“Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me’” (v. 7).
Understanding the historical context of Scripture is vital for understanding its events and message. That is especially true for the reign of King Ahaz of Judah. (Ahaz succeeded Jotham, who succeeded Azariah. Ahaz and Jotham were co-regents for a time; see 2 Kings 15:1–7, 32–38.) To understand Ahaz’s reign, we must first look to King Menahem of Israel, who reigned from about 752 to 742 BC. Menahem was a usurper with no rightful claim to Israel’s throne, but he took it from Shallum, who likewise had no rightful claim (2 Kings 15:8–16). Menahem sent tribute to Assyria, the ancient Near East’s major power at the time, “to confirm his hold on the royal power.” In other words, Menahem pledged that Israel, a weaker player in geopolitics, would support Assyria politically and send tribute regularly in exchange for Assyria’s support of Menahem’s reign and protection of Israel.
Some years later, Pekah became king of Israel during the reign of Azariah (Uzziah). Tired of Israel’s sending its wealth to Assyria every year, Pekah rebelled against Assyria, which was led by Tiglath-pileser III (vv. 27–29). Pekah then formed an alliance with King Rezin of Syria against Assyria. When King Ahaz of Judah refused to join them, they invaded Judah in order to replace Ahaz with a king who would bring Judah into the alliance against Assyria. This attack is described in 2 Kings 16:5–6 as well as in Isaiah 7:1–2. Through Isaiah, God told Ahaz to trust in Him to destroy Syria and Israel and to ask for a sign to confirm this promise (Isa. 7:3–11). Ahaz refused, saying that the refusal was motivated by faith when it was actually because Ahaz intended to ally himself and Judah with Assyria against Syria and Israel. So, Ahaz entered into an arrangement with Assyria similar to the one Israel had made earlier with Assyria (v. 12; see 2 Kings 16:7–9). Isaiah foresaw that this would be devastating for Judah. This foreign entanglement meant that Assyria would eventually invade Judah and cause great destruction (Isa. 7:13–8:10).
In addition to allying himself with Assyria, Ahaz remodeled the Jerusalem temple according to the pattern of the temple in Damascus (2 Kings 16:10–20). This may have entailed bringing the worship of foreign gods into Solomon’s temple, but at the very least it was an unauthorized modification of the sanctuary. Ahaz also engaged in corrupt worship practices, even burning his own son as an offering (16:1–4). Evil sat once more on Judah’s throne.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Failure to believe God’s promises leads only to trouble. Ahaz did not trust the Lord but trusted in Assyria, and Judah suffered greatly. We may not sin to the same degree that Ahaz did, but we are likewise tempted regularly not to trust the Lord. Let us continually rehearse the promises of God so that we will know them, and let us ask the Lord to increase our faith so that we will trust Him.