31. God’s Heart

Wonder of God Meditations 31: God’s heart

Lam 3:33 he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.”

So, as we conclude this series, we first pick up on that amazing thing about Manasseh that we have been considering, that despite the awfulness of his sins – which even blighted, contaminated and polluted the Land to affect the following sinful kings – God spared him, turned his heart and restored both him and the land.  Amon, his son, went the same bad way, Josiah cleaned up the land again, but the following four kings failed to heed the warnings of God through Jeremiah. It was as if Israel in Manasseh’s reign had been teetering on the edge of a cliff of destruction, Amon pushed it a bit further, Josiah restrained it but the rest acted to tip it over the cliff. Yet in all that Manasseh had been saved by the grace and mercy of God. Why?  

After the total destruction if Jerusalem, Jeremiah caught this truth in his spirit that we find in the midst of the anguish of Lamentations: he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” Whether God threatens (Laodicea) or brings discipline (Manasseh), He doesn’t do it willingly. There are times when God acts as a master-surgeon. He would much rather not, but mercy and grace cry out for action to save, to redeem, to restore. It is often a painful business to bring glory.

We shy away from it so often, but God knows that the path to glory HAS to be via the Cross. Our faith is like a two-sided coin – faith and sacrifice on one side, grace and glory on the other, and God led the way with Jesus! Will we be followers as God’s grace and mercy beckons?

Let’s recap where we’ve been in this series. Jesus came to the church at Laodicea threatening that he would spew them out of his mouth because of their luke-warmness that was accompanied by spiritual blindness and an inability to discern their awful state. Yes what did he do? Offer to come and dine with them, to restore them to himself!

Then there was Naaman a harsh enemy commander who attacked Israel and took slaves.  When he seeks Elisha for healing, what does God do to this pagan enemy? Heal him!

And then we came to the pinnacle of awful, godless, pagan behaviour, seen in Manasseh. And what does God do, kill him? No, simply puts the pressure on him until he repents and THEN He restores him to his role back in the land so Manasseh can restore the land. This is the same incredible grace and mercy that has saved you and me, and so as we look around, never look at anyone and think they are too bad for God. Only He knows that. They may yet become an apostle. In the meantime, rejoice in the wonder of your life brought by God’s grace and mercy, and worship Him. Amen? Amen! 

30. Clean Up!

Wonder of God Meditations 30: Clean Up!

2 Chron 33:15 He got rid of the foreign gods”

Verses 15 & 16 really need reading in their entirety. Manasseh does a real clean up, he puts right all the wrong he had been part of previously. What we are seeing here is total transformation. If you have forgotten how bad he was, reread verses 2 to 6. This is an incredible story, one of the most incredible in the Old Testament. If you and I had been God we’d probably have killed off Manasseh early on, but our God is a God of mercy and grace (learn again Ezek 18:23,32) who looks to bring life and transformation and blessing, for Manasseh and for you and me.

But let’s look behind our verse today and note the utter transformation that has taken place. He had rebuilt the high places,” and “erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them.” (v.3) Moreover “He built altars in the temple of the Lord… altars to all the starry hosts” (v.4,5) AND “He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists,” (v.6) and still God hadn’t killed him!

Why? It’s almost unbelievable. After all Israel had once stoned a man simply for blasphemy (Lev 24:10) but now this man with such a catalogue of wrongs against God and against the Law, still lives! How can such a thing be?

The answer has to be the grace and mercy of the Lord but still, what allowed Manasseh to live and the others to die? The answer has to be what God knew. God knew that with the right pressure applied, Manasseh would repent AND put everything right in the country, he would restore the land by cleaning out every vestige, every sign of idolatry, witchcraft and spiritism, from the Land.

The Lord alone knows what He can achieve with each individual and He alone knows who is so hard-hearted that they will never come to repentance – like Pharaoh who opposed Moses in Exodus. So thus we have seen the classic example of someone the Lord knew He could bring to repentance and so, despite all the terrible things Manasseh did, the Lord spared him, turned him, and used him to restore the land. Yet there is a further aspect to this. It sems the things Manasseh did in the early part of his reign so polluted the land – with the people following – that subsequent kings followed a similar path of disobedience that eventually led to further disciplinary actions and eventual destruction of Jerusalem because, according to the text, “of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done.” (2 Kings 24:3) Even more incredible that Manasseh lived. We’ll think some more on this.

