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Kingdom of Judah

I. The United Hebrew Kingdom. Saul, a Benjamite, was Israel’s first king (1Sam.8.1-1Sam.8.22-2Sam.1.1-2Sam.1.27). His reign was not a success, and when he died (about 1000 b.c.), a period of civil war broke out among the Hebrew tribes. Out of this chaos emerged David (2Sam.1.1-2Sam.1.27-1Kgs.2.1-1Kgs.2.46), a member of the tribe of Judah, who founded the dynasty that continued to rule in Jerusalem until the destruction of the capital city by the Babylonians (587). David and his son Solomon (1Kgs.2.1-1Kgs.2.46-1Kgs.11.1-1Kgs.11.43) succeeded in unifying the Hebrew tribes and imposing their rule on the whole nation. During their reigns the Hebrews achieved national greatness and their own empire. When Solomon died, all of this came to an end; the greater part of the nation seceded from the Judean rule to form the northern kingdom of Israel. The Davidic dynasty continued to rule at Jerusalem over a small remnant of the nation, the kingdom of Judah.

II. Background of the Divided Kingdom. It must not be thought that the mere ineptitude of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1Kgs.12.1-1Kgs.12.33) caused the split of the Hebrew kingdom. Ever since their settlement in Canaan after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelite tribes had manifested a fierce independence from each other and a great reluctance to give up tribal sovereignty to a national head. On several occasions during the period of the judges (Judg.8.1-Judg.8.3; Judg.12.1-Judg.12.6; Judg.20.1-Judg.20.48), strife and even open war broke out among the tribes. It appears that the troubled period between the death of Saul and David’s move of the capital to Jerusalem (2Sam.2.1-2Sam.2.32-2Sam.4.1-2Sam.4.12) produced a divided kingdom, with Judah (the southern center of power) adhering to David, and Israel (the Joseph tribes in central Palestine, and the northern tier of tribes) keeping aloof from David, seeking to establish Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth as their king. Evidently they felt that accepting David’s claims meant giving up too much local autonomy to the central government. After his capture of Jerusalem and the submission of all the tribes to him, David managed to keep the nation together by firm rule combined with a wise handling of explosive personalities. In the weakness of his old age, however, the centripetal forces again asserted themselves (2Sam.20.1-2Sam.20.26). Solomon clamped on the nation a firm rule, assessing heavy taxes and forced labor. We infer that Judah was exempt from his most objectionable requirements, a condition hardly likely to please the ever-restless Israelite tribes.

When Solomon died, there already existed an Israelite government in exile, headed by Jeroboam, son of Nebat (1Kgs.11.26-1Kgs.11.40). He returned to Palestine to confront Solomon’s son Rehoboam with an ultimatum—“Lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke...and we will serve you” (1Kgs.12.1-1Kgs.12.11). Rehoboam, stubborn and inept, tried to assert force instead of making concessions, and Jeroboam split the kingdom by organizing a secession government in Israel, which ultimately (under Omri) was centered in the city of Samaria.

III. Resources and Organization of the Kingdom of Judah. Rehoboam continued to reign over a small southern region, mainly equal to the territory of Judah. Most of Benjamite territory appears to have gone with the northern rebels (1Kgs.12.20), but Jerusalem, in the extreme south of Benjamin, stayed with Judah because of the presence of Rehoboam’s army there, and remained Judah’s capital. Thus the boundary between Judah and Israel must have run a few miles north of Jerusalem. All of southern Palestine (much of it desert) was held by Rehoboam. Even so, his territory was not more than half the size of the northern kingdom; his arable land, less than one-fourth as much as Israel’s. Judah claimed suzerainty over Edom and asserted it when they were able. Judah’s population (estimated at 300,000) was about half that of Israel’s. The northern kingdom had the best farm land and was favored with more rainfall than the south.

In spite of her small size Judah enjoyed certain advantages over Israel. She had control of Jerusalem, with its ancient heritage of the temple and its divinely ordained worship, together with the Davidic dynasty and the buildings and traditions of the strong Solomonic empire. Her location in the southern hill country removed her somewhat from the ever-increasing tempo of struggle for control of the road to Egypt by the Assyrians, a struggle that ended eventually in Israel’s destruction. She tended to be a city-state (no other Judean city could begin to compete with Jerusalem) with a homogeneous population and strong centralization of authority, thus avoiding the weakness of decentralization that characterized the northern kingdom. The continuing Davidic dynasty (Israel had nine dynasties during the reigns of nineteen kings) and a Levitic priesthood (attached to the Jerusalem temple) were sources of continuing strength.

IV. The History of the Kingdom of Judah. It is difficult to isolate Judah’s history. In the biblical sources (the books of Kings and Chronicles) the accounts of Israel and Judah are intertwined, with Israel predominating. One gets the impression that Israel’s history is dynamic and attractive, while Judah’s existence (except for certain great periods) was conservative—essentially a “holding operation.”

This article will not attempt to detail the events of the reigns of each of Judah’s nineteen kings. For such details, read the articles in this dictionary on each of these kings. The purpose of this article is to see the history as a whole. Judah’s history from the death of Solomon to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians may be divided into three periods:

A. Judah from the death of Solomon to the mid-eighth century, 922-742 b.c. During this period of nearly two centuries Judah and Israel lived side by side. For the first two generations the successive Judean kings fought against Israel, seeking to compel her to reunite with the South. Beginning with Jehoshaphat, however, they saw the impossibility of success in this attempt, for Israel was, if anything, more powerful than Judah. Jehoshaphat began a tradition of friendly cooperation with Israel, which, with few exceptions, characterized the Judean kings until the fall of Samaria left the South to carry on alone.

The split of the kingdom at the accession of Rehoboam has been described. Obviously, with this event the Hebrew empire raised by David and Solomon collapsed. Judah was now a second-rate power—a city-state in the hills. As if to prove its degradation, Shishak, a soldier turned king of Egypt, invaded Palestine, seeking to revive the Egyptian Empire. According to the Bible he badly looted Jerusalem (1Kgs.14.25-1Kgs.14.26); Shishak’s own historical inscriptions at Karnak indicate that he sacked most of Palestine. Rehoboam’s pathetic copper shields, a cheap imitation of the looted gold ones (1Kgs.14.27-1Kgs.14.28), symbolize the condition of post-Solomonic Judah—the grandeur had departed.

Rehoboam and his son Abijah (kjv Abijam) seem to have carried on Solomon’s syncretistic tendencies; pagan rites flourished. Asa and Jehoshaphat instituted reforms aimed at purifying the worship of the Lord from pagan influence. Jehoshaphat is known for the marriage of his son Jehoram to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel of Israel, thus sealing his new policy of friendliness toward the northern kingdom. This policy seems to have brought great prosperity to Judah, but also the threat that the Baalism sponsored by Ahab in Israel might spread to the south.

Jehoram and Ahaziah were briefly succeeded by Athaliah, who was their wife and mother, respectively. She sought to stamp out all the Judean royal house and to make baalism the worship of Judah. A palace-temple coup resulted in her death (837 b.c.), the restoration of the Davidic line in the person of Joash, the boy king, and the revival of the worship of Yahweh sponsored by Jehoiada the high priest.

Amaziah and Uzziah reigned during a great burst of political and economic prosperity, just before the coming of the Assyrian invasions and Israel’s captivity. Judah and Israel briefly occupied much of the land they had under Solomon’s reign. Increased trade brought home great wealth. Luxury (especially in Israel) was unprecedented. It was to the spiritually careless people of this time, at ease in Zion, that the great eighth-century prophets—Amos, Hosea, Jonah, Isaiah, and Micah—came.

B. Judah during the period of the Assyrian Ascendancy, 742-687 b.c. In the third quarter of the eighth century an event occurred that was to influence all of succeeding history. The Assyrian Empire, with its capital at Nineveh, moved westward in its effort to capture the civilized world. Ultimately Israel, located as she was on the road to Egypt, was destroyed by Assyria (722), and Judah was severely damaged.

