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People who read their Bibles are surely familiar with the stories of Kings Hezekiah and Manasseh of ancient Judah. However, some just think that “Hezekiah was good and Manasseh was bad,” and assume there is not much more to the story. However, there is much in this story that can easily be missed, and I think that it offers important lessons for those of alive today. Let’s review these kings’ lives and then examine some lessons that are useful for us today.
King Hezekiah is famous for his prayer to God which saved Jerusalem when God responded by sending an angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers besieging the city (Isaiah 37). He is also famous for his prayer which resulted in God giving him 15 more years of life when God had told Hezekiah that he was about to die from an illness (Isaiah 38). It is worth noting that it is a testimony to the size and fortifications of the city of Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s time that 185,000 Assyrian soldiers had to try and “starve the city” because it was too powerful for 185,000 Assyrians to take by force. Hezekiah did other good things during his reign. He showed faith and obviously had a close relationship with God. However, this narrative about Hezekiah does not end well.
Soon after his healing, the king of Babylon “heard that Hezekiah” was sick and had been Divinely healed, which indicates that the news of Hezekiah’s life was spreading far and wide to other nations. Having God kill 185,000 soldiers of the feared Assyrian empire outside your city walls surely made Hezekiah very famous in his time. The king of Babylon sent gifts via ambassadors to Hezekiah (no doubt anyone who had such obvious Divine help attracted others who wanted to be Hezekiah’s friend). Hezekiah naively welcomed them and “showed them the house of his special treasures, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment, and all the house of his armor, and all that was in his treasures: there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not” (Isaiah 39:1-2). This was most foolish on Hezekiah’s part. He gave the Babylonian ambassadors a motive to come and attack Judah and he showed them all his weaponry and defenses. It is as if Hezekiah thought himself somehow invulnerable from harm after Divine interventions saved him in warfare and from a fatal illness.
Isaiah the prophet came to Hezekiah and told him not only that his actions were foolish, but also that everything he had shown the Babylonians would be taken by the Babylonians and that his sons would become “eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Hezekiah’s reaction was surprisingly selfish. His answer showed no concern either for the well-being of his nation or for his offspring. As long as the disaster was not to occur in his own lifetime, Hezekiah didn’t really care (Isaiah 39:8). There was no repentance on Hezekiah’s part for his foolishness. He didn’t fast and seek the Lord’s mercy upon his nation or his children for his own foolishness. When King David heard of Divine sentences against himself and the nation because of his sins, he fasted and humbled himself (II Samuel 12 and 24) before God. Even wicked King Ahab of the kingdom of Israel “humbled himself” before God when Ahab heard the prophet Elijah’s sentence of Divine judgment upon Ahab and his offspring (I Kings 21:17-29). Because Ahab “humbled himself” and fasted, God was merciful even to Ahab and delayed the curse for a generation. If God was merciful to a wicked king Ahab when he humbled himself, would not God have been even more merciful to Hezekiah who had been a good king? However, the Bible records no instance that Hezekiah made any effort at all to repent or humble himself. Hezekiah’s answer in Isaiah 39:8 indicates Hezekiah cared nothing for the well-being of his nation or his offspring. Hezekiah’s attitude toward a terrible curse pronounced upon his family and nation for Hezekiah’s own sin was, essentially: “So what. As long as I don’t have to personally suffer for my sin, why should I care?” Now let’s look at this situation through Manasseh’s eyes. II Chronicles 32:25 comments on Hezekiah’s deteriorating attitude after he was healed. It observes that Hezekiah’s “heart was lifted up, therefore, there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem.”
King Manasseh began to reign when he was 12 years old (II Kings 21:1). Since Hezekiah was granted 15 years of additional life by God (Isaiah 38:5), Manasseh was born three years after Hezekiah was Divinely healed and he grew up during the time that Hezekiah was selfishly “enjoying himself” for 15 years, but during which he cared little or nothing for the future of his kingdom and children. Manasseh would never have been born if Hezekiah had died on God’s original timetable (Isaiah 38:1). No doubt, the stories of the Divine deliverance of Jerusalem by God and the Divine healing received by his father were common stories told endlessly as Manasseh grew up. Manasseh also surely found out in whispered reports that Hezekiah had shown the Babylonians “everything,” and that the prophet Isaiah had pronounced God’s curse on the nation and on Manasseh for Hezekiah’s foolishness. Manasseh also must have known that his father, Hezekiah, did nothing to avert the judgment “of his Father’s God” upon the nation and upon Manasseh himself. Put yourself in Manasseh’s shoes. He was a mere boy growing up in a royal household and he is repeatedly reminded that “his father’s God has pronounced a Divine curse upon him for his father’s sin.” Manasseh was under a generational curse, and surely felt doomed and rejected by both God and his father. Realizing that God was going to punish him for his father’s sin, Manasseh likely grew to regard his father’s God as unfair and cruel. Manasseh also saw his father, King Hezekiah, enjoying life throughout Manasseh’s boyhood, and there is no record Hezekiah ever intervened with God in behalf of his son. It is not hard to see how Manasseh, as a boy, grew to hate both his father and his father’s God.
