Manasseh has resisted every effort of God to reach him in his sin; until he finds himself imprisoned. Then he remembers the God of his father.
I find this story both heart-warming and sad. It is beautiful to see that, after so many years, the faith his father lived out in front of him comes back to him in his darkest hour. It gives me hope as a parent whose children have strayed. The sad part is it was too little too late as far as the people of Judah were concerned.
The MOST AMAZING part though to this story is God’s forgiveness. Manasseh was a completely evil king. His sins were great and included multiple murders. “Moreover, Manasseh shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end, in addition to the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, doing evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 21:16). I don’t know if this is specifically referring to him reinstating human (child) sacrifice or if there was other blood he shed. I do know that he is credited with killing many of the prophets through Jewish legend, including the prophet Isaiah. Yet when Manasseh called out to God from his prison cell, GOD HEARD AND ANSWERED! God judged Manasseh’s heart sincere, not just searching for a quick rescue.
This reminds me of a joke I heard. A man is in the woods one day when he comes across a hungry bear. The man had lived his life preaching atheism in the strongest way possible. He cursed God at every turn. He encouraged anyone he met to do the same. But when he stood face to face with the bear the first thing he did was call out to God for rescue. God heard the man’s cry and answered him back.
“You cursed me all your life. You encouraged others to do the same. And NOW you call out to me, the God you said didn’t even exist.”
The man answered back; “If You won’t save me, then can You at least make the bear a Christian?”
“Done” answered God.
“Dear Lord, bless this meal I’m about to receive” prayed the bear.
The thing about this story is that the man’s heart hadn’t changed. He only called out to God because he was in desperate straits. He had no intention of changing his life if God solved his issue.
Manasseh’s heart had changed. It wasn’t a spur of the moment outcry. He sat in his cell and remembered the God of his father and how He had been with his father. Manasseh “humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (verse 12b). Manasseh measured his life against his fathers and admitted even to himself what was missing; God.
It didn’t matter how powerful he thought himself or how famous he had been. He saw his TRUE state and remembered all the times the Lord had reached out to him. He was finally at a place where he could see he had NOTHING without the Lord. I would not be surprised in the least to hear that he feared God wouldn’t answer him. But he tried anyway. He poured out his heart to the Lord. He was broken and knew his only hope lay in the Lord.
I wonder if Manasseh prayed for a sign. His father had spoken freely of the sign he received at the point of his illness. Did Manasseh ask for God’s comfort for whatever remained of his life or did he pray for his own release? Did he promise that he would “make it up to the Lord” if he was released? Did he promise reform in Judah? Or did he promise reform of his own heart alone?
ANY great changes start with personal changes. IF released, Manasseh would have had the position of influence but God couldn’t use him in that place unless his heart was transformed FIRST. And that change had to be real; lasting. “Pie crust promises” (easily made, easily broken) wouldn’t work.
I wonder how long God left Manasseh in prison after his prayer. Did He bring him out with a special miracle? Did He change his captor’s hearts? Whatever it was, it was enough to cement his belief in the Lord. “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God” (verse 13b).
Even with the change in Manasseh’s heart he wasn’t able to erase all the damage he had done. Manasseh returned the kingdom physically to the state his father had left it. He tore down the altars he had erected. He removed the idols from the Temple. He removed everything he could think of that was offensive to the Lord. But he couldn’t remove the spiritual stain he had left on the people. His commands ensured that the people didn’t go to other idols but they still served Him THEIR way, not His. The people spiritually didn’t return to the place they had been at the time of Hezekiah. Try as he might, Manasseh could not make that happen.
Manasseh was forgiven for his sin but the consequences of that sin could not be undone. When God allowed Judah to be carried off into exile the sins of Manasseh were quoted as the reason. God could have miraculously wiped the memory of Manasseh’s actions from the memory of the people but He wouldn’t. That would have been taking away their free will. Each man, woman and child had to make the decision to seek the Lord on their own. Manasseh’s own son is going to make his decision. And it won’t be the one his father finally made. Maybe because of what was lived out in front of him during his youth.
“Train up a child in the way he should go. And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Manasseh and Amos, his son, both epitomized this verse. Manasseh was trained in the precepts of the Lord. He returned with a full heart in his old age. Amos was trained in idolatry and he lived his whole life in that sin, dragging Judah along with him.
Father God, THANK YOU for Your forgiveness! I have been a recipient of it more times than I can count or care to recount. I PRAY the stains my sins left behind are small and have not irreparably damaged my children. I cling to Your promise for my children. I KNOW I trained them in Your word, even when I didn’t always walk Your paths perfectly. My parent’s lives showed me Your love and the benefits of serving You. Not that You are like a ‘bank account’ where I deposit funds and receive specified ‘benefits.’ Your ‘benefits’ are FAR GREATER than anything this world has to offer. Eternal life with You is the only benefit I need! I would like to sit down and have a chat with Manasseh when I see him there. Ask him a couple of questions about his nights in prison. Ask him how You delivered him. Just for curiosity sake.