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CHAPTER XXII

THE REIGN OF AHAZ

b.c. 735-715

2 Kings xvi. 1-20

"Rimmon, whose delightful seat
Was fair Damascus, on the fertile banks
Of Abbana and Pharphar, lucid streams.
He also against the House of God was bold:
A leper once he lost, and gained a king—
Ahaz, his sottish conqueror, whom he drew
God's altar to disparage and displace
For one of Syrian mode, whereon to burn
His odious offerings, and adore the gods
Whom he had vanquished."
Paradise Lost, i. 467-476.

According to our authorities, Ahaz ("Possessor")434434   Probably a shortened form for Jehoahaz ("The Lord taketh hold"). He is called Jahuhazi in Tiglath-Pileser's inscription (Schrader, Keilinschr., p. 163). began his reign of sixteen years at the age of twenty. Of the exactitude of these references we cannot be certain, because they also state (2 Kings xviii. 2) that Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and this reduces us to the absurdity of supposing that Hezekiah was born when his father was only eleven years old.435435   For twenty-five it is not improbable that we should read fifteen. We might infer from Isa. iii. 4 that Ahaz was not so old as twenty when he261 succeeded Jotham; for there—in a terrible prophecy which can only refer to the beginning of this reign—we read, "And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them"; or, as it should be perhaps rendered, "And with childishness, or wilfulness, shall they rule over them."

Whatever may have been the king's age, surely never king succeeded to a more distracted kingdom, or reigned over a more terrified people! If he could have had any choice in the matter, he might well have declined the fearful burden. Describing the state of things, the great prophet Isaiah, who now began his career, exclaims,—

"For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah stay and staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water; the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the diviner, and the elder; the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning charmer, and the skilful enchanter. And the people shall be oppressed every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the elder, and the base against the honourable. Then a man shall take hold of his brother in the house of his father, saying, 'Thou hast clothing, be thou our judge, and let this ruin be under thy hand': in that day shall he lift his voice, saying, 'I will not be a builder-up; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: ye shall not make me a ruler of the people.' For Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen. The show of their countenance is against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, and hide it not. As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them."436436   Isa. iii. 1-12.

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This is a frightful picture of famine—the dearth of intellect, the dearth of statesmen, of all genius, of all insight. It describes the prevalence of oppression and of ghastly destitution, accompanied by such utter despair that no one cared to exert himself for the arrest of the ruin which seemed imminent over that which was already no better than itself a ruin.

The Book of Isaiah is arranged in a most confused and unchronological manner, and it is probable that the first five chapters should be placed after the sixth, which describes the prophet's call in the year that King Uzziah died. They paint a picture of moral collapse. His first chapter is called by Ewald "the great arraignment," and by its references describes the awful period of alarm during the war of Syria and Ephraim against Judah. It might seem as if the combined host was even then in the country, or had only just retired from it; for we read,—

"Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a booth in a wilderness, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."

But even in the midst of this afflictive dispensation there were no signs of repentance. The children of Israel were rebels who despised the Holy One of Israel,—"Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that deal corruptly!" (i. 7-9). They had all the externals of religion: they offered vain sacrifices, and kept a multitude of idle feasts, and offered many formal prayers; but all this was but a cumbrance to Him who desired clean hands and a pure heart as conditions of forgiveness (10-20). What hope could there be for a city of murderers, who263 loved bribes and perverted judgment (21-24)? The land was full of pride, full of idols, full of the luxury of the rich amid the starvation of the poor (ii. 1-22).437437   In Isa. ii. 2-4 we find, as so often in the prophetic books in their present too-often-haphazard arrangement, a glowing promise of universal peace placed before unsparing denunciations. The verses are also found in Micah (iv. 1, 2), and it has been conjectured that in both prophets they are a quotation from some older source—perhaps from Jonah, son of Amittai. Women partook of the general corruption. They walked mincingly with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes,438438   Heb., "deceiving with their eyes." thinking of nothing but their anklets, and crescents, and bracelets, and mufflers, ear-drops, head-tires, perfumes, mirrors, armlets, and nose-jewels: therefore they should have sackcloth for stomachers, ropes for girdles, and burning instead of beauty, and only a remnant should escape (iii. 16-iv. 1). Judah was like a vineyard,—rich in advantages, blessed with fondest care; but when God looked for grapes, it only brought forth wild grapes—a semblance, but only a poisoned semblance, of the true vintage: therefore it should be left neglected and rainless. Woe to the greedy land-grabbing, and drunkenness, and revelry of the rich! Woe to their mockery of God and their devotion to vanity! Woe to their insane pride and wanton injustice! Could they escape vengeance? No! Jehovah had looked for judgment (mishpat), but behold oppression (mishpach); for righteousness (tse'dakah), but behold a cry (tse'akah) (v. 1-24).439439   Isa. v. 7. The paronomasia of the original is striking. Van Oort renders it, "He looked for reason, but behold treason; and for right, but behold affright." They might escape—they would escape—the Syrian and the Ephraimite; but behind these lay a more terrible and264 a more portentous foe, even the Assyrian, the scourge of God's wrath (25-30).

"It was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim." Is it strange that in such a condition of things the heart of Ahaz and of his people "was moved as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind"?

Such was the terrible crisis at which Isaiah began his ministry. He was the son of Amoz,440440   His name means "Jehovah saves," and is perhaps alluded to in Isa. viii. 18. Amos ("One who bears a burden"), needless to say, is a totally different name from that of Amoz ("Vigorous"), the father of Isaiah. who has been (much too precariously) identified with a brother of Amaziah. It is probable that he was a man of distinguished, if not princely, birth, and he exercised a more powerful influence over the politics of his country than any other prophet—not even excepting Jeremiah.


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