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2 Kings 21:1-26
THE REIGNS OF MANASSEH AND AMON.
2 Kings 21:1-18
THE REIGN OF MANASSEH. Hezekiah's good and glorious reign was followed by one of exactly the opposite character. His son and successor, Manasseh, reversed Hezekiah's entire religious policy, and returned to the wicked practices of his grandfather Ahaz. In verses 3-9 and verse 16 his various abominations are enumerated, while in verses 10-15 God's sentence is pronounced upon them. The account of his reign terminates with a brief summary (verses 17, 18).
2 Kings 21:1
Manasaeh was twelve years old. Manasseh was thus not born till three years after Hezekiah's dangerous illness, or till the year B.C. 710. Hezekiah may have given him the name in the spirit in which Joseph gave it to his firstborn (Genesis 41:51), because God, in at last blessing him with a son, had "made him forget" his dangerous illness, with the griefs and regrets that accompanied it. "Manasseh" means "Forgetting." When he began to reign—in B.C. 698 or 697, the seventh or eighth year of Sennacherib—and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. So the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 33:1) and Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.3. § 2). The reign exceeds in length that of any other King of Judah or Israel. And his mother's name was Hephzibah. "Hephzibah" means "My delight is in her." Isaiah gives it as a name of honor to the restored Jerusalem (Isaiah 62:4). It has been conjectured that, as queen-mother, Hephzibah was regent during her son's minority. But there is no trace of her regency either in Kings or Chronicles.
2 Kings 21:2
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord. Manasseh was too young at the death of his father for his character to have been then definitively formed. He probably fell under the influence of the "princes of Judah," who, supported by many of the priests, had maintained themselves as a party antagonistic to Isaiah during the whole of Hezekiah's reign. Hezekiah's reformation had been carried out against their wishes. They had always leant towards foreign alliances (Isaiah 20:5; Isaiah 30:1-7) and foreign rites (Isaiah 2:6-9; Isaiah 65:3). The accession of a boy-king would be joyfully hailed by them, and they would make every effort to draw him to their side. It would seem that they were successful. After the abominations of the heathen—the details which follow in verses 3-9 sufficiently explain this strong expression—whom the Lord east out before the children of Israel. It was solely because of their abominations that they were east out (see Genesis 15:16; Le Genesis 18:25; Gen 20:1-18 :23; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 18:12, etc.).
2 Kings 21:3
For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed. On the high-place worship, see the comment upon 1 Kings 14:23. It is quite clear that the people were deeply attached to it, and gladly saw it restored. And he reared up altars for Baal; i.e. he reintroduced the Phoenician Baal-worship, the special abomination of the house of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 22:53; 2Ki 8:18, 2 Kings 8:27, etc.), which Athaliah had been the first to introduce into Judah (2 Kings 11:18), which Joash had put away (2 Kings 11:18), but which Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:2) had recalled. And made a grove; literally, an Asherah, or emblem of Astarte (compare the comment on 1 Kings 14:23)—as did Ahab King of Israel (see 1 Kings 16:33) and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. The worship the host of heaven, or the entire multitude of the heavenly bodies, commonly known as Sabaeanism or Ssabianism, was an ancient Babylonian, Arabian, and Syrian practice. It had, perhaps, been introduced among the Jews by Ahaz (2 Kings 23:12). At any rate, it was from the time of Manasseh one of the favorite idolatries of the Jewish people. The stars were believed to guide the destiny of men, and astrology was cultivated as a main part, or even as the essence, of religion. Astrological tracts form an important element in the literature of the Babylonians. The chief objects of adoration in this worship were the sun and moon, the five planets, and the signs of the zodiac.
2 Kings 21:4
And he built altars in the house of the Lord. He created, i.e; altars to other gods in the very temple of Jehovah (see 2 Kings 21:5). This was a pollution beyond any that either Athaliah or Ahaz had ventured on. Of which the Lord had said, In Jerusalem will I put my Name (see 1 Kings 8:29; 1 Kings 9:3; 1 Kings 14:21). Where Jehovah "put his Name," making the place his, and condescending, in a certain sense, to dwell there, it might at least have been expected that he would not find himself confronted with rivals.
2 Kings 21:5
And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. The temple of Solomon had two courts only, an inner and an outer. The outer court was for the people, the inner for the priests and Levites. Manasseh desecrated the temple to the extent of setting up in each of these two courts an idolatrous altar, dedicated to the worship of the host of heaven. In the inner court his altar was a rival to the great brazen altar of Solomon (1Ki 9:1-28 :64; 2 Chronicles 4:1), which Ahaz had for a time removed from its place in front of the porch (2 Kings 16:14), but which Hezekiah had most certainly reinstated.
2 Kings 21:6
And he made his son pass through the fire. The author of Chronicles says, "his sons" (2 Chronicles 33:6); but this is, perhaps, rhetorical. It was usually the eldest son, who, as the most precious possible offering, was sacrificed to Moloch (see 2 Kings 3:27; 2 Kings 16:3; and, for the true nature of the sacrifice, see the comment on this latter passage). And observed times. If this translation is right, the reference would be to a superstitious regard for lucky and unlucky days, such as we note in the accounts left of themselves by the Baby-Ionian kings, who begin their buildings "in a happy month, on an auspicious day". But probably the true meaning is, "he exercised βασκανία," or, "had regard to the evil eye," a common superstition in the East. And used enchantments. A use of spoils is perhaps intended, such as those by which serpents (נֶצָשִׁים) were charmed (see the comment on Isaiah 47:9). And dealt with familiar spirits and wizards—rather, he placed in office necromancers (literally, a necromancer) and wizards; i.e. he gave such persons official positions at his court, instead of putting them to death, as the Law (Leviticus 20:27) required—he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger; literally, he multiplied to work wickedness; i.e. he sought out every possible way; he not only restored all the different kinds of heathen sacrifices and idolatrous customs which had been in use under Ahaz, but carried his opposition to Jehovah a great deal further. As Ewald says, "He endeavored to become acquainted with all the heathen religions he could find and introduce them into Judah. For this purpose he sent into the most distant lands where there was any famous cultus, and grudged no pains for his one object."
2 Kings 21:7
And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house. He introduced into the temple, and set up there for adoration, an elaborately wrought Asherah, or "sacred tree," probably copied from the elaborate sacred trees of the Assyrians. These had, in the center, the essential stele, or pillar, ornamented with rams' horns, symbols of fecundity, and crowned with a representation of a palm tree, the whole being encircled by a framework of metal, twined about it, and throwing out from the circumference, at intervals, either palms or blossoms, or in some instances pomegranates or fir-cones. All the parts represented either animal or vegetable productiveness. Of which the Lord said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my Name forever. It was the extremest aggravation of Manasseh's wickedness that he was not content to introduce his new religions into the land in other places, but brought them to God's special city which he had chosen, namely, Jerusalem, and there established them, not on the opposite hills, as Solomon had done (1 Kings 11:7), or in a rival temple within the walls, as had been done by Athaliah (2 Kings 11:18), but within God's holy temple itself. In each of the two courts he placed an idolatrous altar, whereon the people were invited to deposit their offerings; and probably in the temple building itself, perhaps in the very holy of holies, he placed that lust-exciting emblem of Astarte, which was the most horrible profanation of all true religion, turning the truth and grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 1:4). What practical consequences followed on this profanation, we are not distinctly told; but we may readily surmise, especially in the light of 2 Kings 23:7.
