Let’s begin, this morning, with good king Hezekiah...
2 Kings 18:3-6 And Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it. 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. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses.
According to this account in 2 Kings, Hezekiah was the best king ever. But not his son, Manasseh.
2 Kings 21:1-6 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, "In Jerusalem will I put my name." And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And... he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.
When the good King Hezekiah died, his young son Manasseh stepped into his father's place, but not into his father's footsteps. Manasseh's first order of business was to reverse everything his father had accomplished.
--Where his father had removed the idolatrous high places. Manasseh rebuild them all.
--Where his father taken town all the Asherah poles. No problem. Manasseh would set an army of artisans to work on carving a forest of new ones.
--Where his father purified the Temple of YHWH. Very well. Manasseh would haul one of the new Asherah poles - linked with the worship of sex - into the very courts of the Temple - mere feet away from the Presence in the Holy of holies.
--Where his Father led a whole-hearted national revival to YHWH. Manasseh led a revival of pagan worship... Worship the god of your choice.
Let's see, we have the high gods, Baal, Asherah, and the starry hosts. Was anyone let out of being worshipped? Molech. Let’s don’t forget Molech! Molech was worshipped by offering children to the fire. Manasseh directed the massive idol to be set in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, just outside of Jerusalem. Rabbinic writers describe a towering, hollow, bronze statue, human in form but with an ox's head. The pit below the idol allowed for enormous fires, turning Molech into a searing furnace. When the metal was glowing cherry-red and the chants and drumbeats reached a savage crescendo, worshippers would grasp their babies, toddlers, and young children and pitch them bodily into the hollow center of the idol, burning them alive. The frenzied pounding of ceremonial drums would almost (but not quite) drown out the children's dying screams.
The worship of these terrible gods kept escalating. The pagan gods demanded more and more. Appeasing the gods intensified. These gods were takers... more and more they took from their worshippers... until they offered their most precious... their children. Molech was a taker; a taker of children.
Manasseh took his own wide-eyed little boy with him to worship and came home alone. Listen to the account in 2 Chronicles:
2 Chronicles 33:6-9 And Manasseh burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of the idol that he had made he set in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, "In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever, and I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land that I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses." 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.
In the royal chambers where his father had once consulted with Isaiah, Manasseh held council with witches and warlocks and mediums and wizards. Demons were welcome guests at Manasseh’s banquets.
Wow... that’s bad... really bad.
But, not everyone went along with the worship of the Canaanite gods. There were still worshippers and prophets of YHWH who would not bow the knee to Baal. There were still brave men and women who were willing to stand fast against the black tide sweeping through the land. But not for long. Manasseh sent out his troop to rid the city of those who were YHWH worshippers.
2 Kings 21:16 Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides the sin that he made Judah to sin so that they did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.
Jewish tradition says that Manasseh found the prophet Isaiah hiding in a hollow tree. Manasseh directed his men to saw both the tree and Isaiah in two. He endeavored to not only encourage idol worship but to stomp out the worship of YHWH. He led his city and his country further and further away from the God of his Father.
Listen to an almost unbelievable verse:
2 Chronicles 33:10 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.
God continued to attempt to get Manasseh to listen. YHWH pleaded with Manasseh to repent; turn back before it is too late, but he would not listen. He crossed the line of God's anger. YHWH had no choice but to bring the pagan circus of Manasseh's folly to an end.
2 Chronicles 33:11 Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.
"YES!" we cry. Finally, justice is served. If this were a movie we would be cheering at this part when the Assyrian came in and grabbed up Manasseh and put a hook in his nose and chains on his feet and drug him off in captivity. “This is better than he deserves. Anyone who would lead a whole country to ruin, who would kill their own children, who would slaughter the innocent and kill the prophets - deserves to be treated like a pig.”
And if anyone ever had a bull’s eye on his forehead just begging God to zap him, it was Manasseh.
If I were God, I'd have been content to let this guy rot in his bronze shackles deep in some forgotten maximum-security prison. No parole. No work-release. No early release for good behavior. Locked up for ever. But, I'm not God. God is God. And what God did... is unexplainable.
