Bible History Old Testament Vol. 7


Chapter 8: Ahaz, (Twelfth) King of Judah, Pekah (Nineteenth), Hoshea, (Twentieth) King of Israel

Import of the Changes introduced by Ahaz—Purpose of the Syro-Israelitish League—Taking of Elath, Success of Rezin, and Victory of Pekah—Siege of Jerusalem—Appeal to Assyria—Message of Isaiah—Withdrawal of the Allies—Danger from Assyria—The Prophet Oded and Liberation of the Judaean Captives—Lessons of it—The Name Shear Yashub—Assyrian March upon Israel—Capture and Annexation of Naphtali—Further Campaign—Taking of Samaria—Revolution, and Murder of Pekah—Succession of Hoshea—Transportation of Israelites—Siege and Capture of Damascus—Death of Rezin—Cessation of the Syrian Power

(2 Kings 15:29, 30; 16; 2 Chronicles 28)

A RELIGIOUS change so complete as that which has been described might seem incredible if it had been sudden, or we were left in ignorance of its deeper causes. In truth, it was no less than a systematic attempt to substitute a complicated heathenism for the religion of the Old Testament. If its institutions had any deeper spiritual import, everything in them must have been symbolic. Hence, every alteration would necessarily destroy the symmetry, the harmony, and with them the meaning of all. To substitute for the altar of burnt-offering one after the heathen pattern was not only to infringe on the Divinely prescribed order, but to destroy its symbolism. More than this, it was to interfere with, and in a sense to subvert, the institution of sacrifices, which formed the central part in the religion of Israel. Again, to close the doors of the Holy and Most Holy Places 1 was to abolish what set forth Israel’s fellowship with their Lord, His gracious acceptance of them, and His communication of pardon, light, and life. BHOTV7 88.1

The temple of Ahaz was no longer that of Jehovah, and the attempt to attach the old services to the new altar would only aggravate the sin, while it exhibited the folly of the king. BHOTV7 88.2

Even more strange seems the mixture of heathen rites which it was sought to introduce by the side of the perverted Temple ritual. It consisted of the worship of the Syrian deities, of Baalim, of Ashtoreth, 2 of the host of heaven, and of Molech—in short, it combined Syrian, Phoenician, and Assyrian idolatry. 3 BHOTV7 88.3

Yet in all this Ahaz found a servile instrument in the high priest Urijah (2 Kings 16:11-16). Assuredly the prophet’s description of Israel’s “watchmen” as “ignorant,” “dumb dogs—loving to slumber,” “greedy dogs,” “insatiable shepherds,” only bent on gain and steeped in vice, was true to the letter (Isaiah 56:10-12). And with this corresponds the same prophet’s account of the moral and religious condition of the people (Isaiah 2:6-9; 5:7-23). In view of this, King Ahaz can only be regarded as the outcome of his time and the representative of his people. Accordingly the judgments announced in these prophecies of Isaiah read only as the logical sequence of the state of matters. BHOTV7 89.1

The account of these judgments comes to us equally from the Books of Kings and Chronicles, which here supplement one another, and especially from the prophecies of Isaiah, which in chapter 7 give the most vivid description of the condition of things. The Syro-Israelitish league had been formed at the close of the reign of Jotham (2 Kings 15:37), although its full effects only appeared when Ahaz acceded to the throne. In its development the confederacy embraced also the Edomites and Philistines, although probably at a later period—in all likelihood after the early victories of the Syrian and Israelitish armies (2 Chronicles 28:17, 18). The purpose of the two chief allies is easily understood. No doubt it was the desire of Syria and Israel, which Tiglath-pileser had so deeply humbled, to shake off the yoke of Assyria. And as, after a period of decadence, the Assyrian power had only lately been restored by the usurper Pul, a hope may have been cherished that a powerful league might huff Tiglath-pileser from his throne. But for this object it was necessary first to secure themselves against any danger from the south, especially as there is some indication in the Assyrian inscriptions of a connection existing between Judah and Assyria since the days of Uzziah. BHOTV7 89.2