2 Kings 21:8
Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers. The writer's argument is that Manasseh, by these impieties, annulled God's promises, brought about the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem, and caused the entire people to be carried off into captivity. The promises of permanence to the city and temple, and of the continued possession of the laud by the people, were, he notes, conditional; and Manasseh, by breaking through the conditions, forfeited them. Only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all that my servant Moses commanded them. The words are not taken from any single passage, but express the general sense of numerous passages, as for example of Deuteronomy 4:25-27; Deuteronomy 30:15-19; Psalms 89:28-32; 1 Kings 9:4-9, etc.
2 Kings 21:9
But they hearkened not. The people, and not Manasseh alone, were disobedient. Had they remained faithful, Manasseh's sin would not have affected their future. And Manasseh seduced them. The influence of a young and gay king, always great, is in the East immense. When such a king succeeds one of strict and rind principles, he easily carries away the multitude with him, and leads them on to any excess of profligacy and irreligion. The beginnings of sin are delightful, and the votaries of pleasure, readily beguiled into evil courses, know not where to stop. Manasseh seduced them, we are told, to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel; that is, than the Hivites, Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Gergashites, and Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1, etc.). The sin of Israel exceeded that of the Canaanitish nations, not so much in any outward and tangible features, as in the fact that it was committed against light, in spite of the Law, and against all the warnings and denunciations of the prophets.
2 Kings 21:10
And the Lord spake by his servants the prophets, saying. It is uncertain who were the prophets of Manasseh's time. Probably Isaiah was one of them. Habakkuk is thought to have been another (Keil). Nahum and Zephaniah seem also to belong, in part, to his reign.
2 Kings 21:11
Because Manasseh King of Judah hath done these abominations (comp. verse 2), and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him (comp. verse 9). The "Amorites" are put here (as in Genesis 15:16; 1 Kings 21:26; and Amos 2:9, Amos 2:10) for the Canaanitish nations generally. Next to the Hittites, they were the most important of the seven nations. And hath made Judah also to sin with his idols (see the comment on verse 9).
2 Kings 21:12
Therefore thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. "As a sharp discordant note," says Bahr, "pains one's ears, so the news of this harsh punishment shall give pain to all who hear of it." The phrase is one never uttered by any other lips than those of Jehovah (1 Samuel 3:11; Jeremiah 19:3). "It denotes" (Keil) "such a judgment as has never been heard of before, and excites alarm and horror." Not the Jews only, but the other neighboring nations, when they heard of the sufferings endured in the siege (2 Kings 25:8), and the severities exercised upon the king (2 Kings 21:7.) and the city (2 Kings 21:9, 2 Kings 21:10) and. the inhabitants (2 Kings 21:11), would have a thrill of pain go through them at the hearing, partly unselfish, partly perhaps selfish, since the treatment that was dealt out to others might also be reserved for them.
2 Kings 21:13
And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria; i.e. "I will do to Jerusalem as I have done to Samaria; I will execute upon it a similar judgment." God applies his measuring-line, a perfectly uniform standard, to all nations, as to all individuals, and metes out to them an equal measure of justice. Jerusalem will be presently treated as Samaria has been recently treated; and a similar destruction will overtake it. The metaphor is not to be pressed, as if cities were destroyed with as much care as they are built, by constant use of the measuring-line and the plummet. And the plummet of the house of Ahab. The justice meted out to the house of Ahab shall be meted out also to the house of David. The ways of God are equal (Ezekiel 18:25), and he is no" respecter of persons." He has one law for all; and, as the house of David has sinned in the same way, and to the same extent, as the house of Ahab had sinned, one and the same punishment will fall upon both of them. And I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. Jerusalem will be emptied, as a man empties his dish of the refuse scraps remaining on it, and will be then put away, as done with. The metaphor expresses contempt as well as condemnation.
2 Kings 21:14
And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance. "The remnant" here is not the remnant left of Judah after the deportation of two hundred thousand souls by Sennacherib (as in 2 Kings 19:4), but the remnant that is left of the whole people of Israel—the two tribes as distinct from the ten. The ten tribes were forsaken when the Assyrians took and destroyed Samaria (2 Kings 17:18, 2 Kings 17:23); the two remained. Now the two also would be forsaken, and the last remnant of God's inheritance cast out. And deliver them into the hand of their enemies. Not the Chaldeans only, who were not yet "their enemies," but their persistent and inveterate enemies, the Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites (see 2 Kings 24:2), and Edomites (Ezekiel 25:12; Joel 3:19), who all joined with Nebuchadnezzar at the last, and "indulged their ancient hatred by taking a very active part in the final war." And they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies (comp. Jeremiah 41:2-10; Jeremiah 48:27; Obadiah 1:10-14; Zephaniah 2:8, etc.). The years which immediately followed the Captivity were years of terrible suffering to the remnant whom Nebuchadnezzar left in the land (2 Kings 25:12). Every petty power in the neighborhood felt itself at liberty to make incursions with Judaea at its pleasure, to plunder and ravage, and drive off cap-tires, or massacre them in cold blood, or commit, any other atrocity. Some critics regard the description of Isaiah in 2 Kings 42:22-24 as prophetic of these sufferings.
2 Kings 21:15
Because they have done that which was evil in my sight. The chief sins of the people were the following: Altars for the worship of the host of heaven were erected upon almost every roof (Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5); offerings of cakes were made in the very streets to Astarte (Jeremiah 7:18); the fire of Tophet—a huge furnace in the valley of Hinnom—was kept constantly burning, and the sacrifice of innocent children to the bloody sun-god, Moloch, was perpetual (Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 23:37); it was as common to swear by the name of Moloch as by that of Jehovah (Zephaniah 1:5). Lascivious rites were practiced. Close by the temple the unchaste priestesses of Venus had their habitations, and their wretched male attendants, the Galli of the classical writers, plied their trade (2 Kings 23:7). Cruelty and oppression increased among the upper classes (Zephaniah 3:1-3); the prophets were "light and treacherous persons;" the priests "polluted the sanctuary, and did violence to the Law" (Zephaniah 2:1-3). "Spoiling and violence," "strife and contention;" were rife throughout the city (Habakkuk 1:3). Ewald sums up the state of things as follows: "The atmosphere of the age was poisoned from above; and the leaders of the people of every class, whose moral decline had already become a subject of lament in the preceding century, sank into an almost incredible degeneracy. The prophets, who ought to have been ever the most loyal guardians of the truth, were for the most part like dumb and greedy dogs; many of the priests allowed themselves to be seduced into offering heathen sacrifices; the judges and nobles paid little heed to the eternal right. Equivocation and hypocrisy spread among those who ought to have ministered most austerely to public truthfulness of life; while those who were engaged in commerce and trade sank into the harshest indifference to every higher aim, and thought only of the acquisition and enjoyment of wealth. So terrible was the demoralization which set in under Manasseh, that those who remained faithful to the ancient religion were either scoffed at as fools, or allowed to perish in cold contempt without any effort being made to save them, and were even derided after their death." And have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day. The moral and spiritual depravity of Judah, though it only came to a head in the time of Manasseh, had its roots in a long-distant past. As St. Stephen pointed out to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:39-43), it began in the wilderness with the worship of the golden calf, and went on to the worship of the host of heaven, of Moloch, and of Remphan; it was shown markedly in the terrible sin of Peer (Numbers 25:1-3); it stinted God's hand when the nations had to be driven out from Canaan (Judges 2:1-5); it provoked God's anger greatly during the whole period of the Judges (Judges 2:11-19); checked under David and Solomon, it broke out afresh on the accession of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:22-24), and showed itself, more or less, under every subsequent king, culminating at last in that fearful condition of things which has been described above (see the comment on the first clause of this verse).
