The kings of Judah more regularly displayed covenant loyalty than the kings of Israel. Yet the record of 2 Kings shows that their lives too were often a mixed bag of devotion. Amaziah son of Joash became king of Judah (2 Kgs 14:1-14) and, “He did what was right in the LORD’s sight, but not like his ancestor David. He did everything his father Joash had done” (2 Kgs 14:3). Yet, after success against the Edomites, Amaziah instigated a civil war against Jehoash and Israel (2 Kgs 14:9-11). Judah was routed in the battle. Jehoash plundered the temple and took captives to Israel (2 Kgs 14:13b-14).
Following Amaziah, Azariah, also known as Uzziah (2 Kgs 15:13, 30, 32, 34; Isa 1:1; 6:1), reigned in Judah for 52 years. Uzziah “did what was right in the LORD’s sight just as his father Amaziah had done” (2 Kgs 15:3). But after Uzziah grew proud of his military exploits, “He acted unfaithfully against the LORD his God by going into the LORD’s sanctuary to burn incense on the incense altar” (2 Chron 26:16), an act reserved for the priests. As a result, “the LORD afflicted the king, and he had a serious skin disease until the day of his death” (2 Kgs 15:5).
The next two kings of Judah were Jotham (2 Kgs 15:32-38) and Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:1-20). The former walked in the more upstanding ways of the kings of Judah, but Ahaz committed abominations (2 Kgs 16:2-3). During Ahaz’s reign, the threat of Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria was so severe in the north that Aram’s King Rezin and Israel’s King Pekah came against Judah, hoping to force the southern kingdom into an alliance against the Assyrian power. Instead of trusting in the Lord according to the word of Isaiah the prophet (Isa 7:1-12), Ahaz surrendered straightaway to the Assyrian king and said, “I am your servant and your son” (2 Kgs 16:7). Judah would never fully recover from the cowardliness of Ahaz.
In the north, the situation was quickly declining beyond hope. King Jehoash of Israel named his son after the first northern king, Jeroboam, and Jeroboam II walked in the ways of his ancestor (2 Kgs 14:23-29). Despite Jeroboam II’s unfaithfulness, the Lord empowered him to restore Israel’s borders—a great military accomplishment (2 Kgs 14:25, 28). The success of Jeroboam II was according to the word of the prophet Jonah (2 Kgs 14:25). Grasping Jonah’s zeal for Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II explains why the prophet so disdained the thought of preaching the good news to Nineveh, the capital city of Israel’s enemy. Jonah was enthusiastic to serve Israel’s expansion but reluctant to give his enemies an opportunity for repentance.
After the brief but wicked reigns of Zechariah (2 Kgs 15:8-12) and Shallum (2 Kgs 15:13-15) in the north, Israel’s unfaithfulness again warranted censure from the Lord. He again employed the Assyrians as the means to His end. Assyria’s Tiglath-Pileser, also called “Pul” (2 Kgs 15:19), attacked Israel during the reign of King Pekah (2 Kgs 15:27-31). The Assyrians captured “all the land of Naphtali—and deported the people to Assyria” (2 Kgs 15:29). The exile had begun.
King Ahaz’s refusal to trust the word of the Lord through Isaiah the prophet has no small implication for the storyline of Scripture. The Lord was offering Judah one last chance at life in the land. After challenging King Ahaz to rely on the Lord saying, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all” (Isa 7:9), Isaiah even urged Ahaz to ask for a sign from the Lord that He would deliver Judah from the northern threat (Isa 7:11). Although Ahaz would not, it would not matter. Isaiah replied, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God? Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:13-14). While Assyria was threatening Israel, God spoke to them of the promise of His Son. Ultimately, Jesus alone would be the source of deliverance. In Matt 1:20-21, the angel informed Joseph that he and Mary and the baby in her womb were a part of God’s historical plan. Matthew commented, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:20b-23).