King Ahaz first brought Judah into the Assyrian orbit when he called on her to relieve him from the attack of an anti-Assyrian coalition, Syria and Israel (2Kgs.16.7). Judah was saved, Damascus destroyed, and part of Israel overrun by the Assyrians (733-732 b.c.), but at the cost of bringing Judah into the Assyrian orbit. There naturally followed spiritual subordination, and Ahaz introduced Assyrian religious practices into Jerusalem. This problem of imported paganism was to plague Judah until its fall. Late in Ahaz’s reign the city of Samaria was destroyed and Israel’s national existence brought to an end. Hezekiah, the pious son of Ahaz, sensing a weakening of Assyrian power, sought to throw off both the political and religious yoke of Assyria. Under him, Judah managed to survive the attacks of Sennacherib, although at fearful cost. Hezekiah reformed the national religion, purifying it of paganism. His treaty with the rising power of Babylon, a threat to Assyrian domination of Mesopotamia, although condemned by Isaiah, was another facet of his struggle to keep Judah free. The prophets Isaiah and Micah continued their ministry into this period. Certainly much of Hezekiah’s success in religious reform was due to Isaiah’s support.

C. The Last Century of the Kingdom of Judah, 687-587 b.c. During Judah’s last century of national existence Palestine was the scene of intermittent warfare; empires clashed, fell, and rose around her until finally Judah fell to the last Semitic world empire—Babylon. The destruction of the city of Nineveh (612 b.c.) spelled the fall of the Assyrian Empire. It was replaced by the new Babylonian Empire, of which Nebuchadnezzar was the militant head. Egypt still tried to play a part in the political struggle, and her nearness to Palestine made her also a power to be reckoned with in Judah. Placed between great world powers, relying alternately on each but seldom (according to the prophets) on her God, Judah played a fateful, increasingly unsteady role until Jerusalem was destroyed and her people taken captive.

Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, through a long reign chose to submit again to Assyrian political and religious control. His grandson, Josiah, was the last good Hebrew king, and the last one whose reign saw anything like normal times in the Judean kingdom. Josiah’s famous revival (621 b.c.), the most thoroughgoing in Judah’s history, was aided by the rediscovery of the Mosaic Law (probably Deuteronomy) in the temple (2Kgs.22.1-2Kgs.22.20ff.). Josiah made a great effort to rid Judah of all paganism and to centralize all the worship of the Lord at the Jerusalem temple. This meant rebellion against Assyria, which Josiah was able to carry out; in fact, it was during his reign that the Assyrian Empire disintegrated. Josiah tragically lost his life trying to oppose the forces of the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco, who were crossing Palestine on their way to Syria to fight in the battles that marked the death throes of Assyria.

During Josiah’s reign the young Jeremiah began his prophetic career, which extended into the period of the Captivity. A sad man with a depressing message, Jeremiah predicted the fall of the nation because of her sins. Evidently Josiah’s revival had done little to stop the downward trend.

Unsettled, fearful times followed Josiah’s death. King Jehoiakim, a puppet of Egypt, was unworthy to follow his father Josiah. Jeremiah steadily opposed his easy trust that the temple would bring security. The Babylonians raided Jerusalem during his reign (605 b.c.). Finally the proud, wicked king was killed in a coup, and his son Jehoiachin replaced him. After three months the Babylonians captured Jerusalem (597) and took captive to Babylon many important persons, including the king. This was the beginning of the end. Babylon, having replaced Nineveh as the center of world power, would dominate Judah until she destroyed her.

Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, was made regent in the place of captive Jehoiachin. He rebelled against Babylon, made a league with Egypt, and so incurred the wrath of the Babylonians that they decided to destroy Jerusalem. After a bitter siege of a year and a half the city fell to Nebuchadnezzar and was destroyed, Zedekiah was blinded and carried to Babylon, and the great bulk of the population taken there with him (587 b.c.). Archaeologists have found that all of the cities of Judah were completely destroyed at this time. Thus ended the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon. Observers would have said that the Hebrew nation was annihilated, and indeed, the other nations conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians did cease to exist. But the prophets proclaimed a better hope for the chosen people. “A remnant will return” Isaiah had said (Isa.10.21), and in time this purged remnant returned and became the basis on which a new Israel would be built.

Bibliography: E. R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1951; J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology, 1962; W. F. Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra, 1963; F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations, 1963; C. F. Pfeiffer, Old Testament History, 1973, pp. 245-397.——JBG


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. The Coming of the Semites

2. The Canaanites

3. The Israelite Confederacy

4. Migration into Canaan

5. The Bond of Union

6. Early Rulers

7. The Judges

8. Hereditary Kings


1. The Benjamite King

2. Rachel and Leah Tribes

3. The Disruption


1. War between Two Kingdoms

2. First Reform of Religion

3. Two Kingdoms at Peace

4. Two Kingdoms Contrasted

5. Revolution in the Northern Kingdom

6. Effect on the Southern Kingdom

7. Davidic House at Lowest Ebb

8. Begins to Recover

9. Reviving Fortunes

10. Monarchy Still Elective

11. Government by Regents

12. Period of Great Prosperity

13. Rise of Priestly Caste

14. Advent of Assyria

15. Judah a Protectorate

16. Cosmopolitan Tendencies


1. Judah Independent

2. Reform of Religion

3. Egypt and Judah

4. Traffic in Horses

5. Reaction under Manasseh

6. Triumph of Reform Party

7. Babylonia and Judah

8. End of Assyrian Empire

9. After Scythian Invasion

10. Judah Again Dependent

11. Prophets Lose Influence

12. The Deportations

13. Summary

I. Canaan before the Monarchy.

1. The Coming of the Semites:

Some 4,000 years BC the land on either side of the valley of the Jordan was peopled by a race who, to whatever stock they belonged, were not Semites. It was not until about the year 2500 BC that the tide of Sere immigration began to flow from North Arabia into the countries watered by the Jordan and the Euphrates. One of the first waves in this human tide consisted of the Phoenicians who settled in the Northwest, on the seashore; they were closely followed by other Canaan tribes who occupied the country which long bore their name.

2. The Canaanites:

The Canaanites are known to us chiefly from the famous letters found at Tell Amarna in Egypt which describe the political state of the country during the years 1415-1360 BC--the years of the reigns of Amenophis III and IV. Canaan was at this time slipping out of the hands of Egypt. The native princes were in revolt: tribute was withheld; and but few Egyptian garrisons remained. Meantime a fresh tide of invasion was hurling its waves against the eastern frontiers of the land. The newcomers were, like their predecessors, Semitic Bedouin from the Syrian desert. Among them the Tell el-Amarna Lettersname the Chabiri, who are, no doubt, the people known to us as the Hebrews.

3. The Israelite Confederacy:

The Hebrews are so named by those of other nationality after one of their remoter ancestors (Ge 10:24), or because they had come from beyond (`ebher) the Jordan or the Euphrates. Of themselves they spoke collectively as Israel. Israel was a name assumed by the eponymous hero of the nation whose real name was Jacob. Similarly the Arabian prophet belonged to the tribe called from its ancestor Koraish, whose name was Fihr. The people of Israel were a complex of some 12 or 13 tribes. These 12 tribes were divided into two main sections, one section tracing its descent from Leah, one of Jacob’s wives, and the other section tracing its descent from Rachel, his other wife. The names of the tribes which claimed to be descended from Leah were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and, indirectly, Gad and Asher; those which claimed to be descended from Rachel were Joseph, which was divided into two clans; Ephraim and Manasseh, Benjamin, and, indirectly, Da and Naphtali. The rivalry between these two great divisions runs all through the national history of the Hebrews, and was only brought to an end by the annihilation of one of the opposing factions (Isa 11:13). But not only was the Israelite nation a combination of many clans; it was united also to other tribes which could not claim descent, from Israel or Jacob. Such tribes were the Kenites and the Calebites. Toward such the pure Israelite tribes formed a sort of aristocracy, very much as, to change the parallel, the tribe of Koraish did among the Arabs. It was rarely that a commander was appointed from the allied tribes, at least in the earlier years of the national life.