2 Kings 21:16
Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much. We must not understand this of his own offerings to Moloch, for these have been already put on record against him (verse 6), and this is something additional (note the strong expression, וְגַם), nor even of the multitudinous sacrifices of the same kind which were the result of his influence on the people. Some culminating horror is required, something not touched upon before, and something specially attaching to the monarch himself. These conditions are answered by supposing a bloody persecution of the faithful to be intended. Josephus declares positively that Manasseh "cruelly put to death all the righteous among the Hebrews, and did not even spare the prophets" ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.3. § 1). A tradition, very widely received, declared Isaiah to have been one of the victims. Stanley says, "A reign of terror commenced against all who ventured to resist the reaction. Day by day a fresh batch of the prophetic order were ordered for execution. It seemed as if a devouring lion were let loose against them. From end to end of Jerusalem were to be seen traces of their blood. The nobles who took their part were thrown headlong from the rocky cliffs of Jerusalem". The persecution has been compared to that of Anglicans under Mary Tudor. Till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another—i.e. "till he had filled it with blood and slaughter"—beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord (see verse 9).
2 Kings 21:17
Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh. Important additions to the history of Manasseh are made by the writer of Chronicles. From him we learn that, after prophetical warnings had been in vain addressed to him and to his people (2 Chronicles 33:10), he was visited with a Divine judgment, an Assyrian army under "captains" being sent against him, who took him prisoner, and carried him to Babylon—the city where Esarheddon, the successor of Sennacherib, and contemporary of Manasseh, ordinarily held his court. Here he remained for some considerable time "in affliction" (verse 12), and, becoming convinced of sin and deeply penitent for his manifold transgressions, he turned to God in sincerity and truth, and being restored by the Assyrians to his kingdom, he put away the idolatrous practices and emblems which he had previously introduced, "repaired the altar of the Lord" which had gone to decay, and re-established, so far as he could, the worship of Jehovah (verse 16). A special prophet, Hosai, seems to have chronicled his sins and his repentance in a work which survived the Captivity, and is twice quoted by the compiler of the Books of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 33:18, 2 Chronicles 33:19). The submission of Manasseh to Esarhaddon is noted in the latter's annals, about the year B.C. 680. Other "acts" of Manasseh were the fortification of Jerusalem "on the west side of Gihon in the valley" the strengthening of the defenses of Ophel, and the occupation with strong garrisons of the various fortresses within his dominions. He thus played his part of tributary ally to Assyria With zeal, placing the south-eastern frontier in an excellent condition to resist the assaults of Egypt. Manasseh outlived Esarhaddon, and was for many years contemporary with Asshur-bani-pal, his son, whose inscriptions, however, contain no mention of him. Most likely his name occurred on Cylinder C, line 3, which is now illegible. And all that he did, and his sin that he sinned, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? The "sin which he sinned" is probably his persecution, which was viewed as his worst sin.
2 Kings 21:18
And Manasseh slept with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house. We have already seen reason for believing that the catacomb of David was full, and that Hezekiah was buried outside it, though in the neighborhood, on this account (see the comment on 2 Kings 20:21). Manasseh seems to have made a new family tomb in a garden belonging to his house. It is quite impossible to fix its site. In the garden of Uzza. Probably an addition to the old palace garden; perhaps a purchase made by Manasseh with the object of converting it into a burial-ground. "Uzza," or "Uzzah," was a common name among the Jews (2 Samuel 6:8; Ezra 2:49; Neh 7:51; 1 Chronicles 6:29; 1 Chronicles 8:7; 1 Chronicles 13:7-11), and does not point to any definite individual. And Amen his son reigned in his stead. "Amon" in Hebrew means "Nursling," or "Darling," and it is quite possible that Manasseh gave his son the name in this sense. But it is also the ordinary Hebrew form of the term ("Amen," or "Amun") by which the Egyptians designated the great god of Thebes, whom the Greeks and Romans called "Ammon." It has therefore been thought by many that it was given by Manasseh to his son "in an idolatrous spirit." So Bishop Cotton in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 1. p. 61, and others.
2 Kings 21:19-26
REIGN OF AMON. The short reign of Amen, the son and successor of Manasseh, was distinguished by only two events:
(1) his restoration of all the idolatrous and wicked practices which his father had upheld during the earlier portion of his reign; and
(2) his untimely death, in consequence of a conspiracy which was formed against him among the officers of his court. The writer of Kings is therefore able to dispatch his history in eight verses.
2 Kings 21:19
Amon was twenty and two years old when he began to reign. So Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.4. § 1), and the author of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 33:21). He must have been born in B.C. 664, early in the reign of Asshur-bani-pal, probably in the year of that monarch's expedition against Tyro. And he reigned two years in Jerusalem. The "twelve years" assigned to Amen By the Duke of Manchester ('Times of Daniel') are wholly devoid of foundation, and would throw the entire chronology into confusion. As it is, there is a very exact accordance in this part of the history between the profane and the scriptural dates. And his mother's name was Meshullemeth, the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah. Jotbah is probably the same city as the "Jotbath" of Deuteronomy 10:7, and the "Jotbathah" of Numbers 33:33, which was in the neighborhood of Ezion-geber, and therefore probably in the Arabah. Josephus, however, says that Jot-bah was "a city of Judah."
2 Kings 21:20
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his father Manasseh did.
2 Kings 21:21
And he walked in all the way that his father walked in. There was not a single one among the early wickednesses of Manasseh which Amen did not imitate. The details of Josiah's reformation (2 Kings 23:4-24) show that under Amon
(1) the Asherah or "grove" maintained its place in the temple building;
(2) the two idolatrous altars stood in the two courts;
(3) the temple was the scene of the worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and the host of heaven;
(4) the unchaste priestesses of the Syrian goddess, with the male partners in their guilt, were lodged in houses close by the house of the Lord;
(5) chariots and horses dedicated to the sun were maintained at one of the temple gates;
(6) the fire of Tophet burnt continually in the valley of Hinnom, and children were there "passed through the fire to Moloch;"
(7) an idolatrous worship held possession of all the high places all ever Judaea and Samaria, and idolatrous priests, deriving their appointment from the king, burnt incense in the high places to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the planets, and all the host of heaven; and
(8) magic and necromancy were practiced openly under royal sanction throughout the length and breadth of the land. And served the idols that his father served—as Baal, Ashtoreth, Moloch, the Asherah, and others—and worshipped them.
2 Kings 21:22
And he forsook the Lord God of his fathers. Other kings, as Ahaz, had made a sort of compromise between the worship of Jehovah and idolatry (2 Kings 16:10-15). Manasseh and Amen forsook the worship of Jehovah altogether. And walked not in the way of the Lord; i.e. did not even maintain an outward observance of the Law of Moses, but set it wholly aside.
