I have two dramatically different directions I’d like to go with today’s reading, and decided I’d share them both.
In 2 Chronicles 33:1-2, 6, we find, “Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. … 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.”
Did you catch that, he sacrificed his sons in the fire. As repulsive as everything else is that he did, in my mind, nothing can compare with that. That sounds horrible, and in my mind, he deserved a horrible punishment.
2 Kings 24: 1-4 tells the end of that story. It goes like this, “During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded the land, and Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years. But then he turned against Nebuchadnezzar and rebelled. The Lord sent Babylonian, Aramean, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against him to destroy Judah, in accordance with the word of the Lord proclaimed by his servants the prophets. Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.”
God annihilated the nation of Judah because of all the innocent blood Manasseh had shed. God wasn’t willing to forgive. As I read this, I have to agree that God was right in his judgement against Judah. They deserved everything they got.
But this makes me wonder, how are we different from Judah? We may not sacrifice our children in the fire, but we do have rampant abortion in our nation. I wonder, in God’s eyes, how do those two ways of shedding innocent blood differ? Which makes me wonder how much we are provoking God to anger, and what will be the end of our story as a nation. I see parallels, and they concern me.
The second thing that jumps out at me from today’s reading is that Manasseh was born during the additional 15 years that God had extended Hezekiah’s life. If Hezekiah had died when he was originally very sick, Manasseh would not have been born, and someone else would have been king. It may have been that Judah would have existed as a nation far longer. In this case, I think we can agree that for the greater good, it probably would have been better if Hezekiah had died young, so Manasseh would not have been born.
I know probably more than most, how we long to have life extended, and how we may plead with God to spare life. But I’m reminded of Isaiah 57:1-2, “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart, devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”
We don’t often think that sometimes the righteous die, basically for their own good. We view death as the enemy, and rightly so, but this life isn’t our final reward. This life is the test to see which eternal reward we will receive, life or death. It’s easy to say, but hard to put into practice that we should live so sold out for God, that we shouldn’t be concerned about our life or our death. We need to seek first God’s kingdom, and God will take care of everything else.
There seems to be a persistent theme when it comes to the kings of God’s people. There were kings who served Yahweh their God and kings who served false gods. In 2 Kings chapters 21-22, we are told a tale of two kings. The first king, Manasseh, king over Judah, did evil in the sight of Yahweh God.
Wait a minute. Didn’t we just read about a similar situation a few chapters ago? Why does history repeat itself so often? Did the people learn nothing about what it meant to follow God (or not) from their forefathers? Did they not just witness their sister kingdom of Israel being starved and then carried away into captivity because they would not listen? Or was that too far in the past to grasp? Even if their memories faded, the people of the kingdom of Judah were living out a miracle of God through the reign of Hezekiah. His consequence to following God brought his people life. Not just any life, but an abundant and prosperous life. Why wouldn’t future generations mirror his ways and follow after his God? There must be more to it than knowledge of a history of consequences.
So what is it that makes a person (or a people) choose to follow God?
Romans 10:17 says that faith comes through hearing, and hearing by the word of God. The kingdoms of God should have known the words of God. They were God’s chosen people who were given the Law of Moses. Many were taught the word of God through people close to them, such as their parents, priests, and sometimes prophets, and through repeated practice of those laws in their daily lives. God supplied them with everything they needed to do right before him. Yet we see kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. Some kings chose to serve God, while others chose to serve other gods.
I consider myself privileged to have been brought up in a household that taught me about my God and his son from as early as I can remember. Others in our faith didn’t have this advantage. They had to hear the word from someone perhaps not as close to them later in life or discover God through his word for themselves. These types of people are my favorite people. To have such a passion for truth that they’d seek God diligently despite their lack of a foundation in the word (or despite their lack of a foundation in the one true God) amazes me. Many of these truth seekers are doing so in the face of great persecution. This is praiseworthy.
Some “good” kings of Israel or Judah appear to have been brought up in the word of God. I believe this type of upbringing was vital to their success as a God follower, even if at times they stumbled. A good upbringing, however, is not always enough.
King Hezekiah was a God follower, an amazing pray-er, and likely a good teacher of the word of God. Yet his son Manasseh chose not to walk in the ways of his father and instead chose to do evil in the sight of God – a lot of evil. It appears that Manasseh was born during the last few years of Hezekiah’s life (the 15 extra years God miraculously granted him). It is possible that he didn’t gain a firm foundation in the word from his father before his death. After all, he was only about 12 years of age when he began his reign as king. However, we all know another 12-year-old that was always about his father’s business, so I can’t give Manasseh too much slack with a father like Hezekiah.He must have heeded his father’s words in some way, as he knew to eventually repent of his evil ways before his God. If Hezekiah had been alive to see it, I’d imagine he’d be overjoyed to see his son repent and follow after the one true God. Thank God for repentance – as there’s time for it. Manasseh’s predecessor and son, Amon, did evil in the sight of God and reigned for only 2 short years. He was actually murdered by his servants. The word doesn’t give us much indication as to why but perhaps some of the people wanted to continue with Manasseh’s later reformed ways.
Finally we come to another “good” king of Judah, Josiah, Amon’s son. Josiah’s reign began when he was only 8 years old. Based on his father’s and the majority of his grandfather’s, evil behavior, I can’t imagine that he was taught much good. Perhaps the people around him experienced a taste of the good life that came at the end of Manasseh’s reign with his repentance and instilled some good practices in Josiah. But I can’t be certain that anything was taught to Josiah regarding the word of God. The high priest of the time actually found the book of the Law some 18 years into Josiah’s reign. I’m guessing that the last one to read or hear it was Hezekiah, almost a century earlier!