29. The Purposes of God

Wonder of God Meditations 29: The Purposes of God

2 Chron 33:13c Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.”

As with a telescope or binoculars, say, lets just bring the picture into clearer focus. We have been, throughout this month focusing on the wonder of God’s grace and mercy as we have seen Him responding to three different situations where mankind has been falling short in a big way. We have been observing Manasseh in this unique chapter of the Bible as, under the direction of God, this foolish, self-centred, stupid, pagan worshipper and bad leader as a king, has had his life brought to an abrupt halt by having his country invaded by a superior power who look him into captivity, and there the work of God continues – in his heart! He changes!

One minute an utterly pagan worshipper, the next a believer in God (well, a bit longer than a minute!). Believing is the starting place – real believing that is, that reveals itself by its deeds (Jas 2:18,19) – and we’ll see this soon in respect of Manasseh. How can such a terrible king be so transformed? How can he be changed from an unbelieving pagan, idol worshipper to a believer in God? By being humbled and faced with his own weakness, his own mortality, his own helplessness. All of these things created an atmosphere or a climate where his thinking was enabled to become clear and he realised that all of what was taking place was the discipline on his life. Possibly it is the Holy Spirit convicting him of his folly, showing him how he had so deviated from the Law of Moses. He comes to his senses, we said previously, he sees reality and he suddenly ‘knows’ it is God,

If it wasn’t for Sin, this passage would not have been necessary but to get us back on the right track, God has sometimes to use desperate measures. But for what an end goal!!!!! Almost certainly there is no more important thing in life, than to know God, to know that He exists, to know that He is sovereign Lord of all things, maker of all things, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise One. Seeing life in the context of God, if we may put it like that, is all important and life transforming. There is a transforming taking place in Manasseh and it is not just that he feels sorry for himself, it is because somehow he has come to a fresh realization that it is God on His case and once that truth drops into his heart a whole lot of other things will follow as we will see as we continue a little while longer here. The psalmist was to write of God, He says,“Be still, and know that I am God,” (Psa 46:10) and then continues with the Lord saying, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Why is that important? Because it corresponds with reality, with what is, and when we see that our lives are changed, just like Manasseh!

28. The Wonder of God

Wonder of God Meditations 28: The Wonder of God

2 Chron 33:13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom.”

We sometimes take these things for granted. Here we come to the gold nugget hidden in the murk of awful things. If it was you or me we might have said to Manasseh, “Stop going on, you brought this on yourself, live with it!” but the grace and mercy of God never does that. He sees the reality of Manasseh’s heart change and now He wants to give it space to bring bigger change for His people, He wants this changed heart back in Jerusalem to bring change to the nation. Mercy is given without cause but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be an outworking that blesses the world.

There are various aspects here of what I have been referring to in the title each day as ‘The Wonder of God’, and the first is that God ‘listened to his plea’. Grace listens to the plaintive pleas of foolish people as they now repent. As we suggested above, we might have responded differently, but the God of grace and mercy listens to such people – us.

The second thing is that the Lord looks at the situation with new eyes now. The discipline has been having its effect and Manasseh has been changing and so God changes. It’s not that God simply changes His mind and changes for no reason, but He does change His activity when the person changes. Every day with God is a new day and He acts according to what He finds in His children – just like parents do in fact, with their small children. There is an overall love there but it expresses itself in different ways, depending on how the child is acting.

But there is also another aspect to this, and it is the fact that God looks to give us the opportunity in a new day for a new way. We’ll see this work out in the next two studies but for the moment let’s just observe this principle. We have said so many times that the heart of the Lord desires to draw us out of the life of Sin into a life of love, for he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son,” (Col 1:13) and He wants us to experience all the goodness and wonder of that new kingdom. ‘Today’ is a new opportunity for new experiences, new awareness, new understanding, and the Lord is looking every day to give us opportunity to enter into this newness. He has just been waiting for Manasseh’s heart to change – and He knew that was possible – and so now the way is open for a whole new ball game to begin.  And that is how it can be with you and me, every day becoming a new opportunity to enter into and experience change, newness of life, as we walker closer with our Lord who seeks only our blessing and that of His world.

