The life story of King Manasseh is one for the books. He started his reign young (12) and lasted 55 years (the longest of all the kings of Israel). To sum up his life, he paid zero attention to God. As shepherd over God’s people, that is tantamount to an atheist pastor who promotes atheism and actively suppresses any argument for the existence of God. Manasseh’s life record is devastating (2 Chronicles 33:1-13; see also 2 Kings 21). His addiction to violence and suppression stands in contrast to his father Hezekiah who faithfully promoted the worship of the Lord (though he did grow proud at the end, 2 Chronicles 32:25). Manasseh undid all the good work of his father. No wonder he receives F- for his performance as steward of the worship of God! A bad apple doesn’t even begin to describe Manasseh (see 2 Chronicles 33:6). He lived life his way, in blatant disobedience to God’s Word.
But even a bad boy like Manasseh isn’t beyond God’s reach, even if it means using the ‘hooks and chains of bronze’ approach to get his attention. God physically removed him from his surrounding and took him into exile to Babylon. And it worked. In his “distress,” Manasseh “entreated the favor of the Lord” (= seeking His face). God had been a foreign concept to Manasseh. Now God is “the Lord his God” and the “God of His fathers.” Nothing quite like a dislocation to make the most hardened atheist into an ardent theist! Manasseh, in his confinement, “humbled himself greatly,” and actually prayed (2 Chronicles 33:11-13).
Here comes the surprising twist: very much like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the Lord paid attention to Manasseh’s plight. The dislocation of exile led him to repentance: “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.”
This sort of end-of-life turn tells that yes, you can in fact teach an old dog a new trick. It also gives hope to the rest of us. We may not have a long record of offenses like Manasseh, but we all have our issues. We don’t always pay attention to God and His Word. We may not all be active atheists but we’re very good at ignoring His presence and avoiding Him and His Word in our decision-making process. Of course we don’t wish this sort of metaphorical “hooks and chains of bronze” treatment on anyone, least of all us. But if it does happen, we know that God will use the dislocation of exile* to get our attention, draw us closer to him in repentance, which then brings restoration. In God’s amazing grace, Manasseh was in fact restored “to his kingdom.” And out of this restoration, he became intimately acquainted with the Lord as his God. What a powerful image of true repentance! It’s after God restores us that we can come to a place of true heartfelt repentance.**
Reflection for the week
Paul the Apostle himself has a few things in common with King Manasseh. Prior to his turn arount moment, he was a “worst offender” type guy (1 Timothy 1:15) and he was addicted to violence against God’s people. God’s reach is amazing! Isaiah puts it all in context for us: All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned –everyone– to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). All of a sudden, we see ourselves in Manasseh and Paul: Sinners in great need of redemption and repentance. Maybe we need to start embracing the “exile” of this life on earth. In this exile, the Lord has all kinds of ways to get our attention. It may be geographical dislocation, confinement (shut in) or more metaphorical disruptions. These are attention getters all the same. Let’s embrace these times of distress/confinement because out of them, the Lord is able to turn anyone around, the most hardened of souls, even our own.
*Followers of Christ are in “exile” on this earth (James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 11:16)
** I owe this insight to my wife, Dr. Donna Petter from her research in the book of Ezekiel.