Christmas with Ahaz

Our recent study of the tabernacle built in Moses’ time shows us that God is particular about how people worship Him. Those same principles were applied when Solomon built the first temple. But things deteriorated after Solomon’s death. The kingdom was split during Rehoboam’s reign. And the kings that followed were a mix of good and bad rulers. In our study today, we will look at a message given to one of the bad kings. His name was King Ahaz. Believe it or not, he has something to do with Christmas.

  1. Who was King Ahaz? (2 Kings 16)

    a. He was a young king (2 Kings 16:1-2a).

    The current US president was 78 years old when he was inaugurated. The youngest president, Theodore Roosevelt, was just under 43 years old. We usually expect our president to be a well-seasoned, mature person who is experienced and able to make good decisions.

    Ahaz was only 20 years old when he became king of Judah. That’s not very old at all. Not many 20-year-old men are mature enough to lead a country. But he was the next in line to the throne and became king. He reigned for only 16 years and died at the age of 36. Such a short reign probably makes you wonder what he was like.

    b. He was an evil king (2 Kings 16: 2b-4).

    The description of Ahaz in this chapter is not very flattering. “Unlike his ancestor David, with whom many of the Judean kings were compared, Ahaz did not do the will of God. Instead, he followed the examples of the wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom. He went so far as to sacrifice his son… as a burnt offering to an idol” (Constable 569).

    Instead of loving and serving the Lord, King Ahaz experimented with pagan rituals and did what the Lord hated. He was an evil king and one not remembered for doing any good thing.

    c. He was a troubled king (2 Kings 16:7-9).

    After the ten tribes split from Judah and formed their own nation, there were continual wars between Israel and Judah. It had been about 200 years since the kingdoms divided, but the animosity was still great. During the reign of Ahaz, the Israelites and Syrians joined forces to fight against Judah and eventually besieged Jerusalem, the capital city.

    In verse 7, we read that “Ahaz appealed to Tiglath Pileser III. … and sent a gift of silver and gold from the temple and palace in Jerusalem to encourage Tiglath-Pileser to get his harassing neighbors away from his walls. Tiglath-Pileser obliged by attacking and capturing Rezon’s capital Damascus. This diverted the Arameans from besieging Jerusalem; they had to return home to defend their own territory” (Constable 569).

    d. He was a disobedient king (2 Kings 16:10-18).

    Ahaz had not trusted the Lord to save him from his enemies. Instead, he trusted in a heathen king. So when his ally defeated Syria, Ahaz didn’t thank God. Instead, he traveled to Damascus to thank his Assyrian ally.

    “There he saw an altar… . Ahaz sent Uriah the high priest in Jerusalem a sketch of this altar with instructions to have one built just like it. The apostasy of the priesthood at that time can be seen in Uriah’s speedy acquiescence. When Ahaz returned home he had the Lord’s bronze altar of burnt offering moved aside to give a prominent place to the new altar. … Ahaz then commanded that all regular offerings be made on the … new altar” (Constable 569).

    If you were to read quickly through this chapter, you might not think much of this new altar. It seems that Ahaz just wanted to use a nicely designed altar to worship the Lord. But this was not the case. The ungodly king was replacing what God had commanded with his own version. Instead of following God’s requirements, he came up with his own.

    I have often heard from people who make excuses for not obeying what God commands in the Bible. When asked why they don’t attend church services, they reply that they can better worship God alone in a fishing boat while enjoying God’s creation. As nice as fishing may be, it doesn’t negate what God has prescribed in the Bible.

    Hebrews 10:25 — And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.

    Replacing weekly church services with by-myself-time is not obedience. It is disobedience. And as was the case with King Ahaz, replacing God’s commands with something different may indicate not just disobedience but may indicate unbelief.

  2. What does King Ahaz have to do with Christmas? (Isaiah 7)

    One of the most famous Old Testament passages about the virgin birth of Jesus is found in Isaiah 7:14. But did you realize that one of the names mentioned in Isaiah 7 is the very king we just read about? Yes, despite the king’s disobedience and unbelief, God still sent Isaiah the prophet to speak to him and to point him back toward God.

    a. God used an army to get his attention (Isaiah 7:1-2).

    We read in these verses that Ahaz was troubled by the allied armies of Israel and Syria.

    “Rezin [Syria’s king] convinced Pekah [Israel’s king] to join him against Pekah’s southern neighbor Judah. They threatened to replace Judah’s King Ahaz with a puppet king, ‘the son of Tabeel’ (Isa. 7:6). … The prospect of such formidable enemies as Aram [Syria] and Israel caused the people of Judah to be afraid” (Martin 1046).

    With Russia currently attacking Ukraine, I am sure that the people in Ukraine are constantly in fear of what might happen. Will the Russians drop a bomb? Will they knock out Ukraine’s power? Are enemy soldiers about to invade the village? This is how Ahaz and the people of Jerusalem felt during this siege.

    b. God encouraged him to trust Him (Isaiah 7:3-9).

