2 Kings 21:1-9, 16
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem…
Light and dark alternate strangely in the later history of Judah. Overlooking the brief reign of Amon, Hezekiah alternates with Ahaz, and Josiah with Manasseh. The good kings are very good, the bad kings very bad. The climax of wickedness is reached in Manasseh. He had a good father, as Hezekiah had a wicked one, yet he outstripped in daring ungodliness all the kings before and after him.
I. HIS PRECOCITY IN EVIL.
1. His tendencies were evil. Manasseh's tender years when he became king do not wholly explain the strong bent he showed towards evil He became king, it is true, when he was but twelve, a mere boy, with character unformed, and open to the seductions of wicked courtiers; but Josiah, his grandson, was only eight when he ascended the throne, and he showed a disposition the very opposite. Nor does environment explain everything. Josiah had far fewer advantages than Manasseh. Evil influences were round the young prince, but there were good ones also. Hezekiah his father would give him the best of training; his mother, Hephzibah, if it was she that suggested the prophet's allusion in Isaiah 62:5, seems to have left a fragrant memory behind her; Isaiah was still living to be his instructor, if he had been willing to be guided as Josiah was (2 Kings 12:2); there were also the remarkable mercies God had shown to his father and to the nation but a few years before. Contrast Josiah's position, with Amon for a father, and the country in the state to which it was reduced after half a century of heathenism. There is no accounting for these differences through heredity, environment, or in any other way which ignores personality. While as a rule the children of the good turn out well, and the children of the wicked badly, there are startling exceptions on either side. Some from their childhood seem to be the subjects of an innate, virulent depravity, which only needs opportunity to break out into violent forms of evil.
2. His environment was evil. At the same time, it is to be admitted that the circumstances in which he was placed only afforded too much encouragement to the development of Manasseh's ungodly tendencies. It was undeniably a disadvantage to be so early deprived of a father's guidance, and saddled with the responsibilities of a throne. The courtly aristocratic party had never been in real sympathy with Hezekiah's reforms, and they doubtless eagerly embraced the opportunity afforded by the accession of a young king of influencing him to a different line of conduct. Throughout the country also Hezekiah's reformation had been largely external, and people were tired of the restraints which it imposed. The reaction which ensued has been compared to that of queen Mary's reign after the death of Edward VI., or of the Restoration after the Puritan strictness of the Commonwealth. The upper and aristocratic classes of a country have seldom been marked by their fondness for earnest religion. The way of the world and fashion are far more ruling influences with them, and as at this time "Nineveh was to Western Asia what the Paris of Louis XIV. was to Europe," it can easily be understood that "not to imitate it was to be provincial and vulgar" (Geikie). The moment the heathen spirit got the upper hand, and secured the countenance of the king, it was sure to prevail. The earnest followers of Jehovah shrank down into an inconsiderable minority.
II. HIS EXCESSES IN IDOLATRY. The account given of Manasseh's doings shows to what lengths he went in undoing the arrangements of his father. He seems, in fact, to have aimed at nothing less than a complete suppression of the worship of Jehovah, and the reorganization of the religious cult of the nation upon foreign models.
1. He rebuilt the high places. These Hezekiah had pulled down - a point of attainment to conformity with God's Law not reached by any previous king. Manasseh now reversed that action of his father, and rebuilt the shrines. The centralization of worship in Jerusalem may have been felt to be irksome; perhaps, too, the bad character of many of the priests added to its unpopularity. Manasseh may have claimed to he going back to old custom, with the end of making religion more free, popular, and joyous in its character. In this he had the mass of the people, and most of the official classes with him, as "in England the bulk of the nation and of the clergy returned at once to Romanism, when restored by Mary, after the death of Edward VI." It is a sad thing to see a nation going back from any high point of attainment - Reformation or other - as, again, it is a sad thing to see one individual building again the things which he destroyed (Galatians 2:18).
2. His wholesale importation of idolatries.
(1) Foreign idolatries. Manasseh exceeded even Ahaz in the zeal with which he imported idolatries of every kind from foreign nations. Baal and Astarte worship, of course, was introduced after the pattern of Ahab, and the Asherah symbol again reared itself in public view in Jerusalem. The taste of Ahaz for new altars was more than surpassed under the auspices of his successor. There was imported also, in grander style than ever, the worship of the sun and moon and heavenly bodies - the white horses and chariots of the sun being now one of the institutions of the temple (2 Kings 23:10, 11). "Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?" asks a prophet (Jeremiah 2:11); but Judah had changed her God for senseless idols. A policy of this kind is bound to end in the dissolution of a nation. The deepest bond of nationality is religion, and when a people renounces its traditional faith, and becomes a mere receptacle for a chaos of foreign religious ideas, it is sure, ere long, to fall to pieces. The Roman Empire was in this condition before its fall.
