After the revival under Hezekiah about which is written in the previous chapters, there are two more great histories: one of Manasseh and one of Josiah. The first history is that of Manasseh and tells the story of the conversion of an individual human being. In the whole Old Testament there is not a more striking history of conversion than that of Manasseh. The other history is that of Josiah and tells of the reform of an entire nation. In these ‘epilogue’ we see what the grace of God can do.
1 - 9 Manasseh King of Judah
1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. 2 He did evil in the sight of the LORD according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel. 3 For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. 4 He built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” 5 For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6 He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him [to anger]. 7 Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever; 8 and I will not again remove the foot of Israel from the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will observe to do all that I have commanded them according to all the law, the statutes and the ordinances [given] through Moses.” 9 Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel.
Manasseh is born during the fifteen years of extra time Hezekiah received (2Kgs 20:6). When he is twelve years old, he becomes king (verse 1). Manasseh is an extraordinary wicked king. The fact that God tolerates him for so long – he reigns no less than fifty-five years, from 697-642 BC – shows the patience of His grace.
Manasseh breaks a double record. No king has ruled as long as he has, and no king has been as wicked as he is. His name means ‘to make forget’. With this he is a model for the people, who also forget God (Jer 2:32). While it is written of his father that “he did right in the sight of the LORD” (2Chr 29:2) it says of Manasseh that “he did evil in the sight of the LORD” (verse 2). The contrast with his father manifests itself in everything. Through the actions of Manasseh, God’s land is inundated with the atrocities of the heathen nations, which the LORD has driven out before the eyes of His people.
Manasseh quickly undoes all his father’s reforms (verse 3). It seems that he has made haste with that. What his father has broken down, he rebuilds. The idol altars are erected again. Manasseh surrenders himself with heart and soul to idolatry.
It is getting worse. He even dares to build idol altars in the house of the LORD (verse 4). With this he grieves the LORD deeply. We hear the pain of the LORD resound in the quote of what he said about his house: “My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.” In the courts of the house of the LORD Manasseh builds altars for all the host of heaven, that are the stars (verse 5).
And it can be even crazier. He lets his sons pass through fire, as his grandfather Ahaz did (verse 6; 2Chr 28:3) and focuses on occultism. He surrenders to the powers of darkness. This is not limited to a personal activity, but he promotes occultism by dealing with mediums and spiritists.
He does everything he can think of to provoke the LORD to anger. His next action is to put a self-made idol in the house of God (verse 7). It is in a terrible way contrary to the intent of God with His home. God has spoken out clearly against David and Solomon about His house. It is the house where His Name shall dwell forever. But Manasseh doesn’t care about God’s intentions.
A reminder is given of the condition to remain in the land (verse 8). Manasseh doesn’t mind at all. If he has thought about it at all, he ignores everything God has said. He does not care about God or His commandment. He leads Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, so that they have sinned worse than the nations which the LORD has wiped out of the land (verse 9). People who confess to belong to God’s people sometimes do things for which unbelievers are ashamed (1Tim 5:8; 1Cor 5:1). The history of Manasseh is, in short, that of Israel itself.
10 - 17 Manasseh Humbles Himself
10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze [chains] and took him to Babylon. 12 When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD [was] God. 14 Now after this he built the outer wall of the city of David on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance of the Fish Gate; and he encircled the Ophel [with it] and made it very high. Then he put army commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. 15 He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the LORD and in Jerusalem, and he threw [them] outside the city. 16 He set up the altar of the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel. 17 Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, [although] only to the LORD their God.
The LORD doesn’t remain silent, and speaks to Manasseh through his prophets (verse 10; verse 18; 2Kgs 21:10-15). But Manasseh is not listening. Therefore the LORD has him captured by the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, whom He sends to Manasseh (verse 11). Heavily handcuffed he is taken to Babylon, which is still a vassal state of Assyria at the moment.
Now by what has happened to him, Manasseh gets so distressed that he entreats the LORD his God (verse 12). There is a total change in his attitude towards God. That is conversion. First he does everything to provoke God to anger. Now he tries to appease God. The anger of God was brought upon him by all his atrocities. He cannot earn back God’s favor by doing some good deeds now, but only by humiliating himself deeply before Him. That is repentance. Conversion and repentance belong together.
Manasseh prays to God, and God is moved by his entreaty and hears (verse 13). That is God. He listens to the supplications of a penitent sinner. For He has promised that He will listen if a man humbles himself (2Chr 7:14). Then Manasseh returns to Jerusalem, meaning the LORD brings him back there. What happens here with Manasseh will happen with Israel in the future. Israel returns to the land at their national conversion.
Manasseh is not only spared and receives grace himself, but he is also enabled to restore much of what he has previously corrupted (verses 14-16). He is given the opportunity to show the fruits of his conversion (cf. Lk 3:8-14). He begins by improving the defense of Jerusalem and the fortified cities of Judah (verse 14). He builds an outer wall around Jerusalem and put army commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah.
