of Ahaz to the throne brought Isaiah and his associates face to face with
conditions more appalling than any that had hitherto existed in the realm
of Judah. Many who had formerly withstood the seductive influence of
idolatrous practices were now being persuaded to take part in the worship
of heathen deities. Princes in Israel were proving untrue to their trust;
false prophets were arising with messages to lead astray; even some of the
priests were teaching for hire. Yet the leaders in apostasy still kept up
the forms of divine worship and claimed to be numbered among the people of
Micah, who bore his testimony during those troublous times, declared that
sinners in Zion, while claiming to "lean upon the Lord," and
blasphemously boasting, "Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come
upon us," continued to "build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem
with iniquity." Micah 3:11, 10. Against these evils the
Isaiah lifted his voice in stern rebuke: "Hear the word of the Lord,
ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of
Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?
saith the Lord. . . . When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required
this at your hand, to tread My courts?" Isaiah 1:10-12.
declares, "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more,
when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?" Proverbs 21:27. The God of
heaven is "of purer eyes than to behold evil," and cannot
"look on iniquity." Habakkuk 1:13. It is not because He is
unwilling to forgive that He turns from the transgressor; it is because
the sinner refuses to make use of the abundant provisions of grace, that
God is unable to deliver from sin. "The Lord's hand is not shortened,
that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your
iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid
His face from you, that He will not hear." Isaiah 59:1, 2.
written, "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!"
Ecclesiastes 10:16. Thus it was with the land of Judah. Through continued
transgression her rulers had become as children. Isaiah called the
attention of the people to the weakness of their position among the
nations of earth, and he showed that this was the result of wickedness in
high places. "Behold," he said, "the Lord, the Lord of
hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the
staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, the mighty
man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and
of fifty, and the honorable man, and the counselor, and the cunning
artificer, and the eloquent orator. And I will give children to be their
princes, and babes shall rule over them." "For Jerusalem is
ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are
against the Lord." Isaiah 3:1-4, 8.
which lead thee," the prophet continued, "cause thee to err, and
destroy the way of thy paths." Verse 12. During the reign of Ahaz
this was literally true; for of him it is written: "He walked in the
ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.
Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom;"
"yea, and made his son to pass through the fire, according to the
abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out from before the
children of Israel." 2 Chron. 28:2, 3; 2 Kings 16:3.
indeed a time of great peril for the chosen nation. Only a few short
years, and the ten tribes of the kingdom of Israel were to be scattered
among the nations of heathendom. And in the kingdom of Judah also the
outlook was dark. The forces for good were rapidly diminishing, the forces
for evil multiplying. The prophet Micah, viewing the situation, was
constrained to exclaim: "The good man is perished out of the earth:
and there is none upright among men." "The best of them is as a
brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge." Micah 7:2, 4.
"Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small
remnant," declared Isaiah, "we should have been as Sodom, and .
. . Gomorrah." Isaiah 1:9.
In every age,
for the sake of those who have remained true, as well as because of His
infinite love for the erring,
God has borne
long with the rebellious, and has urged them to forsake their course of
evil and return to Him. "Precept upon precept; line upon line, . . .
here a little, and there a little," through men of His appointment,
He has taught transgressors' the way of righteousness. Isaiah 28:10.
And thus it
was during the reign of Ahaz. Invitation upon invitation was sent to
erring Israel to return to their allegiance to Jehovah. Tender were the
pleadings of the prophets; and as they stood before the people, earnestly
exhorting to repentance and reformation, their words bore fruit to the
glory of God.
came the wonderful appeal, "Hear ye now what the Lord saith; Arise,
contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear
ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the
earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with His people, and He will plead
people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee?
testify against Me. For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and
redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam
the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know
the righteousness of the Lord." Micah 6:1-5.
The God whom
we serve is long-suffering; "His compassions fail not."
Lamentations 3:22. Throughout the period of probationary time His Spirit
is entreating men
to accept the
gift of life. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in
the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live:
turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" Ezekiel
33:11. It is Satan's special device to lead man into sin and then leave
him there, helpless and hopeless, fearing to seek for pardon. But God
invites, "Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace
with Me; and he shall make peace with Me." Isaiah 27:5. In Christ
every provision has been made, every encouragement offered.
