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“King Ahaz of Judah: A Comprehensive Study” delves into the life, reign, and decisions of Ahaz. From his fears and alliances with Assyria to his apostasy and alterations to the temple in Jerusalem, this article provides a detailed examination of one of Judah’s most enigmatic kings. Explore the history, legacy, and consequences of Ahaz’s rule, as well as his connections with prophets such as Isaiah.
King Ahaz’s Reign and Lineage
King Ahaz, son of King Jotham of Judah, became king at the age of 20 and ruled for 16 years, from 735 to 715 BC. During his time as king, prophets Isaiah and Micah were active, and Isaiah had notable interactions with Ahaz, as detailed in Scriptures such as Isaiah 7:1–17. Additional references to King Ahaz can be found in various parts of the Bible, including 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah.
Ahaz’s Early Fatherhood
An interesting aspect of Ahaz’s life was that his son Hezekiah became king at the age of 25, meaning Ahaz was likely younger than 12 when Hezekiah was born. While this seems unusually young, it is worth considering that puberty may occur earlier in warmer climates, and child marriage has been a common practice in the region. Some sources even suggest Ahaz was 25 when he began to reign, though this is not the widely accepted view.
Ahaz’s Troubled Reign
Ahaz died young and is remembered for his consistent wrongdoing. Despite the presence of prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah, his reign was marked by idolatry. He engaged in pagan sacrificing, even offering up his own son(s) in the Valley of Hinnom. This led to a host of problems, including invasions from surrounding regions and significant losses, such as the valuable port of Elath on the Gulf of ʽAqaba. An attack from the northern kingdom resulted in the slaughter of 120,000 in Judah and the capture of 200,000 Judeans. This calamity was only partially resolved through the intervention of the prophet Oded and leading men of Ephraim.
Ahaz’s Faith and Prophecy
Ahaz’s lack of faith in Jehovah was apparent when he refused a sign from God, saying, “I shall not ask, neither shall I put Jehovah to the test” (Isa 7:2-12). Nonetheless, a prophecy was given that a maiden would give birth to a son, Immanuel (With Us Is God), signifying the end of the Syro-Israelite threat to Judah.
The Sixty-Five Years Prophecy
Isaiah’s prophecy of “sixty-five years” before Ephraim would be “shattered to pieces” came true through several deportations of Israel. These occurred under different rulers and culminated with the final one under Esar-haddon, which ended Israel as a people and fulfilled the prophecy exactly 65 years after it was spoken.
The story of Ahaz is a complex one, filled with intriguing details about his life, reign, and the turbulent times in which he lived. His interactions with the prophets, as well as his personal failings and the prophecies surrounding his time, offer a rich insight into a critical period in the history of Judah.
Vassalage to Assyria, and Death
Rather than placing his trust in Jehovah, King Ahaz, feeling threatened by the Syro-Israelite conspiracy, opted for a hasty and ill-considered strategy. He sought the assistance of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria by bribing him to intervene on his behalf (Isa 7:2-6; 8:12). Although the Assyrian king initially alleviated Ahaz’s situation by defeating Syria and Israel, the relief was only temporary. Ultimately, this decision led to distress for Ahaz, without strengthening him (2Ch 28:20), as he had unwittingly subjected Judah to the oppressive rule of Assyria.
As a subservient vassal king, Ahaz found himself summoned to Damascus to pay homage to Tiglath-pileser III. While there, he was taken by a pagan altar in the city. He copied its design and commanded priest Urijah to construct a duplicate, placing it before the temple in Jerusalem. Ahaz then brazenly offered sacrifices on this “great altar,” sidelining the original copper altar until he decided its fate (2Ki 16:10-16). To either pay tribute to Assyria or possibly hide the temple’s wealth, he dismantled and rearranged parts of the copper temple equipment, even closing the temple doors. In his rebellion against his faith, Ahaz constructed personal altars throughout Jerusalem (2Ki 16:17, 18; 2Ch 28:23-25).
Ahaz’s 16-year reign was marked by poor leadership and outright rejection of his faith. Upon his death, he was buried “in the City of David” (2Ki 16:20), but not in the royal tombs reserved for the kings (2Ch 28:27). His name can still be found in royal genealogies (1Ch 3:13; Mt 1:9) and appears in an inscription of Tiglath-pileser III as Yauhazi.
Ahaz’s story serves as a warning and a lesson about the consequences of turning away from faith and pursuing short-sighted policies. His alliance with Assyria and his embrace of pagan practices brought temporary relief but ultimately led to his downfall and the further degradation of his kingdom.
The Historical and Archaeological Evidence
The historical figure of Ahaz, king of Judah, is mentioned in various sources outside the Bible. One of these references is Summary Inscription 7, a large stone tablet found in the Assyrian city of Nimrud. This tablet records the kings, countries, and cities that paid tribute to the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III. Among those listed is King Ahaz, referred to by his full name, Jehoahaz, the Judahite. The text on the tablet says:
[I received the tribute] of … Hiram, the Tyrian, Pisiris, the Carchemishite … [Mi]tinti, the Ashkelonite, Jehoahaz, the Judahite, Qaušmalaka, the Edomite … and Hanunu, the Gazaen: gold, silver, tin, multi-colored garments, red-purple wool … royal treasures. (COS 2:289)
King Ahaz’s name is also found on two ancient clay bullae (impressions made by personal seal stamps). One of these clay impressions states, “Belonging to (Ahaz son of) Yehotam, King of Judah” (Deutsch, “What We Learn from King Ahaz’s Seal,” 54). This seal not only identifies Ahaz as the king of Judah but also names his father, Yehotam (English: Jotham).
The second seal impression belongs to King Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son, and reads, “Belonging to Hezekiah [son of] Ahaz, king of Judah” (Smith, “First Seal Impression”). Archaeologists found this impression in the Ophel, an area near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and it dates to Hezekiah’s time.
Another significant artifact is an orange carnelian personal seal thought to belong to “Ushna, the Minister of Ahaz.” Although purchased on the antiquities market before 1940, making its origin unclear, it is likely authentic and may have belonged to a man named Ushna who served King Ahaz. This piece contributes to understanding Ahaz’s historical existence and is part of the Yale University Babylonian Collection.
King Ahaz’s historicity is well established through the Assyrian inscription of Tiglath-pileser III and the seal impression of King Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son. These artifacts confirm with certainty that Ahaz, king of Judah, was a historical figure. Other clay impressions and seals provide additional support for this conclusion.