The Kingdom of Judah

SCRIPTURE COVERED: I Kings 12ó22; II Kings Ió15; II Chronicles 10ó27

TIME COVERED: ca. 931-735 B.C.

Only two tribes remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty ruling in Jerusalem after the death of Solomon. Whereas ruling families and capitals changed frequently in the Northern Kingdom, the descendants of David with one exception retained continuous royal leadership in the capital city established by David. Judah, also known as the Southern Kingdom, continued its established rule for nearly three and a half centuries beginning with Rehoboam the son of Solomon (931-586 B.C.). A total of twenty kings ruled in Judah during this period. Twelve of these were contemporary with the rulers in the Northern Kingdom. This long period of Judah's history can conveniently be considered by focusing attention upon four kings who exerted outstanding leadership. For each of these kings we suggest an approximate date that highlights this period chronologically: '

The biblical account of the Southern Kingdom is given in the books of I and II Kings in its relationship to the developments in the Northern Kingdom. Supplementary information is provided in II Chronicles which is primarily devoted to the history of the Davidic dynasty.


An abrupt change took place in Jerusalem after Solomon died in 931 B.C. Rehoboam faced rebellion and a disruption of the great empire that he inherited. Numerous leadersóJeroboam in the northern tribes, Rezon in Damascus, and Hadad in Edomóchampioned the cause of their own people and challenged the rule of the Solomonic successor.

A. Cause of disruption

Two reasons are given in Scripture for the termination of the union of Israel that had been established by David. The northern tribes rebelled against the excessive taxation and the threat of heavier levies by Rehoboam. Explicitly, the biblical narrative also points to Solomon's apostasy and idolatry as a cause for divine judgment (I Kings 11:9-13). For David's sake this division did not occur until after the death of Solomon (II Sam. 7:12-16).

Rehoboam made plans to suppress the Israelite rebellion. When he called for troops, only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin responded to support him. A prophet Shemaiah advised Rehoboam not to fight against the seceding tribes. In the early years of his reign, Rehoboam was further humbled by an invasion by Shishak the ruler of Egypt. Shemaiah assured the leaders of Judah that they would not be destroyed, even though the Egyptians raided Jerusalem and appropriated some of the temple treasures.

Although Rehoboam apparently began his reign with sincere religious devotion, he soon succumbed to prevailing idolatrous influences. Apostasy and idolatry characterized his seventeen-year reign and the short three-year rule of his son Abijam, even though the service of God in the temple was maintained. The prophet lddo may have warned these kings of their sinful ways.

B. Asa's reforms

Asa's forty-one-year reign (910-869 B.C.) prepared the way for the religious revival that prevailed under Jehoshaphat. Asa began a program of reform, admonishing the people to keep the Mosaic Law. When attacked by the Ethiopians from the south, Asa repulsed them with divine aid. Admonished by the prophet Azariah, King Asa removed idols throughout the land, crushed and burned the image of Asherah the Canaanite goddess of fertility in the valley of Kidron, and removed Maacah as queen mother.

When the religious celebrations in Jerusalem attracted the people from the Northern Kingdom, Baasha began to fortify Ramah, five miles north of Jerusalem. Fearing this as a military threat, Asa sent a bribe to Ben-hadad, king of Syria. When Syria seized Israelite territory in the north, Baasha withdrew his forces from Ramah.

For this alliance with Syria, the king of Judah was severely rebuked by a prophet named Hanani. Asa should have trusted God instead of depending upon the help of a heathen king. Unfortunately Asa did not respond favorably to God's warning, for he imprisoned the prophet. Two years before his death, a fatal disease struck Asa.


The twenty-five-year reign of Jehoshaphat (872-848 B.C.) was one of the most encouraging and helpful eras in the religious history of Judah. Since Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, he very likely had, during the early years of his life, come under the influence of Judah's great religious leaders. Under a well-organized program he sent princes, priests, and Levites throughout the land to teach the people the Law.