    Amidst all of the turmoil, God sent a message to King Ahaz by Isaiah the prophet.

    “God told Isaiah to … meet King Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool. … Perhaps Ahaz was there to inspect the city’s water supply in anticipation of an attack by Aram and Israel. … Isaiah told Ahaz not to be afraid of Rezin and Pekah, for they were mere smoldering stubs of firewood. Their lives would soon end; like firewood they would be burned up and gone. Both men died two years later in 732 B.C.” (Martin 1046-47).

    What a wonderful promise from God! But the prophecy was not limited just to the end of these two kings. The prophecy also revealed that Israel would not be a nation within 65 years (see v. 8).

    “Isaiah made the startling prophecy that within 65 years Israel would no longer even be a people because they would be so shattered (7-8). Isaiah gave this prophecy in 734 B.C., so 65 years later was 669. When Asyria conquered Israel in 722, many Israelites were deported to other lands and foreigners were brought into Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). However, in 669 many more foreigners were transferred to Samaria by Ashurbanipal (Ezra 4:10), king of Assyria (669-626). This ‘shattered’ Israel, making it impossible for her to unite as a nation” (Martin 1047).

    The people who were currently fighting against King Ahaz would not even be a nation in 65 years. Wow! This should have been a huge confidence builder for the king. But let me ask you a question. Do you think that King Ahaz believed what Isaiah told him? Verse 9b indicates that the Lord was giving the king an opportunity to believe. Did he?

    c. God gave him a sign (Isaiah 7:10-17).

    Think about the many signs God gave to people in the Old Testament. God gave the sign of the rainbow to Noah, the burning bush to Moses, the Ten Plagues in Egypt, and the wet/dry sheepskin to Gideon. The same thing happened in the New Testament. God gave the signs of healing, speaking in other languages, an earthquake, and many others. Each time, God was patiently showing people that He would do what He had promised. These signs were meant to boost the faith of those who experienced them.

    Offered a sign

    In order to help King Ahaz believe the prophecy given by Isaiah, the Lord told the king to ask for a sign to prove it. He could ask for anything in the depths of the earth or the heights above him. Ahaz had the opportunity to have a miraculous verification of what God had promised. “But Ahaz refused to request a sign, saying he would not … test God (cf. Deut. 6:16). This answer sounded pious but probably the way he said it showed that he was not believing Isaiah” (Martin 1047).

    Why didn’t Ahaz request a sign?

    “The point at issue is that Ahaz would be under necessity of believing if the sign asked came to pass, and Ahaz does not want to be under necessity of believing, strange as that may sound. He has a course of his own plotted. If the sign happens, this course must be abandoned. The pious sound of his answer masks a very stubborn unbelief” (Leupold 155). How strange it was for King Ahaz to reject this opportunity to see a sign from God.

    Given a sign

    Isaiah was not happy with the king’s response. He told King Ahaz that God was giving him a sign despite him not asking for one. What was the sign? Isaiah included three thoughts in a sign that included a child soon to be born. Look at verses 14-17.

    (1) The virgin would conceive and bear a son named Immanuel (14).

    Much has been written about the Hebrew word translated as “virgin” in this verse. While the word can be translated as “young maiden,” it is almost exclusively used in the Bible to describe a chaste, unmarried woman (see Leupold 156). Isaiah told Ahaz that this virgin would conceive and bear a son who would be named Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This, in itself, was a sign that God would be with them.

    (2) The lands of Israel and Syria would soon be destroyed (16).

    “Before the child can distinguish between what is good and what is bad for it, the land of the two confederate kings of v. 1, Rezin and Pekah, shall be forsaken, that is, largely depopulated. The big threat that Syria and Israel posed against Judah will have collapsed completely” (Leupold 160).

    (3) The Assyrian king would attack them (17).

    The last part of the sign had to do with Assyria being sent by the Lord against them. “What makes the expression so particularly emphatic is that it was the very king of Assyria on whom Ahaz had pinned his hopes for deliverance, and to whom he was shortly going to send an urgent appeal for help” (Leupold 160).

    Summary: The sign was that a virgin would conceive, give birth to a male child, and before he would be old enough to know between right and wrong, Israel and Syria would no longer be a threat to King Ahaz. This was the sign that God gave to this unbelieving king. And this is exactly what happened a few years after the prophecy was made.

    Purpose of the sign

    (1) The first purpose of the sign was to assure Ahaz that God was with Judah.

    Whether Ahaz had turned completely away from God at this point or not, I am not sure. But God graciously sent Isaiah to assure him that God could be trusted and that He was still with Judah. When the child was called “Immanuel” (God with us) it was a sign that God was still with them.

