- This article is about the first king of the Southern Kingdom to bear this name. For the three other kings known by this name, see Jehoahaz (disambiguation)
Jehoahaz I (Hebrew יהורםאחז, YHWH has held) or Ahaz (Hebrew אחז, he has held) (762-r. 742-726 BC according to Ussher, or 755-vr. 735-r. 732-715 BC according to Thiele) was the eleventh king of the Southern Kingdom of Israel in direct line of descent. His was one of the two most wicked reigns in the history of the Southern Kingdom. His policies brought him into direct conflict with the prophet Isaiah and various other members of the class of the minor prophets.
Early life and family
Ahaz was the son and successor of King Jotham, and was born when his father was twenty-one years old. His full name was Jehoahaz, but either he or the historians who remembered him in the Bible dropped the "Jeho-" root of his name—because he rejected Yahweh as his God by looting the Temple and closing its doors.
The chronological data in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles reveal that Ahaz sired his son Hezekiah upon Abigail, daughter of Zechariah the high priest, when he was ten or eleven years old. Though it may seem improbable for anyone to become a father at such a young age, there is ample evidence that it was both possible and probable for a crown prince at that time in history.
While Ahaz's age at the birth of his son is unusually young, even by ancient standards, it should be remembered that the importance of producing an heir in a hereditary monarchy has led to many unusual marriage practices amongst the royalty of various nations throughout history. The general trend has been to arrange marriage of the son to a woman of high birth and the royal couple would marry young.
The normal age range for the onset of puberty in boys is 10.6 to 12.2 years. Obesity is one of several factors that has been found to accelerate the onset of puberty by months or years earlier than normal. It is possible that his social position as crown prince made Ahaz more likely to experience early puberty due to a high quality diet.
The Bible gives ages and lengths of reign in years, leaving some room for play in the unit of time. Ahaz could have been one month shy of his twenty-first birthday when he took the throne on the 1st of Nissan, the inauguration day for kings of Judah, and still been "twenty years of age." Since exactly 16 years passed until Hezekiah's inauguration on Nissan 1 at age 25, we find that 16+20-25 gives us eleven years with 11 months of play. Therefore, Ahaz sired Hezekiah between the age of 10 years and three months, and the age of 11 years and two months. This is very close to the normal range for the onset of puberty in boys.
The question is whether it would be socially acceptable or likely for Ahaz to have been married at such a young age. Egypt had been a major influence on the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel since Solomon's day. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was essentially a client state of Egypt from its inception. Jeraboam returned from Egypt after Solomon's death and led the ten tribes into rebellion against the House of David. As soon as the ten tribes of Israel made him king, he set up golden calves from the Egyptian Apis cult for the Israelites to worship - his goal being to reduce the influence of Jerusalem over his people.
The monarchy period of Israel and Judah can be firmly dated as contemporary with the 18th and 19th dynasties of Egypt, which conventional historians have placed six centuries too early. This historical revision was first suggested by Immanuel Velikovsky, and much ridiculed, but has since been confirmed beyond doubt by revisionist scholars such as Damien Mackey.
Pre-puberty child marriage was commonly practiced by the royal houses of Egypt. One of the proverbs of the Egyptian seer, Ptah Hotep, was, "If you have already made yourself a name, then start a family." The Pharaohs of the 18th and 19th Dynasties appear to have taken this advice to the extreme. Tutankhamen is widely believed by scholars to have married his sister at age nine when he ascended the throne, having two short-lived daughters prior to his death nine years later.
Given that the besetting sin of the kings of Israel and Judah was to chase after the social and religious customs of their pagan neighbors, it should not be surprising to find that some of the monarchs of Judah contemporary with the 19th Dynasty adopted the Egyptian custom of royal child marriage.
We note that Ahaz married Abi, the daughter of Zechariah the high priest. This bespeaks an arranged marriage intended to produce a worthy heir to the throne by a wife of noble birth. Given the polygamous practice of the Kings of Judah and Israel, Ahaz undoubtedly took other wives for pleasure or diplomacy later in his life, by whom he had other children.