In point of fact, the expedition was rather against Ahaz than against Judah, 4 and we are distinctly informed that it was the purpose of the allies to depose the house of David, and to place on the throne of Judah a person of low origin, “the son of Tabheel,” whose name indicates his Syrian descent 5 (Isaiah 7:6). BHOTV7 89.3

It is only when realizing this purpose of making a full end of the house of David, with all the Messianic promises and hopes bound up with it, that we fully understand how it evoked, in the case of Ahaz, that most full and personal Messianic prediction of “the Virgin’s Son” (Isaiah 7:14). Not only would their plan not “come to pass” (Isaiah 7:7), but looking beyond the unbelief and the provocations of an Ahaz (Isaiah 7:13), the Divine promise would stand fast. “The house of David” could not fail. For beyond the present was the final goal of promised salvation in Immanuel the Virgin-born And this was God’s answer to the challenge of Rezin and of the son of Remaliah—His “sign” as against their plans: a majestic declaration also of His object in maintaining “the house of David,” even when represented by an Ahaz. And when the hour of judgment came, it would be not by placing a Syrian king on the throne of David, but by carrying prince and people into a banishment which would open a new the last period of Israel’s God-destined history. BHOTV7 90.1

But as tidings of the “confederacy,” with its avowed purpose of taking all the strongholds and cities which commanded the defenses of Judah, 6 and of setting up another king, reached “the house of David,” in the poetic language of Isaiah, Ahaz“heart shook, and the hearts of his people, as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). BHOTV7 90.2

And in truth the success of the allies was such as to account for such feelings—at least on the part of an unbelieving and craven king. Joining together the narratives in the Books of Kings and Chronicles, we have first, in 2 Kings 16:5, a general account of the war—its purpose, beginning, and final failure. To this is added, in the next verse, a notice of the expedition of Rezin, in which he “restored Elath to Edom,” 7 when “the Edomites came to Elath,” and continued to occupy it to the time of the writer. This brief account is supplemented in 2 Chronicles 28:5. BHOTV7 90.3

There we read of a twofold success of the allies—that achieved by Rezin, in consequence of which a great multitude of captives were carried to Damascus and a victory gained by Pekah. In all probability Rezin marched from Damascus through the trans-Jordanic territory straight into the south of Judah, extending his march as far as the latest conquest of Judah, Elath. This was now restored to Edom. BHOTV7 91.1

Syria alone could scarcely have held such an isolated post, nor could it have been left in the rear in the hands of Judaeans. On the other hand, its restoration to Edom explains their active participation in the league (2 Chronicles 28:17). The text leaves it somewhat doubtful whether Rezin actually fought a pitched battle against a Judaean army, such as was evidently won by Pekah (2 Chronicles 28:6), or else the “smiting” of the Syrians spoken of in ver. 5 only referred in a more general sense to the losses inflicted on Judah by Rezin. 8 As it is not likely that an army of Judah could have been opposed to Rezin, while another was dispatched against Pekah, we adopt the latter view. BHOTV7 91.2

While Rezin thus ravaged the south, Pekah attacked Israel from the north. In a pitched battle, no fewer than 120,000 Judaeans fell in one day. 9 BHOTV7 91.3

Among the slain were Maaseiah, a royal prince, Azrikam, “prince of the palace”—probably its chief official, or major-domo—and Elkanah, “the second to the king” probably the chief of the royal council (comp. Esther 10:3). It is not easy to arrange the succession of events. But we conjecture that after the losses inflicted by Rezin in the south, and the bloody victory gained by Pekah in the north, the two armies marched upon Jerusalem, (2 Kings 16:5), with the object of deposing Ahaz. But from the strength of its late fortifications the undertaking failed of success. It was when Ahaz was thus pressed to the uttermost, and the Edomites and Philistines had actively joined the hostile alliance (2 Chronicles 28:17, 18), that two events of the gravest political and theocratic importance occurred. The first of these was the resolve of the king to appeal to Assyria for help, with abject submission to its ruler. The second was the appearance, the message, and the warnings of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7; 8). As we understand it, their inability to take Jerusalem, and the knowledge that Ahaz had resolved to appeal to Tiglath-pileser, induced the kings of Syria and Israel—to return to their capitals. Rezin carried probably at that time his captives to Damascus; while the Israelitish army laid the country waste, and took not only much spoil, but no less than 200,000 captives, mostly women and children (“sons and daughters”)—as the sacred text significantly marks, to show the unprecedented enormity of the crime“of their brethren” (2 Chronicles 28:8). Their ultimate fate will be told in the sequel. BHOTV7 92.1

