The Chronicler’s brief, undetailed account of the reign of Jotham begins and ends formulaically. “Jotham was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem,” we learn in 2 Chronicles 27:1. Seven verses later, in case we have forgotten, the same is repeated: “He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem” (27:8).
If nothing else, this sets up a neatly symmetrical structure for the entire account of his reign:
A. Formulaic introduction, 27:1
B. He did right in eyes of Yahweh, like Uzziah, 27:2
C. Building projects, 27:3-4
C’. War and tribute, 27:5
B’. He became mighty because he ordered ways to Yahweh, 27:6
A’. Formulaic conclusion, 27:7-9
Nearly half of the chapter consists of formulaic summaries in which Jotham’s name might have been inserted into the blanks of a form.
The opening verses do indicate, however, the state of Judah in Jotham’s time. Jotham’s mother’s name, Jerushah, means “dispossessor,” and in the context of verse 1 puns on Jerusalem.
That note of danger is perhaps mitigated by her ancestry. She is the daughter of Zadok, “righteousness,” perhaps a priest. Royal and priestly families appear to be intermarrying. That might be a sign of the piety of kings, or it might be a sign that the priests are losing the independence they showed when Uzziah attempted to enter the temple.
He does right (or “makes” right), doing as his father Uzziah had done. Uzziah, rather than David or Solomon, is used as the standard of right kingship. That comparison is qualified by the note that Jotham did “not enter the temple of Yahweh” (v. 2).
William Johnstone takes this (1 & 2 Chronicles 2.171) as a negative statement: Jotham did not frequent the temple for prayer or worship. But the reference is to Uzziah’s unauthorized entry into the temple, and so the qualification shows that Jotham is even more right than Uzziah.
Despite Jotham’s faithfulness, Judah is still in danger. The “people still followed corrupt practices.” That is an indictment of Jotham, since he could, like Hezekiah or Josiah, undertake reform to purge the land of idolatry. Yet the impetus for “corrupt practices” comes not from the king (as it will with Jotham’s son Ahaz) but from the people.
The few specifics of Jotham’s reign come under two headings – building and war. The note about building is chiastically arranged (27:4):
B. he built
C. in the hill of Judah;
C’. and in the forest
B’. he built
A’. fortresses and towers
He builds in three zones: He repairs the upper gate of the temple, the wall of Ophel in Jerusalem, and cities, forts and towers throughout the land of Judah. He builds in the garden, in the city, and in the land. Alternatively, we could take this as a fourfold list: building at the temple, in the Ophel, in the hill country of Judah, in the forest. Jotham builds to the corners of the land.
Like other kings of Judah, he builds “towers” (27:4), perhaps a reference back to the Tower of Babel and another sign of impending crisis, a hint that Judah will soon be scattered among a people of strange tongues. Overall, the impression is positive. Like Solomon and other heroic kings, Jotham is a builder.
The hints of Solomonic success continue into the following verses. His father Uzziah did not have to fight the Ammonites, because he overawed all the surrounding nations with his military buildup. Jotham is less intimidating, and so has to go to war with Ammon. We learn no details about the war, except that Jotham prevailed. The Chronicler is more interested in the tribute of silver, wheat, and barley (27:5).
Neither wheat nor barley has been mentioned in Chronicles since the reign of Solomon (2 Chronicles 2:10, 15). Jotham does not bring in wheat and on the scale of Solomon, and he receives a tribute of silver rather than gold. Yet he is Solomonic in receiving a tribute offering of grain from a foreign nation. The Ammonites pay homage to Yahweh by paying homage to his king.
Uzziah’s battles with the Philistines remind us of David (26:6-7), as does Uzziah’s military prowess. Even Uzziah’s sin of entering the temple is reminiscent of David’s illegitimate census (1 Chronicles 21). The Davidic Uzziah is followed by the Solomonic Jotham, a building king acknowledged by Gentiles.
That is a hopeful sign, but the rhythms of Chronicles suggest that the trend will not continue into the next generation. After David and Solomon comes Rehoboam and Jeroboam, division in the kingdom and the spread of idolatry. It is poised to happen again: David, Solomon, Rehoboam/Jeroboam is replicated in Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz.