The Depth of God's Forgiveness
The life of King Manasseh is recorded in the Scriptures in two places, 2 Kings 21 and a more complete account in 2 Chron. 33. Of all the kings of Judah, there were perhaps none more evil than Manasseh. Tradition tells us that He was probably the one who gave the order to have Isaiah the prophet sawn in two. (see Heb 11:37) Apart from Hezekiah being his father, there is very little evidence to indicate that he was even linked with God's people. And yet he was.
Raised in royalty, Manasseh had the benefit of a godly parent in Hezekiah, king of Judah. It was Hezekiah who had accomplished great things for God during his prosperous reign. Under his leadership, Hezekiah rebuffed Assyrian attempts to subjugate the kingdom. He successfully fended off two sieges by the Assyrian king Sennacherib with the latter campaign ending in a glorious victory through the intercession of Isaiah, which led to a sweeping revival across the land. So great was the reverence for this godly king Hezekiah that 2 Chronicles 32:33 points out that "all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem honored him at his death," a rare instance for a king in those days. This was the heritage of Manasseh as he came to the throne at the age of twelve. But rather than following in the ways of his father as might have been expected, a different type of ruler emerged. We read that Manasseh "did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel" (2 Chr. 33:2) Further, he rebuilt the idolatrous altars that his father had so diligently worked to eradicate from the land. He worshiped the host of heaven (v. 3) brazenly setting carved images in Solomon's temple which should have remained wholly dedicated to God's glory. So evil was Manasseh that he even practiced child sacrifice, witchcraft, and sorcery, further provoking the anger of the LORD. Under his wicked reign, the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem were enticed to sin more than the vile and godless nations that surrounded them.
What caused Manasseh to so flagrantly disregard the ways of his father? Modern psychologists would tell us that a "problem child" is usually the result of bad parenting or insufficient education. But that premise was not true in Manasseh's case. From an economic standpoint, he probably had the best childhood that money could offer. No doubt he had a nice home since it is unlikely that his godly father would have neglected to purge the royal household of items that would have caused the spiritual ruin of his son. Over a dozen times in the first seven verses we read of Manasseh's deliberate and godless actions that God held him personally account for--"He did evil..." (v.2), "He rebuilt the high places..." (v.3), "He built altars for all the host of heaven (v.5), "He practiced soothsaying..." (v.6), "He set carved images..." (v.7), the summary effect described in verse 9--"So Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil..." The biblical truth that "foolishness is bound in the heart of the child..." was clearly evidenced in Manasseh's life. Now with a clear path before him, he ran recklessly into the snare of sin and became its slave. Manasseh had made a deliberate choice to disregard the ways of his father and thus began the downhill course of sin in his life. But God was not silent during this time of spiritual declension in the nation. His voice can always be heard even in the midst of repeated resistance to His Word. "And the LORD spoke by His servants the prophets..." (II Kings 21:10), but because they were so anesthetized by their sin that they would not hearken. Disobedience and self-deception of that magnitude can only be corrected through severe judgment by the hand of God. As a result, the LORD brought upon Judah, the powerful nation of Assyria who now saw their opportunity to penetrate the sin-distracted nation. The prize spoil--Manasseh--who was carried away in humiliation to Babylon. What a striking picture of the ultimate consequences and destructive price tag of sin! Here was a king of one of the most powerful nations on earth at the time, being led about like a barnyard animal. How deceptive sin can be! Little did Manasseh realize when he started out in life that his "little" choices would be bring him so low. But such are the ways of sin. Allowed to have its way, it mocks its victims and shows how utterly powerless we are against it, apart from God. Just as the prodigal son had "bottomed out" wishing to eat the very food of the swine which he tended, so too Manasseh came to his senses "being in much affliction." (v.12) At the nadir of his pitiful condition he humbled himself greatly before God, praying and beseeching Him for mercy and grace. It was during this horrid condition, that Manasseh was converted. "Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God." (v.13) Until this point, all that he had heard regarding the God of Israel fell to the ground without any personal application. As a result, there was no life and no true relationship with the living God. But now with his "spiritual eyes" opened and aware of a deeper need in his life, God heard his prayer and forgave his sin.
Just how deep is God's forgiveness? Certainly it is deep enough to cleanse the worst of society. Wesley said it well in his hymn, "His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me!" The corridors of history are filled with the testimonies of those who can personally speak of the power of God's grace and forgiveness. No doubt the words of Isaiah the prophet whom Manasseh slew, rang loud in his ears: "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is His ear heavy that it cannot hear...." (Isa. 59:1)How true it was in his life, and how true it has proven to be in the lives of a countless multitude who have been redeemed by the Lord.
A forgiven and cleansed life like Manasseh's does not soon forget the debt it owes. With the same intensity of his former life, Manasseh set out to make good for all the evil He had previously committed. He repaired the wall outside the city of David, (v.14), "he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD." (v.15) "He also repaired the altar of the LORD... and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel." (v.16) Though the record indicates that there were residual remains from his former lifestyle, he made every attempt possible to undo his wicked past. For the most part he was successful, though he was buried "in his own house" (v.20) without the same honors as his father. Though there were inerasable consequences of his sinful past, he died a forgiven man.
King Manasseh will forever go down in Biblical history as a shining example of the power of God to forgive. His is a life that gives encouragement to the worst of sinners and to those who are praying for them, because it shows just how far God can reach down to rescue a life. And that same willingness and power to forgive is available now as it was in the life of Manasseh to anyone who comes humbly to God through faith in Christ