Sunday, June 5, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 116. Manasseh King Of Judah, Part 2

Prophets And Kings
Day 116
Manasseh King Of Judah
Part 2

Yesterday we learned what a wicked king Manasseh was. Today the Lord allows the Assyrians to take him prisoner.

2 KINGS 21:10-18, 2 CHRONICLES 33:10-20
Manasseh leaped so far into idolatry that he took the whole nation with him. In yesterday's passage we were told that Judah became even more wicked than the nations around her, the nations the Lord had driven from the promised land. The Lord speaks to Manasseh and the people through His prophets but they will not listen. "The Lord said through His servants the prophets: 'Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of My inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in My eyes and have aroused My anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt.'" (2 Kings 21:10-15)

The Lord is going to judge Jerusalem, the capitol of Judah, by the same standards as He judged Samaria, the capitol of Israel. He is going to judge Manasseh just as He judged idolatrous Ahab. The Lord spared Judah during the reign of Hezekiah because the people turned back to Him. But the time is soon coming when Judah will be taken captive just like her sister Israel.

"Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end---besides the sin he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of their Lord." (2 Kings 21:16) Scholars believe Manasseh persecuted those who remained faithful to the God of Israel and especially the Lord's prophets. This explains why the Lord compared Manasseh to King Ahab, who also persecuted the prophets. The Jewish Talmud states that the prophet Isaiah was martyred for his faith during the reign of Manasseh, on Manasseh's orders. 

The author of 2nd Chronicles provides details of Manasseh's life that the author of 2nd Kings does not. The author of 2nd Kings simply points us to the book of Chronicles for the rest of Manasseh's deeds by saying, "As for the other events of Manasseh's reign, and all he did, including the sin he committed, are they not written in the books of the annals of the kings of Judah?" (2 Kings 21:17) The Chronicles are at least two of the books of the annals of the kings of Judah, though there may have been more books which are lost to us now, but the author of 2nd Chronicles says, "The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon." (2 Chronicles 33:10-11) 

There are Assyrian records still existing which tell us that Manasseh was an ally of Sennacherib and later of Sennacherib's son Esarhaddon. Esarhaddon ascended to the throne when Manasseh would have been in his late teens, but Esarhaddon only reigned eleven years, so some scholars believe Manasseh was taken prisoner by Ashurbanipal, the successor to Esarhaddon. There are no known records of Assyria taking Manasseh captive so we don't know why it happened. Ashurbanipal invaded Egypt during Manasseh's reign due to a conspiracy against Assyria and it could be that Ashurbanipal thought Manasseh was allied with Egypt. He took Pharaoh Necho captive for a time and imprisoned him at Nineveh, later releasing him back to his own country, and it's possible he took Manasseh prisoner around the same time, later releasing him back to this own country. We simply don't know how or why this came about but what we do know is the Lord allowed this to happen to Manasseh because of his waywardness. It was a judgment upon him and upon Judah for idolatry. Manasseh and the people likely thought this was the fulfillment of the prophecy in today's passage that the Lord was going to bring disaster on Judah, that He was going to abandon her to her enemies. 

As happens with so many of us when we have fallen into sin, myself included, we often turn to the Lord for help after we have tried everything else. This is what Manasseh does. In his misery he remembers the God in whom his father Hezekiah trusted, the God in whom his ancestor David trusted. As Manasseh sits in prison in a foreign land, where is Baal when he needs him? Where are the gods of all the starry hosts when he needs them, the gods whose images he dared to set up in the courtyard of God? Where is Asherah when he needs her, whose symbol he placed in the temple of the Lord? Where is Molech when he needs him, the god to whom he sacrificed his own son? They are as useless as the gold- and silver-plated carved blocks of wood that represent them. As the author of Psalm 115 said, these idols are, "Silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats." (Psalm 115:4-7)

I wonder if Manasseh cried out to his gods from the darkness of his prison cell. I wonder if he called on his gods till he was hoarse and exhausted. I wonder how long he persisted until it finally dawned on him that they weren't real, that they couldn't come to his aid, that they couldn't save him. In some midnight hour of desperation, a name came to his lips, and it wasn't the name of a false god but the name of the God of Israel. "In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to Him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God." (2 Chronicles 33:12-13) 

Manasseh prayed to the Lord with his whole heart. The Lord wouldn't be moved to help him if Manasseh simply gave Him lip service, calling on Him after he already called out the name of every other god. The author says Manasseh humbled himself greatly. Imprisoned in a dark dungeon in a foreign land, Manasseh is as low as he can go, but he finds a way to lower himself still, by bowing on his knees to the one true God. His heart is broken. His heart is repentant. He knows there is no other god and that all his offerings and sacrifices to pagan deities were for nothing. His only hope and only help is in the Lord. 

