Damascus was the Syrian capital city about 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem, fairly close to the older northeastern territory of Manasseh. Damascus still exists today as the capital of Syria. It was under Aramean rule from 950-732 BCE so that is often referred to in the Bible as Aram instead of Syria. However, the Assyrian people conquered them in 732 BCE. Damascus was an important city with over 100,000 people during the biblical times, about half the size of Babylon. Thus it is often mentioned in the Bible as the northern neighbor of Israel.
“In the days of King Ahaz,
Son of King Jotham,
Son of King Uzziah,
King of Judah,
King Rezin of Aram Syria
And King Pekah,
Son of Remaliah of Israel
Went up to attack Jerusalem.
But they could not mount
An attack against it.”
King Ahaz (736-716 BCE) was the grandson of King Uzziah, mentioned above, and the son of King Jotham (740-736 BCE) who ruled Judah. At the same time, King Rezin was the Syrian king of Aram from 792-732 BCE. He joined with the northern Israelite King Pekah (743-732 BCE) to attack Jerusalem. However, they were unable to mount an attack against Jerusalem. The story of King Ahaz can be found in 2 Kings, chapter 16 and 2 Chronicles, chapter 28.
“In the time of his distress, King Ahaz became yet more faithless to Yahweh. He sacrificed to the gods of Damascus which had defeated him. He said. ‘Because the gods of the kings of Aram helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.’ However, they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel. King Ahaz gathered together the utensils of the house of God. He cut in pieces the utensils of the house of God. He shut up the doors of the house of Yahweh. He made himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem. In every city of Judah he made high places to make offerings to other gods, provoking to anger Yahweh, the God of his ancestors.”
Once again, this is loosely based on 2 Kings, chapter 16. After all the energy and time that had been spent in building the Temple with all its ornamentation during the time of King Solomon, as described in 1 Kings, chapter 7, King Ahaz wanted to shut its doors. He wanted to remove all these utensils or these sacred vessels. Here there is no mention of the bronze sea work as in 2 Kings. Although he worshiped the gods of Damascus, there is no mention of having the altar that was in Damascus being built in Jerusalem, like in 2 Kings, chapter 16. The reference to Israel should be to Judah only, since he was not the king of Israel. King Ahaz then rebuilt the high places all over Judah to offer sacrifices to the gods, other than Yahweh. Obviously, this angered Yahweh.
“Therefore Yahweh his God gave him into the hand of the king of Aram, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people. He brought them to Damascus. King Ahaz was also given into the hand of the king of Israel, who defeated him with a great slaughter. King Pekah, son of King Remaliah, killed one hundred twenty thousand in Judah in one day, all of them were valiant warriors. Judah had abandoned Yahweh, the God of their ancestors. Zichri, a mighty warrior of Ephraim, killed the king’s son Maaseiah. He also killed Azrikam the commander of the palace and Elkanah the next in authority to the king. The men of Israel took captive two hundred thousand of their kin, women, sons, and daughters. They also took much booty from them. They brought the booty to Samaria”.
This is loosely based on 2 Kings, chapter 16. However, this is a different point of view compared to 2 Kings about this invasion from the north. King Rezin was the last king of Aram in Damascus before King Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria took over Damascus, and killed him. He sent his people into exile in Kir. Here he is not named. He is only listed as merely the king of Aram. The northern King Pekah of Israel joined with him to attack Jerusalem. Yahweh wanted them to defeat King Ahaz. In 2 Kings, they were unsuccessful because King Ahaz of Judah formed a coalition with the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III. King Ahaz said he would be his servant and sent a present to the king to become a vassal and get protection. So King Tiglath-pileser III was happy to get the money since he was planning to attack Damascus anyway. Here, however, they are successful and there is no alliance with the Assyrian king until later in the story. They are so successful that a great number of people were taken captive to Damascus. However, King Pekah killed 120,000 Judean warriors in 1 day! That was a very busy day or a short war! On top of that, he took 200,000 people captive, including women and children. They also took their booty to Samaria. Thus this was a complete disaster. It does not seem like anybody was left in Judah.