In the days
of apostasy in Judah and Israel, many were inquiring: "Wherewith
shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I
come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? will the
Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of
oil?" The answer is plain and positive: "He hath showed thee, O
man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do
justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah
In urging the
value of practical godliness, the prophet was only repeating the counsel
given Israel centuries before. Through Moses, as they were about to enter
the Promised Land, the word of the Lord had been: "And now, Israel,
what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God,
to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the Lord thy God
with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the
Lord, and His statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?"
Deuteronomy 10:12, 13. From age to age these counsels
by the servants of Jehovah to those who were in danger of falling into
habits of formalism and of forgetting to show mercy. When Christ Himself,
during His earthly ministry, was approached by a lawyer with the question,
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said
to him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and
with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great
commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor
as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the
prophets." Matthew 22:36-40.
utterances of the prophets and of the Master Himself, should be received
by us as the voice of God to every soul. We should lose no opportunity of
performing deeds of mercy, of tender forethought and Christian courtesy,
for the burdened and the oppressed. If we can do no more, we may speak
words of courage and hope to those who are unacquainted with God, and who
can be approached most easily by the avenue of sympathy and love.
abundant are the promises made to those who are watchful of opportunities
to bring joy and blessing into the lives of others. "If thou draw out
thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy
light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the Lord
shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make
fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring
of water, whose waters fail not." Isaiah 58:10, 11.
idolatrous course of Ahaz, in the face of the earnest appeals of the
prophets, could have but one result. "The
wrath of the
Lord was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He . . . delivered them to trouble,
to astonishment, and to hissing." 2 Chronicles 29:8. The kingdom
suffered a rapid decline, and its very existence was soon imperiled by
invading armies. "Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king
of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz." 2
Had Ahaz and
the chief men of his realm been true servants of the Most High, they would
have had no fear of so unnatural an alliance as had been formed against
them. But repeated transgression had shorn them of strength. Stricken with
a nameless dread of the retributive judgments
offended God, the heart of the king "was moved, and the heart of his
people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." Isaiah
7:2. In this crisis the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, bidding him meet
the trembling king and say:
heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted . . . . Because
Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against
thee, saying, Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a
breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it: . . . thus saith
the Lord God, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass." The
prophet declared that the kingdom of Israel, and Syria as well, would soon
come to an end. "If ye will not believe," he concluded,
"surely ye shall not be established." Verses 4-7, 9.
Well would it
have been for the kingdom of Judah had Ahaz received this message as from
heaven. But choosing to lean on the arm of flesh, he sought help from the
heathen. In desperation he sent word to Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria:
"I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand
of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which
rise up against me." 2 Kings 16:7. The request was accompanied by a
rich present from the king's treasure and from the temple storehouse.
asked for was sent, and King Ahaz was given temporary relief, but at what
a cost to Judah! The tribute offered aroused the cupidity of Assyria, and
that treacherous nation soon threatened to overflow and spoil Judah. Ahaz
and his unhappy subjects were now harassed by the fear of falling
completely into the hands of the cruel Assyrians.
Lord brought Judah low" because of continued transgression. In this
time of chastisement Ahaz, instead of repenting, trespassed "yet more
against the Lord: . . . for he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus."
"Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them," he said,
"therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me." 2
Chronicles 28:19, 22, 23.
apostate king neared the end of his reign, he caused the doors of the
temple to be closed. The sacred services were interrupted. No longer were
the candlesticks kept burning before the altar. No longer were offerings
made for the sins of the people. No longer did sweet incense ascend on
high at the time of the morning and the evening sacrifice. Deserting the
courts of the house of God and locking fast its doors, the inhabitants of
the godless city boldly set up altars for the worship of heathen deities
on the street corners throughout Jerusalem. Heathenism had seemingly
triumphed; the powers of darkness had well-nigh prevailed.
But in Judah
there dwelt some who maintained their allegiance to Jehovah, steadfastly
refusing to be led into idolatry. It was to these that Isaiah and Micah
and their associates looked in hope as they surveyed the ruin wrought
during the last years of Ahaz. Their sanctuary was closed, but the
faithful ones were assured: "God is with us." Sanctify the Lord
of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And
He shall be for a sanctuary." Isaiah 8:10, 13, 14.