I don't know what your conversion was like, but Manasseh's conversion reminds me of mine. I too was in deep distress. I too was helpless and afraid. I had imprisoned myself in a dungeon of sin, a dungeon of my own making, and from its depths I bowed on my knees and looked up to the only One who could pull me out. We may not have many golden idols in our times but we can still make gods of ourselves when we serve the flesh instead of serving the Creator. All our service at the altars of money or status or success or substance abuse or sex or anything else will lead us to chains of imprisonment. Only the Son can make us free, free to walk in the liberty of His light and grace. 

Because Manasseh repented, God allows him to return to Judah and do good things for the nation. The dire prophecy of the prophets is not for this time but for a later time, although if Manasseh had not repented it would most likely have happened during his reign. "Afterward he built the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders in all the fortified cities in Judah." (2 Chronicles 33:14) Manasseh now turns to the work of making his nation more secure against her enemies. Formerly he expended a great deal of energy and money on the making of altars and idols instead of seeing to the defense of Judah.

"He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city." (2 Chronicles 33:15) He can't get rid of these false and useless idols fast enough. Don't you bet his heart was breaking as he cast them out, knowing how much of his life had been wasted on them? Don't you bet he wept some bitter tears when he thought of the terrible waste of life he brought about in his own family by participating in child sacrifice? For the rest of his life he knew he was guilty of the blood of innocent children and of the innocent blood of the prophets of God. But like the Apostle Paul, who was guilty of the imprisonment and death of those faithful to Christ, all he could do was accept the Lord's forgiveness and keep moving ahead in the right direction. This doesn't belittle any of the crimes these two men committed but it does highlight the grace of our Lord. All we can do when we come to Christ is lay our past at His feet. We can't live in the past although we don't belittle our sins and crimes in any way. But instead of allowing them to hamper our walk forward, we can only move ahead in the grace of our Lord, knowing we never again want to be the people we once were, knowing that with His help we never have to be the people we once were.

"Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God." (2 Chronicles 33:16-17) Manasseh, like all who have been truly converted, tells the people about the Lord and urges them to turn to Him. He worships only at the temple but many of the people still worship at the high places, although they make their sacrifices to God and not to idols. Manasseh would have done well to tear the high places down as his father did. In both Israel and Judah, these high places were too much of a compromise. God had told the people a long time ago, as they wandered in the desert after the exodus, that He would choose a place for His name and that they were only to worship there. They are doing wrong in worshiping anywhere but at the temple. It's too close to idolatry to worship at the high places. It's too easy to slip back into sin.

"The other events of Manasseh's reign, including his prayer to his God and the words the seers spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, are written in the annals of the kings of Israel. His prayer and how God was moved by his entreaty, as well as all his sins and unfaithfulness, and the sites where he built high places and set up Asherah poles and idols before he humbled himself---all these are written in the records of the seers. Manasseh rested with his ancestors and was buried in his palace. And Amon his son succeeded him as king." (2 Chronicles 33:18-20) The author of 2nd Kings ends with this, "Manasseh rested with his ancestors and was buried in his palace garden, the garden of Uzza. And Amon his son succeeded him as king." (2 Kings 21:18) 

The dramatic conversion of Manasseh highlights the power of God in the life of one who is truly repentant. Manasseh was one of the most wicked kings Judah ever had but God completely turned his life around. The man who formerly brought in every type of idolatry possible now bows only to the living God. He condemns the life he once led and he tells the people that only the God of Israel can help them. His conversion is proven by the way he lived the rest of his life, ending it on a good note after many years of stability and prosperity in Judah. 

No matter what is in our past, Jesus Christ can give us a better future. We can't change what's behind us but we can't allow it to hold us back. Jesus never tells us to look back over our shoulder at the sins that are covered by His blood. He tells us to keep our eyes on Him, the author and finisher of our faith, and to follow in His footsteps. Manasseh's life proves that no matter what kind of failures we once were, in Christ we can be overcomers. We can finish strong.

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