When Josiah heard the word of God for the first time in his life, he tore his clothes and he wept because he knew his fathers and his people had forsaken Yahweh God. He felt guilt and knew what his kingdom deserved. He immediately sought Yahweh on behalf of himself and his people. He found a prophetess, Huldah, who spoke to him concerning God’s judgment. We see that the nation of Judah was guilty but because of Josiah’s response to hearing God’s word, they were shown mercy.
It is Josiah’s response to hearing the word of God that answers my former question. What is it that makes a person (or a people) choose to follow God?
It’s their heart and humility before the LORD.
2 Kings 22:18-20
18 But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the Lord, this is what you shall say to him: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Regarding the words which you have heard, 19 since your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become an object of horror and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I have indeed heard you,’ declares the Lord.” 20 Therefore, behold, I am going to gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not look at all the devastation that I am going to bring on this place.’” So they brought back word to the king.
Josiah is likened to me as those truth seekers who didn’t have a biblical advantage as part of their upbringing. Josiah goes on to be one of the greatest kings of Judah of all times. It didn’t take him years of study in the ways of God to choose to follow God once he heard his words. All it took was his humble heart.
I am currently discipling my two young boys in an effort to steer their hearts towards God. I want to do everything in my power to raise up children in the ways of the Lord so that when they must choose on their own, they’ll choose him continually, even after a stumble. It can be discouraging to think that despite their advantage, they may still fail. I can’t make them have a heart for God. They have to want him on their own. That the words of our God and his son would be written on their hearts continually is my prayer for them.
It is astounding to me that there are Josiahs out there who’ve never even heard the word of God, but once they do, their hearts will immediately be for him. Oh how I long for a heart like that. Let’s pray for each other’s hearts.
Yesterday’s reading ended with an ominous sentence, “His son Manasseh succeeded him.” Manasseh might very well be the worst king of Israel. He sacrificed his own son as a burnt offering to a pagan god. He killed the prophet Isaiah. Yet when God punished him, he repented and tried to defeat the evil that he had done. However, his son was also evil, but then his grandson Josiah was one of the best kings ever in Israel.
A brief point I’d like to make on this passage: good things can create an opportunity for bad, while good can come out of bad. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Yet Hezekiah’s extended life, a gift from God, allowed him to produce Manasseh as an heir. Yet from the degeneration of the kingly line that began with Manasseh and continued with his son, came the best king of Israel. The point is that we cannot make predictions based on circumstances, but God will work for good whenever people will be open to him, regardless of how bad the people around them have been.
I thought of this often during the current election. People predicted dire consequences if either candidate was elected. Everyone of them could happen, but these are all human circumstances. Regardless of whether your candidate is elected or not, the only good that we can count on is what happens when people place their trust in God and act faithfully. Everything else is just a matter of circumstance.
Let’s finish this week by looking at the good that can happen when people respond to God in obedience. As unusual as it might seem, it appears that by the time of Josiah, God’s people were living by tradition rather than actually reading the Holy Scriptures. While doing the right thing and restoring the Temple, the priest Hilkiah found the book of the Law. Josiah was immediately convicted when he read these words and responded by bringing his life and the kingdom of Judah in line with the law of God. Great things happened because of it.
I really appreciate the opportunity to write these devotions this week. It thrills me that you are taking the time to read the word of God. There are many things that are difficult to understand, but good things will happen when we are obedient to the things that we do understand. One thing that I’m certain of is that obedience to what we know is the accelerator of Christian growth. In other words, we are all at different levels of spiritual maturity, but we can all grow by living the life that God reveals to us.
Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, is the next king of Judah. And he does not take after his father. Manasseh built pagan altars in the Lord’s temple and even sacrificed his own son in the fire to Molek – a pagan practice to a foreign false god. Judah did more evil under Manasseh than the nations that were removed from the land before God established Judah (2 Kings 21:9). God is not pleased and he foretells a coming “cleansing” of the land: “I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will …give them into the the hands of enemies.” (2 Kings 21:13,14).
Manasseh’s son, Amon, is the next wicked ruler. He is assassinated. His assassinators are then assassinated and his 8 year old son, Josiah, is given the crown. It seems a certain recipe for disaster – civil unrest, kingly assassinations, violence, the son and grandson of some of the worst kings is handed the kingship at the age of 8. However, somehow, with all these strikes against him, Josiah rises above his past and current circumstances. It appears he has the benefit of some godly advisors, for we learn, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord… not turning aside to the right or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2). Eighteen years into his reign he commissions the cleaning of the temple. A most valuable treasure is found – the forgotten, neglected, Book of the Law. When it is read to Josiah he tears his robes, humbles himself and seeks the Lord for he sees how far the people had strayed from God’s will as well as realizing that punishment was getting closer. Josiah leaps to action. He calls together all of Judah and reads the holy words to them. He calls for the people to repent and renew their covenant to the Almighty. He jumps into action, purging Judah of idolatry and replacing it with the worship of the One True God.
Without God’s Word the people perish – both then and now. In many communities and lives today God’s Word is forgotten, neglected, absent, dusty. People are busy serving themselves and false gods. They will be caught completely unprepared for the “cleansing” that will come. How can you respond like Josiah? After reading God’s words – who will you share them with? How will you jump into action seeking to purge idolatry (in your own life first) and to then replace it with sincere and pleasing worship of God Almighty?