4. Migration into Canaan:

We find exactly the same state of things obtaining in the history of the Arabian conquests. All through that history there runs the rivalry between the South Arabian tribes descended from Kahtan (the Hebrew Joktan, Ge 10:25, etc.) and the northern or Ishmaelite tribes of Modar. It is often stated that the Old Testament contains two separate and irreconcilable accounts of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. According to the Book of Joshua, it is said the invasion was a movement of the whole people of Israel under the leadership of Joshua; according to the Book of Judges, it consisted of a series of expeditions made by individual tribes each on its own account (Jud 1:2,10, etc.). But again, in the history of the Arabs we find precisely the same apparent discrepancy. For Persia, Syria and Egypt were conquered by the Arabs as a whole; but at the same time no tribe lost its individuality; each tribe made expeditions on its own account, and turned its arms against rival tribes even in the enemy’s country. On the confines of China in the East and in Spain on the West, the arms of the Yemen’s tribes were employed in the destruction of those of Modar as fiercely as ever they had been within Arabia itself.

5. The Bond of Union:

The bond which united the Israelite tribes, as well as those of Kayin (the eponym of the Kenites) and Caleb, was that of the common worship of Yahweh. As Mohammed united all the tribes of Arabia into one whole by the doctrine of monotheism, so did Moses the Israelite tribes by giving them a common object of worship. And the sherifs or descendants of `Ali today occupy a position very like what the Levites and the descendants of Aaron must have maintained in Israel. In order to keep the Israelite nation pure, intermarriage with the inhabitants of the invaded country was forbidden, though the prohibition was not observed (Jud 3:5 f). So too, the Arab women were not permitted to marry non-Arabs during the first years of conquest.

6. Early Rulers:

It is customary to date the beginning of monarchy in Israel from Saul the son of Kish, but in point of fact many early leaders were kings in fact if not in name. Moses and Joshua may be compared with Mohammed and his caliph (properly khalifa) or "successor," Abu Bekr. Their word was law; they reigned supreme over a united nation. Moreover, the word "king" (melekh) often means, both in Hebrew and Arabic, nothing more than governor of a town, or local resident. There was more than one "king" of Midinn (Jud 8:12). Balak seems to have been only a king of Moab (Nu 22:4).

7. The Judges:

Before the monarchy proper, the people of Israel formed, in theory, a theocracy, as did also the Arabs under the caliphs. In reality they were ruled by temporary kings called judges (shopheT, the Carthaginian sufes). Their office was not hereditary, though there were exceptions (compare Jud 9). On the other hand, the government of the Northern Kingdom of Israel was practically an elective monarchy, so rarely were there more than two of the same dynasty. The judge again was usually appointed in order to meet some special crises, and theoretically ideal state of things was one in which there was no visible head of the state--a republic without a president. These intervals, however, always ended in disaster, and the appointment of another judge. The first king also was elected to cope with a specially serious crisis. The main distinction between judge and king was that the former, less than the latter, obscured the fact of the true King, upon the recognition of whom alone the continued existence of the nation depended. The rulers then became the "elders" or sheikhs of the tribes, and as these did not act in unison, the nation lost its solidarity and became an easy prey to any invader.

8. Hereditary Kings:

During the period of the Judges a new factor entered into the disturbed politics of Canaan. This was an invader who came not from the eastern and southern deserts, but from the western sea. Driven out of Crete by invaders from the mainland, the last remnants of the race of Minos found refuge on the shores of the country which ever after took from them the name it still bears--Philistin or Palestine. At the same time the Ammonites and Midianites were pressing into the country from the East (1Sa 11). Caught between these two opposing forces, the tribes of Israel were threatened with destruction. It was felt that the temporary sovereignty of the judge was no longer equal to the situation. The supreme authority must be permanent. It was thus the monarchy was founded. Three motives are given by tradition as leading up to this step. The pretext alleged by the elders or sheikhs is the worthlessness and incapacity of Samuel’s sons, who he intended should succeed him (1Sa 8). The immediate cause was the double pressure from the Philistines (1Sa 9:16) and the Ammonite king (1Sa 12:12). The real reason was that the system of government by elective kings or judges had proved a failure and had completely broken down. The times called for a hereditary monarchy.

II. The First Three Kings.

1. The Benjamite King:

The most warlike of the clans of Israel shortly before this had been that of Benjamin--one of the Rachel tribes. The national sanctuary, with the ark and the grandson of Aaron as priest, was at Bethel in their territory. Moreover, they had defeated the combined forces of the other tribes in two pitched battles. They had at last been defeated and almost exterminated, but they had recovered much of their strength and prestige (Jud 20; 1Sa 4:12). From this tribe the first king was chosen (see Saul). He, however, proved unequal to his task. After some years spent in war with the Philistines and in repressing supposed disloyalty at home, he was defeated and killed.

Meantime, one of the less-known clans was coming to the front. The territory of the tribe of Judah lay in the South. After its occupation (compare Jud 1:2,3), the tribe of Judah appears to have settled down to the care of its flocks and herds. It is not mentioned in the So of Deborah. None of the judges belonged to it, unless Ibzan, who seems to have been of little account (Jud 12:8 f). Under the leadership of DAVID (which see), this tribe now came to the front, and proved in the end to be endowed with by far the greatest vitality of all the tribes. It outlived them all, and survives to this day.

2. Rachel and Leah Tribes:

The Rachel tribes, led by Benjamin and Ephraim (2Sa 2; 3), resisted for some time the hegemony of Judah, but were obliged in the end to submit. Under David Israel became again a united whole. By making Jerusalem his capital on the borders of Judah and Benjamin, he did much to insure the continuance of this union (compare 1Ch 9:3). The union, however, was only on the surface. By playing off the Rachel tribes, Benjamin and Ephraim, against the rest, Absalom was able to bring the whole structure to the ground (2Sa 15 ), the tribe to which Saul belonged being especially disloyal (2Sa 16:5 ). Nor was this the only occasion on which the smoldering enmity between the two houses burst out into flame (2Sa 20). As soon as the strong hand of David was removed, disaffection showed itself in several quarters (1Ki 11:14 ), and especially the aspiration of the tribe of Ephraim, after independence was fomented by the prophets (1Ki 11:26 ). Egypt afforded a convenient asylum for the disaffected until opportunity should ripen. They had not long to wait.

3. The Disruption:

Solomon was succeeded by Rehoboam, who found it politic to hold a coronation ceremony at Shechem as well, presumably, as at Jerusalem. The malcontents found themselves strong enough to dictate terms. These Rehoboam rejected, and the northern tribes at once threw off their allegiance to the dynasty of David. The disruption thus created in the Israelite nation was never again healed. The secession was like that of the Moors in Spain from the `Abbhsid caliphs. Henceforth "Israel," except in the Chronicler, denotes the Northern Kingdom only. In that writer, who does not recognize the kingdom of the ten tribes, it means Judah. It is usual at the present day to recognize in the Northern Kingdom the true Israelite kingdom. Certainly in point of extent of territory and in resources it was far the greater of the two. But as regards intellectual power and influence, even down to the present day, not to mention continuity of dynasty, the smaller kingdom is by far the more important. It is, therefore, treated here as the true representative of the nation. Lying, as it did, in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem, the tribe of Benjamin could hardly do otherwise than throw in its lot with that of Judah Bethel, which became one of the religious capitals of the Northern Kingdom, although nominally within their territory, in fact belonged to Ephraim (Jud 1:22 ). With this union of opposing interests may be compared that of the `Alids and `Abbhsids, both belonging to the house of Mohammed and both aspirants to the caliphate, against the house of Umeiya.