Then he cleanses in the house of the LORD that he has so greatly desecrated (verse 15). What he placed in his rebellion against God in and near the house of the LORD of idols and idolaters, he removes in submission to God. He throws everything outside the city.
After his breaking down of what promotes idolatry, there is room to restore what he in his rebellion against God has broken down from the house of the LORD (verse 16a). He rebuilds the altar of the LORD. He then brings peace offerings and thank offerings, thereby testifying of his gratitude toward God.
After showing that his conversion is real, he orders Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel (verse 16b). You can only ask something of someone else if you have set a good example yourself. Manasseh must first prove that he serves the LORD. Now that this is the case, he can also call upon his people with authority to do the same. The Lord Jesus is always and in everything the perfect example. After He has washed the disciples’ feet, He instructs them to wash each other’s feet (Jn 13:14-15).
Manasseh has been able to undo much of what he introduced of idolatry before his conversion, but not everything (verse 17; verse 22b). We see this also in the history of Josiah who still breaks down a lot (2Chr 34:1-7). The people continue to value the high places in order to sacrifice there. It can be said that they sacrifice only to the LORD their God, but the desire for specially consecrated places remains.
This is also evident in Christianity. There may be a desire to honor only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but this is often linked to outer things, such as a church building, certain clothing, and candles. As a result, religion becomes more a service to sentiment, feeling, than to God. Today it is often more about how it feels than whether it is true.
18 - 20 The Death of Manasseh
18 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh even his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, behold, they are among the records of the kings of Israel. 19 His prayer also and [how God] was entreated by him, and all his sin, his unfaithfulness, and the sites on which he built high places and erected the Asherim and the carved images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the records of the Hozai. 20 So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house. And Amon his son became king in his place.
For the rest of Manasseh’s acts, the chronicler refers to other documents. The first document is ‘the records of the kings of Israel’. It contains “his prayer to his God” (verse 18). It also contains “the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel”. The prayer of Manasseh to God and the words of God to Manasseh are recorded. These two, the prayer and the Word of God, form the life of a man in his relationship to God.
The second document is “the records of the Hozai” or “the records of the seers” (verse 19). It contains, as in the document mentioned above, “his prayer”. The fact that his prayer is mentioned twice – together with the mention in this chapter (verse 13) three times in total – shows how important God considers his prayer to be. This is underlined by the remark “[how God] was entreated by him”. It is not about the fact alone, that God was entreated by him, but it says how God was entreated by him. This is indicates more the way Manasseh has prayed and God’s benevolent acceptance of his prayer.
However, the second document also contains “all his sin, his unfaithfulness, and the sites on which he built high places and erected the Asherim and the carved images, before he humbled himself”. Manasseh has set the pen of the historians in motion. There is a lot to tell about him, both for good and for evil.
The beauty of the account we have of the conversion of Manasseh in holy Scripture is that no sinner needs to despair. Conversion is possible for the greatest sinner. At the same time, every sinner must be aware that a precise record is being made of all the deeds he has done. This also happens with all the words that people have spoken to him in the Name of the Lord to address him about his sins. If repentance does not come, all this will testify against him before the great white throne (Rev 20:11-15).
The final remark of the chronicler about Manasseh is about his death (verse 20). When he dies, he is buried in his house, which is in the garden of his house (2Kgs 21:18). It is not clear why he is not buried with his fathers. His son Amon succeeds him as king.
21 - 25 Amon King of Judah
21 Amon [was] twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. 22 He did evil in the sight of the LORD as Manasseh his father had done, and Amon sacrificed to all the carved images which his father Manasseh had made, and he served them. 23 Moreover, he did not humble himself before the LORD as his father Manasseh had done, but Amon multiplied guilt. 24 Finally his servants conspired against him and put him to death in his own house. 25 But the people of the land killed all the conspirators against King Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place.
Amon, the son of Manasseh, becomes king when he is twenty-two years old (verse 21). He reigns only two years in Jerusalem. That is enough to get to know him as one to whom the general characteristic of the kings of Israel applies: “He did evil in the sight of the LORD” (verse 22). He shows that he learned nothing from his father’s conversion. He does the sins that his father did before his conversion.
He sacrifices to the idols his father made. Perhaps Manasseh did remove the idols in his restoration, but did not destroy them. It may be that there have been so many of them that he has not been able to destroy them all. Sometimes we can’t undo everything we’ve done wrong in earlier years.
Amon follows his father in evil and not in good. He does not humiliate himself as his father has humiliated himself (verse 23). As a result, he makes his guilt ever greater. It says emphatically “Amon” does it. It is this Amon, the man who occupies such a privileged and at the same time responsible place in God’s people.
Amon does not die a natural death. He is the victim of a conspiracy of his servants, who kill him in his own house (verse 24). Unlike Manasseh, he is not given the opportunity to convert later in his life. No one knows the day of his death. It is therefore important to tell people that every day can be the last and that conversion should not be postponed until tomorrow.
God uses the sense of justice of the people of the land to prevent the land from sinking into anarchy. The people of the land act according to the law and kill the conspirators (verse 25). Then they make the son of Amon Josiah king instead of his father.