Ahaz by Emma Buckles; Jeffery Leonard

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel.” With these famous words, the venerable King James Version of the Gospel of Matthew heralds the birth of Christ (Matt 1:23). Long before these words were applied to Jesus, though, they were delivered by a particular prophet to a particular king whose kingdom seemed to be on the verge of collapse. The prophet was Isaiah, and the king who seemed destined to lose his kingship was Ahaz, ruler of Judah.

Who Was Ahaz?

The name Ahaz is a shortened form of names like Ahaziah and Jehoahaz, which mean “The Lord holds.” Ahaz ruled over Judah from 742–727 BCE, and accounts of his reign are preserved in 2Kgs 16, 2Chr 28, Isa 7, and various Assyrian annals. While it is difficult to reconcile all of the events they describe, we can piece together the basics of his story and some of the dilemmas he faced.

At the heart of Ahaz’s dilemma stood the menacing empire of Assyria. Under the brutal emperor Tiglath-pileser III, Assyria’s domination of its neighbors had reached crisis levels. The nation of Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel wanted to stem the tide of Tiglath-pileser’s advances by launching their own war against Assyria. When the southern King Ahaz refused to join their cause, Aram and Israel invaded Judah and threatened to replace Ahaz with a king more to their liking. The king was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Fighting mighty Assyria was a fool’s errand, but not joining the fight might get him killed all the same.

What Was Ahaz to Do?

The prophet Isaiah’s counsel to the king came in the form of a sign: “The young woman [ʿalmah] is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). Although the Hebrew word ʿalmah can refer to a virgin (as the Septuagint, which Matthew followed, understands it), the term generally refers just to a young woman of marriageable age. It seems likely that the young woman here is Ahaz’s wife and that the son she would bear was the future king, Hezekiah (“Immanuel” in Isa 8:8 certainly refers to Hezekiah). The prophet’s word of comfort was that Ahaz would not be deposed by Aram and Israel; his line would carry on in a soon-to-be-born son. Ahaz just needed to trust in God’s protection.

Unfortunately, Ahaz chose a different path. He appealed to Assyria for help, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me” (2Kgs 16:7). He even sent gold and silver from the temple as tribute. While Assyria did come and defeat Ahaz’s northern enemies, this rescue came at a cost. Judah became essentially an Assyrian vassal, and Ahaz’s son Hezekiah would be saddled with the consequences of this arrangement. Perhaps as a condition of serving Assyria, Ahaz also introduced foreign religious practices into the land (2Kgs 16:18). This, in particular, earned him the ire of later biblical and postbiblical authors. The account of Ahaz’s reign in the Deuteronomistic History (2Kgs 16:1-20) focuses its retelling mainly on condemning Ahaz’s illicit worship (vv. 1-4, 10-20), a pattern followed by the Chronicler as well (see 2Chr 28). Drawing upon the Chronicler’s version of events, the Talmudic sages highlight Ahaz as the very model of sustained wickedness (Meg. 11a) and suggest Ahaz’s troubles were meant to produce repentance but only produced ruinous idolatry instead (Sanh. 103a). Some modern historians offer a more sympathetic picture of Ahaz, suggesting Ahaz’s submission to Assyria may have actually saved the nation whereas Hezekiah’s rebellion nearly destroyed it. Given the great power and destructive bent of the Assyrian empire, it may be that no king of Judah, Ahaz included, could preserve the nation unscathed when Assyria decided to act.


Emma Buckles, Jeffery Leonard, "Ahaz", n.p. [cited 26 Nov 2022]. Online:



Emma Buckles
Student, Samford University

Emma K. Buckles is a student in the Biblical and Religious Studies Department at Samford University in Birmingham. She is pursuing a degree in religion and serves as an officer in both the Alpha Iota Epsilon chapter of Theta Alpha Kappa and Samford’s Preministerial Scholars Program.


Jeffery Leonard
Associate professor of Biblical Studies , Samford University

Jeffery Leonard (PhD, Brandeis University) is associate professor of Biblical Studies at Samford University in Birmingham. He is the author of Creation Rediscovered: Finding New Meaning in an Ancient Story and various articles in the Journal of Biblical Literature, the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, and other venues. His research interests include inner-biblical allusion, source criticism, and creation traditions.

A region in northern Mesopotamia whose kings ruled most of the ancient Near East in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.

Related to the religious beliefs connected to Deuteronomy, which emphasized monotheism, the Jerusalem temple, observance of the Law, and the destruction of idolatry.

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Worship of a diety or cultural value not associated with the one, true, God.

An English translation of the Christian Bible, initiated in 1604 by King James I of England. It became the standard Biblical translation in the English-speaking world until the 20th century.

The kingdom consisting of the northern Israelites tribes, which existed separately from the southern kingdom of Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, all the tribes were part of a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, but the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I rebelled after Solomon's death (probably sometime in the late 10th century B.C.E.), establishing their independence. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

Of or related to history after the writing of the canonical Bible; can also mean transcending a culture that focuses on the Bible.

placing oneself under the authority or control of another

A subordinate, often a king who is subject to a more powerful king or emperor.

Matt 1:23

23“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”

2Kgs 16

Ahaz Reigns over Judah
1In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah began to reign.2Ahaz was twenty years old when he beg ... View more

2Chr 28

28 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his ancest ... View more

Isa 7

Isaiah Reassures King Ahaz
1In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up ... View more

Isa 7:14

14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Isa 8:8

8it will sweep on into Judah as a flood, and, pouring over, it will reach up to the neck; and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel ... View more

2Kgs 16:7

7 Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me from the hand of the king of Aram and ... View more

2Kgs 16:18

18 The covered portal for use on the sabbath that had been built inside the palace, and the outer entrance for the king he removed from the house of the Lord. H ... View more

2Kgs 16:1-20

16 In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, King Ahaz son of Jotham of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he rei ... View more

2Chr 28

28 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign; he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his ancest ... View more

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.