Do you feel hopeless today? The Respect for Marriage Act. Mid-term election results. Orwellian rhetoric from politicians. Animated movies openly advocating for what God calls abominable. Everywhere we turn, our culture is headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps you’re still praying for our nation, praying for revival, but maybe it feels hopeless. I must admit that when emails come into my inbox imploring me to reach out to my (very liberal) representatives in Congress about an upcoming bill that flies in the face of God’s Word, I usually just delete them. “What’s the point?” I wonder. “They’re going to vote the way they’re going to vote. It’s hopeless.”
Of course, theologically, we know that no situation truly is hopeless. God redeems the irredeemable. That’s just what He does. But in case you need a reminder today, consider the story of Judah’s most wicked king.
A Hopeful Start
His very life was the result of a miracle. Three years before this wicked king was born, his father, King Hezekiah, lay dying. While Scripture withholds the name of the king’s illness, it does not withhold the fact that it was terminal. God even sent the prophet Isaiah to tell the king to prepare for the end (2 Kings 20:1). Upon receiving this difficult news, godly King Hezekiah did what he had done many times before: he called out to God. God heard the prayer of His servant and granted him fifteen more years of life. During those fifteen years Hezekiah would father the son who would become king. His name: Manasseh.
Surely Hezekiah taught his son the greatness of this God who had heard his cry and spared his life. Surely, Manasseh was raised hearing the Law of God and being taught to love Yahweh with all of his heart, soul mind, and strength. He must have been taught that Yahweh is God—Yahweh alone (Deut. 6:4-6). Or perhaps not. Scripture tells us nothing of Manasseh’s life as a prince and not a king. We simply know that he became king before he became a man—at twelve years of age (2 Kings 21:1).
And what should have been a hopeful start turned to an abominable reign of wickedness and idolatry.
A Hopeless Reign
At this point in Israel’s history, the kingdom has long been divided; and the northern tribes have already been taken into captivity because of their persistent rebellion. The northern kingdom, known just as “Israel” had some wicked kings, such as Jeroboam I, who made his own religion (1 Kings 12:25-33), or Ahab who brought in more idolatry to the kingdom and approved of murder (1 Kings 21). Those two kings are the standard to which all ungodly monarchs in 1-2 Kings are compared. That is, until Manasseh. His wickedness left theirs in the dust, leaving no one to compare him to but the pagan nations driven out by Israel:
He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, imitating the detestable practices of the nations that the LORD had dispossessed before the Israelites. (2Ki 21:2)
What did Manasseh do that was so terrible? Second Kings 21 reads like a grocery list of abominations. During his reign, Manasseh…
- Rebuilt the high places—altars of idolatry—that his father had torn down
- Built more altars for idolatry—for Baal and Asherah (a Canaanite goddess)
- Desecrated the Temple of Yahweh with altars for idolatry
- Sacrificed his own son to a false god by making him “pass through the fire”
- Practiced occultism
- Practiced astrology
Anything that Yahweh called sacred, Manasseh sneered at. Anything Yahweh forbade, Manasseh enjoyed. And, even better, Manasseh’s reign lasted longer than any other king in his nation’s history: fifty-five years. But God’s patience does have limits. He will not keep His anger forever (Psalm 103:9). Manasseh’s idolatry and wickedness were the last straw for David’s covenant tribe, the tribe of Judah, prompting this prophecy:
“I will abandon the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will become plunder and spoil to all their enemies, “because they have done what is evil in my sight and have angered me from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until today.’ ” (2Ki 21:14-15)
For anyone attempting to take a stand against this rash of wickedness, this was a hopeless situation. Their king is corrupt. Their nation is doomed. Why even pray?
A Miracle of Mercy
Surely there was no hope for this wicked king, so God sent familiar ministers of His wrath: the Assyrians. Just as they had taken the nation of Israel captive, they descended upon Judah and captured Manasseh and hauled him to Babylon (2 Chr. 33:11). But then something astounding happened. Manasseh, the king of idolatry, turned to the true God, the God he grew up hearing about from his godly father:
When he was in distress, he sought the favor of the LORD his God and earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. (2Ch 33:12)
Manasseh repented. The most wicked king in all of Israel’s history called out to Yahweh and found mercy. This hopeless situation now has a glimmer of light. The Babylonians permitted Manasseh to return to Judah, and he made some changes.
Proving his change of heart was no foxhole prayer, Manasseh…
- Fortified Judah against attackers
- Got rid of the temple-desecrating altars
- Set up altars in order to serve Yahweh
Lessons for Us
Though it’s tragic, I love Manasseh’s story. But we cannot let it leave us unchanged.
- Lesson #1: We are all like Manasseh. Our first mistake in reading the account of King Manasseh is to think that we’re somehow far removed from his sins. No, I haven’t set up altars for idolatry all over the country or desecrated God’s temple. But, with its penchant for idolatry, my heart is every bit as wicked as Manasseh’s. The idols of my heart may not be as tangible or visible, but they are no less real. Desperately sick, deceitful, filthy—my heart without Christ is an abomination to God.
The words of John Newton’s most famous hymn fall easily from my lips: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” But when was the last time I really believed that? When was the last time I really considered that the same mercy that rescued Manasseh in Babylon rescued me in the face of my rebellion? The mercy demonstrated to me is absolutely no less astounding than what was extended to Manasseh.
- Lesson #2: No situation is hopeless.
Do you pray for the salvation of the country’s leaders? Do you believe that President Biden or Prime Minister Trudeau or King Charles III or even Vladimir Putin might be saved? I must admit that though I do pray for the salvation of political leaders, I do not often do so in faith. I struggle to believe that they will ever bow their knees in repentance and accept Christ. But Manasseh tells us that God’s mercy is surprising. No situation is hopeless.
- Lesson #3: God Sees. God Knows.
With idols hanging from every tree and even adulterating the Temple, the remnant of faithful Jews in Judah must have felt abandoned by God. How could he allow such unthinkable evil persist for so long? I wonder the same thing sometimes. Perhaps you do too. But Manasseh teaches us another lesson as well: God hasn’t abdicated His throne or given up in the face of evil. He may, in His mercy, permit it to persist longer than we’d like, but He will not always strive with us. He will act. He will set all things right. And one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ—and no other god, ruler, king, dictator, or premier—is King to the glory of God the Father.