THE APEX OF APOSTASY AND IDOLATRY UNDER MANASSEH AND AMON ELICITS SEVERE JUDGMENT UPON JUDAH AND JERUSALEM
Judah and Jerusalem have now arrived at the end of the line. They failed to learn any lessons from God’s dealings with Samaria and Israel. They have abused God’s patience and forbearance to the point where they have run out of rope. Instead of continuing the reforms of Hezekiah, they revert back to the most extreme levels of apostasy and pagan idolatry under Manasseh and his clone Amon. There are no boundaries they won’t transgress in forsaking the God of their covenant promises. The pronouncement of prophetic judgment with its tone of certainty and severity should shake them to their core. But they stubbornly refuse to listen to any of God’s warnings. Destruction and exile to Babylon are just over the horizon.
August Konkel: Manasseh is an example of how the consequences of sin are not confined to the sinner. The consequences of his sin results in the eventual exile of the entire nation; God decides “to remove [Judah] from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood … the Lord was not willing to forgive” (24:3b–4). The effects of Manasseh’s deeds are irreversible; the announcement of exile made to Hezekiah becomes a pronouncement of irreversible judgment against the nation (21:10–15). Manasseh, uniformly and unambiguously, is the worst king of Judah in the valuation of the Deuteronomistic Historians.
Mordechai Cogan: King Manasseh as described by the Deuteronomist was an enthusiastic idolator, wholly bent on abandoning the Mosaic Law in his private worship, as well as in the public cult. An inveterate sinner, Manasseh is compared to another infamous sinner, Ahab king of Israel, whose cultic offenses had led to the downfall of the dynasty of Omri. To support his charge against Manasseh, the worst of all the kings of Judah, Dtr. compiled the longest list of misdeeds of any he assembled. Above and beyond this, Manasseh is accused of “shedding innocent blood,” filling Jerusalem to the brim (cf. v. 16). Later tradition interpreted this in light of Ahab’s judicial murder of Naboth, and so told of the persecution of yhwh’s prophets, unto death, by Manasseh. But unlike Ahab, who was personally held responsible for his sin (see 1 Kgs 21:20–22, 22:38), Manasseh enjoyed a long reign of fifty-five years, the longest in the history of the Davidic dynasty.
I. (:1-9) MANASSEH’S EVIL REIGN IN THE SOUTH MARKS THE HEIGHT OF APOSTASY AND IDOLATRY
A. (:1) Selected Touchpoints
1. How Old Was he When He Became King?
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king,”
2. How Many Years Did He Reign?
“and he reigned fifty-five years”
Constable: “Manasseh” (lit. “Making Forgetful”) began reigning as vice-regent with his father Hezekiah when he was 12 years old, in 697 B.C. This arrangement continued for 11 years until Hezekiah died in 686 B.C. For a total of 55 years Manasseh was king of Judah (697-642 B.C.). He reigned longer than any Hebrew king, and he was Judah’s worst king spiritually.
David Guzik: This was both a remarkably long and a remarkably evil reign. A long career or longevity is not necessarily evidence of the blessing and approval of God.
3. Over Which Kingdom Did He Rule?
4. Who Was His Mother?
“and his mother’s name was Hephzibah.”
B. (:2-9) Moral Evaluation – Intensified Paganism and Covenant Apostasy
1. (:2) Summary Evaluation of Pagan Idolatry
“And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel.”
MacArthur: “abominations of the nations” – The detestable practices of the Canaanites were enumerated in Dt 18:9-12. Israel’s reproduction of these abominable practices of the nations that preceded her in the land was forbidden in Dt 12:29-31. The idolatry of Manasseh is detailed in vv. 3-9 (cf. 17:7-12, 15-17).
Whitcomb: Cultured, and even godly, homes are no guarantee of high quality among children, because each child begins at zero, spiritually speaking (Ps. 51:5; 58:3).
2. (:3-8) Specific Examples of Apostasy and Pagan Idolatry
a. (:3) Both Old and New Forms of Idolatry
“For he rebuilt the high places which 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.”
David Guzik: Manasseh did not only bring back old forms of idolatry; he also brought new forms of idolatry to Judah. At this time the Babylonian Empire was rising in influence, and they had a special attraction to astrological worship. Manasseh probably imitated this.
b. (:4-5) Desecration of the Temple
“And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put My name.’ 5 For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD.”