“He even followed their advice. He went with King Jehoram of Israel, the son of Ahab, to make war against King Hazael of Aram at Ramoth-gilead. The Arameans wounded King Jehoram. He returned to Jezreel to be healed of the wounds which he had received at Ramah, when he fought against King Hazael of Aram. King Ahaziah son of King Jehoram of Judah went down to see King Jehoram son of King Ahab in Jezreel, because he was sick.”
Once again this is very close to 2 Kings, chapter 8. He followed the advice of his counselors and went to battle with his uncle King Jehoram of Israel at Ramoth-gilead. This seems to be a favorite spot to do battle with the Arameans. This is the same spot where King Ahab of Israel was killed when King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to fight the Arameans in 1 Kings, chapter 22. Now it is 12 years later when disaster strikes again. King Jehoram of Israel was wounded so that he returned to Jezreel. His nephew, King Ahaziah went to see him there at Jezreel because he was sick or wounded as in 2 Kings.
“At that time Hanani the seer came to King Asa of Judah. He said to him. ‘Because you relied on the king of Aram and did not rely on Yahweh your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with exceedingly many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on Yahweh, he gave them into your hand. The eyes of Yahweh range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is blameless to him. You have done foolishly in this. From now on you will have wars.’ Then King Asa was angry with the seer. He put him in the stocks, in prison. He was in a rage with him because of this. King Asa inflicted cruelties on some of the people at the same time.”
There is a whole change of tone here. The prophet or seer Hanani came to King Asa that he should not have made an alliance with the King of Aram against his fellow Israelites. He should have consulted with Yahweh, like he did when he prayed for help against the Ethiopians. King Asa did not take this rebuke kindly. He put the prophet in jail. Then he angrily inflicted cruelties on others. There were other people with the name of Hanani, but this prophet only appears here. King Asa should have consulted with Yahweh, not made foreign alliances with the King of Aram. Suddenly the good King Asa takes a bitter turn as this may explain why he was struck ill in the next section.
“In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of King Asa, King Baasha of Israel went up against Judah. He built Ramah to prevent anyone from going out or coming into the territory of King Asa of Judah. Then King Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Yahweh and the king’s house. He sent them to King Ben-hadad of Aram, who resided in Damascus, saying. ‘Let there be an alliance between me and you, like between my father and your father. I am sending to you silver and gold. Go! Break your alliance with King Baasha of Israel that he may withdraw from me.’ King Ben-hadad listened to King Asa. He sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. They conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali. When Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and let his work cease. Then King Asa brought all Judah together. They carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which King Baasha had been building. With them he built Geba and Mizpah.”
Once again, this is almost based word for word like 1 Kings, chapter 15. King Baasha (909-886 BCE) was the contemporary king of Israel. Instead of a continual war with Kings Asa and King Baasha, here the war begins in the 36th year of the rule of King Asa. King Baasha set up some kind of barricade in Ramah, which was about 6 miles north of Jerusalem that kept King Asa from coming and going into Jerusalem. King Asa of Judah had an idea to get the Aramean King Ben-hadad of Damascus on his side against King Baasha of Israel. He sent envoys to Damascus with gold and silver from the temple and palace treasuries. He wanted King Ben-hadad to break his alliance with King Baasha and invade the northern territories. King Ben-hadad took the gold and silver. Then he sent his armies to take over the northern area around Dan and Naphtali. Here there is no mention of Galilee. When this happened, King Baasha stopped his work at Ramah and went to defend his cities. There is no mention of Tirzah here. Meanwhile, King Asa sent all his people out from Jerusalem to Ramah to take all the stones and timbers. Then they rebuilt the cities of Geba, 6 miles northeast of Jerusalem in the Benjamin territory, and Mizpah, about 4 miles northwest of Jerusalem. These towns had existed before, but now they were refortified. Mizpah was a common name for many towns.