Building a Culture of Life
Explore the Bible Series
January 16, 2011
Background Passage: II Kings 21:1-23:30 (II Chronicles 33:1-36:1)
Lesson Passage: II Kings 22:11-13; 23:1-3, 10, 24-25
Who was the most evil man in history? Of course, you could make a case for several persons: Nero, Ivan the Terrible, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, or Mao tze Tung. One could certainly add to this list the Europeans and North Americans who carried out their near-genocidal policies toward Native Americans. In terms of sheer numbers, a culture of abortion has taken the lives of millions of babies, here in the United States and abroad. Both political parties have perpetuated this culture of death, and, honestly, I see no way to reverse the legislation that has produced this carnage. Baby-boomers have left a tragic legacy that will affect our society for generations.
Our current lesson does not, as such, deal with abortion; however, it does address the catastrophic consequences of cruel, blood-thirsty political leadership. You could add the name of King Manasseh to this list of evil men, perhaps the most malevolent monarch in Jewish history. He governed Judah for fifty-five years (697-642 B.C.), and his reign plunged his people into spiraling wickedness, wickedness that included the ritual sacrifice of children to the pagan god Molech.
“Molech” is similar to the Hebrew word for “king”, and the worship of this god appears to have originated among the Ammonites. In times of apostasy, the Jews turned to the abominations of this cruel cult of death. Historians believe this form of pagan ritual involved large stone or metal images fashioned like the body of a man and the head of an ox. A large furnace, in the belly of the idol, heated the entire image. Many think that babies were burned on the outstretched arms of these images, in reverence to Molech. It also seems that some families gave their daughters to serve as temple prostitutes as part of the fertility rituals of the cult.
Manasseh, son of King Hezekiah, turned from the godliness of his father, thus leading Judah into Molech worship. The cult centered its activities in a valley, south of Jerusalem, the Valley of Hinnom (also called Tophet). Eventually, this gorge served as Jerusalem’s garbage dump, and, in Jesus’ day, the area became a symbol for the first-century concept of hell. This was Manasseh’s legacy. II Chronicles recounts the king’s repentance for his horrible evil, but the damage done to the culture was irreversible. II Kings blames Manasseh for the ultimate demise of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians.
I. The Reign of Manasseh of Judah (21:1-18)
A. Rise to power (21:1): King Hezekiah died in 697, and his twelve year-old son assumed the throne. Probably, Hephzibah, Manasseh’s mother, served as regent during the king’s early reign. Some think he may have served an apprenticeship with his father.
B. Widespread idolatry (21:2-9): Note the change in language here. In summary of the idolatry of earlier kings, I and II Kings uses similar language, “ He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam…” here, however, the king’s sin exceeded that of his forbearers, and could only find parallel among the pagan kingdoms of the region. He rebuilt the high places (Baal worship) his father had destroyed, defiled the Temple and its courts, practiced astrology, consulted mediums, and murdered one of his sons as a sacrifice to the gods. Above all, he influenced his countrymen to engage in these unseemly practices.
C. The prophets’ warnings (21:10-18): Unnamed prophets denounced Manasseh’s wickedness, and, in doing so, predicted the destruction of Judah. II Kings uses two analogies to describe God’s judgment.
1. A plumb line: Reminiscent of the Prophet Amos (See Amos 7:7-9), the prophets claimed that Judah had not measured up to God’s standards of righteousness.
2. The cleaning of a dish: God, through the prophets, pledged to cleanse Judah like a person would wash a dirty dish.
D. Manasseh’s repentance (See II Chronicles 33:10-20): We cannot know why the historians who penned I and II Kings did not mention Manasseh’s change of heart, but the story is fully developed in II Chronicles. Assyrian aggression brought the king to his knees, and, during his later reign, Manasseh tried to reverse the damage he had done; however, the people, now accustomed to idol-worship, did not follow their king’s admonitions. Furthermore, Manasseh’s years of sin had a debilitating effect on the character of his son, Amon.
