In the mean while, Jotham, the son of Uzziah, had been ruling with wisdom and justice in Judah, and after he had been king for sixteen years he died, and was succeeded by his son Ahaz.
Ahaz proved an impious man and a transgressor against the laws of his country. He imitated the kings of Israel, and raised altars in Jerusalem to false gods, and taught his people to worship them. He even offered up human sacrifices, as the Canaanites did, and allowed his own son to be burnt on an altar.
While he was going on in these wicked courses, Pekah, king of Israel, made an alliance with the king of Syria and Damascus, and the two kings joined their forces and invaded the land of Judah. The Syrian king took several cities and slew their inhabitants and peopled them with his own subjects, and then returned to Syria. When Ahaz, who had shut himself up in the city of Jerusalem, learned that the Syrians had departed, he believed he would be more than a match for the king of Israel. So he sallied out with his army. But the Israelites defeated him with great slaughter and drove him back into Jerusalem. They laid waste all the country round about Jerusalem, and took captive the women and children of the tribe of Benjamin, and returned with them to Samaria.
Now there was one Obed, who was a prophet at that time
in Samaria. He met the army before the city walls,
and cried out to them in a loud voice, and
"Know, ye men of Israel, that ye have gotten this victory over the people of Judah not by reason of your own strength, but because God is angered against King Ahaz. And ye should have been satisfied with this success, and should not have made captives of your own kinsmen. Therefore I tell you to let these captives return home, and to do them no harm, for otherwise the Lord will punish you."
So the people consulted together, and decided to return the captives whom they had taken.
After this, King Ahaz sent to a king of the Assyrians, named Tiglath-Pileser, and sued for his assistance against the Israelites and the Syrians, promising to pay him large sums of money. So Tiglath-Pileser came to assist Ahaz, and made war upon the Syrians, and defeated them, and captured many of their towns, and afterwards he invaded Israel and took many captives. Ahaz took all the gold and silver that was in his treasury and in the temple of God and gave it to the king of Assyria. Now, Ahaz had been worshipping the gods of the Syrians, though that nation was his enemy; but when the Syrians were defeated, he lost faith in those gods and worshipped the gods of the Assyrians. For he was always ready to worship strange gods and to turn away from the true God, the God of his own nation, whose anger was the cause of his many defeats. He even shut up the temple and forbade the priests to offer sacrifices in it, and committed many other indignities.
When he had reigned sixteen years he died, and his son Hezekiah succeeded to the kingdom.
Hezekiah was a very different man from his father. He was righteous and religious, and his first
care was to restore the worship of the true God. So he called together the people and the priests
and the Levites, and announced to them his intention.
And he said to the
"You know that because my father transgressed the law of God, and offered up worship to false gods, and persuaded you to do the like, you have suffered many grievous punishments. Therefore I pray you who have been taught by these sad experiences to give up your idolatries, and to purify your souls, and to open the temple to these priests and Levites, and cleanse it with the customary sacrifices, for by these means we may render God favorable, and He will remit His anger towards us."
When the king had finished speaking, the priests opened the temple. And when they had set in order the vessels of God and cast out what was impure, they laid the sacrifices upon the altar according to the custom of their ancestors.
The king also sent out messengers to all his people, and to the people of the ten tribes of Israel, telling them that the worship of the true God had been restored in Jerusalem, and asking them all to come and celebrate the feast of the Pass-over, for it was now many years since the people had kept that feast as God commanded them to keep it. The people of Judah gladly accepted the invitation, but most of the Israelites laughed the ambassadors to scorn and treated them as fools; and when some of the prophets among them foretold that they would suffer great misfortunes if they refused this opportunity of returning to the worship of God, they took these prophets and slew them. Not all of the Israelites, however, were so blind and foolish, for some of them listened to the words of the prophets, and returned to the worship of God. And all these came running to Jerusalem.
When the time had come, Hezekiah and the priests and the rulers and all the people went up to the temple and offered up solemn sacrifices. And then they feasted for seven days, and there was everywhere great rejoicing. After the festival was ended, the people went out through the country and destroyed the idols everywhere and overthrew their altars. The king also gave orders that the daily sacrifices should be offered up according to law and at his own expense, and appointed that the tenth part of all the ground produced should be given to the priests and Levites. And thus did the tribes of Judah and Benjamin return to their old form of worship.