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MANASSEH: THE REIGN OF TERROR IN JERUSALEM
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 21:1. Manasseh was twelve years old, &c.—Born, therefore, three years after his father’s recovery. His reign was the longest of any king in either kingdom.
2 Kings 21:2. He did evil … after the abominations of the heathen—His minority was passed under Court influences wholly alien from Hezekiah’s aspirations; for there was a powerful party in the realm who revolted in heart from all the religious reforms which king Hezekiah introduced into the kingdom; “scornful men, who ruled the people in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 28:14); “rebellious and lying children, that would not hear the word of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9-12).
2 Kings 21:3. Altars for Baal, and made a grove—i.e., an image of Astarte. Ahab introduced these idolatries into Israel (see 2 Kings 16:3-4). And worshipped all the hosts of heaven (comp. Notes on 2 Kings 17:16)—From this worship of the heavenly bodies-sun, moon, planets, zodiacal constellations (cap. 2 Kings 23:5)—arose the Chaldean system of astrology; and this being introduced among the people, led to the multiplication of astrologers, soothsayers, and magicians; and these became the nation’s oracle in place of Jehovah.
2 Kings 21:5. Altars for all the hosts of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord—This was the most advanced stage of profanation which had yet been reached. “Iniquity added unto iniquity:” impiety becomes more blasphemous as it proceeds.
2 Kings 21:6. Observed times and used enchantments—Impostors, whose trade was in occult arts, poured into Israel from Chaldea, and Manasseh became their patron, and found delight in becoming himself an adept in the black craft. The word נִחֵשׁ comes from נָחָשׁ, a serpent, and means omen ex serpentibus petere, and passes into the meaning of divination in general. He dealt with familiar spirits, i.e., either trained such persons, or practised with them, or partronized them; but the result was that he raised them into an official status in the realm.
2 Kings 21:7. Set up a graven image … in the house, &c.—That is, אֲשֵׁרָה, Asheruh or Astarte. Clearly, from 1 Kings 8:16; 1 Kings 9:3, “the house” was the very sanctuary in which Jehovah Himself had dwelt, not merely in “the courts” (2 Kings 21:5). 2 Kings 21:8-9. The terms of Israel’s stability—“Only if they observe to do” (2 Kings 21:8); “but they hearkened not” (2 Kings 21:9). From their first being planted in Canaan this condition was affirmed (2 Samuel 7:10), but they so completely degenerated from the covenant as to do more impiously than the very Canaanites who were expelled from the land that Israel might inherit it; for the Canaanites were faithful to their deities, but Israel rejected their God, and worshipped base innovations.
2 Kings 21:10. The Lord spake by His servants the prophets—These were Hoshea, Joel, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Isaiah. These “words of the seers” were kept in the national annals, along with the records of Manasseh’s deeds (2 Chronicles 33:18).
2 Kings 21:13. The line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab—The vanquished, or war prisoners, were measured off with the line (קַר), as marked or separated to slaughter (2 Samuel 8:2); the use of the plummet implies a levelled and cleared space, suggesting the complete clearance of Ahab’s house.
2 Kings 21:16. Moreover, Manasseh shed innocent blood—Of the godly people who would not concur in his impious deeds, and protested against them. A Jewish tradition survived even to the time of the Christian fathers that Isaiah was among the victims of Manasseh’s intolerant persecutions; and it is reported that he was sawn in two while fastened to a cedar tree in which he had secreted himself. 2 Kings 21:19-26. Amon’s guilty reign—Following all the evils of Manasseh, he stirred such animosity among his Court attendants (“his servants”) that an intrigue sprang up in the palace, issuing in regicide. “The people of the land” (2 Kings 21:24), who avenged the king’s death; suggesting that a popular outburst of indignation ensued, in which the conspirators against Amon were but to the slaughter. These conspiracies may suggest the opposing religious or irreligious conflicts which were struggling for ascendancy; they who slew Amon may have regarded themselves as doing God’s service; the Cromwellian era in English history harmonizing therewith. And “the people” who took vengeance on these “servants” were probably prompted by exasperated attachment to Amon’s idolatry, and thought to re-mstate Amon’s regims when placing; his son on the throne; but they knew not what would be the policy of that chilld’s life. Who can predict what course will be choses by a child as yet but “eight years old”!—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 21:1-18
THE reign of Manasseh was the longest and darkest in the history of Judah. The reformation under Hezekiah was superficial. Idolatry had a firm hold upon the nation, and receiving once more the patronage of royalty, rapidly became the predominating power. Being intolerant of any rival, and dreading another reaction, it strove to secure permanent supremacy. A great struggle ensued between the lovers of Jehovah and the zealots for heathenism. As in other similar conflicts in the history of the Church, the stronger party sought to drive the weaker into submission by the terrors of a blood-thirsty persecution. The most faithful and gifted of God’s servants were victims; and according to tradition Isaiah was sawn asunder by the savage emissaries of Manasseh. This paragraph furnishes a gloomy description of the prevalence of Religious Anarchy.
