It is recorded in 2 Kings 15:1 that Azariah, a.k.a. king Uzziah, son of Amaziah king of Judah began his reign in the 27th year of Jeroboam king of Israel. Technically, this is correct, but, Azariah’s 52 year reign included a 25 year co-regency with his father. Amaziah was most likely in captivity and/or exile during this period, so his son Azariah (Uzziah) had responsibility for running the kingdom. Therefore, at the age of 16, just two years after Jeroboam came into power, Azariah began a 52 year reign over the kingdom of Judah.
The length of Azariah’s reign is the longest of any of the Israelite kings and its timing was significant because it ended within two decades of Israel being taken into captivity by Syria (a.k.a. Assyria). During the time when Jeroboam reigned over Israel and Azariah ruled the kingdom of Judah, 792 B.C. to 753 B.C., the two kingdoms prospered and restored their lost territory to an extent not seen since the time of David and Solomon (2 Kings 14:28). The nation of Israel may have actually been the strongest it had ever been during Jeroboam and Azariah’s reigns.
Although there is no documentation to prove it, it is believed that the kingdom of Israel had become completely secularized and worship in Jerusalem was merely ritual during this time period. A sign that Azariah’s leadership was self-serving, rather than based on devotion to God, was “the LORD smote the king, so that he was a leper” (2 Kings 15:5). Leprosy was considered to be a spiritual disease as well as a physical disease. Many who contracted it were thought to be cursed by God.
Toward the end of Azariah’s reign, Menahem, a ruthless tyrant, became king in Israel. It says of him in 2 Kings 15:16, “Then Menahem smote Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him, therefore he smote it; and all the women therein that were with child he ript up.” Menahem’s behavior was comparable to Hazael, king of Syria, who terrorized the people of Israel during the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:3).
Menahem entered into a contract with Pul the king of Assyria (a.k.a. Tiglath-Pileser III) in which he agreed to pay Pul 1,000 talents of silver in order to be left alone (2 Kings 15:19-20). Today, the contract would be worth approximately $22 million. In order to fulfill his obligation, Menahem taxed “the mighty men of wealth” 50 shekels each (2 Kings 15:20). This indicates there were 60,000 wealthy men in Israel at the time, a significant percentage of the population.