THE BOOKS OF 1 AND 2 KINGS, though they follow the fortunes of both Judah and Israel (the southern and northern kingdoms, respectively, after the division that followed Solomon’s death), lay more emphasis on Israel, the northern ten tribes.
More space is devoted to Israel’s kings than to Judah’s. Eventually, of course, the northern kingdom collapses (see tomorrow’s meditation), and then all the attention is focused on the south. By comparison, 1 and 2 Chronicles recount more or less the same history, but turn the spotlight primarily on the southern kingdom of Judah.
Even in 2 Kings, however, substantial attention is sometimes focused on one of the kings of Judah. So it is in 2 Kings 16.By and large, the northern kings degenerated more quickly than in the south. In the south, many kings are described as following the Lord, but not as David had done; in the north, many are described as following in the footsteps of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. But every once in a while a really evil or stupid king arises in the south. And such is Ahaz.
Religiously and theologically, Ahaz was a disaster. “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORDhis God. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacriﬁced his son in the ﬁre, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORDhad driven out before the Israelites” (16:2-3). Politically he fared no better.Harried by Israel and Syria to his north, King Ahaz of Judah decided to strip the temple of its wealth and send it to King Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. Assyria was the rising superpower. Sending money to him as a kind of tribute, with a plea to get him to lean on Syria and Israel so as to reduce pressure on Judah, was a bit like throwing a hunk of meat to a crocodile: you could be sure that this crocodile would want more. Worse, King Ahaz became so enamored of Assyria that he introduced some of its pagan ways into the temple service. Fear turned Ahaz toward pagan power, and “deference to the king of Assyria” (16:18) fostered fresh compromises.
Contrast Hezekiah, two chapters later, who, while facing a far more serious threat from the Assyrians, brought on in no small part because of the stupidity and faithlessness of Ahaz, brooks no compromise but diligently seeks the face of God. There he discovers, in line with the experience of Moses and the fathers of Israel, that God is able to defend his people against few or many—it is all the same with him.