When was the last time you heard a powerful and relevant sermon from Second Chronicles that wasn’t in chapter seven? Maybe the better question is when was the last time you even read Second Chronicles? It’s a shame that most of the historical books in the Bible are deemed irrelevant and unnecessary by so many Christians.
In Second Chronicles chapter 33 we have one of the most remarkable stories in the entire Bible. Manasseh reigned longer than any other king of Judah (55 years). It was a reign of extremes and contrasts. Anyone who has ever wondered if they have sinned one time too many to ever hope for restoration and redemption should read this man’s story.
To begin with, you cannot suggest that Manasseh’s sins as the king of Judah were a logical outcome of his home life or parenting. He was the son of Hezekiah. Second Kings 18:5 says of Hezekiah, “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.” Wow. You sure can’t blame Manasseh’s wickedness on being brought up in an ungodly environment. Nor can you suggest that he didn’t have the proper training to be king since he reigned with Hezekiah for about eleven years.
And yet he turned.
No reason is given for Manasseh’s epic falling away from God so it is best not to try to make assumptions. We simply know he turned Judah into a satanic cesspool.
He started off by rebuilding “the high places” (countryside/wide structures devoted to the worship of false gods and demons), building and dedicating altars to the Baals, and erecting Asheroth poles (dedicated to the Canaanite goddess Asherah) for worship. However, most of that was run of the mill for wicked kings of Israel and Judah. Manasseh just started there and then took things to an entirely different depth of depravity.
He then turned Solomon’s Temple into a sanctuary of horrors. He built altars in the temple to worship a whole host of gods and goddesses. As if building altars to false gods wasn’t vile enough he then placed a carved image in the temple for worship. Then he went to the valley of Hinnom where his grandfather Ahaz burned some of his sons as a sacrifice and immolated his own sons. To make his turn away from God complete, he turned to fortune tellers, mediums, sorcerers, and necromancers. The chronicler summarizes the matter this way:
Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel (2 Chron. 33:9).
Manasseh singlehandedly turned the kingdom of Judah into a stinking sewer of a place that reeked more than the stench of the Canaanites whom God caused to be vomited out by Joshua’s conquest of the Holy Land (Lev. 18:27-29).
If Hezekiah couldn’t be surpassed in faithfulness and integrity, his son Manasseh could not be surpassed in narcissism and depravity. Scripture writes Manasseh off as a lock for Dante’s ninth circle of hell right?
Not even close.
God used the king of Assyria to conquer Judah. Manasseh was then “bound with chains of bronze and brought…to Babylon” (2 Chron. 33:11). No one ever lived (with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot) who more deserved what he got. Dethroned, humiliated, and enslaved.
But then something totally unexpected happens:
And when he [Manasseh] was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers (33:12).
Most of us look at that verse and say, “Yeah, a little late for that buddy. You worshiped false gods and turned to witches and sorcerers. You desecrated the holy temple in Jerusalem. You even murdered your own children by setting them on fire! No, God won’t listen to the likes of such as you. It’s time to burn.” Not realizing it, we become Jonah waiting with giddy anticipation for the fire and brimstone to begin its eternal work of damnation.
And then we read these shocking words:
God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom (33:13).
That’s got to be a joke right? All the harm this man did and God had the audacity to actually hear his prayer, let him go home, and even restore him as king of Judah? Yes, yes, and yes.
Manasseh spent the rest of his life trying to undo the harm he had done (see 2 Chron. 33:14-17). He wasn’t completely successful but the fact that he was even given the opportunity is one of the most amazing (if not mysterious) facts of the Bible.
But maybe the biggest mystery of all is why this breathtaking story of an epic falling away and just as epic restoration gets almost no attention or love from today’s Christians.
Let me suggest why.
We’ve lost the will or the nerve to ask God to bring pain into someone’s life in order to save them.
Manasseh had no hope of ever escaping the eternal fires of hell without the king of Assyria capturing him “with hooks” and taking him bound in chains to Babylon. Saul of Tarsus had no hope of escaping the judgment of God for his myriad of crimes against the early Church without being thrown off a horse and having his eyes burned and blinded. The prodigal son was destined for a life of resentment and ultimately an eternity without God until he found himself eating with pigs.
The Bible is full of stories of people who were really and truly consumed with evil who found redemption only after being confronted with pain and suffering. There is an easier way to find favor with God called obedience and faithfulness. Some choose that path. But many don’t. For those who don’t, their only hope may be a face to face confrontation with disaster.
The large print in 2 Chronicles 33 tells of Manasseh’s apostasy and redemption. The small print says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh…” (33:11). The obvious mercy and compassion of God on Manasseh is when God is moved by his prayers and sent him back to Judah as king. But that is only possible because of the mercy of God upon Manasseh when he sent the king of Assyria to put hooks in his nose and chains on his hands and feet. Without that there would have been no redemption.
What do you do when someone seems to have gone all in for sin, depravity, selfishness? Sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is pray that God brings disaster into their lives for it may indeed be their only hope of ever being saved. Not a prayer of condemnation that God would destroy your enemies and send them away into “outer darkness.” More like a prayer of permission. Something like, “Father, please do whatever it takes to turn this enemy of righteousness into a citizen of your Kingdom.”
But in this age of the Church, praying such a thing could very likely be deemed hateful and inappropriate. You would likely be told Jesus would never pray for someone to experience hardship or loss just to win them as a disciple. There would be some truth to that but only because He was Himself that disaster sent to break that He might heal.
The temptation is that praying for disaster to befall the enemies of God can be a thinly veiled request for vengeance. But the reality is that some people have no chance at all of ever being forgiven of their sin short of being led away by hooks. For that group of people only the question remains: do we have the courage to pray for disaster?
No one is beyond redemption but some will never get there without their world being shattered first.