As problematical as Ahaz' siring of a son at eleven might have seemed, the timeline of Edwin R. Thiele presents a worse obstacle. According to Thiele, Ahaz was born in 755 BC, and Hezekiah began to reign in 729 BC, at the age of twenty-five. Therefore, Hezekiah would have to have been born in 754 BC—when Ahaz was only a year old. That would be medically impossible.
Even if Ahaz was five years older when he began to reign, he would have had to sire Hezekiah at the age of six—still too young. Wood, following Thiele's numbers, suggests that Hezekiah was viceroy under Ahaz beginning in 729 BC and became sole ruler at 724 BC, at the age of twenty-five (so that Hezekiah could deal with Sennacherib's invasion in 710 BC, in the "fourteenth year of his reign"). But the best that Thiele can accomplish is still to have Hezekiah born when Ahaz was eleven years old.
Ahaz became king at the age of twenty, during a disastrous period for the Southern Kingdom. Late in his father's reign, Kings Rezin of Syria and Pekah of the Northern Kingdom had started a war with the Southern Kingdom. Ahaz inherited that war, because he became king in the seventeenth year of the reign of King Pekah.
Thiele's dates show Ahaz reigning for twenty years. Comparison with Thiele's dates for Jotham's reign show that Thiele meant to say that Ahaz was viceroy in the last three years of Jotham's reign and then enjoyed a sixteen-year reign after Jotham died.
Ahaz undid all of the good that his grandfather and father had done. He forsook God completely and followed the still-prevalent Baalism, even to making cast-metal images of Baal. "He sacrificed also and burnt incense on the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree." The Bible records that Ahaz offered one of his sons "in the fire" of human sacrifice. This was probably a sacrifice to Molech or Baal Melquart, because this was exactly the sort of sacrifice that these cults routinely performed. The only other historical record of the sacrifice of a royal prince was done under great distress, when the King of Moab about to be defeated in war. Given this historical precedent, Ahaz probably sacrificed his son while seeking help from a pagan god to defend the nation from the armies of Damascus and Israel, or possibly from his "ally" Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria.
In perhaps the fourth year of his reign, Ahaz traveled to Damascus for a meeting of state with King Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. While in that city, Ahaz saw an altar that he found attractive. He ordered a priest named Urijah to build an altar like that in Jerusalem. When it was completed, Ahaz performed all his sacrifices on this altar, and even took furnishings and fittings from the Temple of Jerusalem to augment it. Before his reign was over, he would shut the Temple doors, so that no activities would take place in it.
In addition to this altar, Ahaz built high places of his own in every city in his kingdom, and other altars, too. He also apparently built a sundial, because his son Hezekiah would receive an astronomical sign that this dial would display.
Strangely, Ahaz built a secret tunnel connecting the Temple with the palace. According to Ussher, the ancient commentator Tremellius suggested that Ahaz did this out of fear that Tiglath-Pileser might attack the palace from the direction of the Temple. With the secret tunnel in place, Ahaz would be able to escape from the palace to a position behind enemy lines.
At first, Kings Rezin and Pekah besieged Jerusalem as a unified force. This availed them nothing. But they then, so it seems, split their forces and had far greater success. Rezin took an unrecorded number of people captive and brought them to Damascus, his capital city. Rezin also recaptured the city of Elath, which Uzziah had built and garrisoned. The Southern Kingdom would never recover that town.
Pekah, for his part, killed 120,000 of Ahaz' soldiers in one day. Pekah's general, Zichri, killed Prince Maaseiah along with Ahaz' palace steward and his chief-of-staff. Pekah's army then took 200,000 captives and a great deal of spoil and brought them as far as Samaria. There, a prophet named Oded warned the army to take the captives no further: though Ahaz richly deserved the military defeat, the Northern Kingdom had sins of its own to answer for, and therefore had no right to retain the captives. Four Ephraimite princes stood up against the generals and refused entry to the captives. Faced with that, the generals brought the captives to the city of Jericho, after using some of the spoil to clothe, anoint, or otherwise care for them.
