The Lord's Day MorningApril 22, 2007
II Chronicles 33:1-20
“The Prodigal Son”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now from the beauty of Brahms's Requiem to the ugliness of Judean kings, 700 years or so before Christ. Turn in your Bibles now, if you would this morning, to II Chronicles 33. And I want us this morning to examine together the life–biography, if you like–of what has been called by many commentators of Scripture the most wicked king ever–certainly the most wicked king, I think, in the history of Judah, and the Bible seems to put him on a par with some of the wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Now, I was reading the newspaper recently, and came across this:
I'm 44, and would like to meet a man with no bad habits.”
So would I.”
Well, Manasseh had bad habits…well, Manasseh had very bad habits. Manasseh was a very, very bad king. When I was in school in the ‘60's as a teenager, the book that everyone, it seems, was reading was a book entitled 1066 and All That. It was a history of England, with a subtitle: “A Memorial History of England Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember, Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Things, and 2 Genuine Dates”–I suppose the kind of history book you’d like to read! But in that book it describes King John. You all know King John, of course…at least, you know his brother, King Richard. King Richard was the king at the time of Robin Hood. Now whether Robin Hood actually existed is another point entirely, and not with our consideration this morning! But King John was the brother of King Richard, the king in the time of Robin Hood. King John was the one who established, founded, put his seal upon the Magna Charta, something like the constitution of England. And 1066 and All That summarized the entire life of King John with these words: “A very bad king who did one good thing.” A very bad king who did one good thing–well, that summarized Manasseh. He was a very bad king, but he did one good thing.
We could look at this story this morning from two points of view. We could look at the big picture. We could look at the macrocosmic picture. We could look and ask the question, “Where does King Manasseh belong in the history of redemption, in the unfolding purposes of God with respect to the gospel that unfolds from Genesis 3:15 [the seed that would crush the head of Satan]…in that plan that culminates in the coming of Jesus, His life and death and resurrection, and ascension and session, and Second Coming and all of that–where does King Manasseh belong in all that? And that would be a wonderful thing to do, a useful thing to do, an important thing to do, proper thing to do. And the answer that we would come to is that Manasseh was a bad king. Actually he was a bad king that spelled the end of all the kings, because sixty years after King Manasseh, five or six kings down the line, the nation of Judah would be no more. Jerusalem would be destroyed in 587 by the Babylonians, and that would be the end of that. And saying of course, loud and clear, that no earthly king can be our savior, but only the King of Kings can be our Savior and Redeemer.
But that's not where I want to go this morning. I want to focus in. I want the lens to come down close, and I want us to look at King Manasseh, his life, who he was, what he did, and to ask ourselves, “What does it have to say to me?” because I think it has something very important to say to us this morning.
Now before we read the passage together, let's come before God in prayer.
Lord our God, we thank You for the Scriptures, that they are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Holy Spirit, come and help us now to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and bring out of these lines of Scripture truth that might challenge and convict, and nourish and edify our souls. And this we ask for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now turn with me to II Chronicles 33:
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord of which the Lord had said, ‘My name shall be in Jerusalem forever.’ For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, ‘In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever; and I will not again remove the foot of Israel from the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will observe to do all that I have commanded them according to all the law, the statutes, and the ordinances given through Moses.’ Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.
“And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains, and took him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
“Now after this he built the outer wall of the city of David on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance of the Fish Gate; and he encircled the Ophel with it and made it very high. Then he put army commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city. And he set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel. Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although only to the Lord their God.
“Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh even his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, behold, they are among the records of the kings of Israel. His prayer also and how God was entreated by him, and all his sin, his unfaithfulness, and the sites on which he built high places and erected the Asherim and the carved images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the records of the Hozai. So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house. And Amon his son became king in his place.”
Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now I want to see quickly five things: a problem; perversion; a prayer; a program of reform; and, a postscript. I'm telling you those five things up front in case we get lost. At least you will know where we ought to have been!
I. A problem.
Now, first of all, a problem. There's a problem with numbers here…the length of years of his reign. I’ll not go into that this morning, only to say that as with most of the latter kings of both Israel and Judah, there was a period when the son would co-reign with his father in a kind of…well, apprenticeship, if you like. And that helps us through the numbers problem.