III. The Dual Monarchy.

1. War between Two Kingdoms:

Rehoboam made no decisive attempt to bring back the recalcitrant tribes to their allegiance (1Ki 12:21 ), though the two countries made raids, one upon the other (1Ki 14:30). For his own security he built numerous fortresses, the remains of some of which have, it is probable, been recovered within recent years (2Ch 11:5 ). These excited the suspicion of Shishak of Egypt, who invaded the country and reduced it to vassalage (1Ki 14:25 ). Under Rehoboam’s son Abijah, actual war broke out between the two kingdoms (1Ki 15:6 as corrected in 15:7; 2Ch 13). The war was continued during the long reign of his son Asa, whose opponent, Baasha, built a fort some 6 miles North of Jerusalem in order to cut off that city from communication with the North Asa confessed his weakness by appealing for help to Ben-hadad of Damascus. The end justified the means. The fort was demolished.

2. First Reform of Religion:

The reign of Asa is also remarkable for the first of those reformations of worship which recur at intervals throughout the history of the Southern Kingdom. The high places Reform of were not yet, however, considered illegitimate (1Ki 15:14; but compare 2Ch 14:5). He also, like his grandfather, was a builder of castles, and with a similar, though more fortunate, result (2Ch 14:6,9 ). Asa’s old age and illness helped to bring to the rival kingdoms a peace which lasted beyond his own reign (1Ki 15:23).

3. Two Kingdoms at Peace:

An effect of this peace is seen in the expanding foreign trade of the country under his successor Jehoshaphat. He rebuilt the navy as in the days of Solomon, but a storm ruined the enterprise (1Ki 22:48 f). During this reign the two kingdoms came nearer being united than they had done since the disruption. This was no doubt largely due to the Northern Kingdom having been greatly weakened by the wars with Syria and Assyria, and having given up the idea of annexing the smaller country. Moreover, Jehoshaphat had married his son Joram (Jehoram) to Ahab’s daughter Athaliah. From a religious point of view, the two states reacted upon one another. Jehoram of Israel inaugurated a reformation of worship in the Northern Kingdom, and at the same time that of Judah was brought into line with the practice of the sister kingdom (2Ki 8:18). The peace, from a political point of view, did much to strengthen both countries, and enabled them to render mutual assistance against the common foe.

4. Two Kingdoms Contrasted:

Up to the death of Jehoram of Israel, which synchronized with that of Joram and Ahaziah of Judah, 6 kings had reigned in Judah Of these the first 4 died in their beds and were buried in their own mausoleum. During the same period of about 90 years there were in Israel 9 kings divided into 4 dynasties. The second king of the Ist Dynasty was immediately assassinated and the entire family annihilated. Precisely the same fate overtook the IId Dynasty. Then followed a civil war in which two pretenders were killed, one perishing by his own hand. The IIIrd Dynasty lasted longer than the first two and counted 4 kings. Of these one was defeated and killed in battle and another assassinated. The fate of the kings of Israel is very like that of the middle and later `Abbasid caliphs. The murder of his brothers by the Judean Jehoram, a proceeding once regular with the sultans of Turkey, must also be put down to the influence of his Israelite wife.

5. Revolution in the Northern Kingdom:

It was obvious that a crisis was impending. Edom and Libnah had thrown off their allegiance, and the Philistines had attacked and plundered Jerusalem, even the king’s sons being taken prisoners, with the exception of the youngest (2Ch 21:16). Moreover, the two kingdoms had become so closely united, not only by intermarriage, but also in religion and politics, that they must stand and fall together. The hurricane which swept away the northern dynasty also carried off the members of the southern royal house more nearly connected with Ahab, and the fury of the queen-mother Athaliah made the destruction complete (2Ki 11:1).

6. Effect on the Southern Kingdom:

For 6 years the daughter of Ahab held sway in Jerusalem. The only woman who sat on the throne of David was a daughter of the hated Ahab. In her uniqueness, she thus holds a place similar to that of Shejered-Durr among the Memluk sultans of Egypt. The character of her reign is not described, but it can easily be imagined. She came to her inevitable end 6 years later.

7. Davidic House at Lowest Ebb:

Successive massacres had reduced the descendants of David until only one representative was left. Jehoram, the last king but one, had murdered all his brothers (2Ch 21:4); the Arab marauders had killed his sons except the youngest (2Ch 22:1; compare 21:17). The youngest, Ahaziah, after the death of his father, was, with 42 of his "brethren," executed by Jehu (2Ki 10:14). Finally, Athaliah "destroyed all the seed royal." The entente with the Northern Kingdom had brought the Davidic dynasty to the brink of extinction.

8. Begins to Recover:

But just as `Abd er-Rahman escaped from the slaughter of the Umeiyads to found a new dynasty in Spain, so the Davidic dynasty made a fresh start under Joash. The church had saved the state, and naturally the years that followed were years in which the religious factor bulked large. The temple of Baal which Athaliah had built and supported was wrecked, the idols broken, and the priest killed. A fund was inaugurated for the repair of the national temple. The religious enthusiasm, however, quickly cooled. The priests were found to be diverting the fund for the restoration of the temple to their own uses. A precisely similar diversion of public funds occurred in connection with the Qarawiyin mosque in Fez under the Almoravids in the 12th century. The reign which had begun with so much promise ended in clouds and darkness (2Ki 12:17 ff; 2Ch 24:17 ff; Mt 23:35), and Joash was the first of the Judean kings to be assassinated by his own people (2Ki 12:20 f).

9. Reviving Fortunes:

By a curious coincidence, a new king ascended the throne of Syria, of Israel and of Judah about the same time. The death of Hazael, and accession of Ben-hadad III led to a revival in the fortunes of both of the Israelite kingdoms. The act of clemency with which Amaziah commenced his reign (2Ki 14:5,6; De 24:16) presents a pleasing contrast to the moral code which had come to prevail in the sister kingdom; and the story of his hiring mercenaries from the Ephraimite kingdom (2Ch 25:5-10) sheds a curious light on the relations subsisting between the two countries, and even on those times generally. It is still more curious to find him, some time after, sending, without provocation, a challenge to Jehoash; and the capture and release of Amaziah evinces some rudimentary ideas of chivalry (2Ki 14:8 ). The chief event of the reign was the reconquest of Edom and taking of Petra (2Ki 14:7).

10. Monarchy Still Elective:

The principle of the election of kings by the people was in force in Judah, although it seemed to be in abeyance since the people were content to limit their choice to the Davidic line. But it was exercised when occasion required. Joash had been chosen by the populace, and it was they who, when the public discontent culminated in the assassination of Amaziah, chose his 16-year-old son Uzziah (or Azariah) to succeed him.

11. Government by Regents:

The minority of the king involved something equivalent to a regency. As Jehoiada at first carried on the government for Joash, so Uzziah was at first under the tutelage of Zechariah (2Ch 26:5), and the latter part of his reign was covered by the regency of his son Jotham. It is obvious that with the unstable dynasties of the north, such government by deputy would have been impracticable.

12. Period of Great Prosperity:

The reign of Uzziah (2Ch 26) was one of the most glorious in the annals of the Judean kingdom. The Philistines and southern Arabs, who had been so powerful in the reign of Jehoram, were subdued, and other Bedouin were held in check. The frontiers were strengthened with numerous castles. Now that Edom was again annexed, the Red Sea trade was resumed. Irrigation was attended to, and the agricultural resources of the country were developed. Uzziah also established a standing army, properly equipped and trained. Artillery, in the shape of catapults and other siege engines, was manufactured. It is obvious that in this reign we have advanced far beyond the earlier and ruder times.

