Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
feared (see previous homily), the character and the course of his son and successor. Had he done so, not all his riches and honour, not all his treasuries and storehouses, not all his flocks and herds, not all his watercourses and other works, would have removed sorrow from his heart. There has never, in any land, been a greater change, a sadder reaction, than that experienced by Judah when the godly Hezekiah was succeeded by the apostate Manasseh. It is true, indeed -
I. THAT PITY AS WELL AS BLAME MAY BE EXTENDED TO THE YOUNG KING. He was but twelve when he ascended the throne of Judah. He was far too young to encounter the peculiar temptations of sovereignty; and there was much excuse for him if, at that tender age, he allowed his own youthful inclinations to be overborne by the counsels of those so much older and so much more experienced than himself. In view of his circumstances, we may commiserate as much as we condemn him. No one need wish to occupy a higher position than his years, his experience, his training, have fitted him to fill. Its honours and its emoluments, however great they may he, are of no account at all in view of the immense disadvantage at which such a one is placed, and of the temptations to which he is exposed. Let youth wait its time; let it not seize the opportunity before the hour is ripe; let it understand that the position of subjection, of apprenticeship, of culture (special or general), is a far happier and far wiser one for the present, and that it is the one hope of a really prosperous and honourable career.
II. THAT MORAL EVIL MAY BE HIT VERY HARD, AND YET NOT BE SLAIN. Nothing will account for the speedy apostasy of Judah but the supposition that there was a vigorous idolatrous party at court, or that beneath the outward conformity of the previous reign there was a secret and yet strong inclination toward the practices of the time of Ahaz, Hezekiah did well to put down the altars and the "high places" with the unsparing energy he showed. But it was proved once more that it is one thing to remove the temptation and another thing to change the character. No reformer must be satisfied until he has reason to be convinced that sin is rooted out of the heart as well as taken out of the hand, that righteousness is loved within as well as manifested without.
III. THAT SIN LEADS RAPIDLY DOWN FROM BAD TO WORSE. It is painful, indeed, to think of the lad carefully cultured in Hebrew ways of piety and morality going down into such sad depths of sin and shame as are indicated in the text (vers. 3, 4, 5, 7). Not all at once, but by somewhat rapid stages, he went on and down from the piety and purity of his boyhood to the "depths of Satan," as they may be called. That is too often the lamentable course of sin. It takes but a few years for the soul that was taught to hate iniquity and to shrink from its touch to become familiar with its phases and to become an adept in its practices. The "monster of the hideous mien," when we have become
"... familiar with its face, IV. THAT SIN BECLOUDS THE INTELLECT WHILE IT DEGRADES THE SOUL. Manasseh "used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit," etc. (ver. 6). When men leave the rational service of the one Lord of all, and betake themselves either to superstition or to unbelief, they are very apt to yield themselves up to the greatest follies; to accept theories and to practise arts which a very moderate share of intelligence condemns as childish and vain. Only in the way of Divine truth shall we tread the path of human wisdom; once out of that track we lose our way, and wander in labyrinths of folly and of error. With Jesus Christ for our Teacher, we shall shun those byways of folly which would dishonour and degrade us. V. THAT ONE SINFUL SOUL MAY WORE A WORLD OF HARM. "So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen," etc. (ver. 9). Perhaps those who first used their influence to withdraw him from the service of Jehovah shrank from some of the "developments" of their own work; but when we send a human spirit on a downward course, we little know whither that course will lead, or in what it will end. There are scarcely any limits to the evils which one bad life may work or start. Heavy indeed is the responsibility, great is the guilt, of those who lead the young astray, and send them along a path where they not only err and fail themselves, but scatter broadcast the seeds of sin and sorrow. - C.
IV. THAT SIN BECLOUDS THE INTELLECT WHILE IT DEGRADES THE SOUL. Manasseh "used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit," etc. (ver. 6). When men leave the rational service of the one Lord of all, and betake themselves either to superstition or to unbelief, they are very apt to yield themselves up to the greatest follies; to accept theories and to practise arts which a very moderate share of intelligence condemns as childish and vain. Only in the way of Divine truth shall we tread the path of human wisdom; once out of that track we lose our way, and wander in labyrinths of folly and of error. With Jesus Christ for our Teacher, we shall shun those byways of folly which would dishonour and degrade us.
