2 Kings 21:1-18
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem…
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. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, etc. "Manasseh" says Keil, "having begun to reign at an early age, did not choose his father's ways, but set up the idolatry of his grandfather Ahaz again, since the godless party in the nation, all whose chief priests, and (false) prophets stood, and who would not hearken to the Law of the Lord, and in the time of Hezekiah had sought help against Assyria, not from Jehovah, but from the Egyptians, had obtained control of the young and inexperienced king. He built again the high places which Hezekiah had destroyed, erected altars for Baal, and Asherah, like Ahab of Israel." There are two great mistakes prevalent amongst men - one is an over-estimation of the secular; the other, a depreciation of the spiritual. Many theoretically hold, and more practically indicate, that man should attend mainly, if not entirely, to his secular interests, as a citizen of time; that the present, the palpable, and the certain should engage a far greater portion of his attention than the future, the unseen, and the probable. It is bad to hold these ideas, but it is worse to practice them. More respect, perhaps, is due to the mistaken men who theoretically adopt them, than to those who denounce in no very measured terms their votaries and yet practically carry them out in their daily life. And yet such characters abound in Christian England, abound in our congregations, and in our clergy too. The religionist who gives more of his thought, energy, and time to the secular than the spiritual, is carrying out in his everyday conduct the principles of those secular and infidel teachers against whom he is ever ready to thunder his condemnation. Far more distressed am I at the practical secularism of the Christian than at the theoretical secularism of the skeptic. The other mistake is overrating the spiritual at the expense of the secular. It is not very uncommon for religious teachers to profess to despise secular interests, and so to enforce the claims of piety as if they required the sacrifice of our corporeal and secular happiness. I have no faith in such representations of moral duty. Man is one, and all his duties and interests are concurrent and harmonious; the end of Christianity is to make man happy, body and soul, here and hereafter. These remarks are suggested by the history of Manasseh. He was the son of Hezekiah; was born upwards of seven hundred years before Christ; began to reign when he was twelve years of age; continued his rulership for fifty-five years, died at the age of sixty-eight, and was buried in a sepulcher which he had prepared for himself in his own garden (see 2 Chronicles 33:1-20). His inner life or character will appear as we proceed in the illustration of our subject. In his biography we have three instructive views of the secular and spiritual. We have here -
I. THE ELEVATION OF THE SECULAR AND THE DEGRADATION OF THE SPIRITUAL. "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," etc. Here is a man at the height of the secular elevation. He is raised to a throne, called to bear sway over a people the most enlightened, and in a country as fertile and lovely as any on the face of the earth. In the person of this Manasseh you have secular greatness in its highest altitude and most attractive position. But in connection with this you have spiritual degradation. Penetrate the gaudy trappings of his royalty, look within, and what see you? A low, wretched, infamous spirit, a spirit debased almost to the lowest point in morals. Few names in the history of our sinful world stand out with more prominent features of depravity and vice than this of Manasseh. Look at him:
1. Socially. How acted he as a son? His father, Hezekiah, was a man of undoubted piety - a monarch of distinguished worth. Many earnest prayers he offered, no doubt, for his son, and many tender counsels on religious subjects had he addressed to him. Yet what was the return for all this? His sire was scarcely cold in his grave before the son commenced undoing in the kingdom all that his pious father had for years endeavored to accomplish. His insane fanaticism in the cause of debased religion was not surpassed even by the king in modern times who most resembled him, Philip II. of Spain. How did he act as a parent? Was he anxious for the virtue and happiness of his children? No; "he caused his children to pass through the fire of the son of Hinnom." History represents the god Moloch, to which this Manasseh presented his children, as a brazen statue, which was ever kept burning hot, with its arms outstretched. Into these outstretched arms the idolatrous parent threw his children, which soon fell down into the raging furnace beneath.
2. Religiously. A dupe of the most stupid imposture. "He observed times, and used enchantments [and used witchcraft], and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards." He was the maddened votary of the most cruel and monstrous superstition.
3. Politically. Ruining his own country, provoking the indignation of Heaven. "So Manasseh 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." The elevation of the secular and the degradation of the spiritual, so manifest, alas! in all times and lands, is not destitute of many grave and startling suggestions.
1. It shows the moral disorganization of the human world. This state of things can never be according to the original plan of the creation. Can it be accordant with the original purpose of the Creator that wickedness should sit on thrones and hold the scepters of the world in its grasp? Can it be that Infinite Parity intended to endow depravity with such worldly wealth and power? Impossible. A terrible convulsion has happened to the human world, a convulsion that has thrown every part into disorder. "All the foundations of the earth are out of course." The social world is in a moral chaos. The Bible traces the cause and propounds the remedy of this terrible disorganization.
2. It shows the perverting capability of the son. The greater the amount of worldly good a man possesses, the stronger is the appeal of the Creator for his gratitude and devotion. These earthly mercies urge self-consecration. Moreover, the larger the amount of worldly wealth and power, the greater the facilities as well as the obligations to a life of spiritual intelligence, holiness, and piety. But here, in the case of this monarch, you have, what indeed you find in different degrees everywhere in human life past and present, the soul turning these advantages to the most fiendish iniquity. The perverting capability of the soul within us may well fill us with amazement and alarm. We can darken the light of truth, make the tree of life drop poison, and cause the very breath of God to be pestilential.
3. It shows the high probability of a judgment. Under the government of a righteous monarch, will vice always have its banquets, its purple, and its crown? Will the great Mechanician always allow the human engine thus to ply its wondrous energies in confusion? Will the great Lord allow his stewards to misappropriate his substance, and never call them to account? It cannot be! There must come a day for balancing long-standing accounts; a day for making all that has been irregular in human history chime harmoniously with the original law of the universe.
