The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem:Hezekiah's Successors
2 Chronicles 33
HOW will the history now run? Surely it has reached a level from which it cannot drop. We shall hear no more of bad kings of Judah. So we should say, but this chapter corrects our impressions:—
"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" (2Chronicles 33:1-2).
"For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim [the plural again], and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. Also he built altars 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" (2Chronicles 33:3-5).
We shall now see what a man may be in the matter of idolatry.
"He set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God" (2Chronicles 33:7).
This is a mournful episode in the history of depravity; not only did the man make the idol, but he set it up in God's house as if it were there of right. How few men simply plunge into evil; how the most of us approach the pit gradually, almost indeed imperceptibly. But the sin is in the thought. God knoweth our thought afar off, in its very protoplasm, its earliest inception, ere yet it is patent to the mind of its own creator. We sin, then, still in thought a little more; the faint outline becomes a semi-visible spectre; we encourage it to return tomorrow, and the following night, and it enlarges upon our vision, and we feel the magic of familiarity; then we turn the thought into words, and start at our own voice; we try the repetition and feel a little stronger; we renew the exercise, and become familiar with all its wicked play; then we become audacious, still confining the action largely within ourselves; afterwards we seek collateral development, and thus there comes round about us a strange interlineation of actions, ministries, suggestions, supports, until we find ourselves setting up our idol in God's own house. To such lengths may we go! The young man never supposed he would die a drunkard when he finished his mother's glass of wine; in that sip was hell, and he knew it not. Men may come not to idol-making only, so that in their own houses they may have a place for household gods, but they may grow so bold in iniquity as to use the sanctuary of God itself for the worship of evil spirits. Thus we should be careful about the spirit of veneration. Loss of reverence is loss of spiritual quality. Better have a little tinge of superstition than be altogether devoid of veneration. To have any spiritual relation is to be in a happy condition compared with the soul that has nothing but matter, and that has gone in its foolish imagining to make matter of itself. Better peasant housewife with her sprig of rosemary or rowan tree laid away to affright the ghosts, than the house in which there is no recognition of spirit, angel, futurity, immortality, God; from the one house there may be a way into a larger morning than yet has dawned on time, but from the other house there could only be some back way into some deeper darkness.
"And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken" (2Chronicles 33:10).
These are what we call remonstrances. Sometimes the expostulation is addressed to the heart in a sweet tone; it comes through the ministry of father, mother, pastor, friend, nearest and dearest one; sometimes it is lowered to a whisper; then it becomes poignant as a cry, then it becomes importunate as shower upon shower of gracious rain; then there comes into it an indication of heaven's pain and torment, because so much is despised and rejected that is evidently of God. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." Is it possible for God to speak and man not to hearken? We should dispute it as a theory—we are bound to own it as a fact. A child can shut out the midday sun. There is no summer that ever warmed the earth that can get into a house if the owner of that house determine to block out the genial blessing. We can keep Christ standing outside, knocking at the door; we can say in bitterness of soul, Let him stand there, though his locks be heavy with the dew of night. We can multiply impiety towards God.
What after this?
"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" (2Chronicles 33:11).
The king had his way there. The wicked man is always weak. If this word rendered "among the thorns" be not a proper name, then it has a singular significance: the king of Assyria took Manasseh with hooks, put a hook through his nostril, put a hook through his lip, and carried him to Babylon. So have we seen an ox carried to the slaughter-house. The man who was thus treated had despised remonstrance. The Lord did not leap upon him at once. "He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." Observe how the word "suddenly" comes in. It comes in after the assurance that the reproof has been "often"—that is to say, the reproof has been repeated in various forms, in various tones, under various circumstances, and reproof having been driven back the Lord brings in the punishment which cannot be averted.
Then came the inevitable cry:—
"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" (2Chronicles 33:12-13)
A wonderful word is that which is rendered "besought the Lord his God": literally, stroked his face; petted, caressed the Lord his God. What a fool the sinner always is, and to what abject humiliation he is brought. How riotous for a time! but gravitation is against him. The uplifted arm cannot wield the axe long; it fights against the geometry of the universe. God is against the wicked man. For a time Manasseh appears to succeed, but the time is short. So let the lesson abide with us. Have we set ourselves against the Lord and against his anointed? How irrational, how disproportionate the battle! Will not the angels weep to see how the battle is set in array—on the one hand omnipotence, on the other a cloud of insects? Might not the universe cry unto God not to strike? He does not want to deliver the blow; he says judgment is his strange work, and mercy is his peculiar delight; he says, "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?" "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." God has no pleasure in death of any kind. In him is life, and he would have the universe live a truly harmonic, pure, beautiful, devout life; but his spirit, as has just been quoted, shall not always strive with men. Why should it? Who, then, will obey the Lord at the point of remonstrance and not go forward to the point of defiance? We are all under the importunate entreaty of God. How wondrous is his mercy, how patient his love! "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man open the door, I will come in." "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." He would continue in some such words as these:—Beware lest the enemy come upon you unexpectedly, lest a hook be put in your nostrils, and you be led away into Babylon, into perdition. Let it be graven as with a pen of iron upon a rock that no man can resist God successfully. Man may have his own way, but the end thereof will be death. We can refuse to pray, but we must bear the consequences,—as we can refuse to sow seed. We can say at seed-time, No, not one handful of seed shall be sown. Man is at perfect liberty to say that, but he shall have nothing in harvest and he shall beg in winter.
"Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house" (2Chronicles 33:20).
Yet in what sense did he sleep with his fathers, and in what sense was he buried? "The evil that men do lives after them." There was no good to inter with this man's bones, until a late period in life. Manasseh had a son, whose name was Amon, and in due time Amon succeeded to the throne. Amon was but twenty-two years of age when he began to reign in Jerusalem, and he reigned only two years. What did he do within that period? A very remarkable character is given to him in a few words:—
"But Amon trespassed more and more" (2Chronicles 33:23).