Wiersbe: There was to be but one altar in the temple court, but Manasseh added altars dedicated to various gods (see 16:10-16) and thus made Jehovah one “god” among many. Yet the Lord had put His name in only one place – the temple in Jerusalem (21:4, 7; Deut. 12:11; 1 Kings 8:20, 29; 9:3); and now a multitude of false gods shared that honor with Him.
Wiseman: Yahweh’s exclusive Name, denoting his character and presence, must always dominate worship of him (see 1 Kgs 8:16–19; Exod. 20:24).
c. (:6a) Occult Abominations
“And he made his son pass through the fire,
practiced witchcraft and used divination,
and dealt with mediums and spiritists.”
August Konkel: Passing the sons through the fire is named along with sorcery and consultation of mediums. This again is a specific violation of the covenant (Deut. 18:10–11). Passing one’s sons through the fire probably concerns funeral rites, as may be suggested by its association with consultation of ghosts and spirits of the dead. Rituals that involved children do not indicate that the children were slaughtered for these rites (cf. Jer. 7:32; 19:5; 32:35). Incineration of bodies took place at a dedicated location called a tophet by archaeologists (based on the Hebrew references). Such a place had a low enclosure wall and was used for generations. Those buried were primarily premature, stillborn, and young infants, buried with a special ceremony.
Mordechai Cogan: Deuteronomic terminology distinguishes between the practice of the nations who “burn” (*śārôp) their children in service of their gods (Deut 12:31; 2 Kgs 17:31) and the practice of apostate Israelites who “pass their sons and daughters through fire” (*heʿĕbîr bāʾēš) (16:3; 21:6). If this distinction is not merely euphemistic, then something other than actual sacrifice is meant by “passing through fire.” In Deut. 18:9, “passing through fire” appears together with sundry Canaanite divinatory acts which are outlawed in Israel;
d. (:6b) General Summary of Evil Practices
“He did much evil in the sight of the LORD
provoking Him to anger.”
e. (:7) Desecration of the Temple
“Then he set the carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the LORD said to David and to his son Solomon, ‘In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever.’”
Peter Pett: The setting up of the Asherah with its evil and lascivious associations appears to have been looked on, if that were possible, as even more serious than the pillars and altars of Baal (compare 2 Kings 13:6; 1 Kings 16:33). The sexual extravagances associated with Asherah are here set in stark contrast to the purity of the Name of YHWH.
f. (:8) Overall Covenant Apostasy
“And I will not make the feet of Israel wander anymore from the land which I gave their fathers, if only they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them.”
Dale Ralph Davis: The presence (v. 7) and promise (v. 8) of Yahweh are his people’s infinite treasure and highest privilege. And Manasseh despised them.
3. (:9) Stubborn Persistence in Pagan Idolatry
“But they did not listen, and Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel.”
David Guzik: This was a transformation of the culture from something generally God-honoring to a culture that glorified idolatry and immorality. In general, we can say this happened because the people wanted it to happen. They didn’t care about the direction of their culture.
Dale Ralph Davis: Now step back from this pile of paganism and note the common virus that infects it all. It’s all about control. In fertility worship I use my practice of sex to manipulate or encourage the heavenly powers to act in the same way and grant fertility. In astral worship I seek out omens that are indicators of future events; likewise in spiritism I want the secret knowledge that will enlighten me on how to act or react in view of what is coming. By sacrificing my child I show how dead earnest I am, what an extreme price I am willing to pay, and so should be able to ‘purchase’ the favor I desire. Paganism is the way I manage my life over against the various ‘powers’ that may determine it. Paganism is light years away from biblical religion with its sovereign God who walks before and beside me in both green pastures and dark valleys all the way to my final residence.
William Barnes: Although this entire section represents sharp condemnation of the king as “leading” the people into evil, quite similar to what Jeroboam I had done for Israel, there are also a few reminders in this section that the people were far from guiltless (cf. 21:13–15. . .
II. (:10-15) PROPHETIC PRONOUNCEMENT OF SEVERE JUDGMENT
“Now the LORD spoke through His servants the prophets, saying,”
Paul House: The prophetic messages of warning have been shaped by theological reflection upon the covenants, the flow of Israelite history, and the activity of God within that history. They also speak from their knowledge of the Lord’s character, such as his mercy, kindness, righteousness, and insistence on accountability. Therefore their words about the future are not only the product of divine revelation but are based upon their knowledge of God. As always the prophetic word does not fail, though in this case this fact saddens readers.