2 Kings 21:23
And the servants of Amon—i.e. his attendants, the officers of his court—conspired against him, and slew the king in his own house. Conspiracies in the palace, frequent in Israel (see 1 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 9:32-37; 2 Kings 11:10, 25, 30), were not unknown in Judah (see 2 Kings 12:21). They naturally arose from various causes, as insults, injuries, hopes of advantage, ambition, etc. Where, as in the present case, no clue is given, it is idle to conjecture the motives by which the conspirators were actuated. Religious motives can scarcely have come into play.
2 Kings 21:24
And the people of the land slew all them that had conspired against King Amon. We certainly, therefore, cannot attribute Amon's murder to a popular reaction against his idolatries. Everything unites to prove that the foreign worships were in favor with the people at this period, and that the kings who patronized them were more generally popular than those who pursued the opposite course. And the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his stead. The prestige of the house of David was still strong. The conspirators may have intended a change of dynasty; but the mass of the people could not contemplate with equanimity the occupation of the throne by a stranger—one not of David's house. They there, in a tumultuary manner, having punished the conspirators with death, sought out the true heir, and, having found him, though he was a boy of but eight years of age, placed him upon his father's throne.
2 Kings 21:25
Now the rest of the acts of Amen which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? No other acts of Amen have come down to us. He was probably, during his short reign of two years, a submissive tributary of Asshur-bani-pal.
2 Kings 21:26
And he was buried in his sepulcher in the garden of Uzza—i.e. in the same place as his father (see 2 Kings 21:18)—and Josiah his son reigned in his stead. So the writer of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 33:25), and Josephus (l.s.c.)
2 Kings 21:1-18
The lesson of Manasseh's life, that it is far easier to do than to undo evil.
Manasseh, carried away by the impetuosity of youth, and under the advice of evil counselors, threw himself into a movement the direct opposite of that instituted by his father, and in a short time completely changed in all respects the whole religion of the kingdom. His idea, so far as we can trace it, seems to have been a welcoming of heathen and idolatrous creeds and rites of all kinds and from all quarters, together with a stern repression of the religion of Jehovah. The bloody rites of Moloch, the licentious orgies of the Syrian goddess, the Phoenician Baal-worship, the Arabian astrology, the magic and necromancy of Babylon, were all regarded as equally worthy of his patronage, all given a home in his capital; one single cult was disallowed, and its exercise punished with death—the worship of "the Holy One of Israel." In all these respects Manasseh found it easy enough to work his will; no one resisted him; the awful child-sacrifices suited well with one side of the national temperament, the wild sensualism of Syrian and Phoenician orgies harmonized with another. Manasseh easily "seduced" the mass of the people to do as he would have them; and, when he met with recalcitrants, had a "short and easy method" with them—the method of instant execution. All went smoothly and satisfactorily with him, probably for near thirty years of his reign, when by some act—we know not what-he displeased his Assyrian suzerain, was carried captive to Babylon, and there, in the bitterness of confinement, brought to see the error of his ways. Restored to his throne, he thought to undo his evil work as easily and completely as he had done it. Again, outwardly no one resisted his will. The external changes were made. "The strange gods" were "put away" (2 Chronicles 33:15); the idols cleared out of the house of the Lord; the idolatrous altars banished; the formal worship of Jehovah reintroduced; the brazen altar of Solomon "repaired" (2 Chronicles 33:16) and used for sacrifice; Judah commanded to serve Jehovah, the God of Israel. But the spirit of true and pure religion could not be brought back. Thirty years of idolatry had debauched the heart of the nation. Jehovah's faithful followers had been martyred. The rest of the people could only give to Jehovah a lip-service. And thus no sooner was Manasseh dead than everything reverted into its former condition. The idols were restored—the altars to the host of heaven replaced in the temple courts—the flames of Tophet relighted—the filthy rites of the Dea Syria re-established. When Josiah came to the throne, the state of things was as bad as it had ever been, even in the worst years of Manasseh. Baal was the god chiefly worshipped in Jerusalem (Zephaniah 1:4); altars to the host of heaven covered the housetops; men commonly swore by Moloch; the whole nation had "turned back from Jehovah" (Zephaniah 1:6), and the city was filled with "violence and deceit" (Zephaniah 1:9). Not even could all Josiah's efforts remedy the evil which Manasseh had brought about. The corruption was too deep-seated; and it was Manasseh's evil-doing, which he could not undo, that caused the final destruction of the kingdom (2 Kings 23:26, 2Ki 23:27; 2 Kings 24:3, 2 Kings 24:4).
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 21:1-16
Manasseh's wicked reign.
Two thoughts are brought before us by the reign of Manasseh. They are a striking contrast to one another.
I. THE POWER OF SIN.
1. We see how sin perpetuates itself. The deeds of Manasseh were just a repetition of the worst deeds of his predecessors. "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen." He built up again the high places. He made altars for Baal. He worshipped all the host of heaven. He made his son pass through the fire to Moloch. (What we have already said on these sins applies here.)
2. We see also the progressive power of s/n. There is a progress in sin from bad to worse. Manasseh imitated the sins of his predecessors. But he went further than any of them. "He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord" (verse 5). Worse than all, he set up a carved image, the idol that he had made, in the very temple of the living God. It is also stated that he shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem with blood from one end to the other (verse 16). Let us beware of the beginnings of evil.
3. We see also the power of sin to harden men's hearts. We read in 2 Chronicles that "God spake to Manasseh and his people; but they would not hearken." How often God still speaks to men by his Word, by his providences, and yet sin has so hardened their hearts, that they pay no attention to his warnings, remonstrances, and appeals!
II. THE POWER OF PRAYER. There is no reference in this account of Manasseh to any prayer of his. And yet, strange though it may seem, prayer played an important part in Manasseh's history. When we turn to the summary of his life which is given in 2 Chronicles 33:1-25; we read (2 Chronicles 33:18, 2 Chronicles 33:19), "Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake unto him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him, and all his sins, and his trespass … before he was humbled: behold, they are written among the sayings of the seers." Now, what was this prayer of Manasseh? It was simply a prayer for pardon. Observe how Manasseh learned to pray. For all his wickedness the Lord brought judgments upon him (verses 10-15). He brought upon him and his people "the captains of the host of the King of Assyria, which took Manasseh prisoner, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon." It was then, in his extremity and calamity, that Manasseh learned to pray. "And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God" (2 Chronicles 33:12, 2 Chronicles 33:13). Often it is affliction and trial that first teach men to pray, to turn to God. We see here the power of penitent prayer. We see here that no one is too great a sinner to pray to God for mercy. Your past life may have been given up to sin. So was Manasseh's. You may have dishonored and disobeyed God. So did Manasseh. Yet he obtained mercy. The greatest, guiltiest sinner may get pardon at the cross. "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 21:19-24
Amon's wicked reign.
We have here more than one instructive lesson.
I. THE POWER OF EVIL OFTEN COUNTERACTS THE GOOD. Manasseh had humbled himself before God. He obtained pardon. But he could not undo the guilty past. He could not undo the effects of his evil example and influence. We see how his sins were imitated and continued by his son Amen. How careful we should be what influence we exercise, what an example we leave behind us! Many a penitent sinner would give worlds if he could undo the consequences to others of his own past sins.
