such foul idolatries, it is not surprising that he was in no mood to listen to Isaiah. What is profoundly surprising, and is indeed a circumstance for which we cannot account, is that no word of fierce indignation was addressed to him on this account by Urijah, the high priest, whom Isaiah seems to describe as faithful, or by Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah, or by Micah, or by Isaiah, who feared man so little and God so much.

The Assyrian party at the Court of Ahaz prevailed over the Egyptian. Until the accession of the Ethiopian277 Sabaco461461   Herod., ii. 137. Egypt., Sebek; Heb., So (2 Kings xvii. 4), or perhaps Seve; Arab., Shab'i. Rawlinson, Hist. of Anct. Egypt, ii. 433-450. in 725, Egypt was indeed in so weak, harassed, and divided a condition under feeble native Pharaohs, that her help was obviously unavailable. The King of Judah, seeing no extrication from his calamities except in the way of worldly expediency, appealed to Tiglath-Pileser. In this he followed the precedent of his ancestor Asa, who had diverted the attack of Baasha by invoking the assistance of Syria. Ahaz sent to the Assyrian potentate the humble message, "I am thy servant and thy son: come up and save me from the Kings of Syria and Israel." If he had not faith to accept Isaiah's promises, what else could he do, when Syria, Israel, the Philistines, Edom, and Moab were all arrayed against him? The ambassadors probably made their way, not without peril, along the east of Jordan, or else by sea from Joppa, and so inland. Whether they took with them the enormous bribe without which the appeal of the helpless king might have been in vain, or whether this was sent subsequently under Assyrian escort, we do not know. It was euphemistically described as "a present" or "a blessing," but must be regarded either as a tribute or a bribe.

Tiglath-Pileser II. saw his opportunity, and at once invaded Damascus. In b.c. 733 he failed, but the next year he entirely subjugated the kingdom, and put an end to the dynasty. Rezin was probably put to death with the horrible barbarities which were normal among the brutal Ninevites; and as the Assyrians had no conception of colonisation or the wise government of dependencies, the Syrian population278 was deported en masse to Elam and an unknown Kir.462462   Kir (see Amos ix. 7) is omitted in the LXX. Elam is added in Isa. xxii. 6. Tiglath-Pileser calls the king Rasunnu Sarimirisu—i.e., of Aram. See Smith, Assyr. Discoveries, p. 274; Eponym Canon, 68; Schrader, K. A. T., 152 ff. For a time Damascus was made "a ruinous heap," and the cities of Aroer were the desolated lairs of pasturing flocks. Israel, as we have seen, was next overwhelmed by the same irremediable catastrophe, none of her people being left except such as might be compared to the mere gleanings of a vintage, and the few berries on the topmost boughs of the olive tree.463463   Isa. xvii. 1-11.

Tiglath-Pileser meant to make Ahaz feel his yoke. He summoned him to do homage at Damascus, and there Ahaz once more displayed his cosmopolitan æstheticism at the expense of every pure tradition of the religion of his fathers.

His visit to Damascus was no doubt compulsory. His worldly policy, which looked so expedient, and which—apart from the defiance which it involved to the voice of God by His prophets—seemed to be so pardonable, had for the time succeeded. Isaiah's promises had been fulfilled to the letter. There was nothing more to fear either from Rezin or from Remaliah's son. Their kingdoms were a desolation. In his own annals Tiglath-Pileser464464   The name seems to be Tuklat-abal-isarra,—according to Oppert worshipper of the son of the Zodiac—i.e., of Nin or Hercules. According to Polyhistor, he was a usurper who had been a vine-dresser in the royal gardens. He never mentions his ancestry. But see Schrader, K. A. T., 217 ff., 240 ff., and in Riehm. does not exaggerate his achievements.465465   Eponym Canon, p. 121, lines 1-15. On this fall of Damascus and Samaria, see Isa. xvii. He wrote as follows:—

