Manasseh: Evil King or Restored Reformer

good-and-evil

LIBERTY UNIVERSITY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Literary Analysis Paper

Submitted to Dr. Alvin Thompson, in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the completion of the course:

OBST 515_B01
Old Testament Orientation I

By

Jeffrey Michael Davis

October 2, 2014

Introduction

People love stories and the Bible is full of them. Stories are important for many historical reasons, but the most important reason is because people remember them and then retell them. The ability to gather insight and literary perspective can make biblical narratives come alive, so understanding who wrote it, to whom it was written for, and why it was written is only part of the exegesis. You must also look at the characters, their roles, any underlying plots, the setting, intertextuality, similarities, comparisons, contrast, and point of views to truly understand not only what the text meant to its original audience, but also how to apply it to Christians today. All of these literary devices shape what is behind the words and aids in understanding and applying the text.

Summary of II Chronicles 33:1-20

In this chapter of scripture, the Chronicler presents a time in Judah’s history where much like in the story of Judges; the people did what was right in their own eyes and only grew more apostate. The main difference in this time period was there was now a king and each king either did what was right in the eyes of the Lord or they did not. Over the course of Judah’s history, they had twenty kings: only eight were good and twelve were apostate of which, Manasseh was considered the worst.

Literary Devices

The main character/villain in this story is King Manasseh and to understand what was going on during his reign, one must understand what had happened leading up to this point in history. Manasseh’s father was Hezekiah: a king who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord yet; Manasseh was the complete opposite of his father. Hezekiah was a hero for Judah who attempted to renew God’s covenant by banning all Canaanite and Assyrian gods and their worship and Manasseh was an antihero who reversed all of his father’s Covenant renewals. The use of comparison here is dramatic; its purpose is to illustrate the difference between father and son and the chapter follows a timeline to show the degradation of character and faith, but closes with the restoration of those same attributes in Manasseh’s life.

The second character group was the people of Judah. They, much like their king, did what was right in their own eyes. While Manasseh’s final days were spent doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord; that is not the case with the people as John Wesley demonstrates: “Manasseh could not carry the reformation so far as he had carried the corruption. It is an easy thing to debauch men’s manners; but not so easy to reform them again.” Despite Manasseh’s religious reform, the people did not have the same conviction their king had; it would take exile and captivity just as it did for Manasseh to see the error in their ways. The Chronicler is writing to the exiles who have just returned home in hopes that they would not forget what landed them in captivity: apostasy and total disregard for God.

The third vital character in this story is God; He is everywhere and active in all things. On numerous occasions, the reader is presented with things Manasseh did which were evil and apostate such as bowing down to false idols to even sacrificing his own sons. The reader is also keenly aware that God has attempted to speak not only to Manasseh, but also to the people about the sin in their lives. God gave them chance after chance to turn from their wicked ways and to recognize the Covenant, but they ignored God. As a result, just as the Covenant promised, God rose up Judah’s enemy to take Manasseh into captivity to Babylon and would eventually do the same with the rest of the people in 586 BC. While God did not take delight in bringing persecution, it was during this scene of Manasseh’s imprisonment where the reader is presented with the notion God heard Manasseh’s prayer. It was after he had repented and humbled himself before God; he was restored and believed the LORD was God.

A final character in this story was the Assyrians. It is interesting how God rises up Judah’s enemy to bring His children back into communion with Him. This story is proof God can use anyone and anything to accomplish his plan. Taking Manasseh into captivity should have been a wakeup call for the people, but even Manasseh’s attempt at religious reforms in his latter days could only delay the seizing of the Promise Land and God’s children.

Reading this chapter of history raises the question: how could a nation could go from such a great king to such a horrible king? Manasseh is often compared to King Ahab and King Ahaz because of his wickedness and it is during his rule many scholars agree the judgment and fate of Israel is sealed; even Josiah, the final hero of Judah could only delay God’s judgment. William LaSor explains, “We do not find that he [Manasseh] had any godly director; his youth was therefore the more easily seduced. But surely he had a pious education; how then could the principles of it be so soon eradicated?” The plot of God’s unavoidable judgment envelops this entire chapter illustrating how sin lead to oppression, but also how oppression should lead to repentance in which case a deliver and restoration would be made possible.

The book, according to Jewish tradition, was written by Ezra or Nehemiah post-exile and regardless of authorship; it emphasized the blessings of righteous kings and the sins and curses of wicked kings. LaSor further illustrates how, “the writer of Kings can hardly contain their diatribe against Manasseh. In their view, his abominable reign made divine judgment on Judah inevitable.” The book is written from the spiritual viewpoint of a priest which is consistent with other biblical narratives highlighting the importance of priests. While the book primarily focuses on the reign of David and Solomon, the fact that it includes even the reign of a wicked king like Manasseh validates it authenticity and importance to the people it was written for and for Christians today.

