Early Advantages.

The legitimate successor of the kingdom established by David was the smaller kingdom to the south, which remained true to Solomon's son Rehoboam. Although the first titular king of Judah, he was the third king to reign in Jerusalem. The possession of this great fortress rendered it possible to hold all the country to the south and the most valuable portion of Benjamin in the immediate north. More important than its strategic value was its prestige as the first great national center, the seat of a splendid court of the "thrones of justice," and, above all, of the prescriptive worship of the God of Israel. Moreover, its territory, though small, was compact, homogeneous, and easily defended; and its country population, frugal, hardy, and unspoiled by contact with foreigners, was devotedly attached to the legitimate dynasty. Again, since all the most formidable invaders of Palestine came from the north, the rival kingdom became perforce its protector from spoliation and ruin. Thus it came to pass that, while northern Israel passed through frequent changes of dynasty, became a prey to many terrible invasions, and endured as a nation but a little more than two centuries, the kingdom of Judah was controlled by the "house of David" throughout its existence, which lasted for three and one-half centuries after the disruption.

The history of the kingdom may best be divided with reference to its most decisive external relations. The first period extends from Rehoboam to Jotham (934-735 B.C.); the second, from Ahaz to Josiah (735-608); the third, from Jehoahaz to Zedekiah and the fall of Jerusalem (608-586).

Strife with Israel. I.

Strife between the two kingdoms followed inevitably upon the separation. At first Judah, through the small standing army maintained by David and Solomon, was steadily successful. One victory especially, gained by Abijah (918) over Jeroboam, was made much of in the later traditions of the kingdom. But the next king, Asa (915), was so closely pressed by Baasha of Israel that he was forced to invoke the effective aid of the Arameans of Damascus. Yet before the death of Asa a lasting friendship was made with Israel, now under the new and powerful dynasty of Omri (886). Henceforth Judah assumed its natural subordinate rôle till Israel was crushed by alien foes. From any other serious danger Judah was for a long time almost entirely free. The raid of Shishak of Egypt (929) soon after the schism involved indeed the submission of Jerusalem; but it was quickly over and left no permanent results.

Alliance with Israel.

In the prolonged wars waged by the Arameans of Damascus and Mesha of Moab against northern Israel the Southern Kingdom took no direct share beyond sending aid to the sister kingdom. Thus Jehoshaphat (872), the son of Asa, fought side by side with Ahab of Israel in the fateful battle of Ramoth in Gilead (853). Jehoshaphat further strengthened the alliance by marrying his son Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and the Phenician Jezebel. One injurious effect of this union was the introduction of the evil cult of the Tyrian Baal from Samaria into Jerusalem. When Jehu rose against Joram of Israel and put him to death (842), Ahaziah, the son of Jehoram, then visiting his uncle in Jezreel, also fell a victim to the fury of the usurper. The consequence was that Athaliah undertook to govern in Jerusalem.

The reign of this foreign queen with her odious cult was tolerated for only six years, when the priests of Yhwh placed upon the throne Jehoash, the youthful son of Ahaziah (836). His reign was chiefly marked by a purification of the Temple services.Under his son and successor, Amaziah, Judah began a career of development and prosperity which finally made it one of the leading kingdoms of the West-land. An essential factor in this achievement was the reconquest of Edom, which had been lost to Judah under Jehoram. This secured a share of the overland traffic of western Arabia, as well as the control of the Red Sea trade from the Gulf of Akaba. Amaziah's successes led him foolishly to provoke to war Joash, King of Israel. The result was the defeat and capture of Amaziah and the submission of Jerusalem, which, however, was released upon the surrender of the treasures of the Temple and of the royal palace (c. 790).

Era of Expansion.

With Uzziah (Azariah; sole ruler 769) the prosperity of Judah was renewed and brought to its greatest height. As a powerful ruler and statesman he was the only true successor of King David. His kingdom was extended beyond precedent, embracing much of the Philistine country, and for a time even holding the suzerainty of Moab. In fortifications and standing armies as well as in the development of all the natural resources of his country, he was a successful imitator of the great Assyrian monarchs. Jotham (sole ruler 738?) continued the vigorous régime of his father.