I. Seen in the reckless reversal of the policy of reformation (2 Kings 21:3). Manasseh showed little respect for the memory and life-work of his father. He pulled down what his father had painfully toiled for years to build up: it is so much easier to destroy than to construct. It is also a revelation of the fickleness of the people, and the shallowness of the reformation under Hezekiah, that they so readily fell in with the idolatrous policy of Manasseh. Alas! how few are there who clearly comprehend and earnestly maintain great, vital reforming principles! It takes years and generations to thoroughly impregnate the bulk of the people. And yet truth must ultimately triumph over all opposition. Over the principal gate of the city of Konigratz is a bas-relief representation of John Huss, the Bohemian Reformer, in the act of kneeling, before his martyrdom, and underneath are inscribed the words, “The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth us from all sin.” A reaction set in. The enemies of Huss triumphed for a time. They sought to destroy every vestige of the Reformer’s work; and, as one means of obliterating his memory, they plastered over this public memorial. But the principles of the Reformation were again in the ascendant, and time crumbled the plaster which had hidden the monument, leaving distinct once more this public reminder of the great Reformer’s work and sufferings. So is it with all honest reforming work. It may be obscured for years; but it will re-appear. Work done for God is immortal. It is vain to struggle against it.
II. Seen in the shameless outrages perpetrated by the votaries of a false religion (4–9). Not content with their liberty to worship idols and with the restoration of the high places and the erection of altars to Baal, the heathen party desecrated the temple of Jehovah by placing in it a carved figure of Asherah. This is regarded by the historian as the most aggravated outrage of the idolatrous king. The worst features of the reigns of Athaliah and Ahaz are outrivalled. No insult offered to Jehovah can be too offensive; no enormity the ingenuity of the heathen priests can devise is too low for the tastes and practices of the debauched king. Little do we know the depths of infamy to which we may be dragged by our sins. Manasseh, beginning life amidst the holiest influences, sank down till he became the execration of history.
III. Seen in the outbreak of a cruel and sanguinary persecution (2 Kings 21:16). The heathen party began to feel their power; and they used it mercilessly. Injury is added to insult. When they had once tasted blood they were insatiable. Every opponent, every Nonconformist, shall cease to breathe. The attempts of any future reforming kings shall be made impossible; they have had enough of that. The noblest patriots and choicest teachers were victims; among them, as is supposed, the venerable Isaiah. As in similar eruptions of fanatical cruelty, all classes suffered. It is estimated by Prudhomme that the victims of the first French Revolution numbered 1,022,351; and in the dismal catalogue of the different classes of society, he shows that, while the flower of the nobility was despatched, the humbler orders suffered the most. It is a mad, futile policy to enforce governmental or religious principles by terror and bloodshed. It only provokes reprisals often more savage than those sought to be avenged.
IV. Calls forth the special vengeance of heaven (2 Kings 21:10-15). The wickedness of Manasseh was not carried on without protest and warning. The voice of the faithful prophet might be cruelly hushed in death, but the testimony was delivered and heard. Jehovah was not an indifferent spectator of the agonies of His martyred servants; and He will be avenged on the adversary. Before He strikes, He warns. The punishment of degenerate Judah shall terrify all who hear of it. The kingdom shall be shattered, and the people who are not exterminated in war shall be driven into ignominious captivity. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
1. Reform, to be permanent, must be thorough.
2. A nation may well mourn when the wicked are in power.
3. The God of the martyrs will not fail to take vengeance on His enemies and theirs.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 21:1-9. Manasseh the seduced and the seducer. Even God-fearing parents often have perverse children without any fault of their own. So much greater is the guilt of those who lead infant children astray after the death of their parents, instead of giving them care and good training. It is especially important that princes should be guided in their youth by good counsellors and governors. God is not confined with His word to any land or people. If His word is not received with love and gratitude, and if it is not feared, then He will come soon and remove the candlestick from its place, so that men may go astray and become a prey to terrible errors. To fall is easier than to rise. If the infection comes from above, it spreads with greater celerity.—Lange.
—The one subject of the only collection of Hebrew books we possess is—God. How different with the literature of every other people! It is necessary to remember this striking characteristic, if we would rightly estimate the religious enthusiasm under Hezekiah, or the mortal struggle against heathenism under his son Manasseh. The national party, zealous for the worship of Jehovah, the God of their fathers, looked back to a golden age under David; but since his day had seen the rise and occasional triumph of foreign heathenism, countenanced by a number of their kings and by the court and upper classes. But as in all communities, in every age, it was only a minority who cherished, with a full and intelligent conviction, the great principles which thus for a time were triumphant. The mass of the people now, as always, passively yielded themselves to the spirit of the day; ready to follow Hezekiah’s reforms in the excitement of the hour, but no less so to pass over to the heathen party, should it again get the ascendancy. Two forces contended for supremacy: the national party, or Jehovah-worshippers—under the prophets—and the patrician party, who sighed for the glitter of foreign manners and the fancied security of foreign alliances, and, to secure both, were eager to adopt the heathenism of the neighbouring monarchies.—Geikie’s Hours with the Bible.
