II Kings 21–23; II Chronicles 33–35.
the Salvation of a Monster. The Death of a Saint.
Manasseh, Amon and Josiah

Key Notes: Manesseh the murderer. Josiah's reforms. Discovery of the Law. Levites are deacons of OT.

The Books of the Kings are full of irony. The worst king in Judah’s history, Manasseh,  followed one of the best, Hezekiah, and shortly after, therewas an even better one,  Josiah. Manasseh reigned for fifty five years, Josiah for only thirty-one. Manasseh was redeemed from his wickedness. Josiah, the godly, died young.

II Chronicles  is used for most of this lesson because of its rich detail.

IIChron. 33:1–9. Manasseh came to power at the age of 12 and reacted against his father, Hezekiah. He rebuilt the high places, installed pagan altars in the temple, worshiped celestial bodies and practiced witch-craft and sorcery. He offered his children as human sacrifices. He was worse than the Canaanites that God had driven out and he seduced Judah to follow him. He slaughtered innocent people all over Jerusalem (IIK.21:16), probably protesters who resisted his evil  policies.

A list of purges and reforms later done by Josiah in IIK.23:4–14 reflect the kinds of pagan superstition that Manasseh was engaged in. There was an Asherah (a cult object of the goddess) in the temple and sacrificial instruments for Baal worship. There were rooms for male and female prostitutes in the temple; sexual  rituals were carried out there. He had  horses and chariots dedicated to the sun. There were images and worship centers to the old gods of the Canaanites, Molech,  Chemosh, Ashtoreth and Milcom outside of Jerusalem.

IIK.21:10–15 The prophets told Judah that this was the last straw. Judah would be cast out and Jerusalem wiped liked the inside of a dish.

IIChron. 32:10–17 God brought  in Assyrian forces and they hooked Manasseh [?] by  the nose, as God said he would take Sennacharib,  IIK.19:28]  and brought him to the city of Babylon. In distress, he prayed and humbled himself before God. God heard him and allowed him to return to Jerusalem. His sincerity was shown by his breaking  of idols and offering right sacrifices to God.

We assume that there were parties supporting Hezekiah’s reforms, and Manasseh’s paganism. The changes  that occur with new kings are faster and greater  than would be expected from a passive and neutral people.

IIChron.33:21–25 Amon, his son, was assassinated after only two years. His servants killed him. That suggests that he had no loyal following in the government. The people killed his assassins and installed his son Josiah.

IIChron. 34:1–7 Josiah was a boy king and the best king since Solomon.
He was only 8 when he was crowned.
At 16 he began to seek the God of David his father.
At 20 he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of paganism.
At 26 he started the repair of the temple and found a copy of the Law. He celebrated a great Passover.
He died at 39 fighting the Egyptians.

He purged Judah of high places and Baal / Asherah worship. His influence extended to the ruined cities of Israel above the Sea of Galilee,  indicating that  the Assyrian influence ebbed and flowed. When it ebbed,  Judah’s impact could be felt in the occupied territories.

IIKIngs 23:15–20 Josiah also destroyed Jeroboam’s altar at Bethel,  taking bones out of the tombs to  burn them at the altar site and  defile it. The tomb of the Unknown Prophet of  300 years before was nearby  and it had been protected. (IK.13:1,3). The prophecy, which had included Josiah’s name, was now fulfilled.

IIChron.34:8–13 When he repaired the temple, his policies were similar to those of Joash (IIK.24:8-), collecting money and dispensing it to reliable workmen. Unlike Joash, he had no conspicuous mentor behind him. Jeremiah was on duty in Jerusalem but is not mentioned.

IIChron.34:14–28 While rummaging in the temple,  Hilkiah the priest found a scroll, the book of the Law, presumably Deuteronomy. Shaphan the secretary reported to the king that the Temple work was going well and that they had found a book, evidently unknown to Shaphan. It was the book of the Law. Shaphan  read it aloud to Josiah and he became visibly upset, weeping and tearing his clothes. Shaphan may have been reading the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy. (Deut.28–30). He ordered the priest and other officers to enquire of the Lord regarding the fate of Israel. They went to Huldah  the prophetess who told them that God intended to bring evil on Jerusalem for its sin, but that Josiah’s humility would save his generation.

