2 Kings 21: Manasseh's Sin
Some of the kings in Jerusalem were good kings and “did right in the sight of the Lord,” and some were bad kings and “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Joash, who was made king as a little boy, was a good king, while the good priest Jehoiada advised him. Hezekiah was a good king. He listened to the words of the prophet Isaiah. But after Hezekiah there were two bad kings, Manasseh and Amon, son and grandson of Hezekiah. A “good king” means especially that the king worshiped the Lord and required the people to worship Him. You remember the beautiful temple of the Lord that Solomon built in Jerusalem, with its most holy chamber where was the ark holding the commandments, the holy chamber where were the incense altar and the lamp and table, and the court before the temple where were the laver for water and the altar on which the fire was always burning, where sacrifices to the Lord were offered. A good king made sure that the temple was cared for and was repaired when it needed repair, and that the worship of the Lord was faithfully performed each morning and evening and at other times. A good king also forbade the people to worship images for gods, as the Lord also had commanded in the first of the Ten Commandments. He destroyed idols which the people had set up to worship, as the people of the nations around them did. And some good kings destroyed the places of worship on hills and other high places, telling the people to come to the Lord's temple at Jerusalem. These were things that Hezekiah and other good kings did.
But now when we read the story of Manasseh, Hezekiah's son who was king after him, you will see why he is called a bad king. He was made king when twelve years old. We wish that some good priest like Jehoiada or some prophet like Isaiah had taught him and helped him to be a good king. But he built again high places which Hezekiah had destroyed, and worshiped the idols of the other nations with evil rites such as they used. He even made altars in the temple courts for worship of the sun and moon and stars, and set up a carved image in the temple. He even offered his son as a burnt offering, as you remember the king of Moab had done. Then prophets of the Lord spoke, rebuking all this evil and predicting that Jerusalem and Judah would be destroyed, “as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” What a sad picture of disobedience to the Lord and of neglect and abuse of His beautiful temple! And the same sad condition continued under Amon, Manasseh's son who was king after him. Then came another good king.
Read what I have said to the primary children about the good kings and the bad kings. The good kings tried to be faithful to the Lord, to care for the temple and its worship, and to stop the worship of idols. The bad kings encouraged the worship of idols, in high places throughout the land and even in the courts of the Lord's temple. Hezekiah was a good king. His son Manasseh was a bad king. Read of the evil things that he did (verses 2-7). The worship of Baal was the worship which Elijah had so bravely opposed. Remember the sacrifice on Mt. Carmel. (I Kings 18) Worship of the host of heaven means worship of the sun, moon, and stars. Causing a child to pass through the fire usually means offering the child as a sacrifice. We remember the king of Moab's offering his son to Chemosh. (2 Kings 3:27) The Lord had taught Abraham that such a sacrifice is not pleasing to Him. (Gen. 22:9-13) See also Micah 6:6-8. The words in verse 6 refer to various ways of being guided by drawing lots and by signs. Dealing with familiar spirits and wizards means seeking answers through persons who claimed to talk with spirits. All these things are mentioned and forbidden in Deut. 18:10-11. “A graven image of the grove” means a carved image of the goddess Ashera, or of some emblem of the goddess. It is hard to see how such things could have been allowed in the beautiful temple of the Lord. With verse 7, read the words of Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple. (I Kings 8:27-29) So Manasseh led the people to follow the worship of the nations about them and to be even worse than those nations.
Manasseh also broke the commandment not to kill, for he killed innocent people, no doubt many of the prophets. He and his people were the most wicked that had thus far lived in Judah. Of all the kings of Judah down to Ahaz it is said, when they died, that they were buried in the city of David their father. As you read this and the following chapters, notice what is said about the burial of these last kings of Judah.
When the Jews kept the commandments they prospered, but when they were disobedient they were unsuccessful. And as they were now so very wicked, they were about to lose their city and their land, and to be carried away into the land of their enemies, who, as you know from what Isaiah had told Hezekiah, were the Babylonians.
And this the Lord told them by the prophets. These prophets said that the Lord would stretch the line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab over Jerusalem, and wipe them like a dish. When a house is being built, cords or lines are stretched where the walls re to be, so that the masons may get them straight, and as the walls go up, they are tested by a plummet or plumbline, to see that they are true, all just like the pattern of the builder. But see what the building of Samaria and Ahab had come to. So it would be with Jerusalem. And as all that may be left in a dish is wiped out with a cloth, so all the good left in Jerusalem would be wiped out. The picture of the dish wiped and turned upside down is a strong figure. Verse 16 seems to mean the slaying by Manasseh of prophets and others faithful to the Lord. What a sad and evil record for a king of Judah! And Amon who was king after him for two years was no better than he. We shall be glad in our next lesson to learn of another good king.
1. Was Manasseh a good king or an evil one? What did he do? What did he place in the temple?
2. What other wicked things did he do? Do any people at the present day deal with “familiar spirits”?
3. In what way was the destruction of Jerusalem predicted?
What a catalog of sins is given in this chapter—so many idols, so much wrong-doing! There were the high places which represented the love and pride of self. There was Baal who represented the worship of self and the world, with all its apparently pleasant but really bad delights. There was worship of the sun and moon and stars, which in a good sense represent the Lord's love and wisdom and the knowledge of heavenly things, but in an evil sense when worshiped they represent love of self and untrue and evil thoughts. (Deut. 17:2-5; A. 2441; E. 401; R. 53; H. 122)
The temple courts represented the outward life of the two great loves of the kingdom of heaven: love of the Lord and love of the neighbor, which distinguish heaven into two vast kingdoms, called, respectively, the celestial kingdom and the spiritual kingdom. This outward life is twofold (1) loving good for the sake of good, represented by the inner court; and (2) loving truth for its own sake, represented by the outer court. (A. 9741) Then what does the setting up of altars to the host of the heavens in the courts mean? Why, to admit falsities into the domain of these holy loves, and thus to desecrate and profane them, by destroying them and making them appear as if they were not good.
The presence of these abominations in the temple of the Lord pictures selfishness of various kinds present and ruling in worship and religion, as the motive of getting personal honor or gain or power over others by means of religion and the church. The spirit of using religion for selfish gain was expressed in the money-changing and selling of cattle which the Lord found in the temple. He drove the traders and money-changers out and said, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:13) Much the same condition was represented in the days when idols and their evil worship were in the temple. May there possibly be idols in our religion which if we will the Lord will help us to cast out? (E. 840)
All the evil practices recited in verse 6 were specifically forbidden in Deut. 18:10-11, and in the internal sense they signify various kinds of wickedness in which holy things are utilized for one's own mercenary advantage, and advancement to honor. (A. 9188) All these practices consisted in the abuse of correspondences in one form or another. Magic is nothing else. The effect is to make things appear different from what they are. And so they represent, on the spiritual plane, the practice of making truth to appear false, and falsity true. You may read of the modern forms of incantation in R. 462, and you will then see how widespread enchantments are even at the present day, entering into the newest and latest religions and philosophies.
To “consult familiar spirits” is like the modern practice of consulting spirits through spiritualistic mediums. It is wrong and dangerous to seek intercourse with spirits in such ways. (See H. 249; A. 9438.) The Lord teaches us through His Word. This is the true way to receive guidance from Him. (Luke 16:31)