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King Manasseh

Joshua died before things started to go badly wrong. We are shown this at the start of the book of Judges. The Israelites still had more fighting to do before they could fully claim the land. They met a determined foe and weren't able to drive out all the Canaanites, so kept them as slaves instead. What followed was the biggest shift in God's relationship with the Israelites since the Covenant was given on Mount Sinai all those years earlier.

God appeared to them, in person, as the angel of the Lord and spoke:

I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you. (Judges 2:1-3)

Joshua had judged them correctly, they were not 100% God's people, they had been swayed by the gods of the vanquished Canaanites who were living with them. God is simply telling them, you've made your bed, now go and live in it!

The story of the Israelites is basically all downhill from that day onwards. Why were they so easily swayed? Hadn't God proved Himself to them so many times in word and deed? What was the matter with these people?

But, then again, we could say ... what's the matter with us, too? How many of us Christians, when we have seen God working so mightily and graciously in our lives, have granted Him ever decreasing influence, as we forge our way through life. It's a very human failing, so there's no point blaming those early Israelites. Instead we should all band together ... and blame Adam and Eve, who got that particular ball rolling.

A tiny seed was to multiply. To see its full effect we must return, around 800 years later, to King Manasseh of Judah. And what a horror he was!

Firstly he rebuilt the high places, the hilltops where pagan gods were worshipped and counterfeits of the only divinely sanctioned high place, the Temple in Jerusalem. This is not worship as we know it, but rather animal and human sacrifices, prostitution and the practice of the dark arts. The centre point would have been sacred pillars, carved with the likenesses of the pagan gods and goddesses and considered as dwelling places for these "deities".

So King Manasseh, descendant of King David, had dragged the kingdom down through his worship of this detestable crew of pagan entities. If that wasn't bad enough, he also worshipped the stars in the night sky, giving them individual altars in the Temple. He also practiced sorcery, divination, witchcraft and consulted mediums and spiritualists.

And the people of the Kingdom of Judah themselves were just as bad:

But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites. (2 Kings 21:9)

Oh how God must have dealt with Manasseh. Surely he had earned the death penalty a hundred times over? God had smitten others for far less crimes.

Manasseh was taken prisoner by the Assyrians, who shackled him, shoved a hook through his nose and dragged him off to Babylon. Go for it, justice at last, we cry. But what?s this ...?

In his distress he sought the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. (2 Chronicles 33:12)

At this I exclaim in "righteous anger", some hope! Come on God, just give him both barrels!

And when he prayed to him, the LORD was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

What?! I cry.Deal with it! God responds.

Who says that the God of the Old Testament can't be the God of the New Testament because He is not merciful? You simply can't get more forgiving and merciful than this!

But enough about Manasseh. He had a son, Amon, who had plenty of opportunity to assess his father's career. This he did and decided to take the "evil pills" and, because he refused to see the light, was killed by his own officials. He left a son, Josiah, a king to confound the psychologists, neither following the dark ways of his immediate forbears, nor relaxing in the rut of power and privilege. He had started the much-needed reforms in the land, ten years earlier at the age of 16. Needless to say, the people of Judah were already doomed, a people ripe for judgement.

Although King Josiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, these acts were to save him but not the nation. His sons turned out to be a bad lot, which mattered not, as theirs was the generation that was exiled to Babylon. God's judgement could not be forestalled any longer and, we are told in the starkest possible way that God's anger against Judah and Jerusalem was such that:

 ... in the end he thrust them from his presence. (2 Kings 24:20)

Exile followed, then a return, albeit to a land suffering under foreign occupation. We now move ahead a few hundred years, to the time of the Romans and to the time of Messiah Jesus.

Steve Maltz
June 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)

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