So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people; but they would not hearken. Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God. Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah. And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. And he repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel. Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the LORD their God only.2 Chronicles 33.9-17
In the previous post, we looked at the tragedy of King Uzziah, who began his race well but finished in pride and sin. In this post, we will be looking at a completely opposite story: that of King Manasseh. Manasseh was the fourteenth king of Judah, who reigned from about 696 B.C. to 642 B.C. He was only twelve years old when he took he throne, and fell into all sorts of wickedness. Not only did he raise up altars to the false gods of the Canaanites, but he even dared to set up a carved image in the temple itself (v. 7). He sacrificed his children to false gods, practiced sorcery and witchcraft, and had dealings with mediums and wizards (v. 6). This is why verse nine begins by telling us that Manasseh led Judah in graver error than any practiced by the heathen nations who had been driven out before them. We can see the hardness of heart in verse ten, where we read about God’s mercy toward the people of Judah when he “spake to Manasseh,” but they refused to listen. So God sent the armies of Assyria to war against the people of Judah, and King Manasseh was carried away as a captive to Babylon, where he “was in affliction.”
The King’s Repentance
Yet King Manasseh’s reaction to this affliction is an excellent example of gospel repentance. In verse twelve we read, “And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” At first glance, we might not associate this with genuine repentance; after all, we are prone to not believe all things. We might say, “Of course he would cry out after being captured by his enemies and dragged off as a prisoner in a foreign land.” But when we dig a little deeper, we can see the heart of repentance. This word “besought” in the Hebrew literally means “to be worn down,” and is used metaphorically to denote being sick, being diseased, or being grieved. King Manasseh was not simply pleading for relief from his physical afflictions. Nor was he merely expressing regret over the punishment of his evil deeds. He soul was distressed, and he cried out to the Lord in weakness and in humility. He did not just humble himself, but “humbled himself greatly” before God. Then Manasseh prayed unto God. Take note of the actions involved on Manasseh’s part: he besought the Lord, he humbled himself, and he prayed to the Lord. Now, why would prayer be mentioned twice (when he besought and when he prayed)?
The first prayer was a prayer of contrition; thus the word “besought” is used. Here, Manasseh confesses his sin and pleads for God’s forgiveness. Then he humbles himself. He forsakes his pride and vanity, forsakes those idols and pagan practices he had held so dear. The content of the second prayer may be inferred from God’s answer to it. Manasseh desired to be restored again to the land of Judah, specifically to Jerusalem. All throughout the Chronicles of the Kings, Jerusalem stands as the special seat of God. It was home to the house of the Lord, and God had told David and Solomon: “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name forever….” (v. 7). This prayer to return to Jerusalem was not merely a plea to return to his own country, a plea to return to the place of the presence of God. And in his mercy, the Lord God granted his petition.
The Fruit of Repentance
The clearest mark of true gospel repentance is the action that follows. Unlike the Papist sacrament of penance, which says that a sinner must make satisfaction for their sin themselves, biblical repentance is followed by gospel obedience. The word “repent” means to turn away, but not just turn away from something, but to also turn away toward something else. In the military, this maneuver is termed “about face.” An “about face” is not turning around in a leisurely manner; you do not take a few steps or adjust your center of gravity. It is a sharp, crisp, two-step movement: you put your right foot on the other side of your left foot (behind you, obviously), and spin around on your left heel. You go from looking at what was in front of you to looking at what was behind you. This is gospel repentance. It is a sharp turn, so that we are no longer looking at the sin which so easily entangles us, but are looking to Christ Jesus our Lord.
When we are looking to Christ, everything about our lives is affected, including the way in which we conduct ourselves (the King James word for that is our “conversation”). This is precisely what occurred in the life of King Manasseh, and why we can be confident that his repentance is genuine. After his return to Jerusalem, he secured the city with a great wall (perhaps a picture of setting up walls against further influence of the world?), and set up military commanders in the cities of Judah. He made ready for war. Then he cast out all the idols and their altars out of Jerusalem. To the folks in the city, this would have been mind-blowing. Here was the king who carved a statue and set it up in the temple of God of all places; and here he is now, taking those same graven images of strange gods and casting them away. Lastly, he restored the altar in the temple, and offered sacrifices (peace offerings and thank offerings), and commanded his whole kingdom for forsake their idolatry. The king could only do much himself, for the people still sacrificed on the high places (v. 17); but for his part, he was a completely transformed man. Here is a picture of a man whose life was utterly changed because of one thing: “Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God” (v. 13).
This tale of King Manasseh is a useful test for us to apply to our own lives, like a pH strip. When testing the pH of water (the acidity or alkalinity), you can use a convenient little strip that changes color based on the pH. You take a sample of whatever source you are testing (such as your tap water, a pool, etc.), and stick the strip in for a certain amount of time. When you pull it out, you compare it to the chart and that is how you determine the acidity or alkalinity of your water. This story is our pH strip for our repentance.
Firstly, does our repentance spring from a genuine detestation of our sin? Are we grieved and wounded over the ugliness and depravity of our wickedness? Or are we merely trying to escape the consequences of our actions?
Secondly, is our repentance an act of humility before God? Does it recognize him and him alone as the offended party of our sinfulness (Ps. 51)? Do we say anything like, “I’m sorry you were offended by that?” That type of “apology” comes from a heart of pride, not a recognition that God is the Creator whom we have sorely offended. Not only that, but does our repentance recognize that God is the Judge of all the earth who will surely do what is right? Do we come to him in holy fear and trembling, pleading for mercy? Or do we come to him thinking that it is our right to be forgiven? May we never forget that the only reason we have not be cast into hell is the work of Jesus Christ and nothing else!
Thirdly, is our repentance followed by gospel obedience? Are we building up the walls to help fortify our souls against the future attacks of the world, the devil, and the flesh? Are we casting out the idols of our heart? Repentance without casting out idols is like putting a piece of duct tape on a cracking dam. It will not work, and if continued, will lead to ruin. Let us strive to be quick to cast out that strange god that we so often serve: self.
Fourthly, and lastly, is our repentance sprung from a knowledge of God? This is what drove the change in Manasseh, and without it, all the religious behavior in the world will be of no avail. Are we seeking after Christ in the Holy Scriptures? Are we beseeching God and praying to him? Are we longing to be in the celestial city of his presence? Are we looking to Christ, as the Israelites looked to the serpent in the wilderness? Only by fixing our eyes on the Lord Jesus can we truly turn away from our sin and our self and turn unto God. As the old hymn says:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.