II. THE LAW OF RETRIBUTION ONCE MORE. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Every case of disobedience against God on the part of Israel and her kings brought its corresponding penalty. Amen was very defiant in his sin. "He humbled not himself before the Lord … but trespassed more and more" (2 Chronicles 33:23). He cast off the authority of God. The day came when his own servants rose in rebellion against his authority, and conspired against him, and slew him. The conspirators also met with their punishment. "The people of the land slew all them that had conspired against King Amen" (verse 24). Amid all its corruptions, the nation had not yet utterly lost the sense of justice. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 21:1-18
Manasseh; or, the material and moral in human life.
"Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord," etc. "Manasseh" says Keil, "having begun to reign at an early age, did not choose his father's ways, but set up the idolatry of his grandfather Ahaz again, since the godless party in the nation, all whose chief priests, and (false) prophets stood, and who would not hearken to the Law of the Lord, and in the time of Hezekiah had sought help against Assyria, not from Jehovah, but from the Egyptians, had obtained control of the young and inexperienced king. He built again the high places which Hezekiah had destroyed, erected altars for Baal, and Asherah, like Ahab of Israel." There are two great mistakes prevalent amongst men—one is an over-estimation of the secular; the other, a depreciation of the spiritual. Many theoretically hold, and more practically indicate, that man should attend mainly, if not entirely, to his secular interests, as a citizen of time; that the present, the palpable, and the certain should engage a far greater portion of his attention than the future, the unseen, and the probable. It is bad to hold these ideas, but it is worse to practice them. More respect, perhaps, is due to the mistaken men who theoretically adopt them, than to those who denounce in no very measured terms their votaries and yet practically carry them out in their daily life. And yet such characters abound in Christian England, abound in our congregations, and in our clergy too. The religionist who gives more of his thought, energy, and time to the secular than the spiritual, is carrying out in his everyday conduct the principles of those secular and infidel teachers against whom he is ever ready to thunder his condemnation. Far more distressed am I at the practical secularism of the Christian than at the theoretical secularism of the skeptic. The other mistake is overrating the spiritual at the expense of the secular. It is not very uncommon for religious teachers to profess to despise secular interests, and so to enforce the claims of piety as if they required the sacrifice of our corporeal and secular happiness. I have no faith in such representations of moral duty. Man is one, and all his duties and interests are concurrent and harmonious; the end of Christianity is to make man happy, body and soul, here and hereafter. These remarks are suggested by the history of Manasseh. He was the son of Hezekiah; was born upwards of seven hundred years before Christ; began to reign when he was twelve years of age; continued his rulership for fifty-five years, died at the age of sixty-eight, and was buried in a sepulcher which he had prepared for himself in his own garden (see 2 Chronicles 33:1-20). His inner life or character will appear as we proceed in the illustration of our subject. In his biography we have three instructive views of the secular and spiritual. We have here—
I. THE ELEVATION OF THE SECULAR AND THE DEGRADATION OF THE SPIRITUAL. "He built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab King of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them," etc. Here is a man at the height of the secular elevation. He is raised to a throne, called to bear sway over a people the most enlightened, and in a country as fertile and lovely as any on the face of the earth. In the person of this Manasseh you have secular greatness in its highest altitude and most attractive position. But in connection with this you have spiritual degradation. Penetrate the gaudy trappings of his royalty, look within, and what see you? A low, wretched, infamous spirit, a spirit debased almost to the lowest point in morals. Few names in the history of our sinful world stand out with more prominent features of depravity and vice than this of Manasseh. Look at him:
1. Socially. How acted he as a son? His father, Hezekiah, was a man of undoubted piety—a monarch of distinguished worth. Many earnest prayers he offered, no doubt, for his son, and many tender counsels on religious subjects had he addressed to him. Yet what was the return for all this? His sire was scarcely cold in his grave before the son commenced undoing in the kingdom all that his pious father had for years endeavored to accomplish. His insane fanaticism in the cause of debased religion was not surpassed even by the king in modern times who most resembled him, Philip II. of Spain. How did he act as a parent? Was he anxious for the virtue and happiness of his children? No; "he caused his children to pass through the fire of the son of Hinnom." History represents the god Moloch, to which this Manasseh presented his children, as a brazen statue, which was ever kept burning hot, with its arms outstretched. Into these outstretched arms the idolatrous parent threw his children, which soon fell down into the raging furnace beneath.
2. Religiously. A dupe of the most stupid imposture. "He observed times, and used enchantments [and used witchcraft], and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards." He was the maddened votary of the most cruel and monstrous superstition.
3. Politically. Ruining his own country, provoking the indignation of Heaven. "So Manasseh 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." The elevation of the secular and the degradation of the spiritual, so manifest, alas! in all times and lands, is not destitute of many grave and startling suggestions.
1. It shows the moral disorganization of the human world. This state of things can never be according to the original plan of the creation. Can it be accordant with the original purpose of the Creator that wickedness should sit on thrones and hold the scepters of the world in its grasp? Can it be that Infinite Parity intended to endow depravity with such worldly wealth and power? Impossible. A terrible convulsion has happened to the human world, a convulsion that has thrown every part into disorder. "All the foundations of the earth are out of course." The social world is in a moral chaos. The Bible traces the cause and propounds the remedy of this terrible disorganization.
2. It shows the perverting capability of the son. The greater the amount of worldly good a man possesses, the stronger is the appeal of the Creator for his gratitude and devotion. These earthly mercies urge self-consecration. Moreover, the larger the amount of worldly wealth and power, the greater the facilities as well as the obligations to a life of spiritual intelligence, holiness, and piety. But here, in the case of this monarch, you have, what indeed you find in different degrees everywhere in human life past and present, the soul turning these advantages to the most fiendish iniquity. The perverting capability of the soul within us may well fill us with amazement and alarm. We can darken the light of truth, make the tree of life drop poison, and cause the very breath of God to be pestilential.
3. It shows the high probability of a judgment. Under the government of a righteous monarch, will vice always have its banquets, its purple, and its crown? Will the great Mechanician always allow the human engine thus to ply its wondrous energies in confusion? Will the great Lord allow his stewards to misappropriate his substance, and never call them to account? It cannot be! There must come a day for balancing long-standing accounts; a day for making all that has been irregular in human history chime harmoniously with the original law of the universe.
