While I was writing Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (pre-order here), I did a lot of reading in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. (On Monday, I wrote some thoughts on 1 Samuel). While my interpretation of these biblical chapters did not make the final cut, I found them to be helpful in my thinking about Christianity and politics. What follows are some thoughts on King Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and Isaiah 7.
In these passages we find Ahaz, the King of the southern Kingdom of Judah from 735-715 B.C., in a difficult political and diplomatic situation. The northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) has formed an alliance with its northern neighbor Syria as a defense measure against the mighty Assyrian Empire threatening them. Israel and Syria and are pressuring Ahaz and the Kingdom of Judah to join in their pact.
God speaks to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7) to trust him: “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart grow faint.” Isaiah tells Ahaz to be firm in his faith. He promises him that the Lord will help him conquer the Syrians and the Kingdom of Israel. Ahaz, however, has other ideas. Rather than trusting God to get him through his diplomatic problems, Ahaz makes an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser III, the Assyrian king. “I am your servant and your son,” he tells the gentile ruler, “come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel who are attacking me.” After presenting Tiglath-Pileser with gold and silver from the temple, the alliance is sealed, and the Assyrian king invades the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Fear can lead people–even kings and political leaders–to make strange decisions. Most historians and biblical scholars agree that the threat posed to Ahaz by Syria and Israel was not great. Yet Ahaz’s foreign policy was built on these exaggerated fears. Ahaz made this alliance with Assyria despite the fact that the Lord also promised to protect him through his crisis. As biblical theologian Walter Bruegemann writes in his commentary on this passage: “The world looks very different when the observer is consumed by fear.” Ahaz lacked faith. He did not trust God’s plan in this situation. “Faith,” Brueggeman writes, “is…a matter of…practical reliance upon the assurance of God in a context of risk where one’s own resources are not adequate. It means to entrust one’s security and future to the attentiveness of Yahweh—to count God’s attentiveness as adequate and sure, thereby making panic, anxiety, or foolishness unnecessary and inappropriate.” Ahaz chose to put his faith in the strong man of Assyria rather than God. There would be future consequences.