II. The Reign of Amon of Judah (21:19-26)
A. Continued wickedness (21:19-22): Amon, Manasseh’s son, governed Judah for two years (642-640 B.C.), and he walked in his father’s way. He completely abandoned the worship of Jehovah, thus giving no pretense to serve the Lord.
B. Assassination (21:23-26): Amon was murdered by his own servants, for reasons we cannot know. Whatever the case, the citizens of Judah executed the murderers and installed Josiah, Amon’s son, as king of Judah.
III. The Reign of Josiah of Judah (22:1-23:30)
A. Josiah’s early reforms (22:1-7): Josiah’s thirty-one year rule began when the king was only eight years old. He enjoyed the support of the citizenry in the aftermath of Amon’s assassination. His monarchy was characterized by integrity and deep devotion to the Lord, and, at twenty-six, Josiah determined to reconstruct and remodel the Temple. He entrusted the early stages of the work to skilled allies, Shaphan (the king’s assistant) and Hilkiah, the High Priest. The leadership of ungodly kings fostered a terrible neglect of the temple’s upkeep, and Josiah employed honorable men (masons, carpenters, and other workmen) to complete the work.
B. The discovery of the scroll of the Law (22:8-20): Hilkiah seemed surprised to find this scroll. Perhaps, after years of dreadful neglect, the people had forgotten the written accounts of the Law of Moses. Most scholars believe Hilkiah discovered the document we know as Deuteronomy. Shaphan read the scroll to Josiah, and Judah’s sin frightened the righteous monarch. A prophetess named Huldah predicted that God would, indeed, judge Judah (and Israel), but, because of Josiah’s repentance, the judgment would not come during the king’s reign.
C. Josiah’s continued reforms (23:1-27)
1. The public reading of the Law (vv. 1-2): Josiah assembled the entire nation, great and small, to hear the reading of the Law. This recitation had its intended effect because the people seemed intent on helping with the king’s reforming directives.
2. Renewal of the covenant (v. 3): Josiah, acting as the agent of the people, renewed Judah’s covenant with Jehovah; and, to their credit, the citizens joined the king’s intent.
3. Cleansing of pagan artifacts from the Temple (vv. 4, 6): Manasseh and Amon filled the Temple with pagan iconography, and now the task fell to Josiah to purify the holy building from these defiling items. These pagan utensils were burned at Kidron, and the ashes spread at Bethel (recall that Jeroboam initiated Baal worship, at Bethel).
4. Deposing of pagan priests and temple prostitutes (v. 7): As we have seen before, the fertility cults were served by male and female prostitutes, and, of course, Josiah brought an end to this disgraceful practice.
5. Defiled the high places (vv. 8-9, 13-14): The king’s reforms did not end with the cleansing of the Temple; instead, Josiah destroyed the high places throughout his kingdom.
6. Defiled Tophet (v. 10): Tophet, the Valley of Hinnom, was cleansed of the terrible abuses of the child-sacrifice system.
7. Destroyed the pagan icons (v. 11): Part of the astrological superstitions that troubled Judah related to the construction of clay horses and chariots. Josiah destroyed these symbols of the superstitions embraced by the people of Judah.
8. Demolished the pagan centers in Samaria (vv. 15-20): I find it interesting that Josiah extended his reforming impulses beyond his borders, to the land of Israel. He understood the solidarity Judah shared with Israel, and he assumed responsibility to rid of the people of God from these pagan influences.
D. The death of Josiah (23:28-30): Assyria, by this time, had begun a downward spiral, and the Babylonians stood on the horizon as the next great world power. Pharaoh Neco II, sensing Babylon’s ascendance, travelled to Assyria to join forces with Damascus, against the Babylonians. For reasons we cannot know, Josiah decided to war against Neco, and the results were most unfortunate. This unwise aggression cost Josiah his life.