V. THAT ONE SINFUL SOUL MAY WORE A WORLD OF HARM. "So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen," etc. (ver. 9). Perhaps those who first used their influence to withdraw him from the service of Jehovah shrank from some of the "developments" of their own work; but when we send a human spirit on a downward course, we little know whither that course will lead, or in what it will end. There are scarcely any limits to the evils which one bad life may work or start. Heavy indeed is the responsibility, great is the guilt, of those who lead the young astray, and send them along a path where they not only err and fail themselves, but scatter broadcast the seeds of sin and sorrow. - C.
I. ITS EARLY COMMENCEMENT. Manasseh, "One who forgets" (Gesenius) - an exceedingly appropriate name for one who in his lifetime forgat God and every good thing; in the inscriptions Minasi; perhaps so called "in allusion to the zeal with which the northern tribe had joined in Hezekiah's reforms" (2 Chronicles 30:11), or to the desire which prevailed in Hezekiah's reign for a union of the two kingdoms" (Stanley) - was twelve years old when he ascended his father's throne (ver. 1). A wise child may be better than a foolish king (Ecclesiastes 4:13); but, as a rule, "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child" (Proverbs 22:15), while wisdom is the ripe fruit of age and experience (Job 32:7). The experiment of boy-kings - unless where these have been placed under regents or guided by wise counsellors, as were Joash (2 Chronicles 24:2) and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:5) - has seldom been successful (Ecclesiastes 10:16); though Manasseh's grandson, Josiah, must be pronounced an honourable and brilliant exception (2 Chronicles 34:2).
II. ITS EVIL CHARACTER. Manasseh "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (ver. 2).
1. In imitation of the heathen. Whether he endeavoured to become acquainted with all the heathen religions he could find, and to introduce them into Judah, and "for this purpose sent into the most distant lands where there was any famous cultus, and grudged no pains for his one object" (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4:208) - which seems a pure conjecture on the part of the learned author who propounds it - it is undoubted that he resuscitated paganism and carried it to a higher degree of prevalence than it had ever before attained in Judah.
(1) He restored all the Canaanitish abominations, i.e. the ancient worship on hill-tops, which had flourished under Ahaz, but which his father Hezekiah had destroyed (vers. 2, 3).
(2) He revived the Baal and Moloch worship of Phoenicia, which Ahab had introduced into Israel, rearing up altars for the Baalim, making Asheroth, or male and female statues, with their accompanying abominable houses (ver. 3), and setting up a Moloch idol in the vale of Hinnom, to which he sacrificed one, if not more, of his own sons (ver. 6), and encouraged his people to offer theirs (Jeremiah 7:31, 32; Jeremiah 19:2-6; Jeremiah 32:35).
(3) He extended the Assyrio-Chaldean star-worship, which his grandfather Ahaz had introduced (2 Kings 23:12); he "worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them" (ver. 3). (On the nature of this worship, consult Exposition.)
(4) "He plunged into all the mysteries of sorcery, auguries, and necromancy" (Stanley); "he practised augury, and used enchantments, and practised sorcery, and dealt with them that had familiar spirits" (ver. 6). "Magic occupied an important place in the regards of the upper classes in Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. At Babylonia the interpretation of omens was reduced to a science" (Rawlinson, 'Kings of Israel and Judah,' p. 206).
2. In dishonour of his father. "He built again the high places his father Hezekiah had thrown down' (ver. 3). Two things may have accounted for this sudden outbreak of paganism after Hezekiah's death.
(1) The superficial character of Hezekiah's reformation, which, though extensive enough, reaching to the furthest limits of Judah (2 Chronicles 31:1), does not appear to have been sufficiently intensive (see Isaiah 28 - 32.). The heathen party which had the upper hand during Ahaz's reign, though suppressed by Hezekiah with Isaiah's help, was not destroyed. The spirit of idolatry, compelled to be quiet and in a measure hold itself in abeyance, was neither eradicated from the community nor greatly weakened in its energy - merely it was waiting a convenient opportunity to start up with renewed life and vigour. To this party belonged Shebna, the treasurer whose deposition Isaiah demanded (Isaiah 22:15-25).
