(2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chron. 33:1-20)
Contemporary Prophet, Joel.
“The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of the people, and let him go free.”—Psalm 105:20.
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem: but did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.”
“Extremes meet”: here, it would seem, is one of the worst and most cruel of kings that ever reigned— succeeding Hezekiah, of whom it was said, “After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” (2 Kings 18:5). Had this good king been able to foresee the wickedness of his unworthy son, he would doubtless have had no desire to recover from his sickness. Better by far die childless than beget a son such as Manasseh proved to be. We must not presume to judge God’s honored servant, but it does appear as if he would have done better to have meekly submitted to God’s will in his sickness. He could surely have left it with God to care for the succession, as he knew the covenant made with David, “ordered in all things and sure,” and have spared the nation that he loved the tears and blood (to say nothing of God’s honor in the matter) that his desired descendant brought them to. Nothing to his honor is recorded as done by him after his recovery from his sickness. True, his healing was in answer to prayer, and a wonderful miracle was done in pledge of it. But so it was with Israel when they requested flesh to eat. “God gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106:15). A miracle was performed for them too (that of the quails), in order that they might have what they persisted in desiring. But there was only One who ever and always said, “Not My will, but Thine, be done.” (Comp. Ps. 21:4.)
Manasseh quickly, it would seem, undid the work of his father’s early reign—which was also done “suddenly.” “For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars [for idolatry] in the house of the Lord, whereof the Lord had said, In Jerusalem shall My name be for ever. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God.”
It is a terrible portrait to paint of any man; but of a king of Judah, and a son of Hezekiah the Good, it seems almost incredible. It makes the heart turn sick almost, to read the list of his abominations. He “made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.” It was the worst of all corruptions—the corruption of the best. The higher the fall, the deeper the plunge. Alas, in the Corinthian church too there was such sin as was “not so much as named among the Gentiles.” “I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly,” one said (Prov. 5:14). “Worse than an unbeliever,” wrote another (1 Tim. 5:8). Language like this may sound strange to some— strangely sad, indeed, that such things
can be, and
have been. Look at Rome, and see it verified. One within the pale of Rome has even said, “The annals of the church are the annals of hell!” And what must the surrounding nations have thought of these “annals” of Judah—”worse than the heathen”? Of Manasseh and Judah it could then truly be said, as the apostle, by the Spirit, declared seven hundred years later, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.”
“And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.” He spoke, as usual, through His prophets (2 Kings 21:10). This was their message: “Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did [how terrible!], which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols: therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which was evil in My sight, and have provoked Me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day.”
It was an appalling, though absolutely just, arraignment, and should have brought the nation to repentance. Its threats, if nothing more, should have startled them from their sins. They knew the fate of Samaria—already fallen; and Jerusalem should receive like punishment. The house of Ahab had perished, and
their kings should not escape a similar judgment. But the message was evidently lost upon them; they proved themselves a more perverse people than the “men of Nineveh” who one hundred and fifty years before had “repented at the preaching of Jonas.”
What prophets God used at this time is not known. Isaiah was still alive, possibly, though very aged, and the tradition maybe true which says he “was sawn asunder”—with a wooden saw. Josephus does not mention this, though he does say that Manasseh “barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews. Nor would he spare the prophets.” (Ant. x.:3, §i) “Moreover,” says the inspired historian, “Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord”(2 Kings 21:16). Wicked as his grandfather Ahaz had been, he did not, so far as we know, redden his hands with blood like this human monster Manasseh. But the reaping came at last, though harvest-time was late, perhaps, in the long-suffering patience of God. “Wherefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.” They refused to hear the
word, so they were compelled to feel the
rod. As befitted this monster of evil, Manasseh was brought in chains to Babylon.
Scripture gives no hint as to the time of this event, but it appears from Assyrian monuments to have been somewhere about the middle of his reign. It was the old and oft-demonstrated law of retribution working itself out: the occasion of the sin becoming the instrument of its punishment. Hezekiah sinned in the “matter of the ambassadors “from Babylon, and it is to Babylon that his son Manasseh goes as a captive.
“And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto Him: and He was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah He was God.” “He humbled himself
greatly” as well he might, for his guilt indeed was very great. “When he was in affliction”—no doubt, he owned the justice of his punishment. “I know, O Lord,” he could say, “that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75).
We have no details of Manasseh’s sufferings in his Babylonian captivity. God takes no pleasure in the punishment of His people, and very tenderly covers with the veil of silence all that can be profitably kept back. He heard Manasseh’s bitter cry of repentance and entreaty, and restored him to his kingdom. This was grace indeed—”grace abounding.”
On his return to Jerusalem he began to build and fortify, “and put captains of war in all the fenced cities.” But, what was better, “he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace-offerings and thank-offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.” He undertook to undo, as far as possible, his former works of wickedness. His name Manasseh means
forgetting; and Josephus says: “When he was come to Jerusalem, he endeavored, if it were possible, to
cast out of his memory his former sins against God; of which he now repented.” But the innocent lives that he had taken he could never restore, nor could he ever wholly undo the evil of his former course. So great had been his iniquity, and that of Judah with him, that God never forgave it, nationally (2 Kings 23: 26; 24:4; Jer. 15:4).
Personally, through his confession and humiliation before God, Manasseh was forgiven; and it is good to see the great change in his after life, and that he did not forget his indebtedness to God for His matchless grace to him, as his “
thank-offerings” on the restored altar indicate. He was the Old Testament “chief of sinners,” a “pattern” at that time in whom God “showed forth all long-suffering,” to any who should turn to Him in penitence and faith. Newton’s lines, no doubt, would well express the spirit of his grateful thoughts:—
“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see!”
“Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him, and all his sins, and his trespass, and the places wherein he built high places, and set up groves and graven images, before he was humbled: behold, they are written among the sayings of the seers” (or, “
Hozia” a prophet.—
Kelt). His mother’s name was Hephzibah
(my delight is in her). See Isa. 62:4. She may have been a pious woman, and so her name not have been inappropriate to her character; but if so, she had very little influence over her son—unlike the Eunice
(victorious) of a later day, and many more besides.
“And Manasseh slept with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza: and Amon his son reigned in his stead.” His body found no place of rest among the kings, showing how the consequences of sin follow men even to the grave.
The so-called “Prayer of Manasseh” in the Apocrypha is a fiction, and was even declared so by so credulous a body as the Council of Trent.
“Kings on the throne;
Yea, He doth establish them for ever, And they are exalted.
And if they be bound in fetters,
And be holden in cords of affliction; Then He showeth them their work,
And their transgressions that they have exceeded.
He openeth also their ear to discipline, And commandeth that they return from iniquity.
If they obey and serve Him,
They shall spend their days in prosperity,
And their years in pleasures.
But if they obey not,
They shall perish by the sword,
And they shall die without knowledge.”