The Chronicler made a point to show that the story begins with a young twelve-year-old boy who becomes king in Jerusalem and reigns for fifty-five years doing what was right in his own eyes. LaSor highlights, “Manasseh, the villain of Judah’s last days, drastically reversed the policy of Hezekiah. Ironically, though Judah’s most apostate king, he reigned longer than any of his predecessors.” It is interesting; his reign of fifty-five years was longer than any other king of Judah. This only shows how apostate the nation had become. Even with the mighty victory Judah had secured under Hezekiah; it only led the people to become more complacent in believing they were invincible. A dilemma presents itself here. How could God allow someone to rule for so long and commit such atrocities? The answer goes back to Saul and God giving the people what they wanted: a king. God wanted a king who was humble and obedient and the people wanted a mighty warrior and wanted a king for the wrong reasons. At this point in history, the Covenant promises of God were conditional and the nation was in complete violation of the terms established.

Why Manasseh reversed his father’s religious reforms is a mystery, but the end result was tragic. As a child, one can easily picture a father telling his son to do something and the child naturally choosing to rebel, but there was a point in history where Hezekiah was near death: “In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, went to him and said, ‘this is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’” However, when Hezekiah was miraculously granted another fifteen years of life to rule, it is probable after Manasseh was born a few years later, his dreams of being the sole king were slipping away with each passing year, possibly leading to bitterness and perhaps even a decision to do things his own way when he became king. It is more likely witnessing his father’s lack of regard in his latter days led to Manasseh’s apostasy. If he was going to be cursed because of his father’s sins, he probably did not think God was fair or just. Even if either of these were the case, one cannot blame youthfulness because Josiah became a great king at eight years of age and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

The Chronicler sets the stage how the very idolatrous high places Hezekiah tore down, Manasseh built back up. He even erected altars to Baal and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He broke the most important commandment: “love the Lord your God above all else and have no other gods.” He went as far to build altars in the temple of the Lord. This abomination of desolation was not even his most heinous act: he even sacrificed his own sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom; he practiced sorcery, divination, witchcraft, and regularly consulted mediums and spiritists. The story continually builds as if Manasseh was provoking the Lord to anger.

The Chronicler in verse eight compares Judah with the northern kingdom pointing out they would be in exile for the exact same reason: because of their apostasy and writes, “I will not again make the feet of the Israelites leave the land I assigned to your forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them concerning all the laws, decrees and ordinances given through Moses.” Yet, Manasseh ignored God’s promise and only led Judah and the people of Jerusalem further astray; his rule was the beginning of the end for Judah. God’s people were meant to be a light in a dark land, but they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites. The people of Judah, consumed with sin, contentedly followed their king. Like a fatal epidemic, idolatry, depravity, and wickedness spread throughout the kingdom. Under Manasseh’s rule, God’s people committed detestable sins. In fact, the nation of Judah committed more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and Manasseh even led Judah into idolatry with their false gods. “Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” The very people God called them to be witnesses to; God would use to carry them into exile. The prophets warned Judah there would be consequences to their actions, but it would literally take destroying the temple and deportation to get their attention. The author’s hope to the original post-exile audience is that God’s people would not have to learn the same lesson the hard way again.

Even though the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, they paid no attention, so to get their attention the, “LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.” This was a defining moment in Manasseh’s life. It was during his imprisonment, he cried out to God who heard his prayers and eventually restored him and his kingdom.

Adam Clark postulates:

While he was thus praying, all the presiding angels went away to the gates of prayer in heaven; and shut all the gates of prayer, and all the windows and apertures in heaven, lest that his prayer should be heard. Immediately the compassions of the Creator of the world were moved, whose right hand is stretched out to receive sinners, who are converted to his fear, and break their hearts’ concupiscence, by repentance? He made therefore a window and opening in heaven, under the throne of his glory; and having heard his prayer, he favorably received his supplication.

To show his new faith, Manasseh rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, he got rid of all the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings on it. He told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel; the people continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.

Manasseh, despite his best efforts, could not carry the reformation and transformation as far as he had carried his corruption. Getting people to sin was easy; the hard part was getting them to stop. Wickedness and depravity had spread like a virus and even though Manasseh’s heart was renewed, the heart of the people was still corrupt. Even Manasseh’s son Amon chose to do what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord and was killed by his own trusted advisors.

Interpretive Issues

Several interpretive problems arise in this passage of scripture. The first issue is how Manasseh becomes king at age twelve when Hezekiah is still king. After proper examination, it becomes apparent Manasseh is coregent with his father. It also becomes evident Hezekiah spent his latter days doing what was right in his own eyes. Realizing that God was going to punish him for his father’s sin, Manasseh likely grew to regard his father’s God as unfair and cruel. Manasseh had witnessed his father enjoying life without regard doing what was right in his own eyes and it is interesting there is no mention of Hezekiah pleading with God on behalf of his son.