Internationally this was a period of peace. The Philistines and Arabs acknowledged the superiority of Judah by bringing presents and tribute to Jehoshaphat. This enabled the king of Judah to build fortresses and store cities throughout the land where he stationed military units. In addition, he had five army commanders in Jerusalem who were directly responsible to him.

When Jehoshaphat was threatened by a terrifying invasion of Moabites and Edomites from the southeast, he proclaimed a fast in all the cities of Judah. In the court of the temple the king himself led a prayer expressing his faith in God in the simple words "neither know we what to do; but our eyes are upon thee." Through Jahaziel, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, the assembly received the divine assurance that even without fighting they should see a great victory. When Judah marched toward the enemy, they were thrown into confusion and massacred each other. After collecting spoils for three days, Jehoshaphat led his people triumphantly back to Jerusalem and the fear of God fell on the nations round about.

A. Alliance with the Omride dynasty

Friendly relations prevailed between Judah and Israel during the days of Jehoshaphat. For his alliance with the godless ruling family in the Northern Kingdom, Jehoshaphat was severely rebuked on numerous occasions. Very likely this affinity between these two royal families began early in Jehoshaphat's reign, sealing the alliance in the marriage of his son Jehoram ' with Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. Even though this relationship with the Ornride dynasty provided Judah with a friendly nation to the north as a protection from other nations, Jehoshaphat was rebuked by at least four prophets.

B. Micaiah

Before Israel and Judah joined in the battle against Syria in which Ahab was killed, Jehoshaphat had an uneasy conscience when the 400 Israelite prophets predicted success in this venture. To pacify Jehoshaphat, the prophet Micaiah was called before the kings, solemnly warning that the king of Israel would be killed (I Kings 22). Jehoshaphat narrowly escaped death.

C. Jehu the prophet

When Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem from this battle, Jehu confronted him with the words: "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?" (II Chron. 19:2).

D. Eliezer

After Ahab's death, Jehoshaphat continued his affinity with Israel in an alliance with Ahaziah the son of Ahab. Together these kings launched ships at Ezion-geber for commercial purposes. In accordance with the prediction of the prophet Eliezer these ships were wrecked (II Chron. 20:35-37).

E. Elisha

When Joram, the son of Ahab who succeeded Ahaziah on the throne of Israel, attempted to suppress Moab, Jehoshaphat joined in this military venture. When the armies of Judah, Israel, and Edom were in a desperate condition for lack of water, the prophet Elisha appeared before the three kings in charge. In the presence of this prophet, Jehoshaphat was once more made conscious of the fact that he was in an alliance with ungodly kings (II Kings 3:1-27).

Within a decade the results of Jehoshaphat's policy of ungodly alliances unfolded in Judah. When Jehoshaphat died in 848 B.C., Jehoram as king not only executed six of his brothers but also espoused the sinful ways of Ahab and Jezebel. This change in religion may reasonably be attributed to Athaliah. According to II Chronicles 21:11-15, Elijah the prophet severely reproached Jehoram, who died in 841 B.C. of an incurable disease.

Ahaziah the son of Jehoram ruled less than a year. Visiting his uncle Joram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah was killed by Jehu who exterminated the Ornride dynasty and began to reign in Samaria. In Jerusalem, Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah seized the Davidic throne and began a six-year reign of terror. To secure her position, she began the execution of the royal family. What Jezebel had done to the prophets in Israel, Athaliah did to the royal family to whom the Davidic promise had been made of an eternal throne (II Sam. 7:12-16). Providentially, a son Joash was saved and the Davidic dynasty was restored after the execution of Athaliah.


Joash was enthroned at the age of seven in 835 B.C. and reigned until 796 B.C. During the early decades of his reign, Joash was guided and influenced by Jehoiada, a priest who was responsible for his enthronement. The temple with its services had suffered under the three preceding rulers but was now restored. However, when Jehoiada died, apostasy swept the kingdom of Judah so extensively that when Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, warned the people that they would not prosper if they continued to disobey the commandments of the Lord, he was stoned in the court of the temple.