27. A God Goal

Wonder of God Meditations 27: A God Goal

2 Chron 33:12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.”

We said yesterday that sometimes, when God sees what it can achieve, He allows ‘challenging circumstances’ in order to bring repentance. Repentance is the crucial doorway to opening up a relationship with the Lord, an acknowledgment of our failures, our inadequacies, the things we would otherwise prefer to cover up. Yet they are things that prevent us fully entering into the wonder of all the Lord has for us. But there has to be a specific goal or direction of this change – God. His goal is to draw us back to Him, the fount of all life.

I think this is one of those occasions when we need to declare afresh what I simply refer to as ‘the big picture’. God created this world -designed it and brought it into being – as a perfect word and us as human beings on it with the potential of using that ‘image-of-God’ part of us to rule over this world, bringing order and peace. But we also have free will and almost from the word go, we have used it to be self-centred and godless, living in ways contrary to God’s design for us, contrary to the way He designed us to live, what the Bible calls Sin.

But ever since that original ‘fall’ God has been working behind the scenes, and sometimes not so behind the scenes, to draw us back to Himself without violating our free will. The first phase, seen in Gen 1-11 saw Him just allowing mankind the freedom to live as they will. He was there but not very obtrusive. The second phase started with Abram in Gen 12 where God sought to build a relationship with one man, his family, and then the nation which that family grew into. He dramatically moved to help them and make them a nation though the exodus and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and then continued to speak into the lives of its rulers and its people for some three or four centuries afterwards.

Essentially all that second phase did was reveal the extent of this sinfulness in mankind, Israel under the microscope if you like. Manasseh is a classic demonstration of that revealed sin, but he is also a classic example of God moving on his circumstances to bring him to his senses and to a right attitude towards God. Phase 3 and onwards was the coming of the Son of God to earn redemption for mankind. But in each of these ‘Phases’ God was there in the background, working all the time to deliver us, one way or another, out of our self-centred godlessness and back to a God-centred godly life in which all of the design-goodness of God can be experienced. Coming back to God, for Manasseh and for us, becomes the doorway to receive all the goodness that God has on His heart for us. Manasseh is about to receive that.

26. Distress & Humility

Wonder of God Meditations 26: Distress & Humility

2 Chron 33:12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.”

Sometimes in Biblical accounts the events roll out with such a sense of normality, or maybe even familiarity if we’ve read it many times before, that we fail to see the import of what is there. We said in finishing yesterday that things going badly, often things we bring on ourselves, are things that the Lord uses to being us to our senses. In the famous story of the Prodigal Son, the turning point we see comes with the words, When he came to his senses.” (Lk 15:17) He suddenly saw what a terrible situation he had got himself into where he had nothing to eat and realised that, back home, even his father’s servants were well fed.  Coming to your senses involves coming to a right perspective over your situation.

Manasseh was in dire straits, a desperate situation, a painful situation, a hopeless situation. No wonder he was in distress. There is something here that can easily be missed. People can get into a real mess and yet refuse to acknowledge it. Pride can be the greatest stumbling block to coming to your senses. What is amazing about such situations is that in such circumstances, previously ungodly people can cry out to God. You might thing that, sensibly thinking, they would realise how foolish they had been putting themselves out of God’s reach, and that would keep them quiet but, no, they cry out to God. Even the hardest of atheists have been known to cry out to God in such circumstances, and this is what Manasseh now does.

It sometimes needs distress to humble us. This is not a comfortable thought and we may accept the concept of humility with our minds but the reality of how God works it into us sometimes can be challenging.  Manasseh had to be brought low before he was willing to repent. Part of the wonder here is that the Lord knew that, given the right pressures on him, Manasseh could come to repentance (which is not automatically true of everyone), but God saw it and acted accordingly, allowing circumstances that would bring that repentance. You might wonder why God doesn’t do it with every person (and I think in some measure He does) but here is a mystery, why some people will submit their will to God’s will, and others won’t. The good news is that God knows who will bend in the face of tribulation and so when we see such occasions, we should be on the lookout to see the responses of those involved. The truth is, of course, that we don’t know who has the capacity or ability to lay down their pride and come to repentance under the pressure of such circumstances, but God does. All we can do is witness, pray and watch, and leave the rest to Him. 