Of a far greater issue and import is a theological issue. Why would God allow Judah, His people, His chosen people, from which would come the Messiah…why would He allow Judah to suffer 50 years and more of the wicked reign of Manasseh? Imagine (if you had been alive) for most of your life, perhaps all that you would ever have known would be the wickedness of this king. Why does God allow that? And the answer seems to lie in something that the prophet Isaiah had already said [Isaiah had come and gone by the time Manasseh was on the scene]. Isaiah, in Jerusalem speaking to Manasseh's father, had said in the third chapter of his prophecy in answer to the question, “How will we know that God is judging the nation?” The answer, he said, is that God will give them wicked rulers. God will give them wicked rulers. So written all over Judah for fifty years was a sign that said “God is judging this people. God is bringing an end to this reign of earthly kings.”
II. A perversion.
Secondly, a perversion. In verse 2, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” In verse 6, “He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord.” In the second half of verse 2, he is said to have sinned like the Canaanites. You remember of course; it's a moral and ethical question of some import as to what right did Moses and the children of Israel…what right did they have to dispossess the Canaanites of their land? And the answer, of course, the Bible gives us: that the iniquity of the Canaanites was so great that God came down and judged them, using the Israelites as His instrument. And now God is saying about Manasseh, king of Judah, that he is sinning like the Canaanites whom God came down and judged.
In verse 19, the chronicler uses a very specific word full of connotations: unfaithful. He was unfaithful. And the word unfaithful still rings in our ears today, doesn't it, if someone is unfaithful in a marriage? A husband or wife is unfaithful…broken covenant vows, spurned love that has been shown to them. And here is Manasseh, king of Judah, being unfaithful to God, spurning the covenant love that God has shown to them. And the chronicler gives a list of all the sins that he committed: fertility worship; the altars of Baal; the Ashera poles, with all of the cultic prostitution that went along with it; astral worship; foreign altars in the temple; child sacrifice [he sacrificed his children in the valley of Ben-Hinnom]; sorcery; divination; witchcraft; mediums. He put a carved image of himself in the temple where God had put His own name. He led not just himself, but he led Judah astray so that Judah sinned (verse 9) just like the Canaanites. And his father was godly Hezekiah. Perversity….
III. A prayer.
Prayer. God comes down, sends an Assyrian king–probably Esarhaddon–and literally puts a hook in his nose, and chains, bronze chains, about him, and he is taken a thousand miles away from Jerusalem to Babylon. He's a captive.
God humbled this man. God brought this man to his lowest point. It was as though God was saying “Enough!”–that he’d reached a point of no return.
Two weeks ago, Gary [I won't give his last name]…he was a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity at Rider University in Princeton. He drank three-quarters of a bottle of vodka in fifteen minutes, and died. He reached a point of no return. There was no coming back from that. And Manasseh has reached a point of no return, and he is captive, and he has a hook in his nose, and bronze chains about him, and he's at his lowest point, and he prays–perhaps for the first time in his life. He prays to the Lord God of Israel. He sought (verse 12) God's favor. He humbled himself greatly. And God (verse 13)–God was moved. That's the kind of God that we have. That's the God of the Old Testament, a God who is moved by the cries and pleas of a man who is at the end of his tether–a wicked man, an ungodly man. Had God come down and judged him and taken him out…if fire had come down from heaven and devoured Manasseh, it would have been too good for him. You and I would not have spilled one drop, one tear…not one tear would be shed on behalf of Manasseh if God had consumed him there on the spot.
Theodore Beza, Calvin's successor in Geneva, was converted and brought to saving faith in the Lord through adversity and pain. He wrote later:
“Pain was to me the gateway to heaven.” Pain was to me the gateway to heaven…and this ungodly wretch of a man who had sacrificed his children, who’d been involved in cultic prostitution, who’d been consulting all kinds of mediums and sorcerers and everything except God, who had spurned the prophets and seers that God had sent to him, God brought him to the lowest point. And in that lowest point he prayed and asked for God's mercy and favor, and God was moved by his prayer. He learned, you see, that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared. There is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. There is a door that is open, that you may go in. At Calvary's cross is where it begins, when you come as a sinner to Jesus. There's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin, and it's the cry, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
William Perkins was one of the greatest theologians of all time. He lived that span, that period, around 1600 or so. He taught theology at Cambridge University in the early 1600's. We still read his books. But William Perkins as a young man was a drunkard, and he tells the story of his conversion: How a mother was saying to her child who was misbehaving, “Hold your tongue!” the mother would say, “or I’ll hand you over to that drunkard Perkins!” He said it was like an arrow in his heart. It was like an arrow in his heart, and there and then he called on the name of the Lord, and there and then the Lord came and rescued him and saved him, and brought him to Himself.