(2) The youth of Manasseh on acceding to the throne. Whether Hezekiah's only son (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 10:2. 1) or not (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4:206, note), Manasseh was only twelve years of age on assuming the regal dignity, and must have been born three years after the illness referred to in the preceding chapter (2 Chronicles 32:24). His father's death, therefore, having thrown him into the hands of the heathen party at a tender and susceptible age, he was quickly perverted from the right way of the Lord. Even the example, teaching, and prayers of his mother, Hephzibah (2 Kings 21:1), traditionally reported to have been Isaiah's daughter, were powerless to resist the corrupting influences of the statesmen and courtiers who surrounded him. "The young years of Manasseh gave advantage to his miscarriage; even while he might have been under the ferule, he swayed the sceptre. Whither may not a child be drawn, especially to a gairish and puppet-like superstition? As infancy is capable of all impressions, so most of the worst" (Bishop Hall).
3. In defiance of Jehovah. Not content with re-establishing idolatry in general, he proceeded to put a special affront upon Jehovah.
(1) He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts (outer and inner) of the house of the Lord (ver. 5), thus desecrating the city of which Jehovah had said, "In Jerusalem shall my Name be for ever" (ver. 4).
(2) In the house of God, perhaps in the holy place, he set the graven image of the idol he had made (ver. 7), i.e. of the Phoenician Astarte, so dishonouring the city and the temple of which God had said, "In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my Name for ever" (ver. 7), and braving the Divine threatening Jehovah had pronounced against apostasy from his Law and worship (ver. 8). That he "went so far as to remove the altar from the forecourt of the temple, and the ark from the holy of holies" (Ewald), though not certain, is at least probable (cf. ver. 16; 35:3; Jeremiah 3:16).
(3) He along with his people rejected the admonitions of Jehovah's prophets (ver. 10; cf. 2 Kings 21:10). Whether one of these was Hozai, who survived Manasseh's reign and recorded its chief events (ver. 19), whether Isaiah lived into the times of Hezekiah's son, and whether Habakkuk was one of those who remonstrated with Manasseh, cannot be determined. Their message, however, has been recorded (2 Kings 21:12-15) - a prediction of impending destruction for Jerusalem because of her sovereign's and her people's sins. Yet neither Manasseh nor his people would hearken. "They loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil." They refused to be warned of the perilous career upon which they had entered. "They hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of his counsel; they despised all his reproof" (Proverbs 1:29, 30).
(4) He employed against the prophets and professors of the true religion the unhallowed instrument of persecution. "He shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (2 Kings 21:16). "He barbarously slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews; nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them, till Jerusalem was overflown with blood" (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 10:3. 1). Not the first instance in Scripture of a state persecution on account of religion (1 Kings 18:13); unhappily not the last (2 Chronicles 34:5).
III. ITS LONG CONTINUANCE. The worst king had the longest reign - fifty-five years. Perhaps:
1. To discover the true character of the nation's sin, to reveal the essentially evil nature of idolatry, the inherent wickedness of such apostasy from Jehovah as Manasseh and his subjects had been guilty of. For this reason God bore long with the antediluvian world, and still at times permits wicked men to cumber the ground through long years, while good men, on the other hand, appear to be cut off before their time.
2. To signalize the Divine forbearance, to make known to Manasseh and his subjects the Divine long-suffering, the desire on Jehovah's part that he and they should repent; as God still, for a like reason, exercises patience with wicked men (1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Peter 3:15), being unwilling that any should perish, but that all should turn unto him and live (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
3. To vindicate the Divine justice, in ease the threatened judgments against Judah and Jerusalem should come to be fulfilled. After such an exhibition of the hideous character and bitter fruits of idolatry as had been given by Judah's king and people, and after such a display of patient forbearance on the part of Jehovah, when the stroke of judgment fell upon the apostate land, it would be impossible to say that it was either undeserved or premature; that either Judah's cup of iniquity was not full, or everything had not been done to secure her recovery from the evil path upon which she had entered (Isaiah 4:3-7).
IV. ITS PEACEFUL CLOSE.
1. The king was converted. "Manasseh humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers" (ver. 12). "Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God" (ver. 13; see next homily on vers. 11-17).
2. The people were reformed. In part at least a check was given to their idolatry. Though they continued to sacrifice on the high places, they did so "unto the Lord their God only" (ver. 17). Learn:
1. That early promotion, except in grace, is frequently a grievous misfortune.
2. That piety in parents is no guarantee of piety in children.
3. That the alternation of good and evil rulers in the Church and in the state is not without its uses - on the one hand of comfort, on the other hand of trial.
