The lesson of Manesseh - The lesson of his repentance

2 Chronicles 22 records the wickedness of Manasseh how he “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” (v 9). However, the additional information that it contains is astounding. Verses 11 to 13 record how that Manesseh was taken into captivity in Assyria and prayed to God who was intreated of him and brought him back to Jerusalem.

The second great lesson of Manasseh’s life is that he could repent and in spite of all the evil that he had done, God was intreated of him. We may feel on occasions that our service to God is inadequate or feel an overwhelming feeling of guilt for past actions. Manasseh helps us to appreciate that however much we may feel we fall short, God’s love is still available to us and can enable us to reign as “kings and priests”. What produced such a remarkable change in the attitude of Manasseh towards God?

The Assyrians took Manasseh captive to Babylon causing him much suffering. Verse 11 records that “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”. The Revised Standard Version translates the phrase “among the thorns” as, “with hooks” and Isaiah records the same original word in 37:29. Here it is the word of God to the Assyrians: “I (will) put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest”. It prompts us to see a contrast between God delivering Israel in the days of Hezekiah, and God saving Manasseh.

2 Kings 20:12,13 records that the king of Babylon came to Hezekiah who showed him the wealth of his kingdom gained from the spoil of the Assyrians. It then records the words of Isaiah: “Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (vs. 17,18).

Comparing these incidents to the experiences of Manasseh provides the following contrasts:

The Assyrians, who mocked the power of the God of Israel were drawn by hooks from the land. Manasseh was drawn by hooks to Babylon, the use of the same words hinting that Manasseh was brought to appreciate that it was an act of God.

Hezekiah had been told by God that his sons would be taken captive to Babylon. It was Manasseh who was taken captive by an Assyrian king who ruled Babylon. Historians tell us that Esarhaddon, who was the only Assyrian king who reigned there, mentions Manasseh amongst his tributaries.

Does this suggest that Manasseh remembered the words of God to his father Hezekiah? Although Manasseh had not followed the Word of God, he had not forgotten the instruction that had been given by his parents and that it was his memory of the Word of God that brought him to his senses.

Having been brought to his senses he was faced with the dilemma as to what he should do. The affliction of Babylon moved him and “he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him” (2 Chron 33:12,13). From his knowledge of Deut 17, he would recall (v 5) that death by stoning was the only sentence for the worship of the host of heaven. Although repentance was not mentioned as an alternative in the law, his knowledge of God’s past acts had made him appreciate that God was “merciful and gracious” – a God of love. In exactly the same way that his father had done “when his “heart was lifted up” and “humbled himself” (2 Chron 32:25,26), so, too did Manasseh when “he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers”.

What hope would there be to Manasseh that his plea would be answered? 2 Kings 21:3 compared his wickedness to that of Ahab: “He reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel”. Ahab “did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD…and he did very abominably in following idols” yet Ahab responded to God’s word in that “he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly” (1 Kings 21:25-29). Notice the words of God through Elijah in verse 29: “Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son’s days will I bring the evil on his house”.

Hezekiah had humbled himself before God when the “pride of his heart” had lifted him up and God had forgiven his sin, but this was not the gross idolatry and filling Jerusalem with innocent blood of Manasseh which merited the death sentence. Manasseh would have been brought up to know the lessons of God’s dealings with His people, he could readily identify himself with Ahab due to the similarity of his sins. What an encouragement it would have been to Manasseh in his prayers to God to know that God’s love had not been limited by the greatness of Ahab’s sins which added to idolatry the murder of Naboth, and that God had not only accepted Ahab’s humility but had also saved Ahab from the consequences of his sins, for God had said of him: “I will not bring the evil in his days”.

The picture that 2 Chronicles 33 paints of the humbled Manasseh who returned from captivity in Babylon is totally different from the idolater who corrupted his people. 2 Kings 21 accumulated his evil doings with a series of ‘ands’. 2 Chronicles 33 presents a contrasting series of ‘ands’ which show the good that the reformed Manasseh set about doing: “He built the wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in of 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, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel” (vs 14-16).

What a total change in character and action; Manasseh was now really his father’s son and doing what we would have expected Hezekiah to do if he had still lived. All the spiritual preparation that Hezekiah had made for his son had not been wasted after all.

Our first lesson from Manasseh’s life was that he forsook the word of God and the careful spiritual education of his parents. It teaches us that we should respect, value and adhere to the careful spiritual education of our Father, which is designed to fit us to reign with Christ at his return.

Our second lesson from Manasseh is equally encouraging, for we all fall short and fail to respond as we should to God’s Word. It teaches us that even though we may have fallen short, if we humble ourselves before God, He will hear our prayer and will help us and if necessary will save us out of the consequences of our sins. For Manasseh, his guilt was taken away so that the sentence of death that the law prescribed was waived, and he was saved from Babylon and the consequences of his sin. He was brought back to Jerusalem and was able to reign as if his sins had never taken place.

Manasseh encourages us to take stock of our lives, and assures us of God’s merciful love, it we humble ourselves before Him.

Bro John Evans (Swansea, U.K)

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