We pass now to the second event referred to. While the fate of Judah was trembling in the balance, the prophet Isaiah was commissioned to go with his son, Shear Yashub 10 to meet the king “at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, at the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 7:3). BHOTV7 92.2

If this “upper pool” was (as seems most likely) the present Birket-el-Mamilla, the “dragon well” of Nehemiah 2:13, and “serpent’s pool” of Josephus (War; v. 3, 2), it lay in the north-west of the city. The “pool,” which is only a reservoir for rain-water, is partly hewn in the rock and lined with stone. From its eastern side an outlet channel or “conduit” opened, winding somewhat to the south of the Jaffa gate, eastwards into the city, where at present it debauches into “the Pool of the Patriarch” (the Hammam-el-Batrak), the Amygdalon [Tower] Pool of Josephus. 11 BHOTV7 92.3

From the manner in which the locality is mentioned, we infer that the king was wont to pass that way, possibly on an inspection of the north-western fortifications. 12 The prophet’s commission to Ahaz was threefold. He was to admonish him to courage (Isaiah 7:4), and to announce that, so far from the purpose of the allies succeeding, Ephraim itself should, within a given time, cease to be “a people.” 13 BHOTV7 93.1

Lastly, he was to give “a sign” of what had been said, especially of the continuance of the house of David. This was, in contrast to the king’s unbelief, to point from the present to the future, and to indicate the ultimate object in view—the birth of the Virgin’s Son, Whose name, Immanuel, symbolized all of present promise and future salvation connected with the house of David. 14 BHOTV7 93.2

The result was what might have been expected from the character of Ahaz. As, with ill-disguised irony, he rejected the “sign,” implying that his trust was in the help of Assyria, not in the promise of God, so he persevered in his course, despite the prophet’s warning. Yet it scarcely required a prophet’s vision to foretell the issue, although only a prophet could so authoritatively, and in such terms, have announced it (Isaiah 7:17-822). Every Jewish patriot must have felt the wrong and humiliation, every clear-sighted politician have anticipated the consequences of calling in—and in such manner—the aid of Tiglath-pileser. For the terms on which Ahaz purchased it were the acknowledgment of the suzerainty of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7), and a present of the silver and gold in the Temple, the royal palace, and in the possession of the princes (2 Kings 16:8; 2 Chronicles 28:21.) If it led to the immediate withdrawal of Rezin and Pekah, yet the danger incurred was far greater than that avoided. And in 2 Chronicles 28:20 we read: “And Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, came against him 15 [viz., against Ahaz], and distressed him, but strengthened him not.” Although, even from its position in the text, 16 this seems a general statement rather than the record of a definite event, yet some historical fact must underlie it. BHOTV7 93.3

Further reference will be made to it in the sequel. But, while we do not read of an expedition of Tiglath-pileser against Jerusalem, such may have been made, even if under the guise of a friendly visit. 17 BHOTV7 94.1

And perhaps there may be some connection between this and the reported Temple alterations, “on account of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 16:18). In any case Tiglath-pileset must have desired to extend his conquests further south than Samaria. He must have coveted the possession of such a city and fortress as Jerusalem; and the suzerainty so abjectly offered by. Ahaz would in his hands become a reality. In fact, the subjugation of Judea must have formed part of his general policy, which had the subjection of Egypt as its scope. And from 2 Kings 18:7, 14, 20, and Isaiah 36:5, we infer that from the time of Ahaz to that of Hezekiah the kingdom of Judah was actually both subject and tributary to Assyria. BHOTV7 94.2

