King Hezekiah had done wonderfully until he got a world-wide reputation for defeating the Assyrians. When an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of them in one night, they fled. Once back in Assyria, their king, Sennacherib, was assassinated by his own sons.
Hezekiah began to be recognized throughout the known world for this. The Lord saw what was coming, and decided that Hezekiah should die, rather than continue to live and fall into the sin of pride. But when the prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah that his sickness was unto death, and that he should put his house in order, Hezekiah turned to the wall, cried, and begged God to extend his life.
God did extend Hezekiah's life for another 15 years, and it was during that life extension that Hezekiah gave the prince of Babylon a tour of all his nation's wealth. This would result in Babylon's invasion, and the end of Israel for 70 years. It was also during this time that Hezekiah fathered a son named Manasseh, who became king in his place when he died.
Manasseh was born three years after Hezekiah's life was extended, which meant that he was only twelve years old when he became king. And as we're about to read, Manasseh did the most abominable things we've seen in a Judean king so far.
Throughout the wilderness wandering, God had told the Israelites about the place where He would choose to establish His name (Deut 12:5; 16:2; etc.). God had driven the Canaanites out of this land because of their sins of sorcery, astrology, idolatry, and child sacrifice. He brought the Israelites in as godly replacements, and chose Jerusalem as the place He would establish His name (2Chron. 6:6). But now, with the Jews practicing the same things, what was the difference? The land was the same as it was when the Canaanites were doing these things.
What exactly was being done? It seems that this was a time when anything and everything was okay. It was all being done: High places, altars, Asherim, worship of the host of heaven, child sacrifice, witchcraft, divination, sorcery, mediums, and spiritists.
The high places were devoted to various gods, including the true God of Israel. God had tolerated the sacrifice to Him on the high places before the temple was built (1Kings 3:2). But after the temple was constructed, the people were instructed that they must only sacrifice at the temple (Deut. 12:13-14). And the high places devoted to other gods was obviously forbidden and made God angry with them (2Chron. 28:25).
Baal was the supreme male god of the Canaanites and Ashtoreth was their supreme female god. The Asherim were the carved pole images of Ashtoreth. Baal was the originator and creator, and Ashtoreth was the convceiver and birther, the goddess of fertility.
It is interesting that we still have strong ties to Ashtoreth today. She became known as Ishtar, where we got the pagan name of the holiday Easter. The rabbit and egg symbols of Easter are references to the goddess of fertility, and have nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The "host of heaven" were the sun, moon, stars (Deut. 4:19), and constellations (2Kings 23:5), which pagan peoples worshipped and looked to for signs. Again, we see the prominence of this influence in the world today. You can't go through a grocery store line without seeing the astrology booklets for sale, and you can't open the newspaper without seeing the daily horoscope.
Today, at a Chinese food restaurant, I was visually assaulted by the occultic "Chinese Zodiac" placemat. It read, "Many Chinese believe that the year of a person's birth is the primary factor in determining that persons' personality traits, physical and mental attributes and degree of success and happiness throughout his lifetime." Yeah, that makes sense! That's why every one of the kids at a five-year-old's birthday party looks identical and has the exact same personalities! Utter nonsense, and yet it hasn't prevented the propagation of these occultic beliefs for thousands of years!
Back in chapter 28, we saw that Manasseh's grandfather King Ahaz had done the same thing (2Chron. 28:3).
The Valley of Bane Hin-NOME was the place they sacrificed their children to Molech. Fortunately, Manasseh's grandson, King Josiah, will put a final end to this site as the location of child sacrifice (2Kings 23:10). It will be turned into a dump where trash will be continually burned. As you may remember from our study in chapter 28, the Hebrew for "Valley of Hin-NOME" is "Gay Hin-NOME," which later became "GHEH-en-nah" in Greek. GHEH-en-nah became the word for "hell" because this valley was a perfect picture of it - a place where people had been burned alive in eternal fires.
We talked about the similar practice of abortion in our study of chapter 28. Today, the law banning partial birth abortion was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge. The article said, "The law is aimed at stopping a procedure, usually performed during the second trimester of pregnancy, in which a fetus is partly delivered, its skull punctured and its brain removed, often by suction. Opponents, including Republicans in Congress who pushed for the ban, call the procedure 'partial-birth abortion,' but abortion rights groups and many doctors refer to it as 'intact dilation and evacuation.'" Personally, I call it child sacrifice to the god of pleasure.