II. THE DEGRADATION OF THE SECULAR AND THE ELEVATION OF THE SPIRITUAL. The judgment of God, which must ever follow sin, at length overtook the wicked monarch. The Assyrian army, under the direction of Esarhaddon, invaded the country, and carried all before it. The miserable monarch can make no effectual resistance. He is seized, bound in chains, transported to Babylon, and then cast into prison. Here is secular degradation. Here, away in exile, chains, and prison, like the prodigal, he began to think. His guilty conduct passed under sad review—memory brought past crimes and abused mercies in awful and startling forms before him, and his heart is smitten with contrition. He prays; his prayer is heard; and here, bereft of every vestige of secular greatness, he begins to rise spiritually, to become an intellectual and moral man (2 Chronicles 33:12). We may learn from this:
1. That man's circumstances are no necessary hindrances to conversion. If the question were asked—What circumstances are the most inimical to the cultivation of piety? I should unhesitatingly answer—Adversity. I am well aware, indeed, that adversity, as in the case before us, often succeeds in inducing religious thoughtfulness and penitence, when prosperity has failed; that afflictions have often broken the moral slumber of the soul, and led the careless to consider his ways. But, notwithstanding this, I cannot regard adversity itself as the most suited to the cultivation of the religious character. Sufferings are inimical to that grateful feeling and spiritual effort which religious culture requires. It is when the system bounds with health, when Providence smiles on the path, when the mind is not necessarily pressed with anxieties about the means of worldly subsistence, when leisure and facilities for religious reflection and effort are at command, that men are in the best position to discipline themselves into a godly life. But here we find a man in the most unfavorable position, away from religious institutions and friends and books, an imprisoned exile in a pagan land, beginning to think of his ways, and directing his feet into the paths of holiness. Such a case as this meets all the excuses which men offer for their want of religion. It is often said, "Were we in such and such circumstances we would be religious." The rich man says, "Were I in humble life, more free from the anxieties, cares, responsibilities, and associations of my position, I would live a godly life." Whilst the poor, on the other hand says, with far more reason, "Were my spirit not pressed down by the crushing forces of poverty; had I sufficient of worldly goods to remove me from all necessary anxiety, I would give my mind to religion, and serve my God." The man in the midst of the excitement and bustle of commercial life says, "Were I in a more retired situation, in some rural region away from the eternal din of business—away in quiet fields and under clear skies, amidst the music of birds and brooks, I would serve my Maker." Whilst on the contrary, and with greater reason, the tenant of these quiet scenes says, "Were I distant from this eternal monotony, amidst scenes of mental stimulus and social excitement, I should be roused from the apathy, which oppresses me, and I would be a religious man." The fact, after all, is that circumstances are no necessary hindrances or helps to a religious life.
2. That Heaven's mercy is greater than man's iniquities. When conscience-stricken with the enormity of his wickedness, this one of the chief of human sinners betakes himself to his knees in humble prayer "before the God of his fathers," how is he treated? Is he scathed with a flash of retributive displeasure? Who would have wondered if he had been so? But no. Is he upbraided for his past wickedness? Who would have been surprised if he had been stunned with thunders of reproof? But no. Is he received with cold indifference? No. "He was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom." What a confirmation is here of that promise, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon!" "Abundantly!" This is a glorious word, a word that, like the boundless heavens of God, towers and expands over a universe of sin.
III. THE CONCURRENT ELEVATION BOTH OF THE SPIRITUAL AND THE SECULAR. The Almighty hears his prayer. He is emancipated from bondage, brought back to his own country, and restored to the throne of Israel. There he is now with a true heart, in a noble position—a real great man occupying a great office. This is a rare scene; and yet the only scene in accordance with the real constitution of things and the will of God. It seems to me that if man had remained in innocence, his outward position would always have been the product and type of his inner soul; that he who got a throne would do so because of the moral nobility of his nature, and that in all cases secular circumstances, whether elevated, affluent, or otherwise, would ever be the effects and exponents of spiritual character. Manasseh's restoration to the throne, and the work of reformation to which he sets himself, suggest two subjects of thought.
1. The tendency of godliness to promote man's secular elevation. The monarch comes back in spirit to God, and God brings him back to his throne. As the material condition of men depends upon their moral condition, improve the latter, and you improve the former. As the world gets spiritually holier, it will get secularly happier. Godliness is material as well as moral "gain." The system that best promotes godliness is the system that best promotes man's temporal well-being. And that system is the gospel Hence, let philanthropists adopt this as their grand instrument. When Christianity shall have won its triumph over all souls, men's bodies will be restored to their lost inheritance of health, elasticity, force, and plenty, as Manasseh was now restored to his lost throne. There is a physical millennium for the world as well as a spiritual; the former will grow out of and reveal the latter, as trees and flowers their hidden life.
2. The tendency of penitence to make retribution; Concerning Manasseh, it is thus written: "Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at 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," etc. Here is restitution, and an earnest endeavor to undo the mischief which he had wrought. Thus Zacchaeus acted, and thus all true penitents have ever acted and will ever act. True penitence has a restitutionary instinct. But how little, alas I of the mischief done can ever be undone! What can we do? We cannot destroy the fact of wrong. That fact will never be erased from the moral annals of the universe; it is chronicled with unfading ink on an imperishable substance. What can we do? We cannot destroy the influence of our wrong. The wrong that is gone out from us will roll its pestilential streams down through the ages. What can we do? We can "cease to do evil;" and, thank God! we can do more—we can make some compensation for the injury we have done the creation. We can, by Heaven's grace, open up within us a fountain for the washing away of sin and uncleanness—a fountain whose streams will bless with life and beauty many generations yet to come.—D.T.
2 Kings 21:19-26
"Amon was twenty and two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem." This is a short account of the brief and wicked reign of Amon the son of Manasseh.
I. HIS REIGN WAS VERY SHORT. "He reigned two years," etc. The wonder is that such a man should have been permitted to breathe the breath of life. The sooner a bad king dies the better.
1. The better for his own sake. It restrains his own responsibilities and the aggravation of his guilt.
2. The better for his race. A fountain of moral poison has been dried up for him; the social air is less poisonous.
II. HIS REIGN WAS VERY WICKED. "And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them." Of the wickedness of kings we have had abundant examples in these sketches. It is, indeed, a fire that burns athwart the ages.
III. THE REIGN WAS VERY TRAGICAL. "And the servants of Amon conspired against him, and slew the king in his own house." How tragic the end of this man! His "servants," who should have guarded him, murdered him. "His own house," that should have been his castle of defense, was the place of his execution. In this verse the people:
1. Did justice to the traitors who murdered their king.
2. Did kindness to themselves in preparing the way for Josiah.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 21:1-9, 2 Kings 21:16
The reaction under Manasseh.
Light and dark alternate strangely in the later history of Judah. Overlooking the brief reign of Amon, Hezekiah alternates with Ahaz, and Josiah with Manasseh. The good kings are very good, the bad kings very bad. The climax of wickedness is reached in Manasseh. He had a good father, as Hezekiah had a wicked one, yet he outstripped in daring ungodliness all the kings before and after him.
I. HIS PRECOCITY IN EVIL.
1. His tendencies were evil. Manasseh's tender years when he became king do not wholly explain the strong bent he showed towards evil He became king, it is true, when he was but twelve, a mere boy, with character unformed, and open to the seductions of wicked courtiers; but Josiah, his grandson, was only eight when he ascended the throne, and he showed a disposition the very opposite. Nor does environment explain everything. Josiah had far fewer advantages than Manasseh. Evil influences were round the young prince, but there were good ones also. Hezekiah his father would give him the best of training; his mother, Hephzibah, if it was she that suggested the prophet's allusion in Isaiah 62:5, seems to have left a fragrant memory behind her; Isaiah was still living to be his instructor, if he had been willing to be guided as Josiah was (2 Kings 12:2); there were also the remarkable mercies God had shown to his father and to the nation but a few years before. Contrast Josiah's position, with Amon for a father, and the country in the state to which it was reduced after half a century of heathenism. There is no accounting for these differences through heredity, environment, or in any other way which ignores personality. While as a rule the children of the good turn out well, and the children of the wicked badly, there are startling exceptions on either side. Some from their childhood seem to be the subjects of an innate, virulent depravity, which only needs opportunity to break out into violent forms of evil.