2 Chronicles 33:12-13 And when Manasseh was in distress, he entreated the favor of YHWH his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that YHWH was God.
What? Can you believe that? That's like taking Hitler out of the bunker in Berlin and making him Chancellor of Germany again. It's like taking Stalin back from the grave and placing him as the president of Russia. It's like taking Sadaam Hussein out of his spider hole and making ruler of Irag, again. Or, naming Kim Jong-un as the Secretary General of the United Nations.
But that is what God did. He didn't consult me or anyone else. Manasseh was taken out of bondage and restored to rule God's country of Israel. If we didn't know better we would have thought that Manasseh pulled a fast one on God. That he shrewdly saw what would happen if he changed and so he did. But YHWH is never deceived. YHWH read his heart. YHWH saw that Manasseh's tears were genuine. That Manasseh's grief was real. That when Manasseh reached his hand toward God in confession, God, the Almighty God of the Universe reached down and embraced him.
It would have been mercy to simply allow Manasseh to live in captivity. It would have been mercy to allow Manasseh to return to Jerusalem and live in poverty. It would have been mercy to allow Manasseh to return to the palace as a servant. But God went beyond mercy. Something unbelievable happened in that dungeon. Manasseh tapped into a power that exceeds our imagination. A power so great it baffles the mind. Manasseh experienced the... grace of God.
Wow, this is an amazing story. It’s amazing for several reasons...
It is an amazing story for Mother’s Day. You did notice Manasseh’s mother’s name... Hephzibah. Assuming Hephzibah was like her husband, Hezekiah, then the return of her son must have been wonderful. Manasseh remembered his parents’ faith. “Manasseh humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” Their influence finally had its impact. You never know, even the worst of kids... can remember their parents’ faith.
Did you see what God did when Manasseh humbled himself...
God was willing to restore. None of us have ever done anything near as wicked as Manasseh, yet God restored him to being king. Manasseh humbled himself greatly. God was moved. Wow. This is amazing. It is an amazing insight into our God. YHWH is a loving God. YHWH is love. That has to be the starting point of all theology. YHWH is Love. What else kind of God would restore someone as evil as Manasseh unless at His core God is love.
Wow, then, that leads us to compare YHWH with Molech.
The story is amazing because it shows the contrast between Molech and YHWH. That may be why so much detail is given about both gods.
--Molech wanted the sacrifice of their sons! YHWH has never wanted such sacrifice.
Jeremiah a few years spoke this...
Jeremiah 32:35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination...
YHWH could not even conceive of such an atrocity. The God of love would never accept a child as a sacrifice.
--Molech demanded appeasement! “Appease me, and I might bless you.” The very nature of idol worship is escalating evil. “Appease me and I will consider your requests.” “Prayer without payment is pointless” could have been written above the pit of fire.
YHWH has never wanted appeasement. The Shema, the saying all Jewish regularly say is...
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
That is who God has always wanted to be.... YHWH is love and he wants to be loved. That is our relationship...
-not some kind of tit for tat;
-not some kind of pay me else
-not some kind of conciliation, pacification, mollification or placation
YHWH simply wants our hearts.
Wait, wait... the greatest contrast of all between Molech and YHWH happened just a few miles away from the Valley of Ben Hinnom on the other side of Jerusalem, about 600 years after Manasseh.
Not far from where Manasseh offered his sons to the fires of Molech, another Son was sacrificed. But, watch the difference...
Molech took their sons... YHWH became a son. What? That’s amazing. No that is stunning. Where Molech greedily accepted the sacrifices of their sons in his fires, YHWH became a son to be sacrificed. YHWH reversed the curse. The curse of evil that had fallen upon humanity was reversed by the death of YHWH who had become a son. That may have been the point all along. The death of the Son stopped such sacrifices!
Molech took life. YHWH the Son gives life. When He rose from the dead on that Sunday morning... death was defeated.... Eternal life is now here.
Molech could never love. YHWH the Son is love!
The story of Manasseh is amazing because it tells the story of a real God who is love!
Los Alamos Church of Christ
May 13, 2018