Bible Commentary: 2 Kings 16:1-4 and Related

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2 Kings 16:1-4 and Related

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First Syro-Ephraimite War

"In his private 'museum,'" says the book, The Bible Is History, “the London antiquities collector Shlomo Moussaieff has…a clay seal impression. It is less than half an inch wide, with an inscription set on three lines reading [in Hebrew letters]: 'l'hz.y/hwtm.mlk./yhdh,' which translates as 'Belonging to Ahaz (son of) Yehotam (i.e. Jotham) King of Judah.' From scientific analysis there is general agreement that it is genuinely derived from the Biblical King Ahaz's time, and is thereby the first positively-known seal impression for a Biblical monarch. It even bears on its left edge a fingerprint that may be Ahaz's own, together with impressions of the texture of the papyrus document it sealed and the string with which this was tied" (Ian Wilson, 1999, p. 154).

The name of Ahaz also occurs in the surviving annals of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, "who specifically boasted of having received tribute from Ahaz, whose name his scribe rendered as Ia-u-ha-zi, or Yeho-ahaz, showing that its full form, not given in the Bible, included the divine name Yahweh, even though he followed the Biblically-disapproved deviant Canaanitic practices" (p. 155). Of course, we know from the Bible that Jehoahaz was a name of other Israelite and Jewish kings. That Ahaz (his name in Scripture and on the seal impression) was a shortened form of Jehoahaz should not surprise us.

Tiglath-Pileser, or Pul, had campaigned westward in 743 B.C., and Israel's king Menahem (ca. 752-741 B.C.) bought him off with tribute (compare 2 Kings 15:19-20). Indeed, Israel and Syria became tributary states to Assyria. Pekahiah, Menahem's son, who followed his father on the throne for two years (ca. 741-740 B.C.) probably continued in the tribute. But when Pekah, the son of Remaliah, next came to power in Israel (ca. 740-732 B.C.), he apparently decided to break the chain—as did Rezin of Syria, and the two formed an alliance, which was essentially a rebellion against Assyrian domination. It is then probably because Ahaz (ca. 736-720 B.C.) refuses to join their alliance that they invade Judah to topple him and replace him with their own puppet ruler (compare Isaiah 7:6), thus touching off the brief period historically referred to as the Syro-Ephraimite wars (Ephraim being the leading tribe of Israel and the territory of the capital, Samaria). As noted a few highlights back, 2 Kings 15:37 says the attack began in the days of Jotham, probably during his last four years (ca. 736-732 B.C.) when it appears that Ahaz was already on the throne. Indeed, it must have been during the first two of these years, since it had to precede Tiglath-Pileser's second western campaign (ca. 734-732 B.C.).

Judah was sorely defeated. In fact, during the siege and battles that take place, 120,000 Jewish troops die in just one day (2 Chronicles 28:6). Many are taken captive to Damascus by the Syrians (verse 5). Still others are taken by the Israelites themselves to be slaves.

Only the intervention of a prophet of God, Oded, put a stop to the nation being stripped of people and property (verses 8-15)—for the time being. This should have been a clue to Ahaz concerning where he ought to have been looking for deliverance. But instead he appeals to Tiglath-Pileser. After all, Pekah and Rezin are fighting Ahaz because he won't join their revolt against Assyria. The Assyrian king does come down to the area. We know from Assyrian records that in 734 B.C., during his second western campaign, Tiglath-Pileser and his forces moved south along the Mediterranean coast all the way to the border with Egypt. This did take care of much of the Philistine problem Ahaz was facing. And from Scripture we see that Ahaz took tribute with him plundered from Judah's national and temple treasuries and the nobility and gave it to the Assyrian king. But, with the fighting over and other matters pressing, Tiglath-Pileser gave no help concerning the Edomites or Ahaz's main problem, Israel and Syria (compare verse 21), which sent Ahaz into a fit of distress. He believed (and rightly so) that, despite the scattering of the Israelite troops over a warning from God, Pekah and Rezin still aimed to depose him and would soon manage to press their forces against him again.

But instead of repenting and asking God for help, Ahaz begins worshiping the gods of the Syrians, who seem so victorious at the moment—saying, in effect, "Because their gods helpthem" (compare verse 23), implying, of course, that the true God does not (even though He has just stopped Judah from being wiped out). And Ahaz spitefully defiled the implements of God's worship system.