Uzziah's Forceful Reign

Uzziah, the ninth king of Judea, had been only sixteen years old when he was proclaimed ruler. During the first years that he ruled formally, while his father was barricaded in Lachish, he was a mere toy in the hands of his advisers, the leaders of the revolt against Amaziah. During this period the country was in a lamentable state. The various hostile neighbors, like the Edomites, the Philistines, the Egyptians, and the Phoenicians took advantage of Judea's weakness and sliced off pieces of her borderland.

Their armies looted and burned and plagued the unfortunate people who lived in those sections open to unceasing attacks.

After Amaziah's death, however, Uzziah took the reins of the land firmly into his own hands. He had the body of his murdered father brought to Jerusalem and buried in the traditional burial place of the kings of Judea. Thus he demonstrated openly that he felt himself securely entrenched on his throne and that he defied anyone who would dare to oppose him.

Indeed this was the signal for the beginning of a new era of prosperity and happiness in Judea. Uzziah's main attention was turned to strengthening the open flanks and frontiers of Judea. He built strong fortifications along the borders, and, among other cities, he fortified and developed the land and the harbor of Elath. Thus, the king made it possible for Judea to reestablish her relations with distant countries and to develop her own industries and trade. Profitable import and export trade increased the wealth of the nation. At the same time, however, Uzziah strengthened his army and purchased the best weapons available in those days. Soon his military strength enabled him to begin active warfare on all those countries which had plagued Judea during the period of internal strife and weakness.

Uzziah defeated the armies of the Philistines and the Arabs, and he forced the land of Ammon to pay him regular tribute. He also established friendly relations with the kingdom of Israel, then governed by the strong and successful Jeroboam II. The latter was a clever statesman who understood that cooperation would be more mutually advantageous to the two brother kingdoms than hostility. He, therefore, did his part to eliminate the animosity and hostility that had existed since Joash's conquest of Judea. He even gave pan of the land of Syria to Uzziah, after he had captured Damascus in a victorious battle against this old foe of Israel. Now Uzziah was also free to rebuild the walls and fortifications of Jerusalem which had been torn down by Joash. At strategic places he constructed high towers on which he mounted heavy war machines from which stones and arrows could be hurled at the attacking enemy.

In addition to renewing trade relations and establishing a firm political alliance with Israel, Uzziah concentrated on strengthening his country's internal economy. He sponsored agriculture and cattle-breeding. He himself owned much land that was carefully fertilized and cultivated in exemplary fashion. He had many new wells dug, and a system of artificial canals irrigated the dry land that was far away from rivers and the sea. Wine and cattle, which were the main exports, reached such distant countries as Arabia and India, and brought much gold, silver, and other precious possessions to Judea.

Uzziah's Sin

Uzziah himself was a pious man, and he observed religiously all the laws and commandments of the Torah, under the proper guidance of the prophets who had appeared in his time, among them, Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and others. But at the height of his successful rule, he committed one unpardonable sin which cost him his name and throne.

In a moment of self-glorification and pride, Uzziah decided to imitate Jeroboam II, and to combine in his own person the supreme political and religious offices. He wanted to be High Priest as well as king. Although the idolatrous Israelites had permitted their king to act as high priest, the pious people of Judea refused to accept this violation of the Torah. Only members of the priestly family of Aaron were permitted to hold this office in the Holy Temple. Uzziah persisted in his demand, although the leading scholars and priests tried in vain to dissuade him. Finally Uzziah forced the issue. He entered the Holy Temple and, over the protest of the High Priest Azariah, started to offer incense on the golden altar. Presently the king was smitten with the most terrible of all maladies, leprosy. He had to leave Jerusalem at once and live in seclusion. Until his death, the stricken king dwelt in a house near the cemetery. He died fifty-two years after he had ascended the throne of Judea. Uzziah was not buried in the tomb of his ancestors, the kings of David's house for he was a leper. He was buried in the royal burial ground, however. His son Jotham succeeded to the throne.