13. Rise of Priestly Caste:

In this and the preceding reigns, we notice also how the priests are becoming a distinct and powerful caste. Zadok and Abiathar were no more than the domestic chaplains of David. The kings might at pleasure discharge the functions of the priest. But the all-powerful position of Jehoiada seems to have given the order new life; and in the latter part of the reign of Uzziah, king and priest come into conflict, and the king comes off second-best (2Ch 26:16 ).

14. Advent of Assyria:

Uzziah is the first king of Judah to be mentioned in the Assyrian annals. He was fighting against "Pul" in the years 742-740. The advent of the great eastern power upon the scene of Judean politics could end but in one way--as it was soon to do with Israel also. The reign of Jotham may be passed over as it coincided almost entirely with that of his father. But in the following reign we find Judah already paying tribute to Assyria in the year of the fall of Damascus and the conquest of the East-Jordan land, the year 734.

15. Judah a Protectorate:

During the regency of Jotham, the effeminacy and luxury of the Northern Kingdom had already begun to infect the Southern (Mic 1:9; 6:16), and under the irresolute Ahaz the declension went on rapidly. This rapprochement in morals and customs did not prevent Israel under Pekah joining with Rezin of Syria against Judah, with no less an object than to subvert the dynasty by placing an Aramean on the throne (Isa 7:6). What the result might have been, had not Isaiah taken the reins out of Ahaz’ hands, it is impossible to say. As it was, Judah felt the strain of the conflict for many a year. The country was invaded from other points, and many towns were lost, some of which were never recovered (2Ch 28:17 ). In despair Ahaz placed himself and his country under the protection of Assyria (2Ki 16:7 ).

16. Cosmopolitan Tendencies:

It was a part of the cosmopolitan tendencies of the time that the worship became tarnished with foreign innovations (2Ki 16:10). The temple for the first time in its history was closed (2Ch 28:24). Altars of Baal were set up in all the open spaces of Jerusalem, each representing some urban god (Jer 11:13). About the closing of the temple Isaiah would not be greatly concerned. Perhaps it was his suggestion (compare Isa 1). The priests who were supreme in the preceding reigns had lost their influence: their place had been taken by the prophets. The introduction of Baalism, however, was no doubt due to Ahaz alone.

IV. Period of Decline.

1. Judah Independent:

The following reign--that of Hezekiah--was, perhaps as a result of the disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, a period of reformation. Isaiah is now supreme, and the history of the times will be found in his biography. It must have been with a sigh of relief that Hezekiah saw the Northern Kingdom disappear forever from the scene. The relations of the two countries had been too uniformly hostile to make that event anything but an omen for good. It was no doubt due to Isaiah that Hezekiah sought to recover the old independence of his country. Their patriotism went near to be their own undoing. Sennacherib invaded Palestine, and Hezekiah found himself shorn of everything that was outside the walls of Jerusalem. Isaiah’s patriotism rose to the occasion; the invading armies melted away as by a miracle; Judah was once more free (2Ki 18:13 ).

2. Reform of Religion:

A curious result of Sennacherib’s invasion was the disappearance of the high places--local shrines where Levitical priests officiated in opposition to those of the temple. When the Judean territories were limited to the city, these of necessity vanished, and, when the siege was over, they were not restored. They were henceforward regarded as illegal. It is generally held by scholars that this reform occurred later under Josiah, on the discovery of the "Book of the Law" by Hilkiah in the temple (2Ki 22:8), and that this book was Deuteronomy. The high places, however, are not mentioned in the law book of Deuteronomy. The reform was probably the work of Isaiah, and due to considerations of morals.

3. Egypt and Judah:

The Judeans had always had a friendly feeling toward Egypt. When the great eastern power became threatening, it was to Egypt they turned for safety. Recent excavation has shown that the influence of Egypt upon the life and manners of Palestine was very great, and that that of Assyria and Babylonia was comparatively slight, and generally confined to the North. In the reign of Hezekiah a powerful party proposed an alliance with Egypt with the view of check-mating the designs of Assyria (2Ki 17:4; Isa 30:2,3; 31:1). Hezekiah followed Isaiah’s advice in rejecting all alliances.

4. Traffic in Horses:

The commercial and other ties which bound Palestine to Egypt were much stronger than those between Palestine and the East. One of the most considerable of these was the trade in horses. This traffic had been begun by Solomon (1Ki 10:28 f). The chief seat of the trade in Palestine was Lachish (Mic 1:13). In their nomadic state the Israelites had used camels and donkeys, and the use of the horse was looked upon with suspicion by the prophets (De 17:16; Zec 9:10). When the horse is spoken of in the Old Testament, it is as the chief weapon of the enemies of the nation (Ex 15:1; Jud 5:22, etc.).

5. Reaction under Manasseh:

On the death of Hezekiah, the nation reverted to the culture and manners of the time of Ahaz and even went farther than he in corrupt practices. Especially at this time human sacrifice became common in Israel (Mic 6:7). The influence for good of the prophets had gone (2Ki 21). There is a curious story in 2Ch 33:11 f that Manasseh was taken captive by the Assyrians, and, after spending some time in captivity in Babylon, reformed and was restored to his throne. His son, however, undid these reforms, and public discontent grew to such an extent that he was assassinated (2Ki 21:19 ).

6. Triumph of Reform Party:

Once more the tide turned in the direction of reform, and on this occasion it rose higher than ever before. The reformation under Josiah was never again wholly undone. The enthusiasm of the iconoclasts carried them far beyond the frontiers of Judah (2Ch 34:6), for on this occasion they were backed up by the newly found "Book of the Law." All boded well for a prosperous reign, but unforeseen disasters came from without. The Scythian invasion swept over Southwestern Asia (Jer 1:14-16; 6:1, etc.). The storm passed, and hope rose higher than before, for the power of Assyria had been shattered forever.

7. Babylonia and Judah:

Already in 722, when Sargon seized the throne on the death of Shalmaneser, Babylonia had revolted, and crowned Marduk-baladan king (Isa 39:1). Hezekiah received a deputation from Babylonia (2Ki 20:12 ), no doubt in the hope of freeing himself from the Assyrian danger by such an alliance. The revolt of Merodach-baladan was maintained for 12 years; then it was suppressed. There was, however, a second revolt of Babylonia on the accession of Sennacherib, Sargon’s son, in 705, which went on till 691, and the events referred to in 2Ki 20 may have happened at this time, for Hezekiah’s reign seems to have ended prosperously.

8. End of Assyrian Empire:

Sennacherib was assassinated in 681 (Isa 37:38) and was succeeded by his son Esar-haddon, who rebuilt Babylon, razed to the ground by his father, and under whom the province remained quiet. In 674 hostilities with Egypt broke out, and that country was overrun, and TIRHAKAH (which see) was expelled in 670. Two years later, however, occurred the revolt of Egypt and the death of Esar-haddon. Assur-bani-pal succeeded, and Egypt regained her independence in 660. The revolt of Babylonia, the incursion of the Scythians (Jer 1:14 ) and the death of Assur-bani-pal followed. Two more kings sat on the throne of Assyria, and then Nineveh was taken by the combined Scythians (Mandor) and Babylonians (Herod. i.74; Nah; Ze 2:13-15; Hab 1:5 f).

9. After Scythian Invasion:

The Scythian tempest passed quickly, and when it was over the Assyrian peril was no more. Pharaoh-necoh seized the opportunity to avenge the injuries of his country by the invasion of the erstwhile Assyrian territories. Josiah, pursuing the policy of alliance with Babylonia inaugurated by Hezekiah, endeavored to arrest his progress. He was defeated and mortally wounded at Megiddo (Zec 12:11).

10. Judah Again Dependent:

By the foolhardy action of Josiah, Judah lost its independence. The people, indeed, elected Jehoahaz (Shallum) king, but he was immediately deposed and carried to Egypt by the Pharaoh (Jer 22:10 ff; Eze 19:3 f), who appointed Jehoiakim (Eliakim) as vassal-king. After the defeat of the Pharaoh at Carchemish, the old Hittite stronghold, by Nebuchadrezzar, Jehoiakim submitted, and Judah became a dependency of Babylon. There must have been some return of prosperity, for Jehoiakim is denounced for his luxury and extravagance and oppressive taxation (Jer 22:13 ), but the country was raided by the neighboring Bedouin (2Ki 24:2), and Jehoiakim came to an untimely end (Jer 22:19).