"Rezin's warriors I captured, and with the sword I destroyed.
279Of his charioteers and [his horsemen] the arms I broke:
Their bow-bearing warriors, [their footmen] armed with spear and shield,
With my hand I captured them, and those that fought in their battle-line.
He to save his life fled away alone;
Like a deer [he ran], and entered into the great gate of his city.
His generals, whom I had taken alive, on crosses I hung;
His country I subdued;
Damascus, his city, I subdued, and like a caged bird I shut him in.
I cut down the unnumbered trees of his forest; I left not one.
Hadara, the palace of the father of Rezin of Syria, [I burnt].
The city of Samaria I besieged, I captured; eight hundred of its people and children I took;
Their oxen and their sheep I carried away.
I took five hundred and ninety-one cities;
Over sixteen districts of Syria like a flood I swept."

But the more complete destruction of Israel was due to Shalmaneser IV., who says,—

"The city of Samaria I besieged, I took,
I carried away twenty-seven thousand two hundred of its inhabitants;
I seized fifty of their chariots.
I gave up to plunder the rest of their possessions.
I appointed officers over them;
I laid on them the tribute of the former king.
In their place I settled the men of conquered countries."

The immediate service to Judah looked immense. The Assyrian might safely claim, and Ahaz might truthfully confess, that the intervention of Tiglath-Pileser had rescued him from the apparent imminence of destruction. But the Assyrian kings served no one for nothing. The price which had to be paid for Tiglath-Pileser's intervention was vassalage and tribute. Ahaz, or, as the Assyrians call him, Jehoahaz,466466   Jahuhazi (Schrader, Keilinschr., p. 263). He probably bore both names; but, as in the case of Jeconiah, who is called Coniah, the omission of the element "Jehovah" from his name may have been intended as a mark of reprobation. had280 styled himself Tiglath-Pileser's "servant and his son," and the Assyrian chose to have substantial proof of this parental suzerainty. The great king therefore summoned the poor subject-potentate to Damascus, where he was holding his victorious court.

So far Ahaz had no reason to complain of his "dreadful patron"; and if he had returned when he paid his homage, no immediate harm would have happened. But during his visit he saw "the altar" (Heb.) at the conquered city. Was it the altar of the defeated Syrian god Rimmon? or did the Assyrian persuade his willing vassal to sacrifice at the portable altar of his god Assur? We may, perhaps, infer the former from 2 Chron. xxviii. 23, where Ahaz says: "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me." There is room to suspect some error here, because Rezin had fallen, and Damascus was in ruins, and Rimmon had conspicuously failed to help or to avenge his votaries.467467   The remark may refer to some earlier period in the reign of Ahaz, before the capture of Damascus. It is more probable that the altar was used for some Assyrian deity, and the adoption of it may have flattered Tiglath-Pileser. Ahaz admired the altar, to whatever god it had been erected; and unmindful, or perhaps unconscious, that the altar of the Temple of Jerusalem was declared in the Pentateuch to have been divinely ordained—a fact to which the historian does not himself refer—he sent to the head priest Urijah a pattern of the altar which had struck his fancy at Damascus. The subservient priest, without a murmur or a remonstrance, undertook to have a similar altar ready for Ahaz in the Temple by the time of his return—a crime, if crime it were, which the Chronicler conceals. "Never281 any prince was so foully idolatrous," says Bishop Hall, "as that he wanted a priest to second him. A Urijah is fit to humour an Ahaz.468468   2 Kings xvi. 11, which records the zealous subservience of Urijah, is wanting in some MSS. of the LXX. But that the altar was made, and without his opposition, is clear from the narrative. Asa (2 Chron. xv. 8) had repaired Solomon's great altar; Hezekiah subsequently cleansed it (id. xxix. 18); Manasseh rebuilt it (Q'ri). The brass of it ultimately went to Babylon (Jer. lii. 17-20). Greatness could never command anything which some servile wits were not ready both to applaud and justify." Certainly we should have hoped for more fidelity to ancient tradition from a man who earned the approving word of Isaiah; but it is only fair and just to admit that Urijah, in the universal ignorance which prevailed about the codes which were afterwards collected and published as the total legislation of the wilderness, may have viewed his obedience to the king's commands with very different eyes from those by which it was regarded in the sixth and fifth centuries before Christ. He may have been frankly unaware that he was guilty of an act which would afterwards be denounced as an apostatising enormity.469469   Bähr says: "It seems that Urijah, like his companion, was only anxious for his revenues. At any rate, his conduct is a sign of the character and standing of the priests of that time. They were 'dumb dogs who could not bark.' They all followed their own ways, every one for his own gain" (Isa. lvi. 10, 11). "We have in this high priest," says the Würtemberg Summary, "a specimen of those hypocrites and belly-servants who say, 'Whose bread I eat, his song I sing'; who veer about with the wind, and seek to be pleasant to all men; who wish to hurt no one's feelings, but teach just what any one wants to hear."