(2) The worst idolatries. It was not merely foreign idolatries which Manasseh introduced, but the worst, the vilest, and the most cruel of these idolatries. In particular, license was given to the practice of the worst and vilest rites of the Astarte-worship, and that close by the very house of the Lord (2 Kings 23:6, 7); while the fearful worship of Moloch, with its human sacrifices, was revived, and the king himself gave sanction to it by devoting at least one of his sons to the fire. These were the abominations for which God had cast out the original inhabitants of the land, and now they were reintroduced in full force.
(3) The attendant superstitions of idolatry. Idolatry here, as elsewhere, brought in its train a host of other baleful superstitions. Those who forsake God have ever been prone to fall a prey to the most childish delusions and impostures. The worship of the heavenly bodies brought with it the practice of astrology; the craving for communion with the unseen world led to necromancy, witchcraft, and enchantments; boasting a false freedom, the mind fell into an abject slavery to demonism (cf. the development of spiritualism in our own day). The movers in this new introduction of idolatry would no doubt claim the praise due to minds enlightened and emancipated from the narrow ideas in which the people of Judah hitherto had been bound. They were bringing in a new era of toleration, culture, breadth of view and sentiment, and the result was to be a great improvement in the state of the nation. In reality they were loosening all religious and social bonds, and opening the floodgates to corruption.
3. His desecration of the temple. The tale of Manasseh's iniquities is not yet ended. Not content with bringing new idolatries into vogue, Manasseh set to work systematically to overthrow the worship of Jehovah, and put his foreign gods in the place devoted to Jehovah's honor. Neither Athaliah nor Ahaz had ventured to introduce idolatry into the temple, but Manasseh took this step beyond either of them. He set up his numerous altars in the house of the Lord. Specially he erected altars for the worship of the host of heaven in the two courts of the temple. Then, to cap all, he introduced into the very building itself an image of the Asherah he had made, replete as that was with vile associations. Insult to Jehovah could go no further. In that very place of which Jehovah had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my Name there;" "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my Name forever; " - even there, in the very dwelling-place of the holy God among men, this impure symbol was erected. The Asharah-image in the temple was, as it were, the summing-up in symbol of the whole apostasy of the people, the formal token of their breach of the covenant, on fidelity to which depended their possession of the land, and as such, the desecration is frequently alluded to (Jeremiah 7:30; Jeremiah 19:3-5).
4. His shedding of innocent blood. This is the final and culminating charge against Manasseh, "Be shed innocent blood very much, Sill he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another." The words speak to a deliberate and organized persecution of Jehovah's servants - perhaps a massacre such as that of St. Bartholomew in France, a determined attempt to crush out in blood all dissent from and opposition to the king's measures. This is the persecution in which it is said that Isaiah perished. It is the shedding of innocent blood which, we are told further, "the Lord would not pardon" (2 Kings 24:4). "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15). We see from this example what the spirit of false toleration, of spurious culture, of the breadth of view which confounds truth and error, leads to; what real intolerance and hatred of God underlie it. Rights of conscience will meet with scant recognition under any system which denies the true God.
III. HIS LATE REPENTANCE. It is a valuable appendix to this history which we find in the Book of Chronicles. There we are told what we should not have suspected from the narrative before us, that Manasseh late in life repented of his sin, and obtained mercy from God (2 Chronicles 33:11-17). We have had instances of kings reigning well through the greater parts of their lives and failing at the close; this is the first and only case of a Jewish king reigning ill and finally repenting. We are taught by the story of Manasseh's repentance:
1. The seeds of early instruction may blossom after many days. Who can doubt but that it was the impressions received in early days which at last revived, and brought Manasseh back to Jehovah.
2. There is hope for the worst sinners. After Manasseh, surely any one. Nor did his conversion take place till his course was nearly run. We should despair of none. Miracles of grace as great as this have perhaps rarely been witnessed, but they have been witnessed.
3. God subdues men to himself by affliction. It was while a prisoner in Babylon - taken there by the captains of the King of Assyria - that Manasseh found the Lord.
4. Repentance does not always secure the reversal of the temporal effects of sin. The wickedness of Manasseh through a long reign wrought out its effects independently of him. His conversion came too late to undo them. The blood he had shed "the Lord would not pardon." The nation was inculpated as well as he, and though he repented, it did not. It is an awful thought that no after-repentance can obliterate the effects of words spoken and deeds done while sin still had dominion over us. Nor can the effects of sin on our own health, characters, usefulness, etc., ever be completely recalled. - J.O.
Parallel VersesKJV: Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hephzibah.