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AHAZ, King of Judah (735-719 B.C.).

—Biblical Data:

Son of King Jotham. His reign is memorable as that in which Judah first became vassal to Assyria, and Assyrian (Babylonian) modes of worship were first introduced into the official worship at Jerusalem. The Hebrew authorities know only the form of his name given above, but the Assyrians called him Yauḥazi (= Jehoahaz: "Whom YHWH has held fast"); the former name being a contraction of the latter, like Nathan for Elnathan or Jonathan. Immediately upon his accession Ahaz had to meet a combination formed by northern Israel, under Pekah, and Damascus (Syria), under Rezin. These kings apparently wished to compel him to join them in opposing the Assyrians, who were arming a force against Syria and Palestine under the great Tiglath-Pileser III. (Pul). To protect himself he called in the aid of the Assyrians. Through their interference, and as a result of their invasion and subjection of the kingdom of Damascus and of Palestine outside of Judah, Ahaz was relieved of his troublesome neighbors; but his protector henceforth claimed and held suzerainty over his kingdom. This war of invasion lasted two years (734-732 B.C.), and ended in the capture and annexation of Damascus to Assyria and of the territory of Israel north of the border of Jezreel. Ahaz in the meanwhile furnished auxiliaries to Tiglath-Pileser. This appeal to Assyria met with stern opposition from the prophet Isaiah, who counseled Ahaz to rely upon the Lord and not upon outside aid. The sequel seemed to justify the king and to condemn the prophet. Ahaz, during his whole reign, was free from troubles with which the neighboring rulers were harassed, who from time to time revolted against Assyria. Thus it was that, in 722, Samaria was taken and northern Israel wholly incorporated into the Assyrian empire. But what was externally a blessing proved to be inwardly a curse. Ahaz, who was irresolute and impressible, yielded readily to the glamour and prestige of the Assyrians in religion as well as in politics. In 732 he went to Damascus to swear homage to Tiglath-Pileser and his gods; and, taking a fancy to an altar which he saw there, he had one like it made in Jerusalem, which, with a corresponding change in ritual, he made a permanent feature of the Temple worship. Changes were also made in the arrangements and furniture of the Temple, "because of the king of Assyria" (II Kings, xvi. 18). Furthermore, Ahaz fitted up an astrological observatory with accompanying sacrifices, after the fashion of the ruling people. In other ways Ahaz lowered the character of the national worship. It is recorded that he even offered his son by fire to Moloch. His government must be considered, on the whole, disastrous to his country, especially in its religious aspects; and a large part of the reforming work of his son Hezekiah aimed at undoing the evil that Ahaz had wrought.

Bibliography:
  • See the commentaries on II Kings, xvi., II Chron. xxviii., and Isa. vii., and the standard histories of Israel for the period in question. For the relations with Assyria and its consequences, see Schrader, C. I. O. T. 2d ed., pp. 257 et seq.;
  • McCurdy, History, Prophecy, and the Monuments, i. chaps. iv and vii., especially §§ 317 et seq.;
  • Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament, pp. 165 et seq.;
  • Schrader, K. B. ii. 20.
J. F. McC.—In Rabbinical Literature:

According to the rabbis, who refer to II Chron. xxviii. 19-25, Ahaz was the king who persisted in his wickedness even in the face of all the trials to which he was subjected, and would not repent (Sanh. 103a, Meg. 11a). Worse than this, he threatened Israel's religion to its very foundation, in order to destroy all hope of regeneration. He closed the schools and houses of worship so that no instruction should be possible, and the Shekinah (or Glory of God) should abandon the land. It was for this reason that Isaiah had to teach in secret (Yer. Sanh. x. 28b; Gen. R. xlii.), though Ahaz always humbly submitted to the prophet's rebukes—his only redeeming feature (Sanh. 104a).

K.
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