4. That "length of days is no true rule of God's favour" (Hall).
5. That "we may not measure grace by means" (ibid.).
6. That "that mischief may be done in a day which many ages cannot redress" (ibid.).
7. That no degree of wickedness is beyond the reach of grace to forgive or remove. - W.
I. THE LAST AND WORST SYMPTOM OF DEPARTURE FROM GOD - OBDURACY. "The Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken" (ver. 10). Sin reaches its extremity when it deliberately and determinately closes its ear against the recognized voice of God. A defiant refusal to listen when God is speaking to us is surely the ne plus ultra of iniquity; guilt can go no further (see Proverbs 2:24 33).
II. THE DESCENT OF THE DIVINE PENALTY. When other means of instruction and of influence have been tried and failed, God visits in severe discipline. To Manasseh this came in defeat, humiliation (he was bound in fetters), and captivity; he had to leave the city of David and the land of his fathers, and become a show in the distant land of the enemy. To us the Divine discipline comes in various ways, of which the most common are bodily affliction, the vision of death, substantial loss, the estrangement of those who had been near and dear to us, some form of bitter humiliation, bereavement and consequent loneliness.
III. THE RISE OF TRUE PENITENCE IN THE HUMAN HEART. At length Manasseh had his eyes opened, and he saw his folly and his sin; at length he learnt that he had not only forsaken the good way of his father Hezekiah, but had grievously and guiltily departed from the living God. We can never tell what will humble the heart of a man; one is affected and subdued by one affliction, another by another. But at length the blow falls, and the edge of the sword enters in, and the heart bleeds, and it is wounded not unto death, but unto life.
1. Then comes recognition of the truth. Then God is recognized - his nearness, his claims, his displeasure, his fatherly purpose. Then guilt also is discerned - its greatness, its heinousness.
2. Then comes acknowledgment and appeal. The heart humbles itself before God, even as Manasseh now "humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers" (ver. 12); and the soul prays for mercy, asks that its guilt may be forgiven, and itself restored.
3. And then comes self-surrender; for if there be not a willingness, a readiness to yield ourselves unto God, an exhibition of penitence is only an affectation; it is unreal and untrue. If it is genuine, it must be accompanied by a pure desire and a firm resolve to return unto him whom we have guiltily forsaken.
IV. THE BESTOWAL OF DIVINE MERCY. Manasseh soon found how immeasurable had been his mistake in his great apostasy. For the God of his fathers proved to be a God full of compassion and of great mercy, and he heard the humbled suppliant and restored him, and brought him back to his kingdom. So God now hears and pardons and restores; he forgives us our sin, and he takes us back to his Divine favour, and he restores to us our peace, our hope, our joy, our life in him and with him. For there is one invariable and inseparable sequence, viz. -
V. NEWNESS OF LIFE ON THE PART OF THE FORGIVEN. Manasseh goes back to Jerusalem, takes away the strange gods and the altars he had built, and casts them out of the city; and he repairs the altar of the Lord, and re-establishes the worship of Jehovah (vers. 15, 16). We return unto God, and at the same time to all purity, to all temperance, to all uprightness, to all reverence both in spirit and in action, to all piety of thought and of behaviour. This is precious indeed, beyond all price, this restoration to God and to our true self; yet is there -
VI. ONE SERIOUS DRAWBACK. Manasseh could not altogether undo what he had done. "Nevertheless the people did sacrifice," etc. (ver. 17). He could not, by one enactment or by a number of them, bring back the situation he had so completely broken up. It takes a long time to restore a people to the habits they have forsaken. Nor could Manasseh recall to life the brave and faithful men whom he had "done to death" with his cruelties (2 Kings 21:16). There are some things which the most genuine repentance will not effect. It will not recall the wasted years; nor undo the malign and death-bearing influences which have been at work in human hearts and lives; nor compensate the wronged for the injuries they have suffered in body or in spirit. Therefore let all remember that, while repentance and restoration are blessed, a life of holy service from the beginning is far more blessed still. - C.
I. ITS IMPELLING CAUSE.
1. The grace of God. That the regeneration and conversion of a soul is a work of Divine grace is taught hardly less clearly in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 30:6; 1 Kings 8:58; Psalm 110:3; Isaiah 26:12; Jeremiah 13:23; Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; Zechariah 12:10) than in the New (John 1:13; John 3:3; John 6:44, 63, 65; Ephesians 2:1-10; Ephesians 5:14; Philippians 1:6).