Secondly, one may ask: why and how could God allow Manasseh, considered the most wicked king of Judah, to regain not only his freedom after being imprisoned, but also his kingdom? To the reader, it would seem he got exactly what he deserved; he was led away to captivity with a hook in his nose. Was this act of restoration meant to be an example of what true repentance leads to, was it to allow Manasseh to end idolatry, was it an attempt to leave a legacy of religious reform behind, or was it simply an example of God’s sovereignty and ability to use anyone and anything to accomplish His will? God sets up kings and deposes them and He is a god of second, third, and infinite chances, but while He restored Manasseh, Israel’s fate was already sealed. It is in this story and similar ones; God wants His children to know there are consequences to breaking His commandments. Clark summarizes the familiar sequence in God’s redemptive plan: “Manasseh reigns fifty-five years, and restores idolatry, pollutes the temple, and practices all kinds of abominations, vv. 1-9. He and the people are warned in vain, v. 10. He is delivered into the hands of the Assyrians, bound with fetters, and carried to Babylon, v. 11. He [Manasseh] humbles himself, and is restored, vv. 12, 13. He [Manasseh] destroys idolatry, and restores the worship of God” While God does not delight in punishing anyone, that is sometimes the only way to rouse a deaf and apostate world. Exile and wandering through the desert present seasons of renewal and opportunities to trust God. The Chronicler wanted to make sure his audience did not have to repeat the tragic result of breaking the Covenant, but as history shows, his effort was in vain.

Thirdly, in verse twenty, despite his transformation and religious reform; he was not buried with the kings, in the City of David with his ancestors, but was instead buried in his palace. The question arises: had he committed too much evil and was he too wicked to be considered a good king, despite his transformation and religious reform? This writer believes this to be true. People do not easily forget and despite His latter days being good in the eyes of the Lord; they did not make up for his earlier apostate days.

Fourthly, a common misunderstanding in this story occurs when one looks at an individual who lives their life doing whatever they want, but in the end decides to live for God. It has the potential to set a precedent for ungodly living only to “get saved” in the end. This story has a happy ending, in terms of Manasseh finishing his life doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but what is not apparent to most readers are all the consequences a life full of sin leaves. While God forgives sin when someone repents; the consequences do not go away; instead, they ripple into future generations.

Fifthly, the narrative in Kings and Chronicles differs significantly, as William Schniedewind illustrates, “a debate has raged since the 19th century over the historical value of the Chronicler narrative. This debate has been particularly acute in the case of King Manasseh since Chronicles’ characterization of Manasseh as a repentant king is in direct opposition to II Kings, which poses Manasseh as the great sinner.” Many scholars blame Manasseh for the Babylonian exile and Schniedewind parallels Manasseh’s captivity with that of Israel’s by saying, “Manasseh’s ‘Babylonian exile’ mirrors the people’s own exile and restoration. This is evident, for example, in the description of Manasseh’s captivity which has overtones that recall the exile of the last kings of Judah.” The Chronicler’s portrayal of Manasseh was reminiscent of the exile and restoration the original audience had just endured. Schniedewind advanced his argument by stating, “The Chronicler’s rewriting of Kings to serve his ‘Retribution Theology’ has been discussed among scholars, but the Chronicler’s narrative often exhibits more than an abstract theological agenda.” The priestly overtone in the Chronicle narrative was to serve as a reminder to the people for what the consequences and repercussions were to sin and apostasy. The difference between Kings and Chronicles may seem insignificant, but Baruch Halpern argues, “The differences between the books of Kings and Chronicles in recounting the history of the kingdom of Judah are manifold and obvious. Chronicles, unlike Kings, does not recognize the legitimacy of the Israelite kingdom, and therefore does not reiterate materials concerning it from its source in Kings.” Halpern illustrates how, “this catastrophe, [Babylonian exile] as is well known, Kings places squarely on the shoulders of Manasseh, son of the reformer Hezekiah and grandfather of the even more rabid reformer Josiah. Chronicles, on the other hand, blames the exile on a cumulative process of turning away from Yhwy, culminating in the reigns of Josiah’s successors. Manasseh, in Chronicles’ account, is even rehabilitated before his death.”

Lastly, each king of Israel and Judah is often compared to David as to whether they were a good king or a bad king. While David was a great king; he did make mistakes, as did Manasseh. Compared to his father, Manasseh could not have fallen farther from the tree. LaSor points out, “Hezekiah is presented as a model of moral obedience and eternal blessing, ‘he did what was right before the Lord and he prospered,’ [however,] Manasseh is portrayed in terms of two cases of turning from apostasy to obedient faith.” Overall, the Chronicler is concerned about the newly freed people turning away from God which is what led them into exile in the first place. George Santayana coined the popular saying, “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it” and this was so true in the Israelite’s history.

