Kings of Israel and Judah (3) – King Manasseh
In our previous Kings of Israel and Judah instalment, we considered King Asa – a good king who ended his life badly. This instalment is about King Manasseh – a bad king who ended his life well.
Manasseh came to the throne of Judah, aged 12, and reigned 55 years. His father was Hezekiah, who was reckoned to be a good king (one of the best) and, as is so often seen, goodness (and badness) is not automatically passed down the generations. The writer of the Kings unequivocally condemned Manasseh, in who he could see no redeeming features, and thus had nothing good to say about him. As far as he was concerned, Manasseh’s evil character, his cruel acts and idolatry and awful legacy were clearly seen through his actions: “And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord said, In Jerusalem will I put my name. And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger” 2Kings 21:2-6. The writer continues in similar vein about Manasseh’s wicked reign and refers to warnings given by the prophets and God “will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies” 2Kings 21: 14 and ending: “Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and all that he did, and his sin that he sinned, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? And Manasseh slept with his fathers” 2Kings 21: 16-18.
When we turn to the Book of Chronicles, much of what we pick up in Kings, concerning Manasseh, is confirmed: “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 … And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever” 2Chronicles 33:2, 7. But a new and positive aspect is brought out which we do not read about in Kings: “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. 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 intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God” 2Chronicles 33:11-13. Chronicles ends up telling us of how Manasseh began to undo much of the evil he had initiated before taken captive.
The amazing thing we can learn from this story is however bad a person is, and Manasseh was very bad, that person can have his life turned around by God if they are willing to repent and let Him. God is in control and can and often does orchestrate and use events like Manasseh’s humiliation under the Assyrians to invite his repentance as a pre-requisite to bring about radical transformation. Although the consequences of his sin could not be undone, neither would the fruits of his changed life. While grace is often seen as a NT pre-occupation, notably through the atoning death of Jesus, evidence of God’s grace can be seen throughout the OT. There have been many trophies of grace down the ages (I am one of them), such as John Newton, a one-time ship’s captain and slave trader and also slave to many vices, but who got wonderfully saved and would later write one of the best known and loved hymns in the English hymnal: