14. Manasseh

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 14. The Strange Story of Manasseh

2 Chron 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 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. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD is God.

 Manasseh in outline: We have so far been examining some of the lives of the well-known figures of the earlier part of the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, then Moses, then David. Now we consider a king who strangely reigned 55 years in the southern kingdom of Judah, Manasseh, who in a simple summary did evil and was carried off to Babylon (2 Chron 33:1-11) and there repented & was restored (2 Chron 33:12-20). The account above shows the hand of the Lord in his affairs

  • Bringing Assyria against him, resulting in him being taken to Babylon,
  • Being moved by his prayers of repentance and restoring him to Judah.

Manasseh’s work of restoration: Subsequently Manasseh, “got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. (v.15) Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel. (v.16) The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the LORD their God. (v.17) Now what is remarkable about all this is the depth of wrong-doing that he had sunk to before all this happened.

Manasseh’s sin: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple…. Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.”  (2 Chron 33:2-7,9), i.e. he:

  • Followed the ways of the Canaanites (v.2)
  • Rebuilt high places, erected altars to Baal, made Asherah poles (v.3)
  • Built wrong altars in the temple (v.4,5)
  • Sacrificed his sons and practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft (v.6)
  • Put a carved image in the temple (v.7)
  • Did more evil than the Canaanites had done (v.9)

The Lord’s Judgment: We need to see God’s word of judgment, prior to the events recorded above, as we find it in 2 Kings for, in the light of the above, it is equally remarkable: “The LORD said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day.” (2 Kings 21:10-15)

  • The Lord’s word (v.10) which is probably an expansion of 2 Chron 33:10 – see above.
  • His sin is worse than the Canaanites before him (v.11)
  • Therefore disaster will come on Jerusalem and Judah (v.12)
  • Jerusalem will be wiped out (v.13)
  • They will we handed over to their enemies (v.14)
  • And this is all because of what they have continued to do (v.15)

A Major Question: The question has to arise, in the light of this incredibly strong word of judgment on Manasseh and Jerusalem and Judah, how did it come about that these things – the destruction of Jerusalem – did NOT happen for another half century?

Answers? One can only suggest the following. Scripture is quite clear that even when the Lord has spoken judgment, when repentance comes, that repentance causes the Lord to ‘change His mind’ so that He does not bring that judgment. Thus at the end of Manasseh’s reign there is no indication of this destructive judgment falling on Jerusalem. So why did it eventually happen? Observe the kings who followed Manasseh.

Amon: He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the LORD; Amon increased his guilt. (2 Chron 33:22,23) Contrasted with his father, did some of what Manasseh had done but did not repent. Was assassinated by his officials within two years. Did he steer God’s eyes back towards that threat of destruction?

Josiah:  A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) who sought the Lord (34:1-3), cleansed the land (34:4-7), restored the temple (34:8-13), renewed the Covenant (34:14-33), celebrated the Passover (35:12-19) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27). One might assume he put Judah in a better light before God.

Jehoahaz: Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4

Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11 year reign.

Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.

Zedekiah: Refused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11 year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)

Back to Manasseh: Thus, after Manasseh, of the six kings who followed before Jerusalem was destroyed, only Josiah was good. This, despite the prophetic warnings that came again and again, the kings and their subjects refused to turn back to the Lord and thus the word originally spoken against Manasseh was now fulfilled. It was only Manasseh’s repentance that put it off and one cannot help feeling that of each subsequent king has similarly turned to the Lord, that destruction would never have happened.

What have we learned? We have seen murderers and adulterers in these studies and Manasseh encapsulates the summary that “however bad you are, if there is genuine repentance, salvation (redemption) will follow”.  We referred to God’s words through Ezekiel and perhaps we need to conclude with them here to remind ourselves of the Lord’s heart:Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 19:31,32) and, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek 323:11) Be quite clear, God’s heart is to redeem whenever there is repentance.

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10. Shutdown

Meditations in Malachi : 10. Shutdown

Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

I was amazed when I first studied the Law – well no perplexed first, actually.   Why were those long dreary chapters at the beginning of Leviticus about different sorts of offerings, and why were there those tedious chapters in the latter part of Exodus about the Tabernacle and the priests? None of it seemed relevant to today, so why was it there, and then eventually I understood. This was the Lord recognising that His people would get it wrong so that they would feel guilty and then feel at a distance from the Lord, this was the Lord making a way back for such people. This was also the Lord making provision for those whose hearts might overflow with love for God who just wanted to bring Him a gift.

That was what all those laws were about, about regulating how those things might happen through the sacrifices. That was what the Tabernacle and then later theTemplewere about. They were places of focus on the Lord, places where the Lord initially made His presence known, places that He filled with His glory, places of fellowship with God and places of reconciliation with God and restoration of a relationship with the Lord. That was what the Temple was all about. It was for the people to come and do two things: offer sacrifices and pray (remember Jesus called it a house of prayer). The Tabernacle and then the Temple were all about relationship with the Lord which is why, when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 587BC, it was so devastating for Israel. When Jeremiah spoke about restoration after seventy years, that seventy years was the period between the destruction of the Temple and the completion of its rebuilding, exactly seventy years!