25. Discipline Humbles

Wonder of God Meditations 25: Discipline Humbles  

2 Chron 33:11b “the army commanders … took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackle and took him to Babylon.”

Nasty! Let loose, the world (as we noted yesterday) is often ‘not nice’!  In the present instance it’s in respect of godless Manasseh who actually deserves the death penalty for what he is doing in Israel (Lev 24:16, Num 25:5, the whole of Deut 13). Oh yes, that was how serious it was, what Israel were doing before the Lord. As this is mass disobedience, for Manasseh had led the people astray and the nation had turned to idols, we might expect the Lord to bring utter destruction upon them. Well that, perhaps, is what they thought was happening but it was only very limited. The focus is on the king, it is Manasseh who is taken off to Babylon in chains, demoted from king to slave.

This is Manasseh utterly demeaned and humbled by painful and horrible actions and circumstances. His end had clearly come! This terrible pagan king (yes, that is how he appeared), the powerful head of his people, is now a nobody. He is utterly abased, belittled and humiliated, even with a horrible hook in his nose! When the Lord steps back and let’s sinful humanity do its thing in the manner we considered yesterday, humanity shows how low it can sink, causing hurt and pain to one another. Man’s inhumanity to man is one of the hardest facts to take when we realise the cost of giving us free will.

Now Manasseh is on the receiving end of that inhumanity and it is painful and degrading and it would not be surprising if he wished he were dead. But he’s still alive! And that, in many ways, is amazing, that this godless king over God’s people who has been leading them utterly astray, has not be destroyed. Why? We’ll see.

Sometimes sanity is only regained when we have been really brought low. So much of the time, sinful mankind suffers from the blight of pride whereby we totally lose perspective and tragically it needs a crisis to bring us to our senses.  It you are watching a crisis you are watching an opportunity for change. We need to tease this out a bit more for it is fundamental to the Bible. God created mankind and gave us free will and we use that free will to sin (yes, and to do many good things as well, let’s not forget that). But those sinful acts have impact, yes on others, but also on us. I have used the words ‘self-destructive’ of such attitudes and actions for that is what they do; they demean us and make us less than what we were designed for, but when let to run amok the end product is destruction. The hope, along the way, is that as we become aware of what is happening we will repent, seeing the folly of what we are doing

24. Discipline

Wonder of God Meditations 24:  Discipline

2 Chron 33:11a So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria.” 

There is a fact throughout Scripture that can upset the unknowing: it is that GOD raises up bad people to act as forms of discipline for His people. We see it throughout the book of Judges especially, the first sign being, In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them.” (Jud 2:14) Now we need to understand that God doesn’t make people evil, they just are, and so given half a chance people are nasty to people (understatement of the year!). There can be two sides to this.

First the Lord allows Satan to sow evil thoughts into the minds of evil men (see Job 1 & 2) and, second, the Lord lifts His hand of blessing off His wrong-doing people. The end result we see in Paul’s writings; Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts.” (Rom 1:24) i.e. God lifted off His hand of restraint and just let people’s self-destructive sin tendency run amok. Paul used that phrase, “God gave them over,” three times (Rom 1:24,26,28). In every case God just allows sinful mankind freedom to sin in a way that chastises His people when they have gone astray. And so we find the same thing now: So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria.” 

So here is this stubborn idolatrous king, totally abusing his position and he refuses to listen to God (v.10). If we were God we would probably have given up on him but God doesn’t, He knows what is yet possible, although it may take some extreme measures. So the Lord allows Satan (as we said, that’s how Job 1 & 2 shows it works) to prod the ungodly and unrighteous minds of the army commander of Assyria in the north to gaze south where easy pickings are on offer! So again, often the Lord just allows the world to rise against the nation to bring discipline. He just uses their godless & unrighteous attitudes to rise up and bite each other, so to speak. It looks bad but there is a glorious outcome. Be patient. 

