Bible Commentary: 2 Kings 20:20–21:18 and Related

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2 Kings 20:20–21:18 and Related

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The Apostasy of Manasseh

Hezekiah, one of the greatest Jewish kings ever, died—at the end of the extra 15 years God had promised him. He was buried next to David and Solomon.

But though Hezekiah had been one of Judah’s greatest kings, his son Manasseh was one of the worst. He was to reign longer than any other king of either Israel or Judah. “Manasseh…came to the throne as sole regent [upon the death of Hezekiah] in 686 and remained in power until 642. That he ruled for fifty-five years implies that he shared regal responsibility with Hezekiah from about 696 to 686. Why his father promoted Manasseh to this place of authority at the tender age of twelve must remain a matter of speculation. It is possible, of course, that Hezekiah’s near-fatal illness (ca. 702) prompted him, as soon as his son reached a suitable age, to take measures insuring the dynastic succession” (Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 433).

Manasseh’s evil deeds (though he repented of them at the end of his life), are well documented in these passages from Kings and Chronicles. He totally rejected his Creator, even to the point of practicing child sacrifice and setting up an idol right in the house of God. “Manasseh’s shedding of ‘innocent blood’ refers not only to human sacrifice, but probably to the martyrdom of God’s holy prophets. Josephus (Antiq[uities of the Jews, Book]X, 37 {iii.1}) affirms that Manasseh not only slew all the righteous men of Judah but especially the prophets he slew daily until Jerusalem ‘was overflowing with blood.’ Uniform Jewish and Christian tradition holds that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn asunder (cf. Heb 11:37)” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, footnote on 2 Kings 21:16). If true, this further illustrates Manasseh’s moral depravity, as Isaiah had been such a trusted friend and spiritual advisor to his father.

Of particular note is the reference to Asherah (2 Kings 21:7), known in Babylon as Astarte or Ishtar (which has come down to us as “Easter” in English). We will see more about this pagan fertility goddess and her association with modern Christianity in Jeremiah 7 and 10.

Besides worshiping pagan gods, Manasseh became entrenched in demonic witchcraft and all its associated practices—which is, sadly, all too prevalent today. God was not going to let Manasseh get away with all this evil; he would be deported to Babylon. “Some scholars argue that the deportation site of ‘Babylon’ is an error for Nineveh, but that is not necessary. Esarhaddon had rebuilt Babylon after his father Sennacherib had destroyed it and made it once again a part of the Assyrian Empire around 648 B.C. The Assyrian texts show that Manasseh was a vassal of Ashurbanipal as early as 667 B.C. Accordingly, he must have violated his agreements with Ashurbanipal to merit being deported to Babylon by the Assyrians in 648 B.C.” (Walter Kaiser Jr., A History of Israel, 1998, p. 382).

Secular proof of Manasseh’s vassal status comes from archaeology. “‘Manasseh King of the Jews’ appears in a list of twenty-two Assyrian tributaries of Imperial Assyria on both the Prism of Esarhaddon and the Prism of Ashurbanipal” (E.M. Blaiklock and R.K. Harrison, The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, 1983, “Manasseh”).

His deportation in hooks and fetters would have been a humiliating experience. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (“Hook”) mentions that the use of hooks was a common practice in handling captives. It was usually inserted in the victim’s nose or jaw, but the Assyrians held captives by a ring in the lip attached to a cord.

Manasseh had wielded a lot of power in Judah and, though his father had been a righteous king, the people of Judah were easily led astray. Even after Manasseh repented and tried to restore right religion in Judah, the people remained essentially evil and were ultimately to suffer the same fate as Manasseh. “Manasseh’s personal though belated repentance reminds us that it is never too late for the individual to return to the Lord. Yet the O[ld] T[estament] makes it clear that Manasseh’s years mark the point of no return for Judah. 2 Kings 23:26 says, ‘The Lord did not turn from the heat of His fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke Him to anger’ ([NIV] cf. Jer. 15:4)” (Bible Reader’s Companion, note on 2 Chronicles 33:1-20).