Joash was threatened by Syrian aggression. When the Syrians conquered Gath, Joash stripped the temple of its dedicated treasures and sent them to Hazael to avoid invasion. Presumably, failure to pay tribute brought the Syrian armies to Jerusalem after the turn of the century. Judah's capital was invaded and before the Syrians left with the spoils, they killed some of the princes and wounded Joash, who was subsequently slain by his palace servants. This judgment came upon the king who permitted apostasy to permeate Judah and even tolerated the shedding of innocent blood.

A. Amaziah

Amaziah, who is credited with a total of twenty-nine-years' rule (796-767 B.C.), actually ruled only a short period. Uzziah apparently was made coregent with his father in 791.

The death of Hazael in Damascus at the turn of the century provided relief from Syrian aggression for the kingdom of Judah as well as Israel. Amaziah developed his military strength sufficiently to recover control over Edom. Proud of his military victory, he challenged Jehoash of Israel to a battle. As a result Judah was invaded by the Israelites who not only plundered Jerusalem but also broke down part of the wall and took royal hostages. King Amaziah was also captured and probably held captive in Israel until 782 when Jehoash died.'

B. The reign of Uzziah or Aziriah

When Amaziah broke the peace that had existed between Judah and Israel for almost a hundred years, the national hopes of the Southern Kingdom sank to the lowest point since the division of Solomon's Kingdom. Apparently Uzziah was made coregent in 791 and guided the affairs of state during the remainder of Amaziah's reign, assuming full control in 767 when his father was assassinated. Gradually but constructively Uzziah initiated policies that brought about the restoration of Judah. Very likely he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Judah's vassalage to Israel must have terminated, at the latest, with Amaziah's death or perhaps with his release fifteen years earlier. Apparently a policy of friendliness and cooperation prevailed between Jeroboam II and Uzziah.

With a program of military preparedness and economic expansion, Uzziah brought the Philistines, the Edomites, and Ammonites under his control, extending Judah's borders to the Gulf of Aqaba. Throughout the kingdom, he provided wells needed for large herds in desert areas and erected towers for the protection of vinedressers as they expanded their production. Copper and iron mining industries, which had flourished under Solomon, were revived in the Sinai Peninsula. Judah's growth and^ influence during this period were second only to those experienced in Davidic and Solomonic times.

Uzziah's prosperity was directly related to his dependence upon God (II Chron. 26:5, 7). Zechariah, a prophet otherwise unknown, effectively instructed the king who until about 750 B.C. had a wholesome and humble attitude toward God. At the height of his success, however, Uzziah assumed that he could enter the temple and burn incense. With the support of eighty priests, the high priest whose name was Azariah confronted Uzziah with the fact that this was the prerogative of those consecrated for this purpose (cf.-Ex. 30:7; Num. 18:1-7). In anger the king defied the priests. As a result of divine judgment, Uzziah became leprous. For the rest of his reign he was ostracized from the palace and denied ordinary social privileges. He could not even enter the temple. Jotham was made cornier in 750 B.C. and assumed the royal responsibilities for the remainder of his father's life.

With the death of Jeroboam in 753, the Southern Kingdom that had been so solidly built under Uzziah emerged as the strongest power in Canaan. Very likely Uzziah cherished hopes of restoring the whole Solomonic empire to Judah, but these were soon shattered by the rising power of Assyria. When Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria began in 745 B.C. to move his armies westward, Azariah the king of Judah is mentioned as leading the opposition. In the meantime, Menahem in behalf of Israel paid tribute to the Assyrian king.

Jotham assumed sole control of Judah when Uzziah died in 740 B.C. This marked a crucial year in the history of Judah when the king died who restored Judah from its vassalage to Israel and made it the most powerful nation in Palestine. The impending threat of Assyrian invasion clouded the future national hopes. This was also the year in which Isaiah was called to be the prophet of God in Jerusalem. Jotham continued an anti-Assyrian policy as he assumed the leadership of Judah, but in 735 B.C. a pro-Assyrian party elevated Jotham's son Ahaz to the throne.

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