An episode in the Syro-Israelitish war, hitherto only alluded to, still remains to be described. It will be remembered that the Israelitish victors had taken 200,000 prisoners. From the expressions used, we infer that these were brought to Samaria, not by the whole army—the majority having, after the Eastern manner, probably dispersed to their homes—but by a division, or armed escort, perhaps by those who formed the standing army. But even in Samaria God had not left Himself without a witness. “A prophet of Jehovah was there, whose name was Oded.” As in the days of Asa, the prophet Azariah had met the victorious army of Judah on its return not with words of flattery, but of earnest admonition (2 Chronicles 15:1-7), so now this otherwise unknown prophet of Samaria. And his very obscurity, and sudden and isolated message, as well as its effect, are instructive of the object and character of prophetism. Only a prophet of the Lord could have dared, in the circumstances, to utter words so humiliating to Israel’s pride, and so exacting in their demand. The defeat and loss of Judahhad been in Divine punishment of sin, and would they now add to their own guilt by making slaves of the children of Judahand Jerusalem? Or did they presume to regard themselves as instruments of God’s judgments, forgetful of the guilt which rested upon themselves? Nay, let them know that wrath was already upon them, alike for their sins, for this fratricidal war, and now for their purpose of enslaving their brethren—and let them set their captives free. BHOTV7 95.1

There is not the least reason for questioning the accuracy of this narrative, 18 nor yet of that of the effectual intervention on behalf of the captives of four of the heads of houses in Ephraim, whose names have been handed down to honor. BHOTV7 95.2

The latter is a further confirmation of the historical character of the report. Indeed, even if it had not been recorded, we should have expected some such intervention. The more serious party in Israel, whether friends or foes of Pekah, must have disapproved of such an undertaking as that of their king. There had previously been wars between Israel and Judah; but never one in which Israel had joined a heathen power for the purpose of overthrowing the house of David, and placing on its throne a Syrian adventurer. It must have awakened every religious and national feeling; and the sight of 200,000 Judean women and children driven into Samaria, weary, footsore, hungry, and in rags, to be sold as slaves, would evoke not satisfaction, but abhorrence and indignation. It is to this that we understand the four princes to refer when speaking of the “trespass” already committed by this war, and warning against adding to it by retaining the captives as slaves. As we realize the scene, we do not wonder at the intervention of the princes, nor at the popular reaction when the words of the prophet roused them to full consciousness of their wrong. Nor, taking merely the political view of it, could princes or people have been blind to the folly of weakening Judah and entangling themselves in a war with Tiglath-pileser. BHOTV7 95.3

As so often in similar circumstances, the revulsion of popular feeling was immediate and complete. The spoil and the captives were handed over to “the princes;” those who had lately been prisoners were tenderly cared for as brethren and honored guests, 19 and brought back to the Judean border-city Jericho. 20 Without presuming to affirm that this episode was in the mind of our Lord when He spoke the parable of “the Good Samaritan,” there is that in the bearing of these men who are expressed by names 21 which reminds us of the example and the lessons in that teaching of Christ. BHOTV7 96.1

Another suggestion we would venture to make. It will be remembered that when Isaiah was directed to meet King Ahaz he was to go not alone, but accompanied by his son, Shear Yashub (Isaiah 7:3). The meaning of this evidently symbolical name is “A remnant shall return.” May that name not have been a symbolic prediction of the episode just related, and intended to show how easily the Lord could give deliverance, without any appeal for help to Assyria? 22 BHOTV7 97.1

If so, it casts still further light on the place occupied by symbolism, not only in the Old Testament, but in Hebrew, and in measure in all Eastern thinking. Symbolism is, so to speak, its mode of expression—the language of its highest thinking. Hence its moral teaching is in parables and proverbs; its dogmatics in ritual and typical institutions; while in its prophecy the present serves as a mirror in which the future is reflected. To overlook this constant presence of the symbolical and typical in the worship, history, teaching, and prophecy of the Old Testament is to misunderstand not only its meaning, but even the genius of the Hebrew people. BHOTV7 97.2

