Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign.
Christian Observer.The narratives of the Old Testament are not to be read as mere matters of history, but as records of the providential dispensations of God in the concerns of mankind, and as fraught with lessons of the most valuable moral and religious instruction. In this light we are to consider the account handed down to us of Manasseh. King of Judah. An uninspired historian could only have informed us of his evil life, his affliction, his repentance, his restoration to prosperity, and his subsequent good conduct; but the sacred writer exhibits to us the manner in which the hand of God was visible throughout these events. It was not a matter of chance that Manasseh fell into adversity; for it was a scourge expressly sent upon him for his transgressions: nor was it by chance that he was restored to his kingdom, but by the unseen interposition of the all-wise Disposer of events, and in consequence of his deep humiliation and humble prayer. It is thus that the Scriptures teach us maxims of heavenly wisdom, not only in their direct exhortations and promises, but in the narratives which they record, all being written so as to display the conduct of God towards His creatures; His wisdom and .righteousness, His justice and His mercy, His anger against the transgressor, His favour to the humble penitent, His infinite patience and forbearance towards all. We see embodied in actual facts our own circumstances, our sins and our mercies; what we have to hope or to fear; what our Creator requires of us; how He will act towards us. The chief particulars are the aggravated transgressions of Manasseh; the consequent affliction which befell him; his repentance in his affliction; his deliverance from it, and his future obedience to God.
1. The chapter before us details the transgressions of Manasseh. His sins were of a very heinous character, and were committed under circumstances which greatly aggravated their enormity. The narrative mentions several particulars, which show the fearful extent of his offences.(1) He sinned immediately against God. Every sin is indeed a transgression of the commands of our Creator; but some sins seem as it were to show a more than ordinary contempt for His Infinite Majesty: they imply a direct denial of His presence; they urge him to vindicate the honour of his name; they practically speak the language of the fool who says in his heart, "There is no God." Of this kind was the sin of idolatry which Manasseh so flagrantly committed: for he reared up altars for an idol or false god, called Baalim; and made groves for the cruel and licentious rites of heathen superstition: he worshipped the host of heaven, the sun, the moon, and the stars, and served them; instead of serving Him who made them, and rules them in their courses. He even carried his profaneness and provocation against God to so great an extent, that he built altars for these pagan idols in the courts of the house of the Lord, and set up for worship a carved image in the temple itself, of "which God had said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house will I put my name for ever."(2) But not only did Manasseh "work much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger," but his sins against God were followed by sins against his neighbour. Having cast off the fear of his Creator, he became dangerous to all around him. His heart was so greatly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, that it is said, "he shed innocent blood very much till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another"; and he even caused his own children to pass through the fire, in the valley of the son of Hinnom.(3) To aggravate still more his offences, he not only sinned himself, but he delighted in causing others to sin also; for it is said that "he made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen." The ungodly add fearfully to their-own offences, by seducing others to offend. If a ruler hearken to lies, says Solomon, "all his servants are wicked;" and even in the most humble sphere of life "evil communications" in like manner "corrupt good manners"; and this not only by the natural effect of bad example, but by the positive efforts which sinners employ to lead others into temptation.(4) Another aggravation of the sinful conduct of Manasseh was, his ingratitude for the benefits which he had received from that all-merciful Being whom he so daringly offended. This is particularly mentioned in the chapter before us; where, in the account given of his sinfulness in introducing idolatry into the city and temple of Jerusalem, mention is made of the special favours which Jehovah had bestowed upon the people of Israel, and his promise not to remove them out of the land which he had appointed for their fathers, provided they would take heed to do all that he had commanded them.(5) To mention but one aggravation more, of the sins of Manasseh, and that which greatly added to their enormity, they were committed deliberately against knowledge and warning, against the secret checks of conscience, and against the early instructions of a pious education. For Manasseh was the son of King Hezekiah, of whom it is recorded that "throughout all Judah," and more especially doubtless in his own family, "he wrought that which was good, and right, and truth before the Lord his God." And though, unhappily for Manasseh, he died when that prince was but twelve years old, he doubtless both instructed him himself in the ways of God, as long as he lived, and appointed others to assist his endeavours and to perpetuate them after his decease. Under all these circumstances, highly aggravated was his guilt; and equally aggravated and eternal would have been his punishment, had not the subsequent part of his history presented a very different aspect to that which we have been contemplating. The succeeding stages of his life remain to be briefly noticed.
