International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
a'-haz ('achaz, "he has grasped," 2 Kings 16 2 Chronicles 28; Isaiah 7:10; Achaz).
The name is the same as Jehoahaz; hence appears on Tiglath-pileser's Assyrian inscription of 732 B.C. as Ia-u-ha-zi. The sacred historians may have dropped the first part of the name in consequence of the character of the king.
2. The Accession:
Ahaz was the son of Jotham, king of Judah. He succeeded to the throne at the age of 20 years (according to another reading 25). The chronology of his reign is difficult, as his son Hezekiah is stated to have been 25 years of age when he began to reign 16 years after (2 Kings 18:2). If the accession of Ahaz be placed as early as 743 B.C., his grandfather Uzziah, long unable to perform the functions of his office on account of his leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:21), must still have been alive. (Others date Ahaz later, when Uzziah, for whom Jotham had acted as regent, was already dead.)
3. Early Idolatries:
Although so young, Ahaz seems at once to have struck out an independent course wholly opposed to the religious traditions of his nation. His first steps in this direction were the causing to be made and circulated of molten images of the Baalim, and the revival in the valley of Hinnom, south of the city, of the abominations of the worship of Moloch (2 Chronicles 28:2, 3). He is declared to have made his own son "pass through the fire" (2 Kings 16:3); the chronicler puts it even more strongly: he "burnt his children in the fire" (2 Chronicles 28:3). Other acts of idolatry were to follow.
4. Peril from Syria and Israel:
The kingdom of Judah was at this time in serious peril. Rezin, king of Damascus, and Pekah, king of Samaria, had already, in the days of Jotham, begun to harass Judah (2 Kings 15:37); now a conspiracy was formed to dethrone the young Ahaz, and set upon the throne a certain "son of Tabeel" (Isaiah 7:6). An advance of the two kings was made against Jerusalem, although without success (2 Kings 16:5 Isaiah 7:1); the Jews were expelled from Elath (2 Kings 16:6), and the country was ravaged, and large numbers taken captive (2 Chronicles 28:5). Consternation was universal. The heart of Ahaz "trembled, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the forest tremble with the wind" (Isaiah 7:2). In his extremity Ahaz appealed to the king of Assyria for help (2 Kings 16:7 2 Chronicles 28:16).
5. Isaiah's Messages to the King:
Amid the general alarm and perturbation, the one man untouched by it in Jerusalem was the prophet Isaiah. Undismayed, Isaiah set himself, apparently single-handed, to turn the tide of public opinion from the channel in which it was running, the seeking of aid from Assyria. His appeal was to both king and people. By Divine direction, meeting Ahaz "at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, in the highway of the fuller's field," he bade him have no fear of "these two tails of smoking firebrands," Rezin and Pekah, for, like dying torches, they would speedily be extinguished (Isaiah 7:3). If he would not believe this he would not be established (Isaiah 7:9). Failing to win the young king's confidence, Isaiah was sent a second time, with the offer from Yahweh of any sign Ahaz chose to ask, "either in the depth, or in the height above," in attestation of the truth of the Divine word. The frivolous monarch refused the arbitrament on the hypocritical ground, "I will not ask, neither will I tempt Yahweh" (Isaiah 7:10-12). Possibly his ambassadors were already dispatched to the Assyrian king. Whenever they went, they took with them a large subsidy with which to buy that ruler's favor (2 Kings 16:8). It was on this occasion that Isaiah, in reply to Ahaz, gave the reassuring prophecy of Immanuel (Isaiah 7:13).
6. Isaiah's Tablet:
As respects the people, Isaiah was directed to exhibit on "a great tablet" the words "For Maher-shalal-hash-baz" ("swift the spoil, speedy the prey"). This was attested by two witnesses, one of whom was Urijah, the high priest. It was a solemn testimony that, without any action on the part of Judah, "the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria" (Isaiah 8:1-4).