We turn once more to the course of this history to trace the results of Ahazappeal to Assyria as against Syriaand Israel. 23 Unfortunately, of the two groups into which the Assyrian inscriptions of that reign have been arranged, that which is chronological and also historically the most trustworthy has in important parts been destroyed or rendered illegible by a later monarch of a different dynasty (Esarhaddon). 24 BHOTV7 97.3

Nevertheless we are able to gather a sufficiently connected history at any rate of twelve out of the eighteen years of the reign of Tiglath-pileser. Its beginning, and to the period of the taking of Arpad, has been described in the previous chapter. And thus much may be added generally, that “the picture of Tiglath-pileser derived from the Assyrian inscriptions entirely corresponds with what we know of him from the Bible. 25 BHOTV7 98.1

Further, we learn that in Tiglath-pileser’s expedition against the Syro-Israelitish league his first movement was against Israeland the smaller nations around Judah (2 Chronicles 28:17, 18). A brief account of the campaign against Israel is given in 2 Kings 15:29, 30, which we cannot help thinking is there out of its place. 26 BHOTV7 98.2

But it correctly indicates, in accordance with the Assyrian inscriptions, the priority of the march against Israel to that upon Damascus, which is recorded in 2 Kings 16:9, and it seems also alluded to in 2 Chronicles 28:16, comp. ver. 17. From the Assyrian inscriptions we learn that Tiglath-pileser made an expedition against Philistia—that country being presumably named as the utmost western objective of a campaign which was equally directed against Samaria, the Phoenician towns, Edom, Moab, and Ammon, and even affected Judah. To the latter the notice in 2 Chronicles 28:20 may possibly bear reference. BHOTV7 98.3

Judging from the order of the conquered cities mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions, Tiglath-pileser had left Damascus aside, and marched straight on the old Canaanitish towns at the western foot of Lebanon, which commanded the road to Palestine. Two of these are specially mentioned, Arka 27 (Genesis 10:17), the modern Irka, about twelve miles north-east from Tripolis, and Zemar (Genesis 10:18), the modern Symra, the ancient Simyros. 28 BHOTV7 98.4

After an unhappy break of two lines in the inscription, we next come upon the names of two of the cities which in 2 Kings 15:29 are described as taken by Tiglath-pileser, Gilead and Abel-beth-Maachah, with express notice of their situation in the land of Beth-Omri (Samaria), and of their having been added to the territory of Assyria. The inscription further states that Tiglath-pileser had set his own officials and governors over these districts. Thence the victorious expedition is traced as far as Gaza, whence no doubt, after having subjugated all the border-tribes to Northern Arabia, it returned to the land of “Beth-Omri.” It is added that Tiglath-pileser carried away to Assyria all its inhabitants, with their chattels, and killed Pekah their king, appointing Hoshea in his place (2 Kings 15:30). BHOTV7 98.5

We do not fail to perceive in this record boastful exaggerations by the Assyrian monarch, since, although the revolution which cost Pekah his life (2 Kings 15:30) was no doubt occasioned by the victories of Tiglath-pileser, yet the Israelitish king fell by the hand of Hoshea, the leader of the rising. At the same time Hoshea was absolutely dependent on Assyria, to which he became tributary. On the Assyrian inscription the sum exacted from him is said to have amounted to ten talents of gold (67,500 pounds) and 1,000 talents of silver (375,000 pounds). 29 BHOTV7 99.1