When Ahaz returned, he was so much pleased with his new plaything that he at once acted as priest at his own new altar. Without the least opposition from282 the priests—who had so sternly resisted Uzziah—he offered burnt-offerings and meat-offerings and drink-offerings, and sprinkled the blood of peace-offerings on his altar.470470   1 Kings viii. 64; 2 Chron. iv. 1. In this and similar instances commentators, biassed by a priori considerations, have imagined that Ahaz did not in person offer sacrifices. But this is what the text says, and it was the custom of kings to regard themselves as invested with Divine attributes. Ahaz may have had this lesson impressed on his mind by his visit to Tiglath-Pileser. See Grätz, Gesch. der Juden., ii. 150. Layard, Nin. and Bab., 472 ff., gives us pictures of Assyrian kings ministering at their altars, which are of various shapes. Not content with this, he did not hesitate to order the removal of the huge brazen altar from the position, in front of the Temple porch, which it had held since the days of Solomon. He did this in order that his own favourite altar might be in the line of vision from the court, and not be overshadowed by the old one, which he shifted from the place of honour to the north side. He proceeded to call his own altar "the great altar," and ordered that the morning burnt-offering, and the evening minchah, and all the principal sacrifices should henceforth be offered upon it.471471   2 Kings xvi. 15. Vulg., paratum erit ad voluntatem meam. The LXX. followed another reading: ἔσται μοὶ εἰς τὸ πρωί. Grätz (ii. 150), for לכקר, "to inquire," reads לקרב "to draw near to." He did not wholly supersede the old brazen altar, which, he said, "shall be for me to inquire by," or, as the Hebrew may perhaps mean, "it should await"—i.e., "I will hereafter consider what to do with it."

Ahaz is charged with the additional crime of removing the ornamental festoons of bronze pomegranates from the lavers, and the brazen oxen from under the molten sea, which henceforth lay dishonoured, without its proper and splendid supports, on the pavement of the283 court.472472   1 Kings vii. 23-39. He also took away the balustrade of the royal "ascent" from the palace to the Temple, and made a new entrance of a less gorgeous character than that which, in the days of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba had admired.473473   2 Kings xvi. 18. The allusions are obscure. R.V., "the covered way"; A.V., "the covert for the Sabbath." See 2 Chron. ix. 4. Here the Hebr. Q'ri has Mûsak, and the Vulg. Musach Sabbati. The LXX. evidently did not understand it (καὶ τὸν θεμέλιον τῆς καθέδρας ᾠκοδόμησεν). For "covert for the Sabbath," Geiger suggests "molten images for the Shame" (Bosheth-Baal, by transposition of Shabbath). Comp. 2 Chron. xxviii. 2.

No doubt these proceedings helped to heighten the unpopularity of Ahaz. But what could he do? He could, indeed, if he had had sufficient faith, have "trusted in Jehovah," as Isaiah bade him do. But he was under the terrific pressure of hostile circumstances, and, being a weak and timid man, felt himself unable to resist the influence of the haughty politicians and worldly priests by whom he was surrounded—men who openly made Isaiah their scoff. When he invited the interposition of Tiglath-Pileser,474474   2 Chron. xxviii. 20: "Tiglath-Pileser came unto him, and distressed him, but helped him not." all the other consequences of humiliation would naturally follow. He probably disliked as much as any one to see the great molten laver taken off the backs of the oxen which showed the skill of the ancient Hiram, and did not admire the despoiled aspect of the shrine of his capital. But if the King of Assyria or his emissaries had (as the historian implies) cast greedy eyes on these splendid objects of antiquity, the poor vassal could not refuse them. Better, he may have thought, that these material ornaments should go to Nineveh than that he should284 be forced to exact yet heavier burdens from an impoverished people. His expedient is mentioned among his crimes, yet no one blamed the pious Hezekiah when, under similar circumstances, he acted in precisely the same manner.475475   2 Kings xviii. 15, 16.