11. Prophets Lose Influence:

The prophets were no longer, as under Hezekiah, all-powerful in the state. The influence of Jeremiah was no doubt great, but the majority was against him. His program was both unpopular in itself and it had the fatal defect of being diametrically opposed to that of Isaiah, the patriot-politician (if such there be), who had saved the state from shipwreck. Isaiah had preached reliance upon the national God and through it the political independence of the nation. It was the sad duty of Jeremiah to advise the surrender of the national independence to the newly risen power of Babylon. (Jer 21:4,9; 38:2, etc.). Isaiah had held that the Holy City was impregnable (2Ki 19:32); Jeremiah was sure that it would be taken by the Chaldeans (Jer 32:24,43). Events proved that each prophet was right for the time in which he lived.

12. The Deportations:

Jehoiakim was the only Judean king who was a vassal first to one overlord and then to another. Judah took a step downward in his reign. It was under him also that the first deportation of the Judeans occurred (Da 1:1-17). He was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin who, on account of a rebellion which closed the reign of his father, was ere long deported, along with the best of the nation (Jer 22:24 ff; Eze 19:5 ). A 3rd son of Josiah, Mattaniah, was set on the throne under the title of Zedekiah. Against the advice of Jeremiah, this, the last king of Judah, declared himself independent of Babylon, and threw in his lot with Egypt under Pharaoh Hophra (Apries), thus breaking his oath of fealty (Eze 17:15 ). On the advance of the Chaldeans, Judah was deserted by her allies, the Edomites and Philistines (see Book of Job), and soon only Lachish (Tell el-Hesy), Azekah (probably Tell Zakarua) and Jerusalem remained in the hands of Zedekiah. The siege of the city lasted two years. It was taken on the fatal 9th of Ab in the year 586. Zedekiah’s family was put to the sword, and he himself was taken to Babylon. Egypt shared the fate of Judah, with whom she had been often so closely connected, and Hophra was the last of the Pharaohs.

13. Summary:

The kingdom of Judah had lasted 480 years, counting from its commencement, exactly twice as long as the kingdom of Israel, counting from the disruption. No doubt this longer mary existence was due in the first place to the religious faith of the people. This is clear from the fact that the national religion not only survived the extinction of the nation, but spread far beyond its original territories and has endured down to the present day. But there were also circumstances which conspired to foster the growth of the nation in its earliest and most critical period. One of these was the comparative isolation and remoteness of the country. Neither the kingdom of Israel nor that of Judah is for a moment to be compared to those of Egypt and Assyria. Even the combined kingdom under David and Solomon hardly deserves that comparison; and separate, the Northern Kingdom would be about the size of New Hampshire and the Southern Kingdom about that of Connecticut. The smaller kingdom survived the larger because it happened to be slightly farther removed from the danger zone. Even had the two kingdoms held together, it is impossible that they could have withstood the expansion of Assyria and Babylonia on the one side and of Egypt on the other. The Egyptian party in Judean politics in the times of Isaiah and Jeremiah were so far in the right, that, if Judah could have maintained her independence in alliance with Egypt, these two countries combined might have withstood the power of Assyria or Babylon. But it is because this ancient race, tracing its descent from remote antiquity, preserved its religious, at the expense of its national independence, that its literature continues to mold much of the thought of Europe and America today.

See Kingdom of Israel.

Thomas Hunter Weir

Additional Material

JUDAH, (KINGDOM OF) jōō’ də (יְהוּדָ֑ה). One of the two kingdoms of the Hebrews into which Israel was divided after the death of Solomon.


The inception of the kingdom of Judah.

The twelve tribes of Israel constituted a united kingdom under David and Solomon. The dynasty established by David continued to rule in Jerusalem until the destruction of the southern kingdom in 586 b.c. by Nebuchadnezzar, but the power and influence of the dynasty were seriously limited after the division of the kingdom upon the death of Solomon in 936 b.c. The tensions between the northern and southern sections of the country polarized around Rehoboam of Judah, the son of Solomon, and Jeroboam son of Nebat, of the tribe of Ephraim in the N. Jeroboam’s secession movement was successful, and he became the first king of the northern kingdom whereas Rehoboam retained the crown of David as king of the kingdom of Judah in the S.

The nature of Judah’s territory.

The kingdom of Judah comprised, besides the tribe of Judah, most of Benjamin and, apparently, eventually the tribe of Simeon, which was isolated in the southernmost area of Israel. As the tribe of Judah grew in power, it practically absorbed Benjamin and Simeon. The physical characteristics of Judah’s territory had important effects upon the life, culture, and history of the people. The western boundary of Judah was the Mediterranean Sea, and the E was bounded by the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. On the S was the desert, incapable of sustaining life without a system of irrigation. On the N there was no natural division between the territory of Judah and that of the rest of Israel. The boundary seems to have shifted somewhat but was usually thought to run a little to the N or S of Bethel (Beitun). The line extended approximately from a point a little N of Joppa to the Jordan River at a point about thirteen m. N of the Dead Sea. It was along this line that the frontier fortresses of Michmash, Ramah, Gibeon, Bethel, and others were built. The territory of the kingdom of Judah roughly resembled a square, covering approximately forty-five square m.

This area includes a variety of physical features, climate, and resources, which may be divided into three main sections; the coastal plain, the Shephelah, and the hill country. The coastal plain was never completely dominated by the Hebrews due to the power of the Philistines who gave the name to the whole country in the word “Palestine.” Because of their dominance, the coastal plain came to be known as the “land of the Philistines” (2 Kings 8:2). In recent years, the success of the citrus groves has demonstrated the fertility of the area, but the ancient Israelites were not able to develop it. The unbroken coast line of the plain did not provide suitable harbor facilities for the development of commerce as did the rugged coast of the Phoenicians to the N.

East of the Coastal Plain was the Shephelah, or lowlands (Josh 11:2, 16), a district formed by the broken foothills of the Judean highlands. Situated between the coastal plain and the hill country, the Shephelah was the scene of many battles between the Philistines and the Israelites. The strongholds of Azekah, Beth-shemesh, Debir, Lachish, and Libnah were located here. The region was extremely important to Judah for defensive reasons, but also for the olive orchards of its hills and the grain of its valleys. The Shephelah is separated from the central mountain range by a system of valleys, the most famous of which is the valley of Aijalon.

The hill country is an area about thirty-five m. long and fifteen m. wide. Approaching Jerusalem from Samaria, the range descends to 2,500-2,600 ft. above sea level, and then as they go S they rise to the highest point of 3,370 ft. just N of Hebron. This area did more to form the character and influence the life of the Jews than any other geographical feature of the country. The mountains form an adequate watershed on the W slope; clouds that come in from the Mediterranean Sea deposit rainfall that sustains the life of the country. The eastern slope is the wilderness of Judah (Judg 1:16), a wasteland deeply cut by valleys, leading to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The descent to the Dead Sea, 1,291 ft. below sea level, is so sharp that there is little possibility for agricultural development. In this eastern area of the country were located Jericho, En-gedi, Qumran, and Masada.

The history of the kingdom of Judah.

The dynasty of David occupied the throne during its entire history, with the capital at Jerusalem. This gave the country a stability that was lacking in the northern kingdom, and contributed to the life of the people until the disintegration of the southern kingdom set in. Its history is recorded in 1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 10 to 36, and in the writings of the contemporary prophets. The kings of Judah, with their approximate dates (all b.c.) are as follows:

The history of the kingdom of Judah may be conveniently divided with respect to the relations it had with other nations (Israel, Assyria, and Babylon). The first period extends from Rehoboam to Jotham (936-731); the second from Ahaz to Josiah (731-608); the third from Jehoiakim to Zedekiah (608-586).