7. Fall of Damascus and Its Results:
It was as the prophet had foretold. Damascus fell, Rezin was killed (2 Kings 16:9), and Israel was raided (2 Kings 15:29). The action brought temporary relief to Judah, but had the effect of placing her under the heel of Assyria. Everyone then living knew that there could be no equal alliance between Judah and Assyria, and that the request for help, accompanied by the message, "I am thy servant" (2 Kings 16:7, 8) and by "presents" of gold and silver, meant the submission of Judah and the annual payment of a heavy tribute. Had Isaiah's counsel been followed, Tiglath-pileser would probably, in his own interests, have been compelled to crush the coalition, and Judah would have retained her freedom.
8. Sun-Dial of Ahaz:
The political storm having blown over for the present, with the final loss of the important port of Elath on the Red Sea (2 Kings 16:6), Ahaz turned his attention to more congenial pursuits. The king was somewhat of a dilettante in matters of art, and he set up a sun-dial, which seems to have consisted of a series of steps arranged round a short pillar, the time being indicated by the position of the shadow on the steps (compare 2 Kings 20:9-11 Isaiah 38:8). As it is regarded as possible for the shadow to return 10 steps, it is clear that each step did not mark an hour of the day, but some smaller period.
9. The Lavers and Brazen Sea:
Another act of the king was to remove from the elaborate ornamental bases on which they had stood (compare 1 Kings 7:27-39), the ten layers of Solomon, and also to remove Solomon's molten sea from the 12 brazen bulls which supported it (compare 1 Kings 7:23-26), the sea being placed upon a raised platform or pavement (2 Kings 16:17). From Jeremiah 52:20, where the prophet sees "the 12 brazen bulls that were under the bases," it has been conjectured that the object of the change may have been to transfer the layers to the backs of the bulls.
10. The Damascus Altar:
To this was added a yet more daring act of impiety. In 732 Ahaz was, with other vassal princes, summoned to Damascus to pay homage to Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 16:10; his name appears in the Assyrian inscription). There he saw a heathen altar of fanciful pattern, which greatly pleased him. A model of this was sent to Urijah the high priest, with instructions to have an enlarged copy of it placed in the temple court. On the king's return to Jerusalem, he sacrificed at the new altar, but, not satisfied with its position, gave orders for a change. The altar had apparently been placed on the east side of the old altar; directions were now given for the brazen altar to be moved to the north, and the Damascus altar to be placed in line with it, in front of the temple giving both equal honor. Orders were further given to Urijah that the customary sacrifices should be offered on the new altar, now called "the great altar," while the king reserved the brazen altar for himself "to inquire by" (2 Kings 16:15).
11. Further Impieties:
Even this did not exhaust the royal innovations. We learn from a later notice that the doors of the temple porch were shut, that the golden candlestick was not lighted, that the offering of incense was not made, and other solemnities were suspended (2 Chronicles 29:7). It is not improbable that it was Ahaz who set up `the horses of the sun' mentioned in 2 Kings 23:11, and gave them accommodation in the precincts of the temple. He certainly built the "altars. on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz," perhaps above the porch of the temple, for the adoration of the heavenly bodies (verse 12). Many other idolatries and acts of national apostasy are related regarding him (2 Chronicles 28:22).
12. Recurrence of Hostilities:
In the later years of his unhappy reign there was a recurrence of hostilities with the inhabitants of Philistia and Edom, this time with disaster to Judah (see the list of places lost in 2 Chronicles 28:18, 19). New appeal was made to Tiglath-pileser, whose subject Ahaz, now was, and costly presents were sent from the temple, the royal palace, and even the houses of the princes of Judah, but without avail (2 Chronicles 28:19-21). The Assyrian `distressed' Ahaz, but rendered no assistance. In his trouble the wicked king only "trespassed yet more" (2 Chronicles 28:22).
13. Death of Ahaz:
Ahaz died in 728, after 16 years of misused power. The exultation with which the event was regarded is reflected in Isaiah's little prophecy written "in the year that King Ahaz died" (Isaiah 14:28-32). The statement in 2 Kings 16:20 that Ahaz "was buried with his fathers in the city of David" is to be understood in the light of 2 Chronicles 28:27, that he was buried in Jerusalem, but that his body was not laid in the sepulchers of the kings of Israel. His name appears in the royal genealogies in 1 Chronicles 3:13 and Matthew 1:9.