But God isn’t fooled by play acting. That had been going on before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah parodied their reliance upon the presence of the Temple (Jer 7). Now the same thing was happening again. The apostle Paul prophesied about the last days: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5) There is the same thing: there will be a form of religion (godliness) while all the time men and woman are living lives that are very different from God’s design for them.

The people of Malachi’s day were declaring that they were godly because they were performing religious acts and then comes this terrible word of judgment through Malachi: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”   Shut down all this religious nonsense, is what the Lord is saying, for that is actually what it is – religious nonsense!  Did God want His people to perform religious acts in the Temple with no meaning behind them? No! God’s intent had been to provide channels for blessing Israel, for making ways back to Him and for legitimizing their gifts to Him. The Temple was for prayer and worship and reconciliation and those things, to be genuine, have to come out of wholeheartedness.

The Lord is concerned more what goes on inside a person than the things they do outwardly. Outward acts can be pure pretense. In medical terms, sometimes people come out in a skin rash and it is a sign of tension or stress within. It is the reality of the inner life that God is concerned with, not the charades that people put on. Who are they kidding? Do they think they will make God think well of them? Does “going to church on a Sunday morning” make God feel good about us? No, it should be an expression of the love we have for Him on the inside.

Around the world, often the churches with the greatest reality are those in countries where the church is persecuted and driven underground. When those people gather together under threat of arrest, there is a reality and a depth of love not found in the West. How tragic it is that our love is only proved real when it is challenged! When will we come to our senses and call out to the Lord for a reality of relationship? Will the Lord have to shut our churches down before that has to happen? May it not be so!

33. Who Speaks

Meditations in Job : 33.  Who speaks for God

Job 13:7 Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him?

What is remarkable when we start thinking about the things we find in this book, is the shear variety of topics that arise. This book is uniquely made up of the words of a variety of people – and of God. It is all about words, all about discussion and debate. It is all about opinion, viewpoints and beliefs. Yet isn’t this exactly what life is so made of, the interaction between human beings. However, when it comes to Christians, we find a unique characteristic arising – a willingness, if not responsibility to speak on God’s behalf. What a responsibility we find ourselves with, therefore, as we speak into the world as His representatives. Let’s see how this arises here.

Job has just been speaking about the sovereignty of God. He knows that all that is happening is of God; it is no accident. So he continues, My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.” (13:1). It’s all right, he seems to be saying, I understand what is going on, and then he adds what he said at the beginning of chapter 12, “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.” (v.2). In other words, you’re not the only ones who know these things. I am aware of God’s greatness and how He moves (implied by previous verses). But he has a desire: “But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.” (v.3), i.e. but I want to talk to God about all this, I want to chew over all that is going on. That’s where he has got to and we’ll see in the next study, the confidence he has in God to be able to want to do this.

But then he turns on them, the three friends. He expected something better from them. He is disappointed by their responses to him: “You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” (v.4). It’s like he says, “Sorry guys, but you haven’t been speaking the truth about me. You’ve been making me out to be a big sinner – and I’m not! I needed help and comfort and all you did is judge and blame me. What a bunch of awful soul doctors you are!” Now that’s pretty challenging. I wonder if people think that of us. Do people in ‘pain’ feel anguish and look for comfort but just find judgmental words?  Do they feel put down, demeaned and inferior?  Jesus is a staggeringly good example of someone who got alongside people who needed God’s love and help, and didn’t judge them. That’s why the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came to him. If he had been a judgmental Pharisee they wouldn’t have gone near him. Do people know us as judgmental or loving, caring and accepting? Do people go away from us feeling loved and blessed, or bruised and beaten?

What does this leave Job feeling about what has happened so far? “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.” (v.5). He’s saying that because what they said had been wrong and had put him down and left him feeling even more miserable, they would have been better off remaining silent. Yet, he still wants them to understand, he still wants to try to contribute something worthwhile to this fiasco: “Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips.” (v.6) I want to have a say in all this, he says, I want to add some more into what I’ve already said, and when I think about how you’ve spoken I don’t think I could do any worse (implied by what follows). “Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality?  Will you argue the case for God?” (v.7,8). Look, he is saying, you have put yourselves forward as those who speak for God but what you have said has not been right. The Message version puts it well here: “are you going to keep on lying ‘to do God a service’? to make up stories ‘to get him off the hook’?” Look, he implies, I know I haven’t done wrong but you are saying God is punishing me and you also say God only punishes people who do wrong. You are not representing Him well!