During the Syrian-Israel War, Ahaz sought help from Tiglath-Pileser III, who in fact recorded the interaction on one of his inscriptions. Ahaz paid Tiglath-Pileser a heavy tribute, which he financed partly from the Temple, partly from the royal treasury, and partly from the heads of the leading families. The deal was mostly one-sided, primarily because it made the Southern Kingdom a vassal state of Assyria.
Tiglath-Pileser did not send aid against the Edomites or the Philistines. But he did, for his own reasons, attack both Edom and Philistia—or so he boasted in his inscriptions. He also attacked Syria and the Northern Kingdom and lay them waste. He killed Rezin and captured Damascus—whereupon Ahaz agreed to meet Tiglath-Pileser in that city, and that was when Ahaz saw the altar that fascinated him so. Tiglath-Pileser also brought a humiliation upon Pekah that moved one of his generals to murder. Hoshea killed Pekah, whereupon (according to Ussher) the Northern Kingdom fell into anarchy for nine years. Ahaz would never have to worry about an attack from Syria or the Northern Kingdom again—though this "security" came at the price of national sovereignty.
Dealings with Prophets
Ahaz had no warrant for forming a military alliance with Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria. The prophet Amos had specifically foretold that Damascus would be captured and its people carried away in captivity.
Isaiah specifically warned Ahaz against contracting any foreign military alliances. He told Ahaz that eventually both Syria and the Northern Kingdom would fade away to nothing. In fact, Isaiah specifically told Ahaz that within sixty-five years, the Northern Kingdom would be destroyed utterly. In fact, the Fall of Samaria would take place much sooner than that.Isaiah also offered Ahaz a sign, but Ahaz hypocritically refused, saying that he would not "tempt God." Isaiah gave him a sign anyway, and that the most famous prophetic sign of all:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
The significance to Ahaz, if Ahaz had paid attention, was that the House of David could not possibly fail before the fulfillment of that sign—and a true prophet never gives a sign that does not fulfill itself eventually.
Death and Succession
The Bible says that Ahaz reigned for sixteen years, and died at the age of thirty-six. Thiele shows Ahaz reigning, in one capacity or another, for twenty years. The arithmetic suggests that Thiele projected for Ahaz a three-year viceroyalty followed by a sixteen- or seventeen-year reign.
Concerning that last: Ussher specifically states that Hezekiah was viceroy under Ahaz during the last year of Ahaz' reign. Thiele seems to suggest that Ahaz made Hezekiah his viceroy beginning in the fifth year of his, Ahaz', reign, and lasting for seven-eighths of that reign.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 598-610, 618, 620
- Leon J. Wood, A Survey of Israel's History, rev. ed. David O'Brien, Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986 (ISBN 031034770X), pp. 301-303
- II_Kings 16
- II_Chronicles 28
- Isaiah 1,3,7-8
- Micah 3,7
- Bone Age and Onset of Puberty in Normal Boys, Armando Flor-Cisneros, James N. Roemmich, Alan D. Rogol, and Jeffrey Baron, Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2006 July 25; 254-255: 202–206.
- Floyd Nolan Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, Master Books Edition, Third Printing, 1993-2005, p. 130
- 1 Kings 11:40
- Caldecott, W. Shaw. "Ahaz." International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Edited by James Orr. Blue Letter Bible. 1913. 5 May 2003. Retrieved 4 June 2007.
- Authors unknown. "King Ahaz - Biography." The Kings of Israel, hosted at http://www.geocities.com/ Retrieved June 4, 2007.
- David Holt Boshert, Jr., and David Ettinger, Ahaz King of Judah, Christ-Centered Mall. Retrieved June 4, 2007
- Gordon, I. "King Ahaz: The Darkness Before the Dawn." JesusPlusNothing.com. Retrieved June 4, 2007.
- II_Chronicles 28:4 (KJV)
- 2 Kings 3:27
- II_Kings 16:18
- II_Kings 16:5
- Amos 1:4-5
- Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)
- White, Ellen G. "Chapter 27: Ahaz." Prophets and Kings, 1999. Retrieved June 4, 2007.