W. Shaw Caldecott
DIAL OF AHAZ
1. Hezekiah's Sickness and the Sign
2. The Sign a Real Miracle
3. The "Dial" a Staircase
4. Time of Day of the Miracle
5. Hezekiah's Choice of the Sign
6. Meaning of the Sign
7. The Fifteen "Songs of Degrees"
1. Hezekiah's Sickness and the Sign:
One of the most striking instances recorded in Holy Scripture of the interruption, or rather reversal, of the working of a natural law is the going back of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz at the time of Hezekiah's recovery from his illness. The record of the incident is as follows. Isaiah was sent to Hezekiah in his sickness, to say:
"Thus saith Yahweh, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee; on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of Yahweh.. And Hezekiah said unto Isaiah, What shall be the sign that Yahweh will heal me, and that I shall go up unto the house of Yahweh the third day? And Isaiah said, This shall be the sign unto thee from Yahweh, that Yahweh will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps? And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to decline ten steps: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten steps. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto Yahweh; and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the dial of Ahaz" (2 Kings 20:5-11). And in Isaiah 38:8, it is said, "Behold, I will cause the shadow on the steps, which is gone down on the dial of Ahaz with the sun, to return backward ten steps. So the sun returned ten steps on the dial whereon it was gone down."
2. The Sign a Real Miracle:
The first and essential point to be noted is that this was no ordinary astronomical phenomenon, nor was it the result of ordinary astronomical laws then unknown. It was peculiar to that particular place, and to that particular time; otherwise we should not read of "the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent. to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land" (2 Chronicles 32:31). It is impossible, therefore, to accept the suggestion that the dial of Ahaz may have been improperly constructed, so as to produce a reversal of the motion of the shadow at certain times. For such a maladjustment would have occasioned the repetition of the phenomenon every time the sun returned to the same position with respect to the dial. The narrative, in fact, informs us that the occurrence was not due to any natural law, known or unknown, since Hezekiah was given the choice and exercised it of his own free will, as to whether a shadow should move in a particular direction or in the opposite. But there are no alternative results in the working of a natural law. "If a state of things is repeated in every detail, it must lead to exactly the same consequences." The same natural law cannot indifferently produce one result, or its opposite. The movement of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz was, therefore, a miracle in the strict sense of the term. It cannot be explained by the working of any astronomical law, known or unknown. We have no information as to the astronomical conditions at the time; we can only inquire into the setting of the miracle.
3. The "Dial" a Staircase:
It is unfortunate that one important word in the narrative has been rendered in both the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) by a term which describes a recognized astronomical instrument. The word "dial" (ma'aloth) is usually translated "degrees," "steps," or "stairs," and indeed is thus rendered in the same verse. There is no evidence that the structure referred to had been designed to serve as a dial or was anything other than a staircase, "the staircase of Ahaz." It was probably connected with that "covered way for the sabbath that they had built in the house, and the king's entry without," which Ahaz turned "round the house of Yahweh, because of the king of Assyria" (2 Kings 16:18 the Revised Version, margin). This staircase, called after Ahaz because the alteration was due to him, may have been substituted for David's "causeway that goeth up," which was "westward, by the gate of Shallecheth" (1 Chronicles 26:16), or more probably for Solomon's "ascent by which he went up unto the house of Yahweh" which so impressed the queen of Sheba (2 Chronicles 9:4).
4. Time of Day of the Miracle:
At certain times of the day the shadow of some object fell upon this staircase, and we learn from both 2 Kings and Isaiah that this shadow had already gone down ten steps, while from Isaiah we learn in addition that the sun also was going down. The miracle therefore took place in the afternoon, when the sun moves on its downward course, and when all shadows are thrown in an easterly direction. We are not told what was the object that cast the shadow, but it must have stood to the west of the staircase, and the top of the staircase must have passed into the shadow first, and the foot of the staircase have remained longest in the light. The royal palace is understood to have been placed southeast of the Temple, and it is therefore probable that it was some part of the Temple buildings that had cast its shadow down the stairway in full view of the dying king, as he lay in his chamber. If the afternoon were well advanced the sun would be moving rapidly in altitude, and but little in azimuth; or, in other words, the shadow would be advancing down the steps at its quickest rate, but be moving only slowly toward the left of those who were mounting them. It may well have been the case, therefore, that the time had come when the priests from Ophel, and the officials and courtiers from the palace, were going up the ascent into the house of the Lord to be present at the evening sacrifice; passing from the bright sunshine at the foot of the stairs into the shadow that had already fallen upon the upper steps. The sun would be going straight down behind the buildings and the steps already in shadow would sink into deeper shadow, not to emerge again into the light until a new day's sun had arisen upon the earth.