This word translated "witchcraft" here is the Hebrew word "aw-NAN," and it means, "To conjure or make appear, to practice soothsaying." These are the fortune-tellers, who foretell events by seeing visions in clouds that are conjured by various means.
Divination (naw-KHASH) means to interpret signs and omens.
Sorcery (kaw-SHAF) is closer to what we think of as witchcraft, with potions made, spells cast, etc.
Witchcraft, divination, and sorcery are all alive and well in our society today. You don't have to look far in large cities to find fortune tellers, palm readers, and psychics. And you don't have to search hard to find that our pop culture is fascinated by the likes of Harry Potter and others.
The word for "medium" (obe) is actually from a word that means "a bottle made from animal skin." The medium is an empty vessel, whose body is available to channel other beings. They seem to call up the ghosts of dead people, but in reality are channelling demons.
A spiritist (yid-deh-o-NEE) is one who knows a familiar spirit. They have an ongoing relationship with a demon who gives them information.
This is also a practice that has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. Psychics who promise to channel your dead loved ones for a fee are becoming more prominent.
You might think that after seeing all of the child sacrifice, witchcraft, idolatry, and the rest, that he could do much more evil than that. However, the parallel passage in 2Kings tells us about even more of his sin:
2Kings 21:16 Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.
Having innocent people put to death, presumably for not participating in his state-sponsored paganism. The book of Romans talks about how those who sin in such horrible ways want company in their wickedness.
Rom. 1:32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
The also become very intolerant of those who speak out against their evil practices. Jewish tradition tells us that it was under Manasseh's direction that Isaiah the prophet was killed, being placed in a hollow log and sawn in half.
You can imagine that after the Lord watched King Hezekiah's revival in the land of Judah, that this total turnaround made God sick and angry. But Manasseh wasn't done provoking God just yet...
God had established the temple as the place where His presence would dwell, a place where His people could come and meet with Him. But Manasseh put a profane idol in the temple. It was an Asherah pole that he had made (2Kings 21:7), carved into the image of the fertile goddess Ashtoreth. Now, even the temple itself was defiled by Manasseh's apostasy, and the people of Judah were being led down the same path.
In spite of how offensive Manasseh's actions were, God was merciful. He warned Manasseh and the people through the prophets that calamity would be brought forth upon their nation if they did not repent. He threatened,
2Kings 21:13-14 ..."I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies, and they will become as plunder and spoil to all their enemies"
But no one listened, no one cared. And so God moved from words to action...
The Assyrians, who had not been successful in their attack of Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king, attacked again. And this time they captured the king of Judah. Manasseh was led by hooks and chains to Babylon.
We might say, "That horrible happening is just what Manasseh deserved!" And yet, God was doing much more here than simply bringing punishment. This tribulation in Manasseh's life was intended to be a crossroads, a point of decision.
You see, when God brings tribulations into someone's life, the result will either be that they are drawn close to God or driven away from God. And it is always our choice as to how we will respond.
Remember in the book of Revelation, we read that God will be sending horrible plagues upon a Christ-rejecting world. It will be their crossroads, their point of decision. Unfortunately, in that case, we see that...
Rev. 9:20-21 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
What will Manasseh do? Will he repent or reject?
In the midst of his turmoil, Manasseh was ready and willing to cry out to God! Such distress had slapped him into attention. He humbled himself and entreated the Lord. And the Lord was gracious to him and brought him back to Jerusalem.
Manaesseh realizes that he's received a new lease on life. He forsakes the worship of the foreign gods and removed the Asherah pole from the temple. He restores the altar of sacrifice and makes offerings to God upon it.
Unfortunately, when you've led people down the wrong path, it is often true that even when you repent and change direction, they probably will not. In this case, Manasseh had "seduced the people to do evil" (2Kings 21:9), and later repented. But the people continued on the road of disobedience to God's Word.
You can read 2Kings 21 for a few more of the details regarding Manasseh's reign over Judah.
Manasseh's son Amon became king when his father died. His dad's influence in his evil years seemed to have kept hold on Amon, and he committed all of the same sins. Unlike his father, he did not repent, and died in his sin when he was assassinated.
The good that comes out of this whole mess is King Josiah, who we will learn about next Thursday night.