It was a day of crisis and conflict, of alliances and adversaries, of emissaries and intrigue, of treaties and threats. Eight centuries before the birth of Christ throughout the Near East there was the same savagery, subtlety, sleight, and selfishness we find in politics today. Then, as now, the rulers of the world sought to aggrandize power and empire; then, as now, a score of petty despots, themselves politically insecure, played the game of international politics with the hope of gaining at least some small advantage for themselves.
In this tense world situation the tiny kingdom of Judah faced colossal problems of security and national defense. This small remnant of what had once been the proud kingdom of David lay between the two traditional rivals for world power. Egypt was to the south, Assyria lay to the north, and an alliance of other petty powers constantly vacillated between friendship and hostility. All this faced Judah. “What a world it was,” noted George Adam Smith, “a world of petty clans, with no idea of a common humanity, and with no motive for union except fear; politics without a noble thought or long purpose in them, the politics of peoples at bay—the last flicker of nationalities.”
Such a crisis brought great pressures on kings and rulers and taxed their ingenuity and diplomacy. In their frantic search for some means to postpone the imminent disaster the nations turned here and there, using whatever means they could to advance their national security, and no one hesitated if treachery aided his fortunes. Unfortunately Ahaz, the king of Judah, was no exception to this general despair. A poor successor to the throne of David, he foolishly sought to insure the prosperity and security of his country by sharing ...1
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