Thirty-five years ago the late Douglas MacMillan, a wonderful, wonderful man, and preacher…preacher from Scotland…a shepherd for most of his life on the hills of Scotland, and a wonderful conversion story…I haven't time to tell it now…wonderful preaching…I haven't time to tell that now either! But I remember hearing him preach a sermon all of 25 years ago, and in the sermon he said he had had this dream the night before. You know, he wasn't one of these crazy wild types; he was a sensible fellow, but he had this dream. And in this dream he’d seen the pearly gates, and coming up to the pearly gates were the patriarchs…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph…and one by one they entered through the pearly gates. And then came the apostles…Paul, and John, and Peter…and one by one they entered by the pearly gates. And then the Reformers…Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, Baza, others…one by one they entered through the pearly gates. And then, lo and behold, he saw Manasseh, this ungodly wretch; and, lo and behold, Manasseh went through the pearly gates! When he awoke, he said he recalled saying to himself, “If God can save Manasseh, He can save me.”
I don't know where you are this morning, or who you are, or what you've done. You may have come here this morning bowed down with a load of sin and guilt and shame. You may have done things about which you could not tell us here in public…shameful things, horrible things, terrible things, and you've been brought to the end of yourself, perhaps. And I'm saying to you this morning, if that's where you are, if God has brought you to the lowest point, if He's brought you even to the gutter, if He's ruined you financially, if you've been separated from your family, I'm saying to you this morning, if God can save Manasseh, He can save you. There is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. There is a door open that you may come in, and it starts, my friend, at the cross. It starts, my friend, at the cross–whoever you are. If God can save Manasseh, if God can save Saul of Tarsus, if God can save the Philippian jailer, He can save you. He can rescue you. He can reach down to you wherever you are, whatever you've done, whatever you've committed, and He can bring you into His family and into His kingdom. My friends, it's this way:
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, look to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
Do you feel your sins? Do you feel your guilt? Do you feel your need? Then run to Christ, because when Manasseh prayed to the Lord, it moved God. God was moved by that prayer, because that's the kind of God He is. A prayer that rises from the pits of dereliction and abandonment and hopelessness, and God will hear that prayer, my friend.
IV. A program of reform.
And a program of reform. Well, he did many things. He's brought back to Jerusalem, he begins to demonstrate the genuineness of his repentance, and he rebuilds Jerusalem's walls, and he reorganizes Judah's army, and he begins the work of restoring the temple. He doesn't do it completely; he doesn't destroy the idolatrous nature of some of the items that were in the temple and burn them as the Lord demanded. He simply threw them out, and we’ll see the consequence of that in a moment. He begins a program of reform, but it's all too late, because God takes him home. God takes him home.
V. A postscript.
And the fifth and final thing that I want us to see in this passage is a postscript. Now, we didn't read it. It's the next section. Who reigned after Manasseh? His son, Amon. And of Amon we read in verse 22 that he did evil, like his father. The years of Manasseh's perversity had so shaped and molded his son that the short, brief time of his conversion had no effect upon him. The die had been cast, and no sooner was Manasseh dead and buried than Amon found the idols his father had thrown out of the temple (because he hadn't destroyed them), and he brought them back in again. And Amon ruled for two years…just two years, and he was assassinated; and the seeds of Judah's decay are now set in motion, and within forty years of this period of time also Judah will be gone.
Yes, my friends, there is a way back from the dark paths of sin, and I truly and genuinely and sincerely believe in deathbed repentance; I truly believe that the dying thief upon the cross went straight into heaven. No matter what sin, no matter what perversity, no matter what guilt you have, cast it all on Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
But sometimes, my friend, you can't undo the legacy of your former life, and the die had been cast, as far as Manasseh's son is concerned. And you see what the lesson is: Don't leave it, my friends, until you are in the gutter. Don't leave it until there's nowhere else to turn before you run and beg for mercy at the hands of God. Run to Him now. Trust in Him now. Don't waste your life. Young people, don't waste your lives, but trust Him now and serve Him now, and be a disciple of His now.
Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for this account of an ungodly king. We find such hope and such comfort, and such reassurance in it, that You would save a wretch like him. But Lord, we pray this morning that You would have dealings with our own hearts and with our own souls, for we would all know that assurance that we have truly and genuinely put our trust in Jesus Christ…and to do that early, and to do that quickly, and to do that now. And come, Holy Spirit, and hear our prayers. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let's stand and worship God, singing I Hear Thy Welcome Voice.
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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