It is wonderful what evil can be done under a profession of religion. Amon was sacrificing unto all the carved images; he was so religious as to be irreligious; he reached the point of exaggeration, and that point is blasphemy. Where there is mere ignorance, God in his lovingkindness and tender mercy often closes his eyes as if he could not see what is being done: but when it is not ignorance, but violence, determination, real obstinacy in the way of evil, and utter recklessness as to what it may cost,—what if God should be compelled to open his eyes, and look the evil man full in the face, and condemn him by silent observation? It is wonderful, too, how much evil can be done in a little time. Nothing is so easy as evil. A man could almost fell a forest before he could grow one tree. Every blow tells; every bad word becomes a great blot; there is an infinite contagion in evil; it affects every one, it poisons quickly, it makes a harvest in the nighttime. To do good, how much time is required! How few people will believe that we are doing good! We have to encounter suspicion, criticism, distrust; men say, "We must wait to see the end; we cannot believe in the possibility of all this earnestness and sacrifice;" they ask questions about its probable permanence; even Christian men are apt to hinder others in endeavouring to do good. But evil has no such disadvantages to contend with. There is a consolidation in the forces of evil that is not. known among the forces of good. It would seem as if the poet's description were right—"Devil with devil damned, firm concord holds." It may be that in that one energetic expression Milton has stated the reality of the case. Still the good must be done little by little; we work an hour at a time and see no result, but, because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, we are confident that every effort, how small soever, will come to fruitfulness in the issues of the dispensation. Then, too, good is not so quickly added up as evil. Are we altogether just in this matter of the determination of character? What is our policy? It is easy of explanation; it is difficult to reconcile with the spirit of righteousness. It runs thus: A man shall live twenty years an honest, upright, beneficent life; he shall yield to a sudden temptation, and in that one act of evil the twenty years of good shall go for nothing. Is that just? Is that as it ought to be? The answer will be this: The one act of evil threw discredit upon the twenty years of apparent good. Is that reason, or prejudice? Is it justice, or insanity? Is there no balance in life? Is there no point at which things are reckoned on both sides and the issue is determined by the Judge of the whole earth? Our custom is not so. A man shall do a thousand good things, and they shall go for nothing in the presence of one proved apostacy; nay, they shall go for very little in the presence of one suggested apostacy. All this needs review. This cannot be right. Where is the balance? Where are the scales held by the fingers of God?
It were surely an incredible miracle if one slip should blot out ten thousand virtues—if one word should sink in oblivion a lifetime of prayer. Enough that the question be raised, for it cannot now be settled; let some take comfort who may need it herein. Society will be hard upon any one who has done a solitary evil if it has been detected and proved. Society has no mercy; society cares not for the individual; it is ruthless with the solitary offender. Blessed be God, society is not judge; the Lord reigneth; he will tell us in the issue what the sum total of life's mystery comes to; and what if he shall see, what men never yet saw, the larger good, the completer trust, the heart clinging all the time to Jesus and trusting in him wholly, though there may have been parts of the nature straying and going almost to hell? Certain it is that Amon made no secret of his departure from the ways of the right kings of Judah; he revelled in trespass; and in so far as he did this openly he is to be commended. There was no nightly poisoning of the fountain; he was no stealthy offender going out on velvet feet, in the hour when deep sleep falls upon men, to poison the well-head. Here is a man who rises early in the morning, strong to do evil, with a most inventive mind, with the left hand as skilled as the right, and both hands working earnestly and diligently in doing evil. There may be hope of such a man. When Peter cursed and swore he was not far from weeping bitterly. It is when the heart has its own chamber of imagery, its own secret doubts, well-concealed blasphemies, that it would appear to be hopeless to work any miracle in it. When the volcano bursts, explodes, pours out its lava, next season men may sow seed upon the sides of the mountain, and the year after they may cull rich harvests on the slopes down which the molten lava flowed. Some men may take heart because they have been so bad. The prodigal shall have the fatted calf killed, because he is a prodigal returned.
Almighty God, have we indeed come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels? Have we but come to the door of the letter and failed to enter into the sanctuary of the spirit? We would now come; we would now realise all the meaning of this great revelation. Are we so near mount Sion? Are we close to the heavenly Jerusalem? Are angels in innumerable companies round about us and we knew it not? Are we at one with the spirits of just men made perfect? Are they still alive? The old man with whom we companied and the man older still—do they live? Do they serve? Do they sing? Are they only out of our sight, not out of thine? Blessed be God if such be the case! We shall certainly join them, and continue with them this holy service which is music, this continual sacrifice which is delight This we have in the gospel of thy Son as our sure confidence and brightest hope. Then we will not be sad; we will drive the tears away and call them offences against God. We will see thee with the open eyes of our heart, glittering with expectation, suffused with the light of love. We bless thee for all enlargement of space, for all increase of visual power, for all the mystery of communion with the dead who live. Surely this cometh forth from the Lord of hosts and is the crown of the gospel, the bright point in the glad day of revelation. We are here for a time—how little, who knows? We spend it whilst we use it and can never recover it again,—a fleeting show, a vapour that cometh for a little time and then vanisheth away, a post in great haste, a shuttle flying hither and thither. Who can tell how little the span, how uncertain the tenure? May we so use our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom, and may we reckon up so carefully as not to omit one moment from the golden store. Wash us in the sprinkled blood, the all-cleansing blood, the precious blood, the blood of Christ as of a Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, for by this blood only can we have release from guilt, its torment, its memory, and its perdition. Amen.