|Ahaz||Pekah||Rezin||Pul (Tiglath-Pileser III)||~736 BC|
What was going on in Judah when Samaria fell? Ahaz was the king who was on the throne of Judah at that time. Judah had been ruled for one hundred years by kings that were described as “good”, but Ahaz changed. He was described as not doing right. This moral judgment was very important in the Jewish history of the kings. Ahaz envied the economic success and moral permissiveness of Samaria and tried to be like the kings to the north. He was fully committed to giving in to peer pressure to gain their approval when they suddenly turned on him and attacked him. It really is dangerous to straddle the fence.
Ahaz had a good father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc. He had the prophets Isaiah and Micah. Parents can be good role models for their children, but children ultimately make their own choices. Samaria was an outside influence that proved more persuasive to Ahaz than his parents and the prophets. He both tolerated and promoted the practices of Samaria, which was only 40 miles to the north. He allowed altars to be set up all over the land and worshipped at them himself. In fact, “He even burned his son as an offering” (2 Kings 16:3).
It seems unthinkable that a Judean king would lead his people to kill their own children. How can someone change that much in one generation? As a publicly-recorded gesture, Ahaz placed his child in the arms of a god or on an altar and watched as the fire consumed its flesh. How perverted! Perhaps the child had been sedated or killed so it didn’t suffer, or maybe not. We don’t know because the details are not recorded of this ritual that spread across the Near East. In Carthage, in north Africa, evidence of 20,000 bodies have been found of children offered to Baal-Hammon. This was a known practice of the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Ammonites around Judah.
Child sacrifice has been found in cultures around the world. Child skeletons have been used as foundation deposits for Canaanite houses, which is similar to finds going as far back as Jarmo. The basic superstition is that sacrificing wealth will bring future wealth. The issue is that children are not property to be disposed of at the will of their parents. Mosaic law made it clear in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”. Child sacrifice was specifically prohibited in Deuteronomy 18:9-13 and Leviticus 18:21 and 20:2-4. Judah uniquely represented the God who values life. Ahaz’ act was an insult to Ahaz’ God and made a mockery of his virtue before all the nations of the Near East.
About the same time, Pekah and Rezin, the kings of Israel and Syria respectively, came to Judah and asked Ahaz to go together to form an alliance against Assyria, which was a rising threat. Both were strong, but Ahaz either wanted to avoid conflict or deemed Assyria stronger. Assyrian eventually defeated Pekah and Rezin and put Jerusalem under tribute. It also comes as a surprise that Isaiah expresses God’s protection against all three foreign powers in Isaiah 7-9, after all Ahaz had done, but after all these were God’s people.
Totally enamored by Tiglath-pileser’s conquest of Damascus, Ahaz went to Damascus to meet the victor. Seeing a magnificent altar in Damascus, he had a replica built in Solomon’s temple to replace the official one (2 Kings 16:10-18). Ahaz was consistently seeking prestige and splendor. The traditional burnt offering was not meant to impress but rather to communicate God’s nature. After worshipping foreign gods, Ahaz dismantled the worship of Judah’s God. It only takes one generation to go from godliness to murdering one’s own children.