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Manasseh’s evil reign (21:1-26)
Hezekiah’s reformation had cleansed Judah of the outward forms of foreign religion, but the inward spiritual condition of most people had not changed. The faithful remnant was still small (see 19:30-31). Possibly under pressure from Assyria, Manasseh reversed his father’s religious policy and with almost fanatical zeal reintroduced foreign religious ideas of every kind. Fifty-five years under his rule left Judah in a worse spiritual condition than that for which God had destroyed the original Canaanites (21:1-9). Therefore, God announced he would punish Judah as he had punished Israel. No later king was able to remove fully the evil that Manasseh brought upon Judah (10-16; cf. 23:26-27).
Towards the end of his life, Manasseh rebelled against Assyria. He was taken captive and brought before the Assyrian leaders at Babylon, which at that time was under the control of Assyria. Later he was allowed to return to Jerusalem. Believing that his captivity was a punishment by God for his sins, he attempted to return to the true worship of Yahweh. But it was too late to undo the damage he had done over half a century, and his reform had no lasting effect (17-18; 2 Chronicles 33:10-20).
Manasseh’s son Amon returned to the earlier policies of his father, but after a brief reign he was murdered. Some of the leading citizens, tired of the constant cruelty and bloodshed (cf. v. 16), executed Amon’s murderers and put Amon’s eight year old son Josiah on the throne (about 640 BC). In this way power rested with the king’s advisers, who could then follow policies that would benefit the people and restore peace and stability to Judah (19-26).
Zephaniah and Josiah
By the time he was twenty, Josiah had developed his own policy and begun reforms that lasted many years (2 Chronicles 34:1-5). He was possibly prompted to introduce these reforms through the preaching of the prophet Zephaniah. Zephaniah was probably not much older than Josiah and appears to have been related to him (cf. Zephaniah 1:1).
So far as we know, Zephaniah was the first prophet to appear in Judah for over seventy years. The Bible has no record of any prophets during the evil reigns of Manasseh and Amon. Zephaniah’s work marked the beginning of a new period of prophetic activity in Judah. He lived in Jerusalem, where he denounced the same evils as Isaiah and Micah denounced a century earlier (Zephaniah 1:4-9; Zephaniah 3:3-4). His announcements of judgment no doubt prompted many of the people to change their ways and cooperate in Josiah’s reforms (Zephaniah 2:3).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on 2 Kings 21". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20