After becoming king, Manasseh figured “as long as I’m cursed, I may as well live it up while I have the time.” He grew up seething at both his father and his father’s God, and at age 12, he immediately began to rule in a manner which openly displayed his contempt and anger toward his father’s God. He sought after other gods, implemented human sacrifices and dealt openly with demons (II Kings 21:2-9). Manasseh led his nation into such sins and abominations that Judah became more vile than the corrupt heathen nations which had lived in the Promised Land before the Israelites came into it (verse 9). One can visualize what could happen when a very angry and resentful 12 year-old boy was granted unlimited power over a nation. He was determined to show his father’s God just how angry and resentful he was of the generational curse that had been placed on him. The fact that Manasseh never even considered repentance as an option to delay or end the generational curse shows that Hezekiah had never bothered to inform his son about such an option. This indicates a large amount of neglect on Hezekiah’s part. Manasseh was an angry boy made king and he was going to show “his father’s God” what naked, open rebellion really was!
God noticed. God pronounced increased judgments upon Judah and Jerusalem (II Kings 21:12-15). Manasseh then went on a cruel and massive killing spree as a result (verse 16). One can picture Manasseh watching torture-killings of innocent people in ways as evil as those devised and watched by the Roman Emperor Caligula in a later century. God finally brought an army of Assyrians who took Manasseh captive and brought him in chains to Babylon. Given Manasseh’s reign of terror, I can’t help think many were relieved when the Assyrians took him captive. It was while he was in a dungeon that Manasseh came to his senses. II Chronicles 33:12-13 records that Manasseh “humbled himself greatly before the God of this fathers,” and that God not only had mercy but also restored Manasseh to the throne of Judah! Manasseh’s repentance was lasting. He “knew that the Lord was God,” responsibly attended to matters of state, restored the defenses of Judah, removed all the idols, repaired God’s altar and Temple, etc. He reigned for 55 years, one of the longest reigns of any king mentioned in the Bible (II Chronicles 33:1).
King Hezekiah started great, but ended his reign very badly. Manasseh started horribly, but ended with positive actions. However, the sins of Manasseh in the early part of his reign did lasting damage to the kingdom of Judah. His own son, Amon, was an evil king who was assassinated after two years. Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson, was a good king who obeyed the Lord, but Jeremiah 3:6-10 records that the populace of Judah only “feigned” a return to God’s ways. When Josiah died, the kingdom of Judah sunk fully into sin and ended a few decades later when its people were carried into captivity. Hezekiah’s later indifference to God, his people’s well-being and the future of his own offspring eventually ruined the kingdom of Judah. Despite Manasseh’s eventual repentance and Josiah’s good reign, the people of Judah never recovered from what happened during the last 15 years of Hezekiah’s reign. In retrospect, it would have been far better both for Hezekiah and the whole nation of Judah if Hezekiah had died on God’s “original” timetable. If Hezekiah had died “on schedule,” Manasseh would never have lived and deep national rebellion and dissipation would not have taken hold if Hezekiah had not been given 15 additional years. What can we learn from this today?
The first lesson is that what matters most in God’s eyes is how well you finish your life, not how well you started it at the beginning. The second lesson is that if one receives mighty (and even miraculous) answers from God, one must still remember that it is vital to maintain an attitude of humility and obedience to God. Hezekiah did not do so, and his offspring and nation paid the price. A third lesson is that generational curses do exist, but that repentance can cancel out such curses (Manasseh was under a generational curse which was made even worse by his initial defiance, but his later repentance cancelled out the curse). Hebrews 7:25 tells us that God can “save from the uttermost [depths of sin]” if a person repents. Manasseh did repent, and God forgave and rescued him and gave him a long reign. A final lesson is that once sinfulness becomes widespread in a nation, it is very hard to uproot. Even though Kings Manasseh and Josiah tried to return the people to right paths, the people of ancient Judah did not respond with their own national repentance. Once sinfulness and rebellion against God becomes widespread in a nation, the result is eventually terminal for that nation.
The modern United States of America (and its western allies) once had a strong Christian heritage and a strong Judeo-Christian ethic. There are pockets of it left in Christian regions of the USA, but rebellion against God is spreading in our culture today. Even as Manasseh shed much innocent blood and practiced human sacrifice (II Kings 21:6, 16), the USA and the western nations have slaughtered millions of innocent babies in abortions. Serving foreign gods instead of the God of the Bible is becoming more common in America. Thankfully, the USA has a Divinely-given Constitution which prevents its Presidents and national leadership from doing as much evil to our nation as ancient kings could do with unlimited authority. However, we have TVs, movies, the internet, etc. which are causing national sins to spread like a cancer throughout our modern society very rapidly. If this sin continues to metastasize throughout our society, it will eventually kill our nation as surely as national sins ended the kingdoms of ancient Israel and Judah. How modern America responds to God’s call to national repentance in II Chronicles 7:14 will determine the future of our nation. Your response to that verse’s invitation will determine your future and that of your offspring. Don’t make Hezekiah’s mistake. Care about your nation and your offspring. Seek God and further the cause of national repentance. Our nation now has problems so severe that only God can truly solve them.