2. His environment was evil. At the same time, it is to be admitted that the circumstances in which he was placed only afforded too much encouragement to the development of Manasseh's ungodly tendencies. It was undeniably a disadvantage to be so early deprived of a father's guidance, and saddled with the responsibilities of a throne. The courtly aristocratic party had never been in real sympathy with Hezekiah's reforms, and they doubtless eagerly embraced the opportunity afforded by the accession of a young king of influencing him to a different line of conduct. Throughout the country also Hezekiah's reformation had been largely external, and people were tired of the restraints which it imposed. The reaction which ensued has been compared to that of queen Mary's reign after the death of Edward VI; or of the Restoration after the Puritan strictness of the Commonwealth. The upper and aristocratic classes of a country have seldom been marked by their fondness for earnest religion. The way of the world and fashion are far more ruling influences with them, and as at this time "Nineveh was to Western Asia what the Paris of Louis XIV. was to Europe," it can easily be understood that "not to imitate it was to be provincial and vulgar" (Geikie). The moment the heathen spirit got the upper hand, and secured the countenance of the king, it was sure to prevail. The earnest followers of Jehovah shrank down into an inconsiderable minority.
II. HIS EXCESSES IN IDOLATRY. The account given of Manasseh's doings shows to what lengths he went in undoing the arrangements of his father. He seems, in fact, to have aimed at nothing less than a complete suppression of the worship of Jehovah, and the reorganization of the religious cult of the nation upon foreign models.
1. He rebuilt the high places. These Hezekiah had pulled down—a point of attainment to conformity with God's Law not reached by any previous king. Manasseh now reversed that action of his father, and rebuilt the shrines. The centralization of worship in Jerusalem may have been felt to be irksome; perhaps, too, the bad character of many of the priests added to its unpopularity. Manasseh may have claimed to he going back to old custom, with the end of making religion more free, popular, and joyous in its character. In this he had the mass of the people, and most of the official classes with him, as "in England the bulk of the nation and of the clergy returned at once to Romanism, when restored by Mary, after the death of Edward VI." It is a sad thing to see a nation going back from any high point of attainment—Reformation or other—as, again, it is a sad thing to see one individual building again the things which he destroyed (Galatians 2:18).
2. His wholesale importation of idolatries.
(1) Foreign idolatries. Manasseh exceeded even Ahaz in the zeal with which he imported idolatries of every kind from foreign nations. Baal and Astarte worship, of course, was introduced after the pattern of Ahab, and the Asherah symbol again reared itself in public view in Jerusalem. The taste of Ahaz for new altars was more than surpassed under the auspices of his successor. There was imported also, in grander style than ever, the worship of the sun and moon and heavenly bodies—the white horses and chariots of the sun being now one of the institutions of the temple (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Kings 23:11). "Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods?" asks a prophet (Jeremiah 2:11); but Judah had changed her God for senseless idols. A policy of this kind is bound to end in the dissolution of a nation. The deepest bond of nationality is religion, and when a people renounces its traditional faith, and becomes a mere receptacle for a chaos of foreign religious ideas, it is sure, ere long, to fall to pieces. The Roman Empire was in this condition before its fall.
(2) The worst idolatries. It was not merely foreign idolatries which Manasseh introduced, but the worst, the vilest, and the most cruel of these idolatries. In particular, license was given to the practice of the worst and vilest rites of the Astarte-worship, and that close by the very house of the Lord (2 Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:7); while the fearful worship of Moloch, with its human sacrifices, was revived, and the king himself gave sanction to it by devoting at least one of his sons to the fire. These were the abominations for which God had cast out the original inhabitants of the land, and now they were reintroduced in full force.
(3) The attendant superstitions of idolatry. Idolatry here, as elsewhere, brought in its train a host of other baleful superstitions. Those who forsake God have ever been prone to fall a prey to the most childish delusions and impostures. The worship of the heavenly bodies brought with it the practice of astrology; the craving for communion with the unseen world led to necromancy, witchcraft, and enchantments; boasting a false freedom, the mind fell into an abject slavery to demonism (cf. the development of spiritualism in our own day). The movers in this new introduction of idolatry would no doubt claim the praise due to minds enlightened and emancipated from the narrow ideas in which the people of Judah hitherto had been bound. They were bringing in a new era of toleration, culture, breadth of view and sentiment, and the result was to be a great improvement in the state of the nation. In reality they were loosening all religious and social bonds, and opening the floodgates to corruption.
3. His desecration of the temple. The tale of Manasseh's iniquities is not yet ended. Not content with bringing new idolatries into vogue, Manasseh set to work systematically to overthrow the worship of Jehovah, and put his foreign gods in the place devoted to Jehovah's honor. Neither Athaliah nor Ahaz had ventured to introduce idolatry into the temple, but Manasseh took this step beyond either of them. He set up his numerous altars in the house of the Lord. Specially he erected altars for the worship of the host of heaven in the two courts of the temple. Then, to cap all, he introduced into the very building itself an image of the Asherah he had made, replete as that was with vile associations. Insult to Jehovah could go no further. In that very place of which Jehovah had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my Name there;" "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my Name forever; "—even there, in the very dwelling-place of the holy God among men, this impure symbol was erected. The Asharah-image in the temple was, as it were, the summing-up in symbol of the whole apostasy of the people, the formal token of their breach of the covenant, on fidelity to which depended their possession of the land, and as such, the desecration is frequently alluded to (Jeremiah 7:30; Jeremiah 19:3-5).
4. His shedding of innocent blood. This is the final and culminating charge against Manasseh, "Be shed innocent blood very much, Sill he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another." The words speak to a deliberate and organized persecution of Jehovah's servants—perhaps a massacre such as that of St. Bartholomew in France, a determined attempt to crush out in blood all dissent from and opposition to the king's measures. This is the persecution in which it is said that Isaiah perished. It is the shedding of innocent blood which, we are told further, "the Lord would not pardon" (2 Kings 24:4). "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalms 116:15). We see from this example what the spirit of false toleration, of spurious culture, of the breadth of view which confounds truth and error, leads to; what real intolerance and hatred of God underlie it. Rights of conscience will meet with scant recognition under any system which denies the true God.
III. HIS LATE REPENTANCE. It is a valuable appendix to this history which we find in the Book of Chronicles. There we are told what we should not have suspected from the narrative before us, that Manasseh late in life repented of his sin, and obtained mercy from God (2 Chronicles 33:11-17). We have had instances of kings reigning well through the greater parts of their lives and failing at the close; this is the first and only case of a Jewish king reigning ill and finally repenting. We are taught by the story of Manasseh's repentance:
1. The seeds of early instruction may blossom after many days. Who can doubt but that it was the impressions received in early days which at last revived, and brought Manasseh back to Jehovah.
2. There is hope for the worst sinners. After Manasseh, surely any one. Nor did his conversion take place till his course was nearly run. We should despair of none. Miracles of grace as great as this have perhaps rarely been witnessed, but they have been witnessed.
3. God subdues men to himself by affliction. It was while a prisoner in Babylon—taken there by the captains of the King of Assyria—that Manasseh found the Lord.
