When we think about the most wicked king of the northern kingdom of Israel the name ‘Ahab’ would quickly come to mind. Then if we would turn our thoughts to the southern kingdom of Judah there really is only one who could match Ahab’s wickedness: Manasseh.
Manasseh should have had everything going for him. He was the son of Hezekiah, who brought about change and reform throughout Judah as he turned the people back to following God. He was such a good king that it was recorded of him: “He did what the Lord approved, just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kings 18:3 NET). High praise indeed! But this is not the way we remember his son and successor Manasseh.
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned for fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother was Hephzibah. He did evil in the sight of the Lord and committed the same horrible sins practiced by the nations whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.” (2 Kings 21:1-2)
Think about it. Most likely Manasseh would have seen his father’s trust in YHVH or at least heard about it. He would have known that when threatened by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, Hezekiah prayed to God and God delivered the nation from this threat. He was aware of all of this, yet he forsook God to serve idols.
The list of what he did is dreadful! He set up idols in the God’s temple and even worshipped the stars in the sky. He sacrificed his own son in worship false gods (most likely Moloch). He was involved in trying to conjure up underworld spirits (v. 6 NET). He even put an idol of Asherah in God’s temple.
“Furthermore Manasseh killed so many innocent people, he stained Jerusalem with their blood from end to end, in addition to encouraging Judah to sin by doing evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 21:16).
As a result God announced, through his prophets, that he had had enough! Judah and Jerusalem would be destroyed: “I will wipe Jerusalem clean, just as one wipes a plate on both sides” (2 Kings 21:13). Because of Manasseh’s sin, Judah’s future was set.
But that isn’t the end of the story. We often forget what happened next, which is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33.
“So the Lord brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria. They seized Manasseh, put hooks in his nose, bound him with bronze chains, and carried him away to Babylon. In his pain Manasseh asked the Lord his God for mercy and truly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. When he prayed to the Lord, the Lord responded to him and answered favorably his cry for mercy. The Lord brought him back to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh realized that the Lord is the true God.” (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)
What a turn around! And he didn’t just ask for mercy to get God back on his side – he truly changed his life. When he returned to Jerusalem he got rid of the idols he had set up in the temple and built an altar to God, and instructed the people to serve YHVH.
What do we learn from Manasseh? We see that even the most hardened, wicked sinner can change. Who is it that we think is beyond redemption? We need to continue to pray for them, show them God’s love and teach them what Jesus has done for them on the cross. The rest of their story hasn’t been written yet.
Plaque showing Israelites going into captivity. Photo taken in the Citadel, Jerusalem, by Jon Galloway.
Readings for next week: 2 Chronicles 32-35; 2 Kings 21-23; Zephaniah 1