2. The judgments of Providence. "The Lord brought upon him and his people the captains of the host of the King of Assyria" (ver. 11).
(1) The King of Assyria here referred to was either Esarhaddon (B.C. 681-668), who succeeded Sennacherib, and therefore was contemporary with Manasseh during the first years of his reign (Sayce, 'Fresh Light,' etc., p. 152; Rawlinson, 'Egypt and Babylon,' p. 25); or Esarhad-den's son and successor, Assur-bani-pal, B.C. 668 - the Sardanapalus of the Greeks (Schrader, 'Die Keilinschriften,' p. 367; Kleinert, in Riehm's 'Handworterbuch,' p. 948). An inscription of the former monarch mentions Manasseh King of Judah as one of his tributaries ('Records,' etc., 3:107), while a similar inscription of the latter sovereign introduces as one of his tributaries the same Manasseh King of Judah (Schrader, p. 355).
(2) The occasion of this expedition against Manasseh is not specified. If it happened under Esarhaddon, the monuments afford no information of any rising of the Palestinian states against Assyrian supremacy during his reign - Rawlinson ('Kings of Israel and Judah,' p. 207) conjectures that he may have "entered into negotiations with Tirhakah of Egypt;" if under Assur-bani-pal, Manasseh may have been suspected of sympathizing with Saulmugina of Babylon, Assur-bani-pal's rebellious brother, who about B.C. 648 (and therefore when Manasseh had been forty years upon the throne) endeavoured to assert his independence.
(3) The capture and deportation of Manasseh, whom the Assyrian king's generals "took in chains," or "with hooks," and "bound with fetters," accords exactly with the representations given by the monuments. "The practice of bringing prisoners of importance into the presence of a conquering monarch by means of a thong attached to a hook or ring passed through their upper or their under lip, or both, is illustrated by the sculptures both of Babylonia and Assyria. Sargon is seen in his palace at Khorsahad receiving prisoners whose lips are thus perforated; and one of the few Babylonian sculptures still extant shows us a vizier conducting into the presence of a monarch two captives held in durance in the same way. Cruel and barbarous as such treatment of a captured king seems to us, there is no doubt that it was an Assyrian usage. To put a hook in a man's mouth and a bridle in his jaws (2 Kings 19:28) was no mere metaphor expressive of defeat and capture, but a literal description of a practice that was common in the age and country - a practice from which their royal rank did not exempt even captured monarchs" (Rawlinson, 'Egypt and Babylon,' p. 27). The 'Annals of Assur-bani-pal' speak of two Cimmerian chiefs whom Gyges King of Lydia, "in strong fetters of iron and bonds of iron, bound and with numerous presents caused to bring to his (Assur-bani-pal's) presence" ('Records,' etc., 1:70).
(4) The destination of Manasseh's deportation - Babylon instead of Nineveh, as one might have supposed - is explained by the circumstance that Esarhaddon and Assur-bani-pal both assumed to themselves the title of "King of Assyria and Babylon," and instead of governing Babylon by means of a viceroy, themselves resided there a part of the year in a palace built by the former (Sayce, 'Fresh Light,' p. 152; Rawlinson, 'Egypt and Babylon,' p. 25; Smith, 'Assyrian Discoveries,' p. 316; Schrader, 'Keilinsehriften,' p. 368).
II. ITS ACCOMPANYING SIGNS.
1. Humility. "He humbled himself greatly before the Lord God of his fathers" (ver. 12). This grace, beautiful in all who come before God (Job 25:5, 6; Ecclesiastes 5:2), is absolutely indispensable to a penitent (Job 40:4; Isaiah 6:5; Romans 7:18), and is the certain highway to spiritual promotion (Proverbs 15:33; Isaiah 66:2; Luke 18:13, 14).
2. Prayer. "He besought the Lord his God" (ver. 12); "he prayed unto him" (ver. 13) - no doubt with the language and feeling of
(3) supplication, entreating Jehovah's favour and forgiveness, and in proof thereof restoration to his land and kingdom (compare Manasseh's prayer in the Apocrypha).