2 Kings 21:1. Kingship.
1. Involves great cares and responsibilities.
2. Is too heavy and cumbrous for inexperienced youth.
3. Presents an opportunity for working out great good or great evil.
—Manasseh’s minority, spent under the influence of guardians who were hostile to the religious principles and reforming policy of his father, may account in part for the anti-theocratic principles of his reign. The work of religious reformation which Hezekiah had zealously carried on was but partially accomplished. There was little appearance of its influence on the heart and manners of the people at large. On the contrary, the true fear of God had vanished from the mass of the people, corruption and vice increased, and were openly practised by the degenerate leaders who, having got the young prince Manasseh into their power, directed his education, trained him up in their views, and seduced him into the open patronage of idolatry.—Jamieson.
—Manasseh and Josiah.
1. Both began to reign in early life.
2. Both were powerfully influenced by their mothers.
3. Both had widely different careers—the reign of Manasseh was the darkest, and of Josiah the brightest period of the later history of Judah.
2 Kings 21:2-9. Unexampled wickedness—Evidenced.
1. In the contemptuous manner in which the example of a good father is regarded.
2. In the irreverent and insulting treatment of God’s own house.
3. In the way in which the worst abominations of the heathen are outrivalled.
4. In enforcing idolatry upon the people, and utterly ignoring the existence of Jehovah.
5. The more reprehensible in those who have been taught the knowledge of the true God.
2 Kings 21:6. The rule of superstition.
1. Depends upon the extent of popular ignorance.
2. Maintained by sleight of hand and a parade of Wisdom
3. Is dissipated by the advance of true science.
—A great influx of these impostors had, at various times, poured from Chaldea into the land of Israel to pursue their gainful occupations, especially during the reigns of the latter kings; and Manasseh was not only their liberal patron, but zealous to appear himself an adept in the arts. He raised them into an influential class at his court, as they were in that of Assyria and Babylon, where nothing was done till they had ascertained the lucky hour and promised a happy issue.—Jamieson.
2 Kings 21:7-8. Idolatrous intrusion into the Temple.
1. Outrages the majesty and supremacy of Jehovah.
2. Insults the Divine purity.
3. Indicates the loss of all respect for the Divine commands and promises.
2 Kings 21:9. There was a gradation in the apostacy of Judah similar to that of Israel. Ahaz abandoned the worship of Jehovah, but did not seduce the generality of his subjects; whereas the height and front of Manasseh’s offending was that his pernicious influence carried the whole nation along with him into idolatry.—Jamieson.
—What havoc does this wicked son of Hezekiah make in the church of God. As if he had been born to ruin religion; as if his only felicity had been to untwist or tear in one day that holy web which his father had been weaving nine and twenty years; to set up that offensive pile which had been above three hundred years in pulling down: so long had the high places stood. The zeal of Hezekiah in demolishing them honoured him above all his predecessors; and now the first act of this green head was their re-edifying. That mischief may be done in a day, which many ages cannot redress.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 21:10-15. Unexampled punishment.
1. Shall be of such a character as to appal all who hear of it (2 Kings 21:12).
2. Shall be a complete and humiliating national overthrow (2 Kings 21:13).
3. Shall abandon the victims to the cruel ravages of the enemy.
4. Merited by lengthened provocation.
2 Kings 21:10. This doom of utter and universal extermination, which was threatened against Judah, was averted by repentance, at least to a certain extent, inasmuch as a large portion of Judah was restored from the Babylonish captivity. But it was executed on the kingdom of Israel, which, as the sin of its people had been over a longer duration and of a more aggravated character, was more severely punished.—Jamieson.
2 Kings 21:12. We are sensible of the least touch of our own miseries; how rarely are we affected with other men’s calamities! Yet this evil shall be such as that the rumour of it shall beat no ear that shall not glow with an astonishing commiseration.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 21:13. The standard of Divine judgment.
1. Is based on unchanging principles of justice.
2. Takes into account the circumstances under which the offence is committed.
3. Necessitates the most thorough punishment of unrepented wrong-doing.
—A dish is turned over when there is nothing more in it. That is the hardest punishment which God can inflict on a soul which turns away from Him. There is then no longer a drop to be found in it of that which was in it before.
