Question: "Why did God sometimes judge the entire nation for the actions of its king?"
Answer: Sometimes in biblical history, an entire kingdom seems to be judged for the actions of one wicked king. For example, 2 Chronicles 28:19 says, in part, “The LORD had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel.” How is it fair that all of Judah was judged because of King Ahaz’s transgression?
The full story is that the kings in these accounts were not the only sinful people in the nation. To continue 2 Chronicles 28:19, the verse also says, “For he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the LORD.” Thus, both King Ahaz and the people of Judah were involved in sinful actions, including idolatry. Ahaz had been the promoter and facilitator of the sin, but the whole nation stood guilty of committing the sin. When judgment on a nation was pronounced, it was typically addressed to the king. As the ruler of the nation he was held responsible for the actions of his people.
When a good king arose, we find that his noble actions also influenced the people he led. For example, during the reign of good King Asa of Judah, Asa “deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley” (2 Chronicles 15:16). He led the nation toward righteousness and was rewarded with no war for many years (verses 18–19).
God’s Law given through Moses promised judgment upon Israel and its king when it turned against God. Deuteronomy 28:36–37 says that, if Israel would not keep the commandments, “the Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. . . . You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.” God warned of this punishment beforehand and then sent prophets to remind the kings when they did wrong; only after a king and his people clearly rejected God’s ways did judgment come upon them.
The kings of Judah and Israel had the ability to encourage or stop idol worship and other sinful actions among the people they led. When the kings encouraged sin, they brought judgment upon their people. Further, when the king lived in sin, the people had a responsibility to oppose him. However, in the biblical cases of judgment against Israel’s evil kings, the people were involved in disobedience as well.
In short, the king’s actions were not the only determining factor in God’s decision to judge the nation; it is more accurate to say that God’s judgment came because of the evil actions of the nation—actions promoted by the king.
God’s judgment was intended to cause His people to return to Him and call out in repentance. God’s judgment was not permanent, either. He returned the Israelites to Jerusalem after seventy years of captivity in Babylon, offering yet another example of His faithfulness to His promises.