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. Hebrews 11:37 Hebrews 11:37They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
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)” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, footnote on 2 Kings 21:16 2 Kings 21:16Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin with which he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.
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). 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 2 Kings 21:7And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the LORD said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever:
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), 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 2 Kings 23:26Notwithstanding the LORD turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him with.
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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. Jeremiah 15:4 Jeremiah 15:4And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.
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)” (Bible Reader’s Companion, note on 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 2 Chronicles 33:1-20 [1] Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem: [2] But did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, like to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. [3] For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. [4] Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. [5] And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. [6] And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he worked much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. [7] And he set a carved image, 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 before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever: [8] Neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from out of the land which I have appointed for your fathers; so that they will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses. [9] 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. [10] And the LORD spoke to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not listen. [11] Why the LORD brought on 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. [12] And when he was in affliction, he sought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, [13] And prayed to him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God. [14] 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 in 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. [15] 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. [16] 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. [17] Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet to the LORD their God only. [18] Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers that spoke to him in the name of the LORD God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. [19] His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him, and all his sins, and his trespass, and the places wherein he built high places, and set up groves and graven images, before he was humbled: behold, they are written among the sayings of the seers. [20] So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house: and Amon his son reigned in his stead.
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).

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