Summary: Lessons from Manasseh’s Memoirs
You’re familiar with David, the Goliath-killer and shepherd king of Israel. You know a few things about his son, Solomon, the builder of the temple in Jerusalem and the guy who had 700 wives. But can you name any other Israelite king? Saul (the first king of Israel), and Ahab (the wicked king married to Jezebel) may come to mind, but what about King Manasseh? That’s not a familiar name to many Bible students and that’s surprising when you consider that Manasseh reigned 55 years, the longest of any Israelite king. Our Old Testament Scripture reading today tells us something about the life of Manasseh, which we could summarize like this: “Big Mess. Boundless Mercy.” Let’s see what lessons we can learn from Manasseh’s memoirs.
Manasseh lived about 700 years before the birth of Christ and 300 years after David had become king. His father was Hezekiah, a god-fearing king and friend of the prophet Isaiah. Hezekiah re-opened the temple which his father, King Ahaz had closed to worship. He also removed from the temple the idols Ahaz had set up in the courtyard. That’s why it’s so shocking to hear that when Manasseh became king at age 12, he didn’t follow in his father’s god-fearing footsteps. Instead he emulated his wicked grandfather, Ahaz. Listen again to our text describe the big spiritual mess for which Manasseh was responsible. “He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles... 5 In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 7 He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple…Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites” (2 Chronicles 33:3a, 5-7a, 9b).
We’re not told why Manasseh rebelled spiritually, but it probably had something to do with wanting to be like the kings of the nations around him. During Manasseh’s day Judah wasn’t a particularly powerful kingdom. It was sandwiched between the superpowers of Egypt to the south and Assyria to the north. Perhaps Manasseh thought that what made those nations so powerful were the gods that they worshipped. So why not adopt those gods as his own? That’s not unlike what a mediocre national soccer team today will do when it imports a coach from another country that’s a soccer superpower. But Manasseh was playing a dangerous spiritual game. His imports led to one sin after another. He first built altars to foreign gods and put them in the temple, then he even sacrificed his own sons by fire in a putrid form of Canaanite worship. Since Manasseh would not have received any comfort from such an act, it’s no wonder he started to consult spiritists and mediums. He must have been desperate to communicate with his sons whom he had killed, as if such communication was possible. But why not turn to the God of Israel for help? Well, no other nation’s king did that. Why should Manasseh?
Manasseh’s attitude is sadly not unheard of among the children of God-fearing parents today. When these children get on their own for the first time, they will often run from the faith, not just drift from it. Why? Because they want to fit in. But the thing is the people of this world, those who rely on themselves and on the latest pop psychology for wisdom, have nothing to offer believers that will make life better. Why, there are first graders here who know more than many college professors because you believe and acknowledge that God made the world in six days with his powerful Word. There are high school students here who, through a study of God’s Word, know better what makes a relationship work than do some of their teachers who may be on their second or third marriage. Young friends, when you get old enough to leave your parents’ home, don’t despise the spiritual training that you have received from them, shoving it into the back of your life as if it was an action figure or a Barbie you once thought was cool but now are embarrassed to be seen with. Don’t be eager to adopt the ways of the unbelieving world because you’ll just make a big mess of your life, as did Manasseh.
But parents, I have to speak to you as well. Although Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, was a god-fearing king, I wonder how much time he spent with his son in the twelve years they had together. Was Hezekiah perhaps more concerned about his work as king than in his calling as father? Did he think he would have plenty of time later with his son to train and teach him God’s Word? Or did he think that bringing him to the temple to worship was good enough, that in this way Manasseh would receive all the spiritual training he needed from the priests? It’s easy to fall into that trap as a parent, isn’t it – to think that it’s the church’s job to train the kids?