Manasseh was king of the southern kingdom, Judah, for fifty-five years from approximately 697 BC to 642 BC. The details of his life are recorded in 2 Kings 21:1–18 and 2 Chronicles 33:1–20. He is also mentioned in Jeremiah 15:4. Manasseh was the son of one of Judah's few good kings, Hezekiah. Despite his relation to God-honoring Hezekiah, Manasseh "did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel" (2 Kings 21:2).
Who was King Manasseh in the Bible?
Unfortunately, these practices did not remain private actions of the king. Instead "Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray" (2 Chronicles 33:9). "He made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD" (2 Kings 21:16). These evil practices included child sacrifice; building altars to foreign gods in high places; erecting Asherah poles within the temple; worshipping the stars and heavenly bodies; and using fortune telling, omens, mediums, sorcery, and necromancers.
Due to this turn away from the Lord, God warned that He would be "bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle… and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies" (2 Kings 21:12, 14). Despite these dire warnings, neither King Manasseh nor the people of Judah took heed, so God brought judgment. Second Chronicles 33:11 records that "the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon."
Interestingly, God had also warned Hezekiah about the Babylonians. Hezekiah fell ill and was close to the point of death, but he prayed and asked God to remember him. God granted the king fifteen more years (2 Kings 20:1–11). Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, meaning he must have been born after Hezekiah's recovery (2 Kings 21:1). While he was a godly king, Hezekiah struggled with pride. After recovering from his illness, 2 Chronicles 32:25 says, "But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem." Having heard of Hezekiah's illness, the king of Babylon sent envoys to Judah. Hezekiah showed them all that he had—his treasuries and storehouses included. Second Chronicles 32:31 says that "God left [Hezekiah] to himself [in this matter], in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart." After, God told Hezekiah about the future Babylonian captivity, even saying that some of Hezekiah's sons would be taken (2 Kings 20:12–20).
During his imprisonment, Manasseh "entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers" (2 Chronicles 33:12). God was moved by Manasseh's repentance and restored him to his role as king of Judah in Jerusalem. Upon his return, Manasseh built up the fortified cities, took down the altars to foreign gods, and even "commanded Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel" (2 Chronicles 33:16). "Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the LORD their God" (2 Chronicles 33:17).
King Manasseh had a true change of heart and tried to rectify the evil he had done. Unfortunately his previous actions and leadership had consequences that were not undone. His twenty-two year old son, Amon, inherited the throne upon Manasseh's death and "he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, as Manasseh his father had done" (2 Chronicles 33:22). So his personal repentance notwithstanding, Manasseh is remembered as a bad king who left an evil legacy.
Despite this legacy, there is great hope in the story of Manasseh. The evil he committed is almost unfathomable. Second Kings 21:16 records that "Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another." The consistency and volume of violence he carried out in Jerusalem literally filled the streets with blood. He sacrificed his own sons on fiery altars in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. He desecrated God's holy temple with foreign idols and caused an entire nation to turn away from God. And yet, when Manasseh cried out to God with a humble and repentant heart from the distress he rightfully deserved to suffer, God not only forgave him but also restored him to power.
God is, indeed, "good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon [Him]" (Psalm 86:5). May each person feel encouraged to call upon the LORD to seek forgiveness knowing "if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
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