Timeless Application

While the bulk of the chapter deals with Manasseh’s wickedness, in the end, the Chronicler illustrates his repentance and speaks of God’s pardoning mercy and grace. God’s mercy was not getting what he deserved: the wrath of God, while God’s grace was getting what he did not deserve: restoration and blessings. After being deported to Babylon, stripped of his title and liberty, tossed into prison, and alienated from his evil entourage and advisors, Manasseh began to cry out to God for mercy and deliverance. It was only when he confessed his sins, repented, turned from his wicked ways, and humbled himself before God, Manasseh finally believed Jehovah was God and changed his ways.

Manasseh’s latter days were far better that his prior apostate ones. After he turned from wickedness, he began to see the God of salvation; he learned to fear, trust in, love, and obey God. This marked a new beginning in his life and after this metamorphosis; he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Matthew Henry’s commentary during this transformation is gripping, “Who can tell what tortures of conscience, what pangs of grief, what fears of wrath, what agonizing remorse he endured, when he looked back on his many years of apostasy and rebellion against God; on his having led thousands into sin and perdition; and on his blood-guiltiness in the persecution of a number of God’s children?” While past sins and atrocities do not go away, when you humble yourselves before the Lord, repent, and turn from your wicked way, God will forgive, heal, and restore. The same is true today; despite what has happened in someone’s past, if they repent, they will be forgiven. An area of caution here is trying to do righteous works to achieve a higher level of salvation or to try and cancel out previous mistakes. At the moment of salvation, all past sin is wiped away. While guilt and condemnation may linger, in God’s eyes, you are cleansed. When God looks at His children, He sees Christ in them. No one can earn their way into heaven and making up for previous mistakes is impossible. Christ, the spotless lamb, became sin so no one would have to live in guilt or condemnation. No human is perfect, but they are forgiven at salvation and God does not care who you were, only who you are.

A person who has committed sin their entire life, but accepts Christ as their Savior on their death bed receives no different salvation than a person who lives their entire life above reproach. While this should never be an excuse to wait until the end to decide; it illustrates nothing you have done can separate you from salvation or God’s love. Manasseh used to be a horrible person and an even worse king, but an encounter with Jehovah changed everything. After he found God, he tried to share that with others and that is what Christians are called to do. A Christian should first focus on their relationship with God and then focus on sharing that knowledge with other people.

As a Christian, people should always see Christ in you. Just as God sees Christ in you, so others should see Christ by your actions, regardless of what is going on in your life: tragedy or triumph, mountain top or desert valley. Life today is not much different than it was then. Israel had enemies on all sides, they had false gods all around them, and they had many of the same temptations that still exist today. The Chronicler’s desire was for the people to keep God first in their lives and that principle was and still is mandatory. The Great Commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind… And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” If a believer can follow these two commandments, fulfilling the Great Commission and living a life which brings honor and glory to God is attainable. God sees the heart and motives behind actions and when God is first in someone’s life; it will show by the fruit they bear.

Conclusion

This chapter, the story of Manasseh, and the principles present are timeless. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” God wanted His people to learn there were consequences to sin and apostasy, but He also wanted them to know of His unending love, mercy, and grace. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck point out, “The Chronicler included this fact about Manasseh’s restoration [not given in II Kings] to emphasize, no doubt, the fact that even the most wicked scions in David’s dynasty could and did receive forgiveness if they met the Lord’s conditions. This would give hope to the exilic and postexilic community of Jews.” King Hezekiah started his reign doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but ended his reign very badly. King Manasseh started his reign doing what was right in his own eyes, but ended with religious reform. Unfortunately, the sins of Manasseh would have a lasting impact in the kingdom of Judah.

This story illustrates the importance of remaining humble and obedient to God; when you do, life and blessings will flow, but when you do not; sin and consequences will result. Obedience is better than sacrifice; pride comes before the fall; those who search for evil will find it, but those who search for the Lord will find Him; those who obey will be rewarded, and those who humble themselves will be blessed. Being obedient and humble were the traits God wanted in a king and they are still the traits He looks for in His children today and when God is first in their lives, obedience and humbleness will always surround the individual.

Bibliography

Clarke, Adam. Adam Clarke’s Commentary. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1826, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “2 Chronicles”.

Halpern, Baruch. “Why Manasseh Is Blamed for the Babylonian Exile: The Evolution of a Biblical Tradition,” Vetus Testamentum, 48, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1998): 473-514.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 33”.

LaSor, William, David Hubbard, and Fredric Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s, 1996.

Schniedewind, William M. “The Source Citations of Manasseh: King Manasseh in History and Homily.” Vetus Testamentum 41, no. 4 (October 1991): 450-461.

Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985, WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Wesley, John. Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. London: Wesleyan-Methodist Book-Room, n.d., WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 33.”

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