III. ITS CONSEQUENT FRUITS.
1. Acceptance. Jehovah "was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom" (ver. 13). So God still listens to the cries of sincere penitents when they call upon him for forgiveness and salvation, for emancipation from the condemnation of the Law and the enslaving yoke of sin (Job 33:27, 28; Isaiah Iv. 6, 7; 57:15; Jeremiah 3:12-14; Luke 18:14; James 4:8). That Manasseh should have been restored to his throne and kingdom harmonized well with the mild character of Esarhaddon, who appears from the monuments to have accorded similar treatment to a son of Meredach-Baladan, and to an Aramaean chief of the Gambalu, both of whom on submitting to his authority were forgiven and reinstated in their former positions (Rawlinson, 'Egypt and Babylon,' pp. 27, 28). Like clemency was extended by Assur-bani-pal to the King of Arvad's Vakinlu's sons, who, on kissing the great king's feet after their father's death, were favourably received - Azibahal the eldest being appointed to the kingdom of Arvad, and the others presented with clothing of linen and bracelets of gold ('Records,' etc., 1:69). Tammaritu King of Elam likewise experienced the great king's favour on making humble submission and acknowledgment of his offence (ibid., p. 78).
2. Illumination. "Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah he was God" (ver. 13).
(1) The discovery Manasseh made was true even before he made it, at the very time when he thought it to be false. That Jehovah alone was God had been distinctly claimed by Jehovah himself (Exodus 9:14; Exodus 20:3), by Moses (Deuteronomy 4:35), by Hannah (1 Samuel 2:2), by David (2 Samuel 7:22), by Solomon (1 Kings 8:23, 60), and by Isaiah (Isaiah 44:5, 6, 21). So the fact that men may sometimes say or think there is no God (Psalm 14:1) does not prove that there is none.
(2) The ignorance of this sublime truth of the unity and soleity of Jehovah lay at the basis of Manasseh's devotion to idolatry. So the" Gentiles walk in the vanity of their minds... through the ignorance that is in them" (Ephesians 4:17, 18).
(3) Manasseh's apprehension of this truth was rather the result than the cause of his repentance. Manasseh turned to God when in distress out of a sense of sin, with an earnest desire after mercy, and (it may be assumed) with a sincere resolution after new obedience. It is not certain that at that stage he realized the theological fact that Jehovah alone was God. This dawned on him first, it would seem, in all its clearness when, in answer to his prayer, he became a conscious recipient of the Divine mercy. His experience in dealing with Jehovah - so different from that he had been acquainted with in serving idols - convinced him that these were nothing, and that Jehovah alone was God; and the discovery of this truth rendered his relapse into idolatry impossible. So men never clearly know God till they become participants of his mercy.
3. Reformation. "He took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord (ver. 7), and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord,... and cast them out of the city" (ver. 15). Compare the earlier reformations of Joash (2 Chronicles 23:17), and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 31:1), and the later of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:3, 4). So in every case of true conversion there must be a putting away of known sin (Isaiah 1:16; Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 3:8).
4. Separation. The people continued to sacrifice on the high places, though only unto the Lord their God (ver. 17). On their part it was a compromise. Willing to advance half-way on the path of reformation, they would not make a clean severance between themselves and idolatry. Manasseh did not so.
5. Consecration. "He repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings" (ver. 16). So far as he himself was concerned, he was done with the high places; and his regal authority, backed up by his personal example, he faithfully employed to induce his subjects to have done with them also.
1. The benefits and design of affliction.
2. The value and use of prayer.
3. The graciousness of God towards penitents.
4. The marvellous illumination that comes with the new life.
5. The certainty that holiness will flow from a personal experience of mercy.
6. The intermixture of imperfection with the best services of saints. - W.
I. A LURID LIGHT UPON THE NATURAL HISTORY OF SIN. Manasseh's career brings into prominence certain truths upon the subject of human depravity which in these days of so-called culture and refinement are prone to be pushed aside, ignored, and forgotten.
1. That sin, wickedness, a disposition to go astray from the paths of virtue, is an inborn characteristic of the human soul in its fallen condition; is a native product springing up out of the soil of man's interior being, and does not simply come upon him from without as the result of his environment, as the combined effect of the circumstances by which he is surrounded and of the examples by which he is directed. This is what theologians are accustomed to call the doctrine of original sin - a doctrine which Scripture with perfect clearness announces (Psalm 51:5), which experience everywhere attests (1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20), which modern science with its law of heredity strikingly confirms, and which lends peculiar emphasis to the teaching of Christ as to the new birth (John 3:7).