Then he has another thought and wonders how they would feel if they came under God’s spotlight: “Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?” (v.9). How well would you do if He questioned you? Would you try to deceive Him and make out that you were trying to speak on His behalf? I think you would be in trouble: “He would surely rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality.” (v.10). If you let your bias against me show, I think you’d find He wouldn’t keep quiet about that! I think you’d be in trouble in His incredible presence: “Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you?” (v.11). I think, he goes on, in God’s presence all your words would be seen to leave nothing but dust at the end of them and all your strong words would appear as weak as clay: “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.” (v.12)

As we’ve said, this is a serious challenge to think about the quality of what we say as God’s representatives, and the way we say things. A good prophet in the new covenant knows that even words of correction come with a gentleness that looks to bring change through grace. None of us is on such strong ground that we can blast others with their failures. The new covenant is all about love and restoration, not condemnation. Check it out. How do people feel about how you ‘handle’ them?  Do they get drawn to God’s love? Do they feel blessed? Are your words, words of graciousness? Let’s seek to be Jesus to them in this way.

Walk of Assessment (2)

WALKING WITH GOD. No.42

Neh 2:11,12 I went to Jerusalem , and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.

Earlier on in this series we considered a walk of assessment in the light of Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army, but the ‘assessment’ that we now consider is very different. With Ezra’s people we considered the significance of the restoration of the Temple , the place of encounter with God. Years have passed and another phase of restoration is in the Lord’s mind, the restoration of the city of Jerusalem , or to be more precise, its walls.

When Nehemiah had heard of the state of Jerusalem he had felt anguish and had wept (Neh 1:4). Subsequently he prayed (Neh 1:5-11) and then petitioned the king (Neh 2:1-8) and gained his approval to return to Jerusalem to restore the city. The only problem was the presence in Samaria of Sanballat the governor and his Ammonite associate, Tobiah, who were opposed to the Jews returning and re-establishing themselves. They seem to have had a lot of say in what went on in this far flung tiny province of the empire. First of all he checks in with the ‘governors of Trans-Euphrates‘ (2:9), those in overall charge of the whole area, under whom he will work as governor of Judah. Next he makes his way to Jerusalem and, note, he has so far kept the true purpose of his arrival from anyone in the locality, because he is aware of the political setup and doesn’t want to antagonise anyone and create opposition to his plan to rebuild the city walls.

After he has been there three days, he quietly goes out at night to survey the walls. So far he has shown no interest in them, but if he is to do anything about them he has to see the extent of the task. Initially this was a mounted ride but it appears that because of the rubble he probably had to dismount and it turns into a walk of assessment. Now what is significant about this particular walk, why are we considering it at all? Well the Temple was the sign of the permanent establishing of a place of encounter with God, but for there to be encounter and for there to be Temple service, there needs to be people. For there to be people there needs to be a community and for there to be a community there needs to be security – walls and gates! The significance of Nehemiah being there is that he is there to establish a secure community of God’s people in the place of encounter with God. Walls also delineate the edge of the city and the beginning of the world outside. They establish the size and shape of the community. What Nehemiah is doing is assessing the present state of the security of the community so as to be able to formulate a strategy for restoring it. This is all about restoring and establishing the people of God. Yes, they have been there a number of years since Cyrus sent the first ones back to restore the Temple , but no one has taken the trouble of establishing the security of the community.

How can this possibly have any application to us in the twenty first century? Well the people of God, and that may include my own family, are still in a world where there is a spiritual war going on and where Satan seeks to deceive and pull down. There is still a question of security that is both individual and corporate. Ask the question first of all, “How secure am I?” Well first of all am I secure in the certainty of God’s love for me? “For I am convinced that (nothing!) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38 ,39). Paul was so sure that with God being for us (8:31) then no one and nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand. But there is another aspect to this. Remember Jesus told a parable of two house builders (Mt 7:24 -27), the point of which is that you will only stand firm if you obey and do what Jesus says. Oh yes, God will do everything to protect us and make us secure, but our role is to obey all that Jesus says to us through his word and his Spirit.

How about my family? What do we do to ensure they know the Lord and are secure in Him? This is about teaching our children the truths of God’s word, being an example for them, encouraging them into the life of the church where they can encounter that living truth? What about our church? Are we a Bible-based, Spirit-led community of God’s people? It is only as we are fed with the word of God and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and fill us, will we be secure in God. Are we the community of love that Jesus commanded (Jn 13:34 etc.)? Is there such a bond of love between us that it builds us together so that we are secure? If it is so, if one member is attacked the others will be there for them.

Part of our walk with God is to be a walk of awareness – a walk aware of the enemy, our vulnerability and our resources in Christ. But a part of our walk is to be a walk of assessment, to ‘check the walls of security’ to ensure we are doing all we can to be established and secure in Him. Have you walked that walk of assessment recently, have you checked yourself out, you family and your church? Check it out.