34:29–33 Josiah then assembled people great and small to the temple and read the Book to them. He covenanted to follow the Lord and made all those present agree to it.

35:1–19 He kept the Passover better than Hezekiah (35:16) in part because it was observed at the correct  time and with due attention to purity. The original Passover in Egypt was a family affair, but by this time, the Passover was carried out by priests and levites. Other sacrifices were made at the same time—bulls and goats for burnt offerings.

35:20–27 The end of his life seems tragic and unnecessary. The Egyptians were on their way north along the coast to join the Assyrians in a fight against Babylon. Perhaps Josiah thought Judah would be better off with Babylon than Assyria, or perhaps he objected to Egyptians using Israel’s roads to get to Carchemish. Pharaoh Neco warned Josiah away, saying that God had commanded him to hurry, and that Josiah would be opposing God. While no Israelite would think that a Pharaoh’s spiritual counsel was worth listening to, the author of Chronicles makes his word sound authoritative. In any event, Josiah intervened, went into battle in disguise and was mortally wounded. Pharaoh and Assyria also lost to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Manasseh is a wonderful example of God’s redemption. He was the worst king of all Israel’s history,  pagan,  seductive,  superstitious and violent. He was oppressive and cruel,  a monster. Yet when the Assyrians treated him like an animal, he looked up, recognized God’s hand and repented. It was a crisis conversion. Amazingly,  God gave him back his kingdom and he had time to make good. He was a changed man.

There is, we believe,  no Hitler or Stalin, no Saddam Hussein. or Osama ben Laden, no Al Capone or John Dillinger, who must be beyond the reach of God’s grace. We should not write off anyone as “too far gone.”

Josiah is a surprise—as are all the good kings who had evil fathers—Asa after Abijah, Joash after Ahaziah, Hezekiah after Ahaz. We expect the bad to drive out the good. [“Pornography destroys the  literary culture.” –Bennet Cerf. ] We do not expect  the good to win out over  evil. Moreover, Josiah was sensitive from childhood, seeking God years before he had any direct connection with Scripture. We know some children who are like that—God-smitten children. His sensitivity is shown by his grief-stricken response to the reading of Deuteronomy,  a reaction much greater than that of any of the other hearers. His life was devoted to stifling paganism and restoring godly worship. Unhappily,  it was a top-down revival and did not last beyond his regime. A spiritual man in the presidency may not keep the country from ruin.

Where was Jeremiah? He was called to service in the 13th year of Josiah. (Jer.1:2). He was a son of Hilkiah, the priest in Jerusalem, although his post was in Anathoth in Benjamin. When Josiah needed advice, Huldah in Jerusalem gave it. Jeremiah made a lament for Josiah (IIChron.35:25), some of which is written in Jer.22:10,15,16, apparently repeated to Josiah’s son. We cannot  easily see what  part of his writing was addressed to Josiah. Both of them were young when they began,  and Jeremiah’s words about  himself could easily apply to Josiah. (Jer.1:4–10). Jeremiah’s role was to see Judah through the sack of Jerusalem.

There is an interesting window in II Chronicles  into the changing role of the levites. They are the deacons of the OT. It was apparently Josiah who revised their assignments. They...

did not have to move temple furniture any more but were to serve the Lord and the people of Israel. 35:3
taught all Israel and were holy to the Lord. 35:3
were skilled musicians. 34:12
served as scribes, officials and gate-keepers. 34:13
collected money for temple repairs from all over the kingdom. 34:9
supervised the repair of the temple. 34:10
assisted the priests in preparing the Passover lambs. 35:11
prepared Passover meals for the priests, the singers and gatekeepers who were on duty. 35:15

They were servant / leaders in religious instruction, performing music, raising funds, and record-keeping, supervising other workers, as well as waiting tables.

They were like so many of us who work voluntarily in the Lord’s service and rejoice in it.