2. That this inborn principle of sin frequently reveals itself at unexpected times and under totally unlooked-for conditions. Concerning Manasseh one would have felt disposed to reason that if ever a child had the chance of being good, or at least of keeping down the evil that was in him, that child was the son of Hezekiah. Yet scarcely had he come to the throne at the early age of twelve than the wickedness of his nature began to break forth in almost full-blown violence. It is a warning to parents not to slacken in their diligence or abate in their efforts to promote the godly education of their children, since the season for impressing them with right views of truth and instilling into them right principles of action is at the longest extremely short, and if neglected may lead to irreparable disaster in after-life; while it is a much-needed reminder that not even pious parents can infallibly secure the conversion of their children, and that after all these have the determination of their future characters and destinies largely in their own hands.
3. That the development of evil in human hearts and lives is often rapid and always downward. At least it was so with this infatuated prince, who began by exhibiting a singular precocity in sin, and ended not until he had all but exhausted the catalogue of crime. If he proceeded no further in his downward career than sacred story represents, the reason likely was that his ingenuity could devise nothing more atrocious. Indeed, one cannot help discovering in him a prototype of Shakespeare's Aaron, who says-
"Tut! I have done a thousand dreadful things
II. VALUABLE COUNSEL AS TO THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL USES OF ADVERSITY.
1. It is always intended as a means of religious and moral improvement, whether it be laid on saint or sinner. The Lord doth not afflict men willingly, but for their profit, that they might be partakers of his holiness (Lamentations 3:33; Hebrews 12:10). In the case of saints it has this for its primary end (Hebrews 12:11); but even in the case of sinners this end is not neglected or overlooked. Calamity may fall on them directly as punishment; yet it always aims at their arrestment, reformation, and conversion.
2. It frequently succeeds when every other means of improvement fails. In the case of Manasseh nothing appeared potent enough to arrest him on his mad career - not the memory of his good father or of his pious mother, not the infinite folly of the idolatries he was keeping up, not the shame in which his immoralities involved him before the people, not the blood of his innocent victims, not the mourning and lamentation of his bereaved subjects, not the feelings of his own parental bosom, not the reproofs of Jehovah's prophets, not the terrors of his own conscience, Nor until God put a hook into his nose and led him off to captivity in Babylon did he pause and begin to reflect on his wickedness. And the same function is performed by affliction yet. God frequently employs it to pull up those whom he perceives rushing headlong to perdition, when other and milder methods have been used in vain.
III. A SPLENDID ILLUSTRATION OF THE FREENESS AND THE POWER OF DIVINE GRACE,
1. The steps of Manasseh's recovery.
(1) Penitence. He was awakened to a sense of his by-past ungodly career, and filled with sincere and heartfelt contrition on its account.
(2) Prayer. He was moved to cry for mercy from that God against whom he had offended.
(3) Pardon. The Lord was entreated of him, and he was forgiven. He was restored to his kingdom.
2. The ground of Manasseh's recovery.
(1) Certainly not good works in the sense of meritorious actions, because penitence and prayer are both good in the sense of being commanded duties.
(2) Solely the grace or loving-kindness of God, which besides was magnified in pardoning so great a transgressor.
IV. NECESSARY INSTRUCTION AS TO THE ONLY SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF CONVERSION AND SALVATION.
1. Illumination. "Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God." This was true all the same, whether Manasseh knew it or not, and all the while Manasseh was doing his best by the worship of idols to show that he believed the opposite. That which convinced him of his error was his experience of the Divine clemency. Whereas his service of idols had not been able to prevent his deportation to Babylon, no sooner had he transferred his allegiance to Jehovah than his captivity was ended. This sufficed to draw the veil from Manasseh's eyes. So men never really come to know God till they have been made partakers of his mercy in Christ. That which renders nugatory and worthless much of present-day objection to God and Christ, the Bible and the gospel, is that it commonly proceeds from them that know neither the one nor the other.
2. Reformation. Manasseh's conversion was authenticated by change of behaviour as well as change of mind. He took away the foreign gods out of the house of the Lord, and removed from both the temple and the city all the altars he had built for their worship. He repaired also the altar of the Lord, and commanded his subjects to serve the Lord God of Israel only. So in all cases of true conversion there must be the putting away of every known sin, the consecration of every individual power, and the performance of every known duty. - W.
