JUDAH’S LAST YEARS 2 Chronicles 33–36
“The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention” (2 Chron. 33:10).After Hezekiah, Judah fell into a sharp spiritual decline that sealed the Southern Kingdom’s destiny. Despite a brief and superficial revival under Josiah, the nation rushed to judgment.
Manasseh plunged Judah into a half-century of apostasy (33:1–11). Manasseh’s late conversion could not reverse the spiritual trend to evil (vv. 12–20), nor could the efforts of Josiah (34:1–35:27). Judah’s last four kings merit only brief mention (36:1–14). Jerusalem fell, the people were exiled, but after 70 years a remnant returned to Judah to rebuild the temple (vv. 15–23). The Topheth at Carthage. The remains of thousands of children burned as sacrifices have been found just outside ancient Carthage. The ashes, in votive jars, confirm the Bible’s affirmation that pagans—and some kings of Israel and Judah!-did engage in the gruesome practice of child sacrifice.
Understanding the Text
“He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” 2 Chron. 33:1–10. Manasseh’s 55 years were the darkest in Judah’s spiritual history. He shut down the temple, except to use its courts for pagan worship centers, turned to the occult for guidance, and even used his own sons as burnt offerings. “In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God” 2 Chron. 33:11–20. Manasseh was taken captive to Babylon, then a major city in the Assyrian Empire. There he had a conversion experience. Manasseh returned home eager to restore worship of the Lord to Judah. Manasseh’s experience foreshadowed that of Judah itself. Perhaps the author of Chronicles wants us to recognize the parallel. Babylonian Captivity, for Judah as for Manasseh, was intended by God for good. We too need to understand that our times of distress are not punishment but discipline. God permits them, and intends to do us good through them. Manasseh’s efforts to bring about spiritual renewal in Judah were too little too late. He was unable to undo the harm his rule had done to God’s people. What a reason for turning to God early in our lives. Why wait to turn to God, and risk doing irreparable harm to those we love? “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord” 2 Chron. 34:1–28. Josiah, Judah’s last godly king, ordered the temple repaired and cleansed. The workmen found the Book of the Law, possibly Deuteronomy, or perhaps the entire Pentateuch. It is not surprising the Law was lost: Manasseh’s early hostility toward God undoubtedly was expressed by efforts to destroy Scripture. When Josiah discovered just what God required of His people, and compared the life now lived in Judah, he was shocked. Judah was undoubtedly guilty and merited the just punishments detailed in that book. Josiah’s own immediate and humble response was honored by the Lord. The curses announced would not strike Judah during Josiah’s lifetime; for that brief period Judah would still know peace (shalom, “well-being”). One godly person, who truly repents and seeks God, can affect the fate of an entire generation. “He had everyone . . . pledge themselves” 2 Chron. 34:29–33. Josiah assembled all his people to hear the Word of God. Josiah then “had everyone” pledge to keep the Word. There is a vital distinction here. Josiah was eager to obey God. The text suggests that his spontaneous response was not mimicked by the people in general. Instead they obeyed the Word because the king “had” them do so. Note that it was only as long as Josiah lived that Judah followed the Lord (v. 33). The revival that took place in the heart of Josiah never reached the hearts of his people. We can infect others with love for God. But we cannot command it. “Josiah celebrated the Passover” 2 Chron. 35:1–19. Josiah’s spectacular celebration of Passover expressed his own love for God (cf. v. 7). Some of his officials were also touched and “contributed voluntarily” to supply sacrificial animals. Even when our love for God is unable to infect multitudes, some individuals will be touched, and will respond. The emphasis on the worship seen here, as in stories of other godly kings, again reminds us that spiritual vitality calls for knowing, loving, and worshiping the Lord. “He died. He was buried in the tombs of his fathers” 2 Chron. 35:20–27. Some have ridiculed the earlier prediction that Josiah would be “buried in peace” (34:28). How can this be reconciled with Josiah’s death in battle? Very simply. During his entire reign Josiah and his kingdom knew God’s blessing. Only after Josiah’s burial would the blessing of peace be removed. Yet there is another implication here. Death is not the end of blessing for the believer. It is the beginning of blessings beyond our power to imagine. In death as in life, Josiah found peace through personal relationship with God. “He did evil” 2 Chron. 36:1–15. The last kings of Judah, with “all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful” to the Lord (v. 14). These people knew no peace, but only a terror and uncertainty that culminated in the fall of Jerusalem, and the survivors’ exile to Babylon. “He has appointed me to build a temple” 2 Chron. 36:15–23. The author of Chronicles, writing after the exiles’ return, continued to emphasize worship. God did not forsake His people, but brought them back. And the focus of the decree which freed them was again the temple, which God moved Cyrus, the ruler of Persia, to order rebuilt. The promises given to David had not yet been fulfilled. But if God’s people, who were called by His name, remained faithful in worship, the promised Messiah would surely come.
Beyond Redemption? (2 Chron. 33)
Everyone who followed the Ted Bundy case, or has read news stories on other serial killers, would be both repelled and fascinated by Manasseh. The text describes him as “despicable.” His reported acts suggest he was far worse than that! Spiritually Manasseh was cold and hardened. The Lord spoke to him, but Manasseh “paid no attention.” Emotionally he was hardened. He could burn children alive without feeling any remorse. Then came a distressful period of imprisonment in Babylon. And in his distress Manasseh sought “the Lord his God.” That simple phrase reminds us of a most wonderful truth. The Lord is the God of all humanity—of the righteous and even of the wicked. Manasseh, certainly one of the most wicked men who ever lived, turned to God and God, in truly amazing grace, chose to be “his God.” What a lesson to remember when we come in contact with the hardened, the wicked, and the evil. Our God is their God too! If they will only turn to Him, God will be their God. He will forgive them for Jesus’ sake. And, as He did with Manasseh, He will transform their lives.
Like godly Josiah, wicked Manasseh sought the Lord with tears. God has made His choice: He is the God of Josiah and the God of Manasseh as well.