2. To consider the affliction which in consequence befell him. Happy was it for him that he was not suffered to proceed in his iniquities unchecked. Sorrow, we are told, springs not out of the ground: it does not occur by chance, or without meaning. All affliction is the consequence of sin; and it is well when our troubles in this life are made the instruments of leading us to God, that we may not suffer that eternal punishment which our iniquities merit in the world to come. In the case of Manasseh, the hand of God was clearly visible in His punishment. It is said that the Lord brought upon him and his people — for both he and his people had sinned — the host of the king of Assyria, and they took Manasseh, among the thorns; that is, in some thicket to which he had retreated for safety; and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. A greater temporal calamity than this could scarcely befall a man like Manasseh.
3. Our text notices his repentance in his affliction. His captivity gave him leisure for serious reflection; and by the blessing of God he was led to avail himself of it. Multitudes of persons never begin to think of their sins, or their need of salvation, till the hour of pain or sickness, of bereavement or death. Thus Manasseh in his prosperity had forgotten his Creator; but in his adversity he could find no other refuge. His false gods could not assist him; and therefore, like the prodigal son, his only refuge was to turn to the merciful Father whom he had forsaken.
4. We are told of his deliverance from his affliction. The Lord, it is said, heard his supplication, and brought him back again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. The following verses allude to his future prosperity; for, by the dispensation under which Manasseh lived, it pleased the Almighty often to bestow temporal blessings as a mark of his special mercy; and as the afflictions which first led Manasseh to repentance and prayer had been of a worldly kind, so, when it pleased God to restore him to his favour, he gave him also worldly blessings, life and liberty, and a successful issue in the affairs of his kingdom. But far above all these outward blessings was the forgiveness of his sins. Worldly prosperity may be either a benefit or a curse to its possessor; but to be pardoned and justified — this is indeed a blessing of unspeakable value, and should constrain us with earnest gratitude to devote ourselves to the service of our God and Saviour. This leads us to remark,
5. The subsequent obedience of Manasseh. The narrative is brief; but it particularly mentions his future obedience to God, and his zeal for his glory. His heart being renewed, his course of life changed with it. It is said, that he now "knew that the Lord He was God." He had discovered this both in His power to afflict him and in His power to restore him; and now, knowing Him to be the only true God, he resolved to worship Him as such. He had repented, and he brought forth fruits meet for repentance. Much was forgiven him, and he loved much. First, he turned from his former sins; for "he took away the strange gods and the idol out of the house of, the Lord": not only this, but he began to practise his long neglected duties; he repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings, and thank-offerings, and commanded his people to serve the Lord God of Israel. As his transgressions had been public, he wished his contrition for them to be equally so; and as he had led others astray by his authority and example, he was now urgent to bring them back to the right path. To follow his example in this respect is the most important application which we can make. We have not indeed shed blood, or literally sacrificed to idols, as he did; neither have we had any inducement to do so, or the opportunity of doing so. But, on the other hand, we have not been exposed to the temptations which he must have met with, left defenceless at the early age of twelve years, amidst the seductions of the world, as a sovereign prince, with every facility for the indulgence of his will and his passions, and meeting perhaps with few to control, and many to foster his evil propensities. But shall we therefore say that, according to our circumstances and temptations, we have not also grievously offended God? Let us then earnestly seek this inestimable blessing; let us neither slight it on the one hand nor despair of obtaining it on the other. It is to be obtained, if only we seek it, and seek it aright, and seek it before the opportunity for procuring it is for ever lost.
Amon was twenty and two years old when he began to reign.