I. THE GOLDEN CHANCE THAT WAS BEFORE HIM. He was heir to the throne of Judah. Measured by some monarchies, ancient and modern, that was small enough. But it was no despicable fortune. As our own country's history shows, we must not reckon the worth of a kingdom by its geographical dimensions. Under David and Solomon the kingdom of Israel was a real power, if not a "great power" in that age. And then it was open to Amon to conciliate the tribes of Israel as his noble grandfather had done, and perhaps to win them back. At any rate, the kingdom of Judah was itself no mean heritage; its men and women were far above the average of humanity in intelligence, in civilization, in an appreciation of freedom, in courage, in all the elements of human power. To govern Judah might well satisfy the ambition of a strong and aspiring mind. And there was one thing about Judah that could not be claimed either for Assyria or Egypt. It was the chosen dwelling-place of God; if he were but worshipped and honoured there, his presence and his power would be a more sure guarantee of national independence and prosperity than countless hosts of armed men or of chariots of war. Judah was the home of God, and therefore of truth and of heavenly wisdom. To reign there was a choice heritage for a true man.
II. THE RECKLESSNESS WITH WHICH HE THREW IT AWAY.
1. He deliberately chose the evil course. At two and twenty he had not his father's excuse for being led astray. The stern discipline through which Manasseh,,, had passed, and the mercy he had found in a forgiving God, surely should have affected and controlled his son. But he disregarded and defied the lessons which were written in such large characters before his face, and chose the evil way (ver. 22).
2. He declined to be corrected and restored; he persisted in the path of wrong (ver. 23).
3. He excited the hatred of those whom he governed, and brought about an early and ignominious death, enjoying but two brief years of kingly rule (ver. 24). Thus, after a dishonourable and reactionary reign, he came to a miserable and inglorious end, and thus he forfeited his heritage.
1. There is a very goodly heritage before us as the children of men. It will probably include something fair and bright of this world's estate, some pure enjoyment of which we may partake gladly and gratefully. It will certainly include the knowledge of God; the opportunity of worshipping and of serving him everywhere and in every relation we sustain; the means of cultivating a holy and a noble character; openings for usefulness in many ways, and particularly in the way of helping others on in the path of life; the opportunity of preparing for a far broader sphere and a far fuller life in the kingdom of heaven.
2. We may find ourselves tempted to forfeit this good estate. It is alienable by a sinful preference of the lower good, by a guilty disregard of Divine voices, by a perilous postponement of sacred obligation to some future time.
3. It is our true wisdom and our bounden duty to take at once that decisive step (of self-surrender to our Lord) which places us within the kingdom of God, and secures for us the lasting friendship of a Divine Redeemer. - C.
I. MANASSEH AND AMON RESEMBLED EACH OTHER. Both were:
1. Men. No higher dignity attainable on earth than that of manhood; higher than any purely temporal or social distinction is that of having been made in the Divine image.
2. Kings. Though often desecrated and abused, the position of a sovereign is one of great honour and responsibility. As vicegerents of Jehovah, the theocratic potentates of Israel and Judah stood upon the highest possible pinnacle of kingly renown.
3. Idolaters. Amen did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as did Manasseh his father (ver. 22). "Like father, like son," is the common experience - the exceptions only proving the rule.
4. Sufferers. Manasseh taken captive by Esarhaddon or Assur-bani-pal; Amen conspired against and killed by his own servants.
II. MANASSEH AND AMON DIFFERED FROM EACH OTHER. They contrasted in:
1. Names. Manasseh was so called (probably, at least) after an Israelitish tribe (see homiletics on vers. 1-20); Amen was named after an Egyptian god. The first was most likely traceable to Hezekiah's piety; the second due to Manasseh's impiety.
2. Reigns. Manasseh ruled Judah for fifty-five years; Amen for two. God determines to nations and individuals, to kings and subjects, the bounds of their habitations and the length of their days (Acts 17:26).
3. Careers. Manasseh repented, turned to Jehovah, and lived; Amon died as he had lived, an insensate idolater and hardened transgressor.
4. Ends. Manasseh died a natural, Amon a violent death. Learn
(1) the resemblances and
(2) the differences which exist between man and man, in the home, in the world, in the Church. - W.