For man of the year in the 7th Century BC, how about King Manasseh of Judah?
When I started reading 2 Chronicles this time, I expected to highlight one of the good kings of Judah, probably Hezekiah or Josiah, men of faith and obedience, as my example of The Gospel in the Old Testament. But I contend there is a better choice, King Manasseh.
Manasseh? If you know anything about King Manasseh, you may remember that he is the worst king in Judah’s history, the greatest blight on the Davidic dynasty. The son of the good king, Hezekiah, served longer than any other king in Jerusalem, from age 12 to 67, a total of 55 years,
2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 provide the report. The two accounts agree that Manasseh was the worst of the worst, the baddest of the bad, in the same class as Ahab and Jezebel before him, or Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Milosevic, and other modern day killers.
Here is the record from 2 Chronicles.
2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” 5 In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
7 He took the image he had made and put it in God’s temple.
9 But 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.
10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So 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.
Good riddance! The summary in 2 Kings 21 states, 16 Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So that was a good day when Manasseh left Jerusalem.
But that’s not the end of the story. Back to the account in 2 Chronicles…
12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.
15 He got rid of 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. 16 Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.
How could a just God have such compassion on the evil Manasseh?
In our effort to discern between the good and the bad, we must face the truth that the best of us are much closer to Manasseh and Hitler than we are to the standard of righteousness demanded by God.
Paul himself declared, I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man…I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:13-17
But just as God had mercy on Manasseh, calling him to repentance, so God had mercy on Paul.
13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Any objection to God’s grace on Manasseh only reveals that we don’t understand grace, that we are seeking to justify ourselves by our goodness instead of fully leaning on God’s grace. So Manasseh illustrates the Gospel, that no matter how bad you are or have been, God’s grace expressed in the sending of Messiah, descendant to Manasseh, to be our Savior, to take our sin upon Himself and give us forgiveness and eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Ephesians 2:8