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From The Decline Of The Two Kingdoms
To The Assyrian And Babylonian Captivity
CHAPTER 14 - MANASSEH (FOURTEENTH), AMON (FIFTEENTH), KINGS OF JUDAH.
Popular Mourning for Hezekiah - Accession of Manasseh - Temptations and Character of
the King - Idolatry and Cruelty of his Reign - Moral State of the People - Prophetic
Announcement of Judgmen - Supplementary Narrative in the Book of Chronicles - Its
Reliableness Confirmed by the Assyrian Inscriptions - The Captivity of Manasseh in Babylon
- His Repentance and Prayer - His Restoration to Jerusalem - Superficial Character of his
Reformation - His Death - Reign of Amon.
(2 KINGS 21; 2 CHRONICLES 33)
WITH the death of Hezekiah, another and a strange chapter in Jewish history opens. When
they buried him "in the ascent of the sepulchers of the sons of David,"*
not only the inhabitants of Jerusalem - for the defense, adornment, and convenience of
which he had done so much - but all Judah united to do him honor.
* This, or perhaps "the height," is the correct rendering. Probably
all the space in "the sepulchers" was filled up.
His reign, despite temporary reverses and calamities, had been prosperous for his
country, and he left it in political circumstances far different from those when he had
ascended the throne. Above all, his history might have been full of most important
theocratic teaching to the people. If it was otherwise, we see in this only fresh evidence
of that spiritual decay of which the prophets, in their description of the moral condition
of the people, give so realistic a picture.
Manasseh was only twelve years old* when he succeeded his father. According to
our Western notions, he would have to be regarded as merely a child.
* Possibly older sons of Hezekiah may have died, or there may not have been any
by Queen Consorts, who would have been qualified for succession to the throne.
But in the East he would at that age have reached the most dangerous period of wakening
manhood, before thought could have tempered willfulness, or experience set bounds to
impulse. In such circumstances, to have resisted the constant temptation and incitement to
gratify every will and desire, would have required one of strong moral fibber. But
Manasseh was selfish and reckless, weak and cruel in his wickedness, and scarcely
respectable even in his repentance. When the infant Jehoash acceded to the throne, he had
the benefit of the advice of Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:2), and we know how his later and
independent reign disappointed its early promise. But Manasseh had not any such guidance.
The moral and religious corruption in his grandfather's reign, must, as we infer from the
prophetic writings, be regarded as not only the outcome, but also partly the explanation
of the measures of Ahaz. This condition of things could not have been effectually checked
during Hezekiah's reign of twenty-nine years, especially amidst the troubles and the
disorganization connected with the Assyrian invasion. In fact, we know that even among the
intimate counselors of Hezekiah, there were those whom the prophetic word emphatically
condemned (comp. Isaiah 22:15-19; 29:14-16; 30:1, 9- 14).
In these circumstances the sudden re-action and the "counter-reformation" of
Manasseh's reign, in which he, apparently, carried the people with him, cannot appear
altogether strange or surprising. Briefly, it was a kind of heathen ideal of religion in
which various forms of national idolatry were combined. The corrupt mode of
Jehovah