II. THE DEGRADATION OF THE SECULAR AND THE ELEVATION OF THE SPIRITUAL. The judgment of God, which must ever follow sin, at length overtook the wicked monarch. The Assyrian army, under the direction of Esarhaddon, invaded the country, and carried all before it. The miserable monarch can make no effectual resistance. He is seized, bound in chains, transported to Babylon, and then cast into prison. Here is secular degradation. Here, away in exile, chains, and prison, like the prodigal, he began to think. His guilty conduct passed under sad review - memory brought past crimes and abused mercies in awful and startling forms before him, and his heart is smitten with contrition. He prays; his prayer is heard; and here, bereft of every vestige of secular greatness, he begins to rise spiritually, to become an intellectual and moral man (2 Chronicles 33:12). We may learn from this:
1. That man's circumstances are no necessary hindrances to conversion. If the question were asked - What circumstances are the most inimical to the cultivation of piety? I should unhesitatingly answer - Adversity. I am well aware, indeed, that adversity, as in the case before us, often succeeds in inducing religious thoughtfulness and penitence, when prosperity has failed; that afflictions have often broken the moral slumber of the soul, and led the careless to consider his ways. But, notwithstanding this, I cannot regard adversity itself as the most suited to the cultivation of the religious character. Sufferings are inimical to that grateful feeling and spiritual effort which religious culture requires. It is when the system bounds with health, when Providence smiles on the path, when the mind is not necessarily pressed with anxieties about the means of worldly subsistence, when leisure and facilities for religious reflection and effort are at command, that men are in the best position to discipline themselves into a godly life. But here we find a man in the most unfavorable position, away from religious institutions and friends and books, an imprisoned exile in a pagan land, beginning to think of his ways, and directing his feet into the paths of holiness. Such a case as this meets all the excuses which men offer for their want of religion. It is often said, "Were we in such and such circumstances we would be religious." The rich man says, "Were I in humble life, more free from the anxieties, cares, responsibilities, and associations of my position, I would live a godly life." Whilst the poor, on the other hand says, with far more reason, "Were my spirit not pressed down by the crushing forces of poverty; had I sufficient of worldly goods to remove me from all necessary anxiety, I would give my mind to religion, and serve my God." The man in the midst of the excitement and bustle of commercial life says, "Were I in a more retired situation, in some rural region away from the eternal din of business - away in quiet fields and under clear skies, amidst the music of birds and brooks, I would serve my Maker." Whilst on the contrary, and with greater reason, the tenant of these quiet scenes says, "Were I distant from this eternal monotony, amidst scenes of mental stimulus and social excitement, I should be roused from the apathy, which oppresses me, and I would be a religious man." The fact, after all, is that circumstances are no necessary hindrances or helps to a religious life.
2. That Heaven's mercy is greater than man's iniquities. When conscience-stricken with the enormity of his wickedness, this one of the chief of human sinners betakes himself to his knees in humble prayer "before the God of his fathers," how is he treated? Is he scathed with a flash of retributive displeasure? Who would have wondered if he had been so? But no. Is he upbraided for his past wickedness? Who would have been surprised if he had been stunned with thunders of reproof? But no. Is he received with cold indifference? No. "He was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom." What a confirmation is here of that promise, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon!" "Abundantly!" This is a glorious word, a word that, like the boundless heavens of God, towers and expands over a universe of sin.
III. THE CONCURRENT ELEVATION BOTH OF THE SPIRITUAL AND THE SECULAR. The Almighty hears his prayer. He is emancipated from bondage, brought back to his own country, and restored to the throne of Israel. There he is now with a true heart, in a noble position - a real great man occupying a great office. This is a rare scene; and yet the only scene in accordance with the real constitution of things and the will of God. It seems to me that if man had remained in innocence, his outward position would always have been the product and type of his inner soul; that he who got a throne would do so because of the moral nobility of his nature, and that in all cases secular circumstances, whether elevated, affluent, or otherwise, would ever be the effects and exponents of spiritual character. Manasseh's restoration to the throne, and the work of reformation to which he sets himself, suggest two subjects of thought.
1. The tendency of godliness to promote man's secular elevation. The monarch comes back in spirit to God, and God brings him back to his throne. As the material condition of men depends upon their moral condition, improve the latter, and you improve the former. As the world gets spiritually holier, it will get secularly happier. Godliness is material as well as moral "gain." The system that best promotes godliness is the system that best promotes man's temporal well-being. And that system is the gospel Hence, let philanthropists adopt this as their grand instrument. When Christianity shall have won its triumph over all souls, men's bodies will be restored to their lost inheritance of health, elasticity, force, and plenty, as Manasseh was now restored to his lost throne. There is a physical millennium for the world as well as a spiritual; the former will grow out of and reveal the latter, as trees and flowers their hidden life.
2. The tendency of penitence to make retribution; Concerning Manasseh, it is thus written: "Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah. And he took away the strange gods," etc. Here is restitution, and an earnest endeavor to undo the mischief which he had wrought. Thus Zacchaeus acted, and thus all true penitents have ever acted and will ever act. True penitence has a restitutionary instinct. But how little, alas I of the mischief done can ever be undone! What can we do? We cannot destroy the fact of wrong. That fact will never be erased from the moral annals of the universe; it is chronicled with unfading ink on an imperishable substance. What can we do? We cannot destroy the influence of our wrong. The wrong that is gone out from us will roll its pestilential streams down through the ages. What can we do? We can "cease to do evil;" and, thank God! we can do more - we can make some compensation for the injury we have done the creation. We can, by Heaven's grace, open up within us a fountain for the washing away of sin and uncleanness - a fountain whose streams will bless with life and beauty many generations yet to come. - D.T.
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.