3. Ahaz and the Assyrians
There are numerous contrasts to the behaviour of Gideon, both in and outside the Bible. One example is King Ahaz of Judah. Ahaz lived in the eighth centruy B.C., and was the father of King Hezekiah.
Hostilities with Syria
One incident in his life is portrayed in Isaiah 7.
Isaiah 7:1.: Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2. And it was told to the house of David, saying, "Syria's forces are deployed in Ephraim." So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. NKJV
The incident involved hostilities from Rezin king of Syria. The northern tribes of Israel were also involved in this, and so it formed one of the many confrontations between the northern and southern kingdoms in that era of the divided nation. God then spoke to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah about the confrontation:
Isaiah 7:3.: Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller's Field, 4. "and say to him: 'Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 5. 'Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, 6. "Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel" -- 7. 'thus says the Lord GOD: "It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass. NKJV
There were two aspects to this. Firstly Isaiah confirmed that there was indeed a threat to the national security, but he also said that this threat be come to nothing that the he should not be concerned about it.
Isaiah 7:10.: Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11. "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above." 12. But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!" NKJV
In stark contrast to Gideon, who repeatedly called for a sign from God, Ahaz was offered one, but chose not to take it. We can only speculate on the true reasons for ignoring the offer for a sign.
There is a possiblity that he didn't want to become too involved in entertaining in his mind the type of ideas of Isaiah. They were difficult ideas, because they relied on a faith that he didn't see in the world about him. Instead he used an extract of the commandment of God as an excuse keep himself a distance from it. This was an example of following a law that was convenient, but completely ignoring the remainder. A commandment about tempting given in Deut 6:
Deuteronomy 6:16.: " You shall not tempt the LORD your God as you tempted Him in Massah. 17. "You shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, His testimonies, and His statutes which He has commanded you. NKJV
In the same section, idols are mentioned:
Deut 6:14.: "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you NKJV
Ahaz was clearly very creative or naive in how he interpreted that part of the command of God. However, we must accept that this is a symptom of the typical behaviour of human nature. It is very easy to trivialise something that is prolific in one's own society. After all, “if everyone else is doing it, it must be allright.”
Even though Ahaz rejected the sign, Isaiah told him of one anyhow:
Isaiah 7:13.: Then he said, "Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14. "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. NKJV
This is a sign that we can take more from that Ahaz ever did. The way in which this points forward to Jesus is a sign to many generations. Some people don't want to know about him, while others are willing to accept the sign and its consequences. Indeed, it does have consequences.
Trust in Assyria
The record in II Kings reveals more about how Ahaz actually responded to the threat from Syria. Isaiah had urged him not to be concerned about Syria's power, but it appears that Ahaz did not accept this comfort. In II Kings 16 the details are recorded:
2 Kings 16:2.: Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. NKJV
This describes the wickedness of Ahaz in terms of the standards of God. The actual threat is recorded in verse 5:
2 Kings 16:5.: Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to make war; and they besieged Ahaz but could not overcome him. 6. At that time Rezin king of Syria captured Elath for Syria, and drove the men of Judah from Elath. Then the Edomites went to Elath, and dwell there to this day. NKJV
At this point Isaiah would be saying to Ahaz that he did not need to be concerned. God had revealed that this problem could be overcome, but with the implicit assumption that faith was necessary in the deliverance and the solution of God. History, however, shows that Ahaz sought a solution elsewhere.
2 Kings 16:7.: So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying, "I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me." NKJV
This would have been standard procedure for minor monarchs at the time. If there is a danger from another army, the solution is to form or buy a better army to force the other party to back down. Purchase is indeed what Ahaz did:
2 Kings 16:8.: And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasuries of the king's house, and sent it as a present to the king of Assyria. 9. So the king of Assyria heeded him; for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and took it, carried its people captive to Kir, and killed Rezin. NKJV
Instead of finding a solution in the power of God, he looked to solution and ways that he was familiar with in his society. This is precisely what Gideon did not do. Ahaz looked to obtain the biggest army he could buy, while Gideon was happy to let God lead him to use a very small army. Gideon ultimately had a resounding victory, but Ahaz only bought a tempory respite. Only a few decades later the Assyrians were to turn on them, oppressing them, and destroying the northern kingdom of Israel.