4. Repentance does not always secure the reversal of the temporal effects of sin. The wickedness of Manasseh through a long reign wrought out its effects independently of him. His conversion came too late to undo them. The blood he had shed "the Lord would not pardon." The nation was inculpated as well as he, and though he repented, it did not. It is an awful thought that no after-repentance can obliterate the effects of words spoken and deeds done while sin still had dominion over us. Nor can the effects of sin on our own health, characters, usefulness, etc; ever be completely recalled.—J.O.
2 Kings 21:10-18
In all that he had done, Manasseh had not only sinned himself, but had "seduced" others to sin (verse 9). Persons in high positions have this great influence. They are the natural social leaders, and their example tells powerfully for good or evil. The prophets, however, though as it proved at the risk of their lives, did not fail to warn him. It was no doubt their faithful denunciations, and the terrible evils they predicted, which brought down upon them the king's wrath, and led to the great persecution.
I. MANASSEH MORE WICKED THAN THE CANAANITES. He had "done wickedly above all that the Amorites did." His deeds may have been the same, but his guilt was greater than theirs, inasmuch as:
1. His light was greater than theirs. The Canaanites had the light of nature, and that, indeed, sufficed to render them inexcusable (Romans 1:18-32; Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15). But Manasseh had the light of revelation. He was king of a nation to which God had made fully known the truth of his Being, character, and attributes; which had laws and statutes given to it such as no other nation possessed (Deuteronomy 4:6-8); and which enjoyed the living ministry of holy prophets. He had also had the advantage of a pious father's example and training. For such a one to go back to the sins of the Amorites was a heinous offence. It made his wickedness greater than theirs. We shall be judged by the light we possess (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48), and if our light is not improved it will be more tolerable for heathen nations than for us (Matthew 11:21-24; Matthew 12:41, Matthew 12:42).
2. He was guilty of apostasy; they were not. If the Amorities did these abominations, and served these idols, it could at least be said that they had never lived under any other system. God had suffered them to walk in their own way (Acts 14:16; Acts 17:30). But in his evil Manasseh was guilty of a direct act of apostasy. He was going back from past attainments. He was violating a covenant made at Sinai, and repeatedly renewed. It is a different thing for a heathen to commit the vile acts in which he has been brought up, and for a Christian to renounce Christian training and baptismal engagements, and do the same acts.
3. The corruption of the best is the worst. This is another principle which explains why Manasseh's abominations are represented as worse than those of the Amorites. A nation, being once enlightened, cannot sin as the semi-ignorant heathen do. It develops worse and more virulent evils. As a brute cannot sin in the same way as a man, or a child in the same way as an adult, so a nation enlightened by revelation can no longer sin as a nation does which has not this light. The higher consciousness reacts upon the sin and modifies it. There are evils possible under a Christian civilization which surpass anything known in heathenism. If our great cities show higher heights of virtue, they could also reveal lower depths of vice than Nineveh, Rome, Pekin, or Calcutta.
II. THE SEVERITY OF JERUSALEM'S PUNISHMENT.
1. The grounds of the punishment. These are twofold:
(1) Manasseh's sins as above described. "Because Manasseh King of Judah hath done these abominations," etc. (verse 11). In this sin of the king, however, the people shared. He "made Judah also to sin with his idols." King and people, therefore, must suffer together. There is a corporate responsibility, which involves a community in common guilt, whether the sin proceeds from the head or the members.
(2) The entail of past transgression. "Because they have done evil in my sight since the day their fathers came forth from Egypt, unto this day" (verse 15). That entail would have been cut off by timely repentance, but, in default of repentance, the guilt continues to be handed down. This is another phase of corporate responsibility. The life of the nation is continuous, and one generation has to accept its responsibilities from another. We see the same principle, e.g; in the handing down of national doubt. Christ views the Jewish nation of his day as chargeable with all the righteous blood that had been shed from the days of Abel downwards (Matthew 23:35).
2. The character of the punishment. It would be:
(1) Startling. "Such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle." Wars, sieges of cities, and captivities, with the horrors attendant on them, were common enough in those days, but this vengeance of God on Jerusalem would be so awful as to shock and amaze even those familiarized with such scenes. The very report of it would produce a stinging sound in their ears. The fulfillment of the threat was partly under Nebuchadnezzar, but completely under the Romans (Matthew 24:21).
(2) Measured. "I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab." The idea is that God would take strict account of Judah's sin, as already he had done of that of Samaria. The measuring-line and 'plummet are introduced for purposes of precision. God would measure exactly the transgression of the people; would note precisely the degree of their deviation from righteousness (cf. Amos 7:7-9); and to this measured guilt the punishment would be proportioned. The reason of measurement was that judgment was no more to be qualified by mercy. The nation was to bear the full load of its iniquity. It is a terrible thing when God thus "marks iniquity" (Psalms 130:3); for then the case of the sinner is hopeless.
(3) Complete. "I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish," etc. "I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance," etc. The figure of cleansing out a dish till it is as clean as wiping can make it is a very graphic one for the utter emptying and desolation that was to overtake Jerusalem. The city would not simply be humbled, as on many previous occasions, but would be completely destroyed, and the people led away by their enemies as a prey and a spoil. The predictions, as we know, were fulfilled to the letter. Manasseh might kill the men who uttered them, but he could not hinder their words from coming true; nay, his violence put a new seal on the certainty of their fulfillment. In the temporal calamities that were to overtake Jerusalem, we find a proof that verily there "is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psalms 58:11), and we are warned lest we provoke his "wrath to the uttermost" (1 Thessalonians 2:16) by our own impenitence.
III. MANASSEH'S DEATH. The reign of more than half a century came at length to a close, and, though the last years of it were marked by repentance, it left indelible traces of evil on the condition of the people. That by which Manasseh was specially remembered was "his sin that he sinned." He was buried in "the garden of his own house, the garden of Uzza." Amen also was buried in this garden (verse 26). There was another garden which had a sepulcher in it (John 19:41); but how different the sleepers!—J.O.
2 Kings 21:19-26
The reign of Amen.
In this king we have—
I. A PALER COPY OF HIS FATHER. The only noteworthy facts about Amen, during his brief two years' reign, are:
1. His imitation of Manasseh's wickedness. His father, during the greater part of his reign, had set an evil example, but towards its close he had repented. Amen did not imitate the repentance, but imitated the sin. He walked in all the ways his father had walked in, apparently setting up again the idols which his father had latterly removed (2 Chronicles 33:15).
2. He was the father of a good son, viz. Josiah, his successor. This is another of the surprising alternations of character already alluded to. How Josiah came out of such a home with the character he did must remain inexplicable, unless we are to attribute it to his grandfather's influence after his return from Babylon.
II. ANOTHER VICTIM OF COURT CONSPIRACY. Joash and Amaziah among the kings of Judah had met their death by conspiracy (2 Kings 12:20, 2 Kings 12:21; 2 Kings 14:19), and many of the king of Israel had thus perished. But no king of Judah came to this end till he had first fallen away from God. Amen had a like miserable death. His servants conspired against him, and slew him in his own house. The fact that they dared to do so may indicate a tendency to reaction in the public mind against the excesses of idolatry in which the king indulged. The people, however, had no intention of allowing conspirators to seize the throne, so they slew the murderers, and set up Josiah as king. This, again, for a time led to a great reaction for the better.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26