Jotham was the king of Judah. Sometimes the mark of a great leader is the ability to learn from a predecessor’s mistakes. This, perhaps, is the most important lesson of Jotham’s relatively brief tenure as a king of Judah.
Jotham’s father, Azariah—also known as Uzziah—was generally regarded as a good king, except for two fatal flaws. First, he did not tear down the high places, pagan altars scattered throughout the land.
Second, in his arrogance, Azariah blurred the carefully maintained distinction between king and priest when he attempted to burn incense in the temple. As punishment, God struck Azariah with leprosy.
Burdened with such an affliction, not only was Azariah unable to set foot in the temple ever again, he was forced to give up his day-to-day responsibilities as king. Jotham was installed as regent, a position he filled until Azariah’s death.
Jotham officially became king at the age of twenty-five. His reign was considered a success, marked by conquest and reconstruction. He subdued the Ammonites, Judah’s enemies to the east, and he rebuilt part of the temple. Jotham invested heavily in Judah’s infrastructure, establishing several new towns, towers, and other fortifications.
Still, Jotham’s greatest achievement was not something he did, it was what he chose not to do. He wisely avoided his father’s presumption and left the management of the temple to its rightful trustees, the priests. Because of Jotham’s humility and faithfulness to God, he reigned powerfully for sixteen years.
Despite avoiding the worst mistakes of his predecessors, Jotham failed to make a lasting contribution to his people’s spiritual well-being. True, Jotham accumulated military victories and completed ambitious building projects, but he did not manage to turn the hearts of the people—let alone his own son—back to God. Which would have made for a more lasting legacy, buildings or hearts?