However, Ahaz went further than just buying an alliance. His association with the Assyrians had a greater influence on him. The close ties he had opened up a weakness. This is seen in the remainder of that chapter.
2 Kings 16:10.: Now King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus; and King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern, according to all its workmanship. 11. Then Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus. So Urijah the priest made it before King Ahaz came back from Damascus. NKJV
Ultimately this meant that Ahaz's associations had further entrenched him in the Assyrian way of life. It is very hard to have one form of association with a society without taking others with it. The alliance required a level of interaction, such as a show of respect for the other party. This, in turn, opened up additional levels of interaction, and ultimately a big influence is made, both in the conscious and in the subsconscience.
Trust in Egypt
At the time of Ahaz, the Assyrian Empire was strong and expanding. Ahaz used this strength for his security. An alternative was to look the other way for support, down to Egypt. They were also a power, and would offer security. The Northen kingdom of Israel did exactly this:
II Kings 16:1.: In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. 2. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not as the kings of Israel who were before him. 3. Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him; and Hoshea became his vassal, and paid him tribute money. 4. And the king of Assyria uncovered a conspiracy by Hoshea; for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and brought no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. NKJV
This incident then lead to the captivity of the 10 tribes and break-up of the Israelites. Judah and Jerusalem was also under threat from the Assyrians shortly afterwood. In the time of Hezekiah, Ahaz's son, Assyria attacked the Southern kingdom as well. At this time, Hezekiah had the option of turning to Egypt as Hoshea had done.
At that time, the prophet Isaiah spoke of this trust in Egypt.
Isaiah 30:1.: "Woe to the rebellious children," says the LORD, "Who take counsel, but not of Me, And who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, That they may add sin to sin; NKJV
This is a very general statement, and could be applied to many activities and ideas. It is more specific in this context, however.
Isaiah 30:2.: Who walk to go down to Egypt, And have not asked My advice, To strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, And to trust in the shadow of Egypt! 3. Therefore the strength of Pharaoh Shall be your shame, And trust in the shadow of Egypt Shall be your humiliation. NKJV
This was a very timely waring to Hezekiah about thinking of trusting in Egypt for strength. His father had sought security from an army, but this could not be relied on. This idea is continued in the following chapter:
Isaiah 31:1.: Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, And rely on horses, Who trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong, But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, Nor seek the LORD! NKJV
He says “Woe to those who rely on horses, Who trust in chariots because they are many, And in horsemen because they are very strong”. Really, it is quite easy to understand people doing this. If you are fighting a war, you generally want the best weapons. Our whole society is built on concepts like this. If you seek to win a war, you buy the best weapons. If you seek fulfilment in life, you buy the best toys and best friends.
This is a product of our society, where the range of considered options is limited. The alternative of God's way is elaborated in the following verses:
Isaiah 31:2.: Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster, And will not call back His words, But will arise against the house of evildoers, And against the help of those who work iniquity. 3. Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; And their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD stretches out His hand, Both he who helps will fall, And he who is helped will fall down; They all will perish together. NKJV
This speaks of a power that is not considered in the current society. It is different to what is normally seen, and so people doubt that it is a trustworthy solution. For similar reasons, the Pharisees did not have trust in the salvation offered through Jesus. They said,
John 9:29.: "We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from." NKJV
Even with all the evidence before their eyes, the doubt still remained. It is very hard to put faith in the ideas and solutions that aren't being constantly thrown into our faces. It is easier to find a “practical” solution, which is born out of experiences seen in the current society.