It should be noted that the expansion of Judah was coincident with the equally remarkable recuperation of northern Israel after the long and exhausting Syrian wars. The temporary prosperity of both kingdoms was chiefly due to the opportunities of development afforded by the decline of Damascus. Judah as well as Israel had suffered from the aggression of this powerful Aramean state; for in the early days of Jehoash (c. 835), Hazael of Damascus had ravaged the whole country up to the city of Jerusalem, which opened its gates to him and yielded up its spoil.

Vassalage to Assyria. II.

A decisive change took place with the accession of Ahaz, son of Jotham (735). The determining political factor was now the great Assyrian empire, reorganized under Tiglath-pileser III. (Pul). To resist his expected invasion Pekah, King of Israel, made alliance with Rezin of Damascus. Ahaz refused to join the league, and, when threatened with coercion by the allies, called in the help of the invader. The northern half of Israel was annexed by the Assyrians; and Damascus fared still worse. Judah was reprieved; but it became a vassal state of Assyria.

Hezekiah, son of Ahaz (719), prospered as long as he deferred to the prophet Isaiah with his wise policy of "quietness and confidence" in Yhwh. But in 701 he joined in a wide-spread insurrection against Assyria, with the result that the whole of Judah was devastated by the Assyrian king Sennacherib, many of its people were deported, and Jerusalem itself was spared only after a plague had broken out in the army of the invader. This national discipline favored the religious reforms of Isaiah: but Hezekiah died in comparative youth; and the reign of his son and successor, Manasseh (690), was marked by degeneracy in faith, worship, and morals. Judah was still the vassal of Assyria; and the prestige of the sovereign state had potent influence in the religious as well as in the political sphere. An attempted insurrection in the latter part of the reign of Manasseh was speedily crushed; and Judah bore until the downfall of Assyria the yoke to which Ahaz had offered submission. The brief reign of Amon (641) showed no improvement upon that of his father, Manasseh.

Reformation; Vassalage to Egypt.

Under the youthful Josiah (639) the reforming priestly party gained the upper hand. The law of Moses was promulgated, and gross abominations in religion and morals were sternly put down (621). But this promising career was soon cut short. Necho II., at the head of the revived native monarchy of Egypt, was now aiming to replace Assyria in the dominion of western Asia. He passed through Palestine with an invading force in 608; and Josiah, offering battle to him at Megiddo, was defeated and slain.


At Jerusalem Jehoahaz, second son of Josiah, was put upon the throne, but after three months was dethroned by Necho and exiled to Egypt. He was replaced by Josiah's eldest son, Eliakim, whose name was changed by Necho to "Jehoiakim" to indicate his change of allegiance. Judah's vassalage to Egypt was, however, very brief. In 607 Nineveh was taken and destroyed by the Medes. The whole of the low countries westward to the Mediterranean fell to the ally of the Medes, the new Babylonian monarchy. The Chaldean Nebuchadnezzar shattered the power of Egypt at Carchemish in 604; Syria and Palestine were soon cleared of the Egyptias; and Jehoiakim became a Babylonian subject.

The prophet Jeremiah counseled continued submission; but in 598 Jehoiakim rebelled. Jerusalem was invested; and before the siege had well begun the unhappy king died. His son Jehoiachin (597) held out for three months, and then surrendered at discretion. He and his chief men, with the flower of the kingdom, were deported. Most of the captives, with the prophet Ezekiel, were placed in an agricultural colony by the canal Chebar in central Babylonia.

Fall of Jerusalem.

Over the crippled and enfeebled kingdom was placed Zedekiah, the third son of Josiah. Again symptoms of discontent appeared, fomented by Egyptian intrigues. Again Jeremiah interposed with remonstrance, protest, and invective; and yet again the deluded Judahites rebelled. In Jan., 587, the Chaldean army appeared before Jerusalem. This time a more desperate resistance was offered. Promises of help from Egypt could not be fulfilled. The city was taken (July, 586); the leaders of the rebellion were put to death; and Zedekiah himself was carried, a blinded captive, with the greater portion of his subjects, to Babylon. All valuable property was taken away as spoil; and the Temple and city were destroyed by fire. This was the end of the royal house of David, though not the end of Jewish nationality.

  • See Israel and the articles on the several kings of Judah.
E. G. H. J. F. McC.
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