The Chronicler gives a darker aspect to his misdoings by saying that he cut to pieces the vessels of the house of God, and made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem, and bamoth to burn incense unto other gods in every several city of Judah. He says, further, that he closed the great gates of the Temple; put an end to the kindling of the lamps, the burning of incense, and the daily offerings; and left the whole Temple to fall into ruin and neglect.476476   In justice to Ahaz, we should observe that (1) in every instance the later account multiplies and magnifies and gives a darker colouring to his offences; (2) that neither Isaiah, Micah, nor any other prophet has a word of reproach for such enormities in Ahaz. We know no more of him. He lived through an epoch marked by the final crisis in the existence of the kingdom of Israel. Dark omens of every kind were around him, and he seems to have been too frivolous to see them. If he plumed himself on the removal of the two relentless invaders Rezin and Pekah, he must have lived to feel that the terror of Assyria had come appreciably nearer. Tiglath-Pileser had only helped Judah in furtherance of his own designs, and his exactions came like a chronic distress after the acuter crisis. Nor was there any improvement when he died in 727. He was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV., and Shalmaneser IV. by Sargon in 722, the year of the fall of Samaria. We know no more of Ahaz. The historian says that he was buried with his fathers, and the Chronicler adds, as in the case285 of Uzziah and other kings, that he was not permitted to rest in the sepulchres of the kings.477477   It is a Jewish tradition that Hezekiah would not bury his father Ahaz in a sarcophagus, but on a bier (Pesachin, f. 56, 1; Sanhedrin, f. 47, 1; Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden., ii, 224). He had sown the wind; his son Hezekiah had to reap the whirlwind.478478   His name, Chizquîyyah, is shortened from Yechizquîyyahoo (Isa. i. 1; 2 Kings xx. 10; Hos. i. 1). It means "Jehovah's strength" (Gesen.), or "Yah is might" (Fûrst).

286

Probable Dates.

b.c.

745. Accession of Tiglath-Pileser.

746. Death of Uzziah. Accession of Jotham. First vision of Isaiah (Isa. vi.).

735. Accession of Ahaz. Syro-Ephraimitish war.

734-732. Siege and capture of Damascus, and ravage of Northern Israel by Tiglath-Pileser. Visit of Ahaz to Damascus.

727. Accession of Shalmaneser IV.

722. Accession of Sargon. Capture of Samaria, and captivity of the Ten Tribes.

720. Defeat of Sabaco by Sargon at Raphia.

715(?). Accession of Hezekiah.

711. Sargon captures Ashdod.

707. Sargon defeats Merodach-Baladan, and captures Babylon.

705. Murder of Sargon. Accession of Sennacherib.

701. Sennacherib besieges Ekron. Defeats Egypt at Altaqu. Invades Judah, and spares Hezekiah. Invades Egypt, and sends the Rabshakeh to Jerusalem. Disaster of Assyrians at Pelusium, and disappearance from before Jerusalem.

697. Death of Hezekiah. Accession of Manasseh.

681. Death of Sennacherib.

608. Battle of Megiddo. Death of Josiah.

607. Fall of Nineveh and Assyria. Triumph of Babylon.

605. Battle of Carchemish. Defeat of Pharaoh Necho by Nebuchadrezzar.

599. First deportation of Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar.

588. Destruction of Jerusalem. Second deportation.

538. Cyrus captures Babylon.

536. Decree of Cyrus. Return of Zerubbabel and the first Jewish exiles.

458. Return of Ezra.


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