August 16, 2009

The Reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel in Historical Perspective

Uzziah of Judah

The reign of Uzziah of Judah was a period of unparalleled expansion the Judahite kingdom. Uzziah, who is consistently called Uzziah in Chronicles and Azariah in Kings,[1] reigned for 52 years over Judah (792/791-740/739).[2] He came to power at the age of 16 after the assassination of his father Amaziah. His reign is defined by 2 Kings 15:3 and 2 Chr. 26:4 which state, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.” Uzziah expanded the southern border back to the port city of Elath (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Chr. 26:2) as it was during the days of United Monarchy (1 Kings 9:26, 2 Chr. 8:17), as Jehoshaphat had unsuccessfully tried to do (1 Kings 22:48). He subjugated the Philistines (2 Chr. 26:6-7) conquering the cities of Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod and then building Judahite cities within Philistia. Uzziah also successfully fought against the Arab tribes in the Negev highlands (2 Chr. 26:7) and received tribute from Ammon (2 Chr. 26:8). In conjunction with Uzziah’s expansions Rainey writes, “He (Uzziah) succeeded in imposing his control over the Arabian elements, specifically the Meunites (according to the LXX), which action gave him a monopoly over the trade routes across Sinai and as far as Egypt.”[3] Uzziah’s subjugation of the Philistines would have allowed him unparalleled access to the best farmland in the country, the Philistine Coastal Plain, which he would have exploited to his benefit since “he loved the soil” (2 Chr. 26:10). Uzziah’s other feats include: the fortifications of Jerusalem and the Shephelah (2 Chr. 26:9-10), large agricultural and agrarian structures in the Shephelah (2 Chr. 26:10), and the formation of a vast war machine of 2,600 “men of valor” (2 Chr. 26:12), an army of 307, 500 (2 Chr. 26:13), advanced war equipment (2 Chr. 26:14), and siege engines (2 Chr. 26:15). The Chronicler who claims that Uzziah’s fame and amazing feats became his downfall. Uzziah apparently became puffed up in his own great wealth and fame. He entered the temple and officiated illegally as a priest on the incense alter when he was confronted he became angry. Consequently he was struck by the Lord and became a leper living in a separate house for the rest of his reign as his son Jotham reigned in his place (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chr. 26:16-23). During his lifetime Uzziah was able to expand the kingdom of Judah farther than any king since the division of the kingdom. Isaiah (1:1; 6:1; 7:1), Hosea (1:1), and Amos (1:1) all ministered during the long reign of Uzziah. Interestingly in Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5 an earthquake is said to have occurred during the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam II. Uzziah’s rise to prominence can largely be attributed to the overall weakness of the Assyrian kingdom at this point in history. During the 8th century BCE Assyria had many local invasions and uprisings, which made the more outreaching objectives of their empire less important.[4] This gave Israel and Judah a period of time in which to prosper, but with the death of Uzziah this window of opportunity ended. In connection with this Rainey writes,

“With the death of Uzziah in 740 BCE the window of opportunity for Judah and Israel to dominate the southern Levant and to enjoy great prestige in the central Levant was closed. Israel was split apart and Judah became embroiled in disputes with her neighbors that led to the loss of all her geopolitical advantages in the south and west.”[5]

Jeroboam II of Israel

Jeroboam II reigned from Samaria for 41 years (2 Kings 14:23) (793-753 BCE).[6] His reign is defined as is all the kings of Israel by the statement in 2 Kings 14:24 that says, “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.” Despite this pronouncement against him the writer of Kings makes it clear that Jeroboam II was used greatly by Yahweh to save Israel. Jeroboam was able to restore the border of Lebo-hamath and restore Damascus and Hamath to the Israelites (1 Kings 14:25, 28). He had expanded Israel’s territory from the watershed Lebanese Beqa to Transjordan as far as the Dead Sea.[7] Like Judah, Israel’s expansion was largely due to the decline of the Assyrian empire. This is the time of the prophet Jonah (2 Kings 14:25) who also might reflect the weakness of the Assyrian empire in the prophetic book of Jonah. During this period of unparalleled expansion in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah the prophetic schools produced prophets to combat the rampant economic equality in the flourishing states. The prophet Amos proclaims judgment against the enemies of Judah and Israel for their iniquities against God’s people (1:3-2:3), but then turns his attention to the sins of Judah and Israel. Judah is berated for not keeping the Law of the Lord and is promised coming judgment upon their strongholds in Jerusalem (2:4-5). Likewise Israel is denounced for their disobedience in 2:6-16.[8] Judah’s disobedience is defined generally, but Israel’s iniquity is specifically addressed. Amos condemns Israel’s disregard for the poor saying, “they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals –those who trample the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted (2:6b-7a).” He goes on to denounce Israel for its gross debauchery and boastings of accomplishment. When seen against the background of the rich prosperity of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel this proclamation makes perfect sense. Jeroboam II like his Judahite counterpart, Uzziah, became puffed up with his success and did not attribute his victories to Yahweh. On account of this Jeroboam’s death and the exile of Israel were predicted by the prophet Amos in Amos 7:9-11 “And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, “‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.” Amos’ prophecy was fulfilled only a mere thirty years after the death of Jeroboam II when the Assyrian empire exiled Israel in 722 BCE.

[1] Anson Rainey and Steve Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006). 217.

[2] For a discussion on Uzziah’s coregencies with his father Amaziah and his son Jotham see Ibid, 217-218 and Edwin Thiele, The Mysterious Number of the Hebrew Kings, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965). 53-115.

[3] Ibid, 217.

[4] Ibid, 215-216.

[5] Ibid, 220.

[6] Ibid, 217.

[7] Ibid, 217.

[8] Yohanan Aharoni and Michael.Avi-Yonah, The Carta Bible Atlas, Jerusalem: Carta, 2002. 142.

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