A. (:11) Necessity of Severe Judgment
“Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations,
having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him,
and has also made Judah sin with his idols;”
Constable: Not only did Manasseh apostatize personally, he also led the nation in departing from God (v. 11). The “line of Samaria” (v. 13) refers to the righteous standard that God had used to measure Samaria’s fidelity to His will. The “plummet of Ahab’s house” (v. 13) was the same plumb line of righteousness by which God had judged Ahab’s family. God would abandon His people temporarily, but not permanently (v. 14; cf. Deut. 28:63-64). The “remnant” that God said He would “abandon” probably refers to the Southern Kingdom of Judah (cf. 17:18). It, too, in addition to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, would go into captivity.
B. (:12-14) 4 Images of Divine Judgment
“therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,”
1. (:12) Image #1 – Emphasizing the Severity of the Coming Judgment
“Behold, I am bringing such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah,
that whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle.”
Wiersbe: This describes a frightening response to news so terrible that it’s like hearing a loud noise that makes your ears ring. The Hebrew word salal means “to tingle, to quiver,” and is related to the word for cymbals and bells. When they heard the news of the approaching Babylonian army, it would be like hearing a sudden clash of cymbals! Wake up! Wake up! But it would be too late.
2. (:13a) Image #2 – Emphasizing the Historical Precedent of Judgment
“And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria
and the plummet of the house of Ahab,”
MacArthur: These were weighted lines dropped from walls to see whether they were structurally straight (cf. Is 28:17; Am 7:7, 8). Walls out of line were torn down. The Lord had measured Jerusalem by the standard of His Word and had determined that the fate of Samaria (Israel) was also to befall Jerusalem.
3. (:13b) Image #3 – Emphasizing the Complete Destruction of Jerusalem
“and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish,
wiping it and turning it upside down.”
Wiseman: To wipe a dish and turn it upside-down to drain signified the depopulation of the land (cf. Jeremiah 51:34).
William Barnes: The image here is not of thoroughly washing and drying a dish, but of wiping it clean to get each and every morsel of food, leaving absolutely nothing behind (see Cogan and Tadmor 1988:269).
Mordechai Cogan: The turning over of a dish at the completion of a meal indicates satiation—i.e. no further consumption of the table’s spread. Vividly conveyed by this image are two statements: not only are a city and its people wiped out, but yhwh as well, has had his fill of Judah’s sinning and can take no more.
4. (:14) Image #4 – Emphasizing Their Helplessness in the Face of Judgment
“And I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance
and deliver them into the hand of their enemies,
and they shall become as plunder and spoil to all their enemies;”
It must be understood that God’s covenant promises were to the nation of Israel. That did not mean that every individual Israelite would enjoy the benefits of those promises; instead, if they were unfaithful and apostate and unbelieving, they would personally be subject to judgment rather than blessing. As well, there was corporate discipline upon the nation as a whole, but never abandonment of the promises of the covenants.
Wiersbe: The word “forsake” in 21:14 means “to give over to judgment.” God promised never to abandon His people (1 Sam. 12:22; 2 Sam. 7:23-24), but He also warned that He would chasten them if they disobeyed Him. God didn’t break His promises; it was the people who broke His covenant. God is always faithful to His covenant, whether to bless obedience of punish disobedience.
C. (:15) Necessity of Severe Judgment
“because they have done evil in My sight, and have been provoking Me to anger, since the day their fathers came from Egypt, even to this day.”
Dale Ralph Davis: This is a solemn matter: that iniquity can pass a point that places a nation, or an individual, beyond hope of recovery and makes judgment irreversible. The fact that we don’t know where that point is should sober us. . . That’s how it is with idolatry and depravity. There’s a line we can cross and we don’t know where it is. This ought to scare us into repenting. A broken and crushed heart (Ps. 51:17) doesn’t look all that bad when one considers the alternative.
III. (:16-18) SUMMARY OF EVIL REIGN OF MANASSEH
A. (:16) Overall Evaluation
“Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood
until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another;
besides his sin with which he made Judah sin,
in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.”
MacArthur: The reference here is ambiguous and several interpretations have been offered:
1) child sacrifice (cf. v. 6);
2) oppression and persecution of the weak (Jer 7:6; 22:3, 17; Eze 22:6-31); or
3) the martyrdom of God’s prophets (cf. v. 10)
A combination of all 3 is most likely. Jewish and Christian tradition alike report that Manasseh had Isaiah sawn in two inside a hollow log (cf. Heb 11:37).
David Guzik: We see the tragic progression in Manasseh’s sin.
• First, idolatry is tolerated among God’s people.
• Then idolatry is promoted.
• Then idolatry is supported and funded.