The list of the conquered Israelitish cities given in 2 Kings 15:29 enables us to follow the course of the campaign of Tiglath-pileset straight down from north to south, through Upper Galilee. The Assyrians took first Ijon, in the tribe of Naphtali (2 Chronicles 16:4), a place formerly conquered by Ben-hadad (1 Kings 15:20), probably the modern Tell Dibbin, on a hill in a “well watered” district, on the road from Damascus to Sidon. Thence the conquerors passed to Abel-beth-Maachah, “the meadow” of Beth-Maacah (a neighboring small Syrian district), also called Abel Mayim, “meadow of waters” (2 Chronicles 16:4), a considerable town, known to us from the clays of David (2 Samuel 20:18) and of Ben-hadad (1 Kings 15:20), situated about one and a half hours west-north-west from Dan. The next town occupied, Janoah (not that of Joshua 16:6), probably the modern Hunin, lay about midway between Abel-beth-Maachah and Kedesh, the place next captured. It was also in the possession of Naphtali—and indeed, to distinguish it from other places of the same name, was known as Kedesh-Naphtali, or Kedesh in Galilee (Joshua 20:7; 21:32; 1 Chronicles 6:76). This was one of the ancient Levitical cities, and the birthplace of Barak (Judges 4:6, 9). Although belonging to Upper Galilee, it was at the time of Christ held by the Tyrians (Jos. Wars, ii. 18, 1), whose territory here bounded with Galilee. It still retains its old name, and lies north-west of the marshes that surrounded Lake Merom. The other three names in 2 Kings 15:29 among the conquests of Tiglath-pileser seem those of districts rather than towns: Gilead, the later Gaulonitis, 30 the northern portion of the trans-Jordanic district which Jeroboam II had only lately won back for Israel (2 Kings 15:25); Galilee, in the more restricted sense of the term, that is: the northern part of it, or “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 9:1; compare 1 Kings 9:11)—in short, “all the land of Nephtali.” BHOTV7 99.2

The advance of Tiglath-pileser, marked by the occupation of those towns in a straight line from north to south, concerted Galilee and the adjoining trans-Jordanic district into an Assyrian province, which served as a basis for further operations. These terminated—perhaps after passing near or through Jerusalem with the occupation of Samaria, where a revolution ensued, in which Pekah fell. He was succeeded by the leader of the rising, Hoshea, who became tributary to Assyria. The easier part of his undertaking accomplished, Tiglath-pileser turned his arms against Damascus. Here he met with a stubborn resistance. Holy Scripture only records (2 Kings 16:9) that Damascus was taken, Rezin killed, and the people carried captive to Kir—a district not yet certainly identified, but apparently belonging to Media (compare Isaiah 21:2; 22:6). It was thence that the Syrians had originally come (Amos 9:7), and thither they were again transported when their work in history was done (Amos 1:5). BHOTV7 100.1

Unfortunately, the Assyrian tablets which record this campaign are mutilated, that in which the death of Rezin was recorded being lost. But we learn that the siege of Damascus occupied two years; that Rezin was shut up in his capital, into which he had been driven; that not only was every tree in the gardens round Damascus cut down, but, in the language of the tablet, the whole land desolated as by a flood. With the capture of Damascus, the Damasco-Syrian empire, which had hitherto been a scourge for the punishment of Israel, came to an end. Henceforth it was only a province of Assyria. It is in the light of all these events that we have to read such prophecies as those in Isaiah 7 and the firs part of chapter 8. BHOTV7 101.1

The majestic divine calm of these utterances, their lofty defiance of man’s seeming power, their grand certitude, and the withering irony with which what seemed the irresistible might of these two “smoking friebrands” is treated—all find their illustration in the history of this war. Such prophecies warrant is in climbing the heights of faith, from which Isaiah bids us to look, to where, in the dim distance the morning glow of the new Messianic day is seen to fill the sky with glory. BHOTV7 101.2

But in Damascus the conquered did Tiglath-pileser gather, as for an Eastern durbar, the vanquished and subject princes. Thither also did King Ahaz go “to meet” the king of Assyria; and thence, as the outcome of what he had learned from prophecy and seen as its fulfillment in history, did this king of Judah send the pattern of the heathen altar to Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:10, 11). On the Assyrian monuments he is called Joachaz (Ja-u-ha-zi). But scared history would not join the name of the Lord with that of the apostate descendent of David. For all time it points at him the finger, “This is that King Ahaz” (2 Chronicles 28:22); and he sinks into an unhonored grave, “not into the sepulchers of the kings of Israel” (ver. 27). And yet other and still wider-reaching lessons come to us from this history. BHOTV7 101.3