5. Hezekiah's Choice of the Sign:
We can therefore understand the nature of the choice of the sign that was offered by the prophet to the dying king. Would he choose that ten more steps should be straight-way engulfed in the shadow, or that ten steps already shadowed should be brought back into the light? Either might serve as a sign that he should arise on the third day and go up in renewed life to the house of the Lord; but the one sign would be in accordance with the natural progress of events, and the other would be directly opposed to it. It would be a light thing, as Hezekiah said, for the shadow to go forward ten steps; a bank of cloud rising behind the Temple would effect that change. But no disposition of cloud could bring the shadow back from that part of the staircase which had already passed into it, and restore it to the sunshine. The first change was, in human estimation, easily possible, "a light thing"; the second change seemed impossible. Hezekiah chose the seemingly impossible, and the Lord gave the sign and answered his prayer. We need not ask Whether the king showed more or less faith in choosing the "impossible" rather than the "possible" sign. His father Ahaz had shown his want of faith by refusing to put the Lord to the test, by refusing to ask a sign, whether in the heaven above or in the earth beneath. The faith of Hezekiah was shown in asking a sign, which was at once in the heaven above and in the earth beneath, in accepting the choice offered to him, and so putting the Lord to the test. And the sign chosen was most fitting, Hezekiah lay dying, whether of plague or of cancer we do not know, but his disease was mortal and beyond cure; he was already entering into the shadow of death. The word of the Lord was sure to him; on "the third day" he would rise and go up in new life to the house of God.
6. Meaning of the Sign:
But what of the sign? Should the shadow of death swallow him up; should his life be swiftly cut off in darkness, and be hidden until a new day should dawn, and the light of a new life, a life of resurrection, arise? (Compare John 11:24.) Or should the shadow be drawn back swiftly, and new years be added to his life before death could come upon him? Swift death was in the natural progress of events; restoration to health was of the impossible. He chose the restoration to health, and the Lord answered his faith and his prayer.
We are not able to go further into particulars. The first temple, the royal palace, and the staircase of Ahaz were all destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and we have no means of ascertaining the exact position of the staircase with respect to Temple or palace, or the number of the steps that it contained, or the time of the day, or the season of the year when the sign was given. It is possible that if we knew any or all of these, a yet greater significance, both spiritual and astronomical, might attach to the narrative.
7. The Fifteen "Songs of Degrees":
Fifteen years were added to the life of Hezekiah. In the restoration of the second temple by Herod fifteen steps led from the Court of the Women to the Court of Israel, and on these steps the Levites during the Feast of Tabernacles were accustomed to stand in order to sing the fifteen "songs of degrees" (Pss 120-134). At the head of these same steps in the gateway, lepers who had been cleansed from their disease presented themselves to the priests. It has been suggested that Hezekiah himself was the compiler of these fifteen "songs of the steps," in thankfulness for his fifteen years of added life. Five of them are ascribed to David or as written for Solomon, but the remaining ten bear no author's name. Their subjects are, however, most appropriate to the great crises and desires of Hezekiah's life. His great Passover, to which all the tribes were invited, and so many Israelites came; the blasphemy of Rabshakeh and of Sennacherib's threatening letter; the danger of the Assyrian invasion and the deliverance from it; Hezekiah's sickness unto death and his miraculous restoration to health; and the fact that at that time he would seem to have had no son to follow him on the throne-all these subjects seem to find fitting expression in the fifteen Psalms of the Steps.
E. W. Maunder
AHAZ, DIAL OF
See DIAL OF AHAZ.