• Then the worship of the true God is undermined.
• Then the worshippers of the true God are persecuted and murdered.
• Then the judgment of God soon comes.
Peter Pett: The full evil of the life of Manasseh is brought out by a detailed description of all the abominations that he committed (2 Kings 21:3-7), followed by two summaries, one in 2 Kings 21:9 and one in 2 Kings 21:16, thereby making up a threefold indictment of the ‘completeness’ of his evil.
B. (:17) Recorded Deeds
“Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did and his sin which he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?”
C. (:18a) Death and Burial
“And Manasseh slept with his fathers
and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza,”
D. (:18b) Succession
“and Amon his son became king in his place.”
IV. (:19-26) AMON’S EVIL REIGN IN THE SOUTH AS THE CLONE OF MANASSEH
A. (:19) Selected Touchpoints
1. How Old Was He When He Became King?
“Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king,”
2. How Long Did He Reign?
“and he reigned two years”
3. Which Kingdom Did He Rule Over?
4. Who Was His Mother?
“and his mother’s name was Meshullemeth
the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah.”
B. (:20-22) Moral Evaluation
1. (:20-21) Followed in the Sinful Path of His Father
“And he did evil in the sight of the LORD,
as Manasseh his father had done.
For he walked in all the way that his father had walked,
and served the idols that his father had served and worshiped them.”
Caleb Nelson: And, in case 55 years wasn’t enough, Manasseh left behind a clone of himself. Three times in vv. 20-21 we are told that Amon imitated his father. The son was just like his daddy, only he did not die in peace. He was murdered after only two years of his carrying-on in the palace.
2. (:22) Forsook the Path of Covenant Faithfulness
“So he forsook the LORD, the God of his fathers,
and did not walk in the way of the LORD.”
C. (:23-24) Assassination Drama in Kingdom Succession
1. (:23) Killing of the King by an Internal Conspiracy
“And the servants of Amon conspired against him
and killed the king in his own house.”
Patterson and Austel: Although the Scriptures give no reason for the conspiracy, its cause may lie within the tangled web of revolts that Asurbanipal suppressed from 642-639 and that caused him to turn his attention to the west… Amon’s death may thus reflect a power struggle between those who wished to remain loyal to the Assyrian crown and those who aspired to link Judah’s fortunes to the rising star of Psammetik I (664-609) of Egypt’s Twenty-Sixth Dynasty.
Wiersbe: Amon was probably pro-Assyrian – after all they had released his father from prison – while the officials were pro-Babylonian, not realizing that the rise of Babylon would ultimately mean the fall of Judah. Amon’s son Josiah was definitely pro-Babylonian and even lost his life on the battlefield trying to stop the Egyptian army from assisting Assyrian against Babylon. The fact that the people made Josiah the next king would suggest that they didn’t want a pro-Assyria king.
2. (:24) Killing of the Conspirators by the People of the Land
“Then the people of the land killed all those who had conspired against King Amon,
and the people of the land made Josiah his son king in his place.”
William Barnes: recurring references to a distinct group of powerful individuals (landed aristocrats?), who remained loyal to the Davidic ancestral line, stepping forward whenever that dynasty was threatened (cf. 23:30, 35 [?];
Mordechai Cogan: Throughout this period, the stabilizing factor in Judah was the ʿam hāʾāreṣ, “the People of the Land,” who remained loyal to the Davidides. As in the case of Jehoash (2 Kgs 11), so here too they appear at a moment of dynastic crisis to insure the continuation of the House of David, by placing Josiah on the throne. If the analogy to Joash be extended, it can also be argued that even though the ʿam hāʾāreṣ avenged the violent death of Amon, they were not supporters of the religiopolitical policies of Manasseh and his successor. This is seen from the thrust of Josiah’s actions, after a decade of rule by the ʿam hāʾāreṣ during Josiah’s minority; the influence upon the king of these circles, loyal to Israelite tradition was striking. From the death of Amon until the fall of Judah in 586, the “People of the Land” repeatedly came forward whenever the dynasty was endangered. They were also among the first to be punished by Judah’s conquerors (cf. e.g. 23:35).
D. (:25-26) Overall Summary of Reign of Amon
1. (:25) Recorded Deeds
“Now the rest of the acts of Amon which he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?”
2. (:26a) Burial
“And he was buried in his grave in the garden of Uzza,”
3. (:26b) Succession
“and Josiah his son became king in his place.”
Dilday: The only positive contribution Amon made to the history of Judah was to produce one of the best kings to reign on the throne of Jerusalem.