The ultimate expression of such activity, where the Lord just uses the wrong hearts and activities of sinful men and women, has to be in respect of Jesus and the Cross. As the apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost under the revelation of the Holy Spirit, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) So now, He does the same thing, using Assyria, using the hostile intentions of this neighbour to invade Israel to bring discipline to this godless people.

23. Sin ignores God

Wonder of God Meditations 23: Sin Ignores God

2 Chron 33:10 “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.”

I asked you yesterday to read up to verse 9 to catch something of the awfulness of Manasseh’s ungodly activity as he lead ‘the people of God’. Sometimes we can forget, I believe, that Israel had been called to be God’s treasured possession …. a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex 19:5,6) and in the book of Deuteronomy Moses expresses this in a variety of ways a multitude of times. Reading through the historical books of the Old Testament one cannot help wondering if Israel ever really caught the vision of those words heard on Mount Sinai. Again and again, especially after the kingdom was divided, they fail in this calling abysmally. When it comes to the reign of Manasseh, you wonder if this is the same nation.

So we’ve just seen the terrible things going on under his rule. If that wasn’t bad enough when the Lord spoke to Manasseh, this foolish king completely ignored God. The tough truth is that people so embroiled in their own self-centred and misguided lifestyles worshipping the gods of self or ambition or whatever, get so taken up with it that they simply can’t hear God in the midst of what they are doing.

Now the point is that we may know such people who seem so hardened by their self-centredness that it appears they can never be reached. NOT true!  Follow this story and watch! Continue to pray for those near you.

But remember the point we are making in these groups of studies. We are seeing groups or individuals within mankind, both apparent believers (Laodicea), pagan (Naaman), and semi-believer-pagan (now Manasseh) who are all demonstrating less than godly and less than righteous attitudes and outlooks in life and to say their lives were falling short of God’s wonderful design would be a gross understatement. It is uncomfortable reading (if you pause to take it in) and shows up mankind in the worst light possible but we are doing it to see the backdrop against which God acts, bringing incredible grace and mercy to bear on the individuals in question, none of whom deserve it. We may consider these people and wish to disassociate ourselves from them, but if an alien came and looked for two groups in the world – those who are utterly godly and utterly righteous and those who are not – these people we have been considering would certainly fall into the second category – and so would we! Since the Fall, there is no one in that first group which makes the wonder of how God deals with us even more incredible. The Bible is a record of how He DOESN’T write us off but constantly seeks to redeem us, even when we ignore Him!

22. Worst of the Worst

Wonder of God Meditations 22: Worst of the Worst

2 Chron 33:2 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”

Just in case we’ve forgotten, we are considering the incredible grace of God that is revealed in the way He deals with a variety of ‘not nice’ people in the Bible. We can take grace and mercy for granted, especially (as we were considering yesterday) if we allow ourselves to slip into an attitude of complacency where we become self-focused and lose sight of the big picture.

Our verse today could have come from a whole range of kings we find in the Old Testament but the one we are focusing on will, if you really take in the scripture, make your eyes water and your mind boggle. It is Manasseh. If you want to really catch this, please read the whole of 2 Chron 33:2-7,9.  You really can’t get a worse king. Let the awfulness of these verses really get to you. He is seriously BAD! If God can do stuff with him, you’ll never have a question about God accepting you!

Perhaps there is a further outlook we need to ponder on here, and that is the one that we might call the “gospel of limited grace’. It is a subtle attitude that God’s grace and mercy is only available up to a certain level of sinfulness, i.e. some people are so bad they are beyond God’s reach.

I happened to be browsing in Malachi the other day and came across one of those sets of condemnation from on high that make you hold your breath: “I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.” (Mal 3:5) A New Testament equivalent might be, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9,10) Wow, powerful, challenging stuff.

For yes, the whole picture is that God is against all these sorts of wrong behaviour – and many more – that go against the way He has designed us to live, ways that demean us, those made in the image of God. But take any of these very negative descriptions of sinful mankind and we need to remind ourselves that although God is against this sort of behaviour, NO ONE is beyond His grace and mercy. He will never force us to surrender to Him and receive His transformation but once He sees a glimmer of concern verging on repentance in any such person, it is as if He is there alongside them ready to receive them when they do eventually turn fully to Him and that is possible in all such cases. The sin will never be so great to hold off God’s mercy and grace.