    (2) The second purpose of the sign was that the House of David would not be destroyed.

    Ahaz was afraid of the nations who were besieging Jerusalem. And when those enemy kings talked about replacing Ahaz with a king of their own choosing, it must have looked like it was the end of the line of David. If that happened, there would be no future Messiah who would sit on David’s throne. There would be no future hope.

    But God had other plans. No matter how hard the enemy fought to change the plan, God was always in control. This is clearly seen in the later fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 as seen in Matthew 1.

  3. What does the New Testament say about this? (Matthew 1:18-23)

    When we look at the prophecy in Isaiah 7, we naturally think that this was specifically given to Ahaz because of what was happening during his lifetime. The sign was given to show him that God was still on Judah’s side and would not allow the wicked to overtake their land.

    But God’s prophecies often include not only a close fulfillment but also one that will not be fulfilled until a later time. I think that this is the case with Isaiah 7:14. The current fulfillment was what would happen during Ahaz’s lifetime. But the New Testament reveals that there was a Messianic prophecy hidden in that same place. Take a look at Matthew 1:18-21.

    a. Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18-21).

    “Mary and Joseph were in the one-year waiting period when Mary was found to be with child. They had never had sexual intercourse and Mary herself had been faithful (vv. 20, 23)” (Barbieri 20). Mary was a virgin but she was also pregnant. How could this be? Joseph didn’t know but figured that she had been unfaithful to him. Because of that, he decided to quietly end their betrothal.

    But before he took any steps, God sent an angel to explain what had happened. In a dream, the angel told Joseph that the child growing inside of Mary was placed there by the Holy Spirit. He also told him to name the child Jesus (which means Savior) because he would save His people from their sins.

    All of this points to the miraculous fact that Jesus was born to a virgin woman. That fact probably reminds you of something we recently read in Isaiah 7: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” You are not the only one who noticed this. Look at the next verses.

    b. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy (Matthew 1:22-23).

    Matthew tells us that all of this happened to fulfill the prophesy found in Isaiah 7:14. He doesn’t talk about King Ahaz or the fall of nations because that part of the fulfillment had already taken place. Instead, he focuses on what was said in that one verse.

    • The virgin would be with child.
    • The virgin would bear a son.
    • The child would be named Immanuel.

    The first prophetic sign was an encouragement for God’s people to trust the Lord for deliverance from an enemy invader. The second prophetic sign was sent to show us that God had come to earth to be with us as a human child. Jesus, God’s only Son, came to earth to reveal God to man and to save His people from their sins. After his birth, Jesus grew and became a man. He lived a perfect life, cared for people, taught the multitudes, and eventually gave His life on the cross to save us from our sins and the judgment we deserve. All this was the fulfillment of a prophetic sign given by God some 700 years before the birth of Jesus.


Do you remember how Ahaz responded to God’s offer of a sign? He didn’t want a sign and didn’t want to believe what God was saying in the prophecy. This was a terrible way to respond to the loving God who wanted to show him kindness. And even after receiving God’s sign and hearing about what God would do, King Ahaz still turned to the Assyrian king for help instead of God. What a foolish decision after all that God had promised to do.

What about you? Today, God has shown you the fulfillment of the prophetic sign in Isaiah 7:14. God miraculously caused a young, virgin woman to conceive. She gave birth to God’s Son, Jesus. And He was the One sent to save you from your sins. My question to you today is this. Have you believed what God promised? Have you believed what God did? And have you believed in Jesus who came to save you from your sins?

If you have not, don’t follow the example of King Ahaz. Don’t ignore the sign given by God. Instead, turn from your sin and unbelief and trust in Jesus who died on the cross to pay the price for your sins. If you do, God will forgive you of your sins, save you from the coming judgment, and make you one of His children. Will you trust Him today?


* Note that The Abingdon Bible Commentary is a new book to me. I am reading with carefulness and discernment as I am unfamiliar with the writers. They sometimes include arguments from skeptics in their commentary. But other times they are right on with their comments.

Barbieri Jr., Louis A., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 20.

*Davies, J. Newton, “Matthew” in The Abingdon Bible Commentary, New York: Abingdon Press, 1929, pp. 957-58.

Constable, Thomas L., “2 Kings” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 568-69.

Leupold, H. C., Exposition of Isaiah Volume I Chapters 1-39, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977, pp. 153-60.

Martin, John A., “Isaiah” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, pp. 1046-1048.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. II, Joshua through Psalms, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, pp. 335-36.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. III, Proverbs through Malachi, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982, pp. 211-15.

Morgan, G. Campbell, The Analyzed Bible Isaiah 1, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1910, reprinted 1984, pp. 50-54.

*Rogers, Robert W., “Isaiah” in The Abingdon Bible Commentary, New York: Abingdon Press, 1929, pp. 643-44.

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