Uriah, An Apostate Priest

Ahaz's altar

Possible picture of Ahaz’s altar from http://www.yahwehsword.org.

References: 2 Kings chapter 16.

Heart of the Story:  Uriah followed the directions of King Ahaz in building and moving an Assyrian-styled altar into the Temple courtyard. Uriah was culpable in introducing foreign idol worship into God’s Temple.

Back Story: When Pekah, king and Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria, joined forces to wage war on Assyria, they asked Ahaz, king of Judah, to join them. Ahaz refused with the result that the combined armies of Israel and Syria besieged Jerusalem. King Ahaz was frightened and rather than turn to God for help, he turned to Assyria. Ahaz took gold and silver from the Temple and the palace treasury and sent them to Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria. Ahaz implored the Assyrian king to rescue Judah from Pekah and Rezin. Ahaz agreed to Judah becoming subjects of Assryia.  Subsequently, Tiglath-Pileser defeated both Israel and Syria.

During Ahaz’s reign, Temple worship was superseded by officially-sanctioned idolatry. On high hills and under green trees, people made sacrifices to various deities at upright stones and pillars. Ahaz burnt his son as an offering.

Story Line:When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Judah’s new overlord, Tiglath-Pileser, he saw an altar. Ahaz sent an exact model of it to the priest Uriah and ordered Uriah to build it. Uriah was the only Temple priest named under King Ahaz’s rule; perhaps he was chief priest in the Temple of God.

When Uriah received word from Ahaz to build the altar, he immediately complied; the altar was completed when Ahaz returned to Jerusalem (720 B.C.).  After viewing the new altar, King Ahaz went up on it. Then, he made burnt offerings on the altar. Notice, the priest Uriah didn’t make the offerings, the King made them. Heretofore, anything having to do with the Temple altar was the exclusive domain of the priest. Along with the new altar, Ahaz instituted a new process in Temple offerings.

On Ahaz’s direction Uriah placed the new Assyrian-styled altar in the courtyard in front of the Temple. The Temple Bronze Altar, originally used for all sacrifices, was moved to the north side of the Assyrian-styled altar. Ahaz commanded Uriah to make all offerings and sacrifices on the Assyrian altar. The Bronze Altar was to be retained for inquiry by Ahaz. When Ahaz identified that he would use the Bronze Altar for seeking guidance, he stated his intention to follow the Assyrian practice of divination (2 Kings 16:15, notes). On the Bronze Altar, Uriah priest would study entrails of sacrificed animals to determine the will and intentions of God. Uriah knew divination was detestable to God (Deuteronomy 18:9-16) and God’s people shouldn’t practice it; however, his king now modeled himself after Tiglath-Pileser.

Pondering Relationships: Uriah’s concurrence with Ahaz’s plans and actions are astonishing to Jews and Christians today. Uriah was culpable in introducing apostasy into God’s Temple.  What could Uriah have been thinking? Some possibilities are:

  • 1.      Uriah was concerned with his own life and well-being. If he complied with Ahaz’s directive, he would retain his life and his position as the chief priest in the Temple. If he refused or protested the king’s plan, he would likely be murdered or at the minimum replaced.
  • 2.      The new Assyrian-styled altar was bigger and more attractive than the Bronze Altar that Solomon built for the Temple courtyard. The new altar added to the prestige of both God’s Temple and to Uriah.
  • 3.      An Assyrian-styled altar in God’s Temple would demonstrate the Temple was loyal to Tiglath-Pileser which may prevent more Temple gold and silver sent to Assyria.
  • 4.     Continued sacrifices to God were more important than the altar on which the sacrifices were made. Morning and evening sacrifices and offerings would continue to God on behalf of Ahaz and the citizens of Judah.
  • 5.      Uriah knew divination was detestable to God (Deuteronomy 18:9-16). Perhaps, because he didn’t believe in the science of reading entrails, he justified that participating in the practice was meaningless.

Whatever Uriah was thinking, he knew that he wasn’t complying with God’s directives for Israel’s priests and Temple dedicated to the worship of God. If he had any convictions about God, the Temple or his role as a priest of God, he didn’t stand by them.

Reflection: As chief priest, Uriah had a responsibility to keep Israelites from turning from the worship of the true God.  Uriah’s actions were one of the first steps in desecrating God’s Temple with foreign structures and practices.

Whoa — this priest was pretty awful. If you want to read more about priests in the Bible, please check check my book Lesser Known Bible Characters at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14.

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