Judah and Israel.

The first period was characterized by Judah’s relations with Israel. The inevitable strife between the two Heb. kingdoms began immediately upon their separation, as Rehoboam mustered an army to force Israel back under the domination of the house of David. He did not, however, complete his plan because of the intervention of the prophet Shemaiah.

Rehoboam fortified the country by building fortresses in at least fifteen cities throughout the land; but this did not prevent Shishak (Sheshonk) of Egypt, who had supported Jeroboam in his rebellion, from invading Judah and plundering the treasures of the Temple and palace. Rehoboam’s numerous wives had a corrupting effect on him, drawing him under the influence of foreign gods. The defeat at the hands of Shishak was interpreted to be divine judgment, and the king and people confessed their sin. Rehoboam’s son and successor, Abijah, gained a great military victory over Jeroboam. As a result, Judah recovered some border cities from Israel. Religiously, there was widespread apostasy to the worship of strange gods and images, with sacred groves as worship centers. Abijah had sought an alliance with Syria against Israel as did his successor Asa against Baasha of the northern kingdom. Before the end of his reign in 875 b.c., Asa was able to establish friendship with Israel, which endured until the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 b.c. According to the records, Asa was the first of the kings to combat actively the pagan cult of Asherah, even deposing his mother “from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah” (2 Chron 15:16). In the later years of his reign, however, Asa became a victim of the Baal cult.

Asa’s son Jehoshaphat continued to fight against Baalism. He also reformed the courts of justice, but in his attempt to revive the maritime commerce of Solomon, he was not very successful. In the extended wars waged by the Syrians and Mesha of Moab against the northern kingdom, Judah took no direct action beyond sending aid to the sister kingdom. In the battle of Ramoth in Gilead against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat himself fought side by side with Ahab of Israel with almost disastrous results (2 Chron 18:31, 32). Judah’s alliance with Israel was strengthened by the marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and the Phoen. Jezebel. One evil result of this marriage was the introduction of the degrading fertility cult of the Tyrian Baal to Jerusalem. When Jehu rebelled against Joram of Israel and killed him, King Ahaziah, the son of Jehoram and Jezebel, who was visiting his uncle Joram, also was slain by Jehu. Ahaziah had reigned only a year. Athaliah seized the throne of Judah and proceeded to exterminate the Davidic line by murdering the children of her marriage with Ahaziah. Of Ahaziah’s sons, only the infant Joash was rescued by the quick action of the priest Jehoiada and his wife Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram (2 Chron 22:10-12).

Athaliah, the only woman to rule over the Israelites, was able to maintain herself in power for six years. She was then executed in a rebellion led by the priest Jehoiada, who then placed on the throne the legitimate heir—seven-year-old Joash, the son of Ahaziah (2 Chron 23:1-24:1). Jehoiada also led the move to suppress Baalism, and governed the state until Joash became of age. Joash proved to be weak and inept and was assassinated after a long reign because he paid tribute to the Syrian Hazael with the Temple treasure as a price for withdrawing from Jerusalem. From this time on, the priesthood grew in influence in the affairs of the state.

Under Amaziah, the son and successor of Joash, Judah began a period of prosperity and progress that eventually made it one of the leading kingdoms of the western Near E. An important factor in this success was the recapture of Edom and its capital Sela (Petra), which Judah had lost under Jehoram. This victory gained the control of overland traffic of western Arabia as well as that of the Red Sea from the Gulf of Akaba and Elath. Amaziah’s success led to overconfidence, which led to war with Israel. He was defeated and was taken prisoner, but he was released upon paying a ransom with the treasures of the Temple and the royal palace together with submission to the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem and the surrender of hostages.

Uzziah (Azariah), Amaziah’s son, was unusually capable and brought Judah to its greatest power. He strengthened the country internally, strengthened the army, built fortresses in the Negev, and extended his kingdom to control some of the Philistine and Ammonite territory. He developed the natural resources of Judah by developing agriculture, constructing cisterns, and making use of the harbor at Elath (Ezion-geber). Near the close of his life, Uzziah was stricken with leprosy and was succeeded by his son Jotham who acted as regent until the death of his father. “The year that King Uzziah died” (Isa 6:1) was 740 b.c. Jotham’s reign in many respects resembled that of his father’s. The success of Judah in the period of Uzziah was contemporaneous with the same development of Israel under Jeroboam II. The surrounding nations, weak at the time, were in no position to interfere in the affairs of Judah and Israel.

Judah and Assyria.

The second period of Judah’s history began with the reign of Ahaz, son of Jotham, and was characterized by the surge of Assyrian might with its threat to Israel and Judah. It was Tiglath-pileser III (the Pul of 2 Kings 15:19; 1 Chron 5:26) who initiated this period of Assyria’s expansion, much to the concern of the small nations of the Near E. In expectation of an Assyrian advance, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin of Syria tried to coerce first Jotham and then Ahaz into an alliance against Tiglath-pileser III. To frustrate an invasion of Judah by Pekah and Rezin, Ahaz, against the admonitions of Isaiah, called upon Assyria for help, which Tiglath-pileser III was happy to grant on the basis of a treaty for which Judah paid heavy tribute. Ahaz thus introduced into Judah a policy of treaty-making that was proving to be fatal to the northern kingdom.

Tiglath-pileser III destroyed Syria and divided Israel, the northern half of which was annexed by Assyria. Isaiah’s advice proved to be correct, for Ahaz had to pay tribute to Tiglath-pileser III as a vassal, and he witnessed Assyrian paganism introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem. The incident of Pekah and Rezin forms the historical background of Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy (Isa 7). It was largely due to the influence of Isaiah that Judah did not become involved in the machinations of the small states of the Near E that eventuated in the final destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 b.c.

Hezekiah followed Ahaz to the throne and in the early successful years of his reign accepted the advice of Isaiah, which led to a religious reform and the repudiation of the Assyrian gods imported during the reign of Ahaz. The repudiation of the gods of Assyria was a part of the attempt to throw off Assyrian domination. Against the prophets’ advice, he became involved in a coalition with Merodach-baladan of Babylonia, Egypt, and other countries, which was directed against Assyria. Isaiah (ch. 28) reflects his feeling of disappointment in Hezekiah’s involvement in international power politics. The Assyrians (now under King Sennacherib) moved against the coalition; Judah was soon overrun and Jerusalem besieged. According to Sennacherib’s inscrs., he captured forty-six cities in Judah and noted that he considered their inhabitants numbering 200,150 as his subjects.

Isaiah had consistently prophesied that Jerusalem itself would be spared. Hezekiah, anticipating the Assyrian invasion, had strengthened the defenses of the city and, to insure the water supply of the city, had excavated the Siloam tunnel. As Sennacherib invested Jerusalem, c. 701 b.c., Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah to hold out. Isaiah as usual was right, for Sennacherib suddenly was forced to raise the siege because “the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isa 37:36). In his inscrs. describing his campaign into Judah and his siege of Jerusalem, Sennacherib boasts of his victories and investment of the city but says nothing about the catastrophe that overwhelmed his army. Of Hezekiah he says, “He himself I shut up like a caged bird in Jerusalem, his capital city.” It was not the custom of the ancient monarchs to record their defeats.

The defeat of the major objective of Sennacherib vindicated the preaching of Isaiah and led the people to cooperate in expurgating the Temple of paganism. They broke in pieces the brazen serpent of the wilderness wanderings that had come to be worshiped and they returned to the ethical monotheism of Yahwehism (2 Kings 18:4). On the other hand, there developed a formality in religion and a superstitious veneration of the Temple that prompted the prophet Micah to warn, “Because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field” (Mic 3:12).

Hezekiah died in comparative youth and was followed by his son Manasseh who reversed the policy of his father, and the prophets saw in his reign the deathblow to the kingdom of Judah. He submitted to Assyria as a vassal, and the land was practically under their control. Both Esarhaddon (681-669 b.c.) and Ashurbanipal (669-630 b.c.) list Manasseh with Edom, Gaza, Ammon, Tyre, et al., as tributaries. Cuneiform tablets discovered at Gezer indicate that the Assyrians had a garrison there. The situation was such that the infiltration of foreign ideas and customs into the life of Judah was inevitable. Religion and politics were inseparable, resulting in unlimited religious syncretism. Baal, Asherah, the host of heaven, the sacrifice of children upon the pagan altars in the valley of Hinnom were again practiced. The reign of Manasseh was characterized by degeneracy in worship, faith, and morals (2 Chron 33:1-20). In the later years of Manasseh’s fifty-five year reign, he was taken a prisoner to Babylon by the Assyrian Esarhaddon, perhaps for an attempted insurrection, and then permitted to return to Jerusalem. The chronicler indicates that the incident of the king’s arrest was divine punishment, and upon his repentance he was released to return to Jerusalem to begin a religious reform, which apparently did not succeed very well (2 Chron 33:1, 2, 11-17).

During the reign of Manasseh, Assyrian power reached its zenith, but before the end of that reign, there were evidences of Assyrian disintegration. Manasseh’s son Amon succeeded and continued his father’s evil practices (2 Chron 33:22, 23). He was assassinated after he had reigned two years and was followed on the throne by his eight-year-old son Josiah, who was proclaimed king by “the people of the land” (2 Chron 33:25).

The decay of Assyria is reflected in the inscrs. of Ashurbanipal, which state that the provinces of his empire were inflamed by the revolt of his brother Shamash-shum-ukin. The situation encouraged throughout the Assyrian empire the expression of national feelings of independence and Josiah’s reign was an example. The preceding regime had been one of corruption and oppression, when worshipers of Yahweh dared not confide in their closest relatives and friends (Mic 7:5, 6). In a new political situation, Josiah, king by popular choice, was upon the throne. Under him the reforming party gained the upper hand.

The hegemony of Assyria in the fertile crescent now was being challenged by Babylonia. Nineveh fell in 612 b.c. under an onslaught of a coalition of Medes, Persians, Scythians, and Babylonians led by the Babylonian Nabopolassar. Sinshariskun, the last king of the great Assyrian dynasty, died in the battle; but his army, under the leadership of Ashur-uballit, prepared itself for the final battle, which took place at Carchemish in 605 b.c.

As Assyria decayed, Egypt recovered from the attacks of Ashurbanipal to which Nahum refers (Nah 3:7-10). Pharaoh Necho, fearful of the growing power of Babylonia, allied himself with the Assyrians and in 608 b.c. marched through Judah against the objections of Josiah. Josiah, against the advice of Jeremiah, tried to stop the Egyptians and was slain at Megiddo (2 Chron 35:20-27). Pharaoh Necho now controlled both Judah and Syria. Jehoahaz (Shallum) was made king of Judah by the people, but after three months was deposed by Necho and exiled to Egypt where he died (2 Chron 36:1-4; Jer 22:11). He was replaced by Josiah’s oldest son, Eliakim, whose name was changed by Necho to Jehoiakim to demonstrate his change of allegiance. Necho joined Ashur-uballit and the Assyrians to fight the battle of Carchemish against the coalition led by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar the son of Nabopolassar. This battle was a turning point of history; the Babylonian victory ended Assyrian hegemony in the Near E.

Judah and Babylon.

The third period of Judah’s history began with the Babylonian defeat of the Assyrians. Jehoiakim, who was placed upon the throne of Judah as a vassal by Necho in 608 b.c., was friendly to Egypt, but he was a Babylonian subject after the battle of Carchemish and paid tribute to Babylon. His policies encouraged Baalism in Judah, and he disregarded Jeremiah’s advice not to disturb existing relations with Nebuchadnezzar. He renounced allegiance to Babylonia (2 Kings 24:1), which brought Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem to besiege the city, in the course of which Jehoiakim died or was assassinated. Jerusalem fell in March, 597 b.c. Jehoiachin, who followed his father on the throne, after a reign of only three months was taken into exile, along with his mother, many of the leaders of Judah, and the treasures of the royal palace and the Temple. Among the exiles was Ezekiel, who dates the chronology of his prophecy from the date of his captivity. Archeological discoveries in Babylon in the form of cuneiform tablets, which list among the people receiving rations of grain “Yaukin (Jehoiachin), King of Judah,” five of his sons, and other Hebrews, provide a valuable addition to the Biblical narrative. Jehoiachin died in captivity after having been released from prison by Evil-merodach in 560 b.c., the thirty-seventh year of his exile. His remaining years after his release from prison were spent in royal comfort (2 Kings 25:27-30).

Nebuchadnezzar placed Mattaniah, another son of Josiah, upon the throne of Judah to replace Jehoiachin, and changed his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah took an oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek 17:13). This last king of Judah wavered in his loyalty to the Chaldean monarch in conspiring with the Egyptians against the Babylonians. Jeremiah again remonstrated strongly against Judah’s involvement in international intrigue but without success. Zedekiah’s disloyalty to his oath brought Nebuchadnezzar back to Jerusalem. The siege began on 10 January 587 b.c. and lasted until 9 July 586 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar was encamped at Riblah on the Orontes from where he directed the siege. The help that Zedekiah expected from Egypt did not come, and Nebuchadnezzar ravished the country. The Lachish ostraca reflect the progress of the Babylonian campaign and the confusion and panic in Judah and Jerusalem. These are dispatches sent by a Judean military officer leading a party of scouts near Lachish, to his commander in the city that was an outpost of Jerusalem. His dispatches report the advance of the Babylonians and also allude to the tensions, intrigues, and suspicions that gripped the people of Jerusalem. Disloyalty, famine, and pestilence contributed to the horror of the siege until the Chaldeans breached the city wall built by Hezekiah (2 Chron 32:5).

Zedekiah and his entourage fled toward the Jordan valley but were intercepted and taken to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah. He was forced to witness the execution of his sons, and then was blinded and taken in chains to Babylon after a reign of eleven years. The chief priest Seraiah and other leaders were taken to Riblah and executed upon the orders of Nebuchadnezzar. On 7 August 586 b.c. Nebuzaradan, the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, ordered Jerusalem destroyed. The Temple and palace were burned, the walls of the city broken down, and many people carried off into captivity (2 Kings 24:20-25:21; Jer 39:1-10). This disaster was the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s warning.

The Babylonian policy toward her defeated enemies was not as destructive as that of the Assyrians. Gedaliah, the former mayor of Zedekiah’s palace, was appointed governor of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar. He exercised his office in Mizpah, about five m. NW of Jerusalem. Gedaliah issued an appeal for loyalty to Babylon and tried to restore the country to normal life. He was treacherously assassinated by Ishmael, a member of the royal family, who also killed many members of Gedaliah’s court and Babylonians stationed at Mizpah. This new rebellion brought the Chaldeans back to Jerusalem, and in 581 b.c., another deportation of Hebrews to Babylonia took place. Some of the Hebrews of anti-Babylonian sentiment fled to Egypt, and forced Jeremiah, who had been given special consideration by Nebuchadnezzar, to accompany them (2 Kings 25:22-26; Jer 40-44).

The kingdom of Judah was now completely crushed. It had been in existence as an independent kingdom for 350 years, calculating from the year of the disruption in 936 b.c. This was 214 years longer than the existence of the northern Kingdom, the longer survival of the kingdom of Judah being due primarily to the loyalty of the people to Yahweh.

See History of Israel.


H. R. Hall, The Ancient History of the Near East (1927); G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (1937); G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1960); J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (1962); W. F. Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (1963); J. Gray, Archaeology and the Old Testament World (1965).