2 Kings 21:16. The persecuting spirit.
1. Riots in cruelty and bloodshed.
2. Makes no distinction between the innocent and guilty.
3. Is most vindictive towards those who have the courage to expose its wickedness.
4. Is limited only by its power and opportunities.
—Idolatry and tyranny are closely allied. Those whom Satan has in his toils he leads from one sin to another. Enmity to the word of God is not merely a different opinion or contradiction in regard to religious matters, but a devilish power which impels even to the shedding of innocent blood. It is possible to kill the preachers of truth, but not the truth itself. He who was the Truth was nailed to the Cross, but His words remain, though heaven and earth pass away. The blood of the martyrs only fertilized the soil of the Church, so that it has borne richer and more abundant fruit. All innocent blood cries to heaven as that of Abel did.—Lange.
2 Kings 21:17-18. The variations respecting the fate of Manasseh are complicated. In the Jewish Church his name was stamped with peculiar infamy. If a noble name had to be replaced by an odious one, that of Manasseh was substituted. His life in the book of Kings closes without any relieving trait. It was considered as the turning-point of Judah’s sins. The doom was pronounced irreversible by any subsequent reforms.—Stanley.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 21:19-26
THE CRIME OF ASSASSINATION
I. Is but lightly regarded where religions principle is demoralized (2 Kings 21:20-22). When the bonds of religious obligations are relaxed, the way is opened for the commission of the worst crimes. Every sin blunts the moral sense and makes it easier to sin again, until the lowest grade of crime is reached. The peace, safety, and prosperity of a nation are more indebted to the prevalence of true religion than the majority are inclined to admit. Religion is the curb that holds in check the fierce monster of crime, that would otherwise stalk through the land and work irreparable mischief.
II. Is unjustifiable, notwithstanding the wickedness of its victim. We stand aghast at the wickedness of those in power, and are apt to think any means justifiable that will put an end to it. Even the unjust detest the injustice of others. A hatred of evil may tempt one into hasty and excessive punishment of wrong, forgetting that “when our hatred is violent it sinks us even boneath those we hate.” It is difficult to restrain the national thirst for revenge when in the midst of injustice and suffering. “If the wicked flourish,” says Fuller, “and thou suffer, be not discouraged; they are fatted for destruction, thou art dieted for health.” We may safely leave the wicked in the hands of God. We may create greater evils by the way in which we strive to redress one single offence.
III. Is aggravated when committed by those whose duty it is to guard and protect (2 Kings 21:23). Amon was slain by his court attendants, who took advantage of the confidence and trust reposed in them. In the most unguarded moment, and when least suspecting treachery, he was slain in the privacy of his palace; his servants, towards whom he had shown kindness and honour, became traitors and murderers.
Is there a crime
Beneath the roof of heaven that staius the soul
With more infernal hue than damned
And it certainly adds to the heinousness of the crime when the fatal blow is prompted by a false heart.
IV. Sooner or later meets with terrible punishment (2 Kings 21:24). The conspirators and assassins met with a similar fate to their victim. Sin carries within it its own punishment. The most cleverly devised mischief is sure to return in some shape or other to plague the inventors.
This even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips.
In the history of the kings we are now studying, there is nothing more frequently and impressively revealed than the operation of the inexorable law of retribution. The triumph of the wicked is brief. The gains of sin are not worth the ingenuity and toil. The wages of sin is death.
1. Assassination is not only a savage, but a useless, policy.
2. A wrong is never rectified by inflicting a greater wrong.
3. True religion teaches the sacredness of human life.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES.
2 Kings 21:19-26. How wretchedly a king appears of whom history has nothing more to record than godleesness! As ithe king, so are his officers; as is the governor, so are the citizens. A depraved king ruins his country. Unfaithfulness is punished by unfaithfulness. Amon was not faithful to God: unfaithfulness was his punishment. He was murdered by his own servants, and these in their turn were punished by their own sin—they also were murdered (Matthew 26:52; Luke 6:28). Tumult and murder, perpetrated now by the authorities, now by the people—those are the natural fruits which are produced in a land which has abandoned God, and in which His word is no longer respected.—Lange.
2 Kings 21:20-24. Amon himself seems to have been popular; but, from whatever cause, he roused the enmity of the court party. It could not be laid to his charge that he refused to comply with the established heathenism, for it is expressly said that he walked in his father’s steps, and served and worshipped the idols he had set up, multiplying his trespasses, and showing some of the penitent humility of Manasseh’s late years. It may be, however, that signs of a serious thoughtfulness, not as yet carried into outward act, alarmed the dominant faction, for within two years he was cut off by a palace conspiracy, like that by which his ancestor, king Joash, perished.—Geikie.
2 Kings 21:23-24. Conspiracy and murder.
1. Reveal a melancholy picture of national demoralization.
2. May occasion a worse state of misrule than that which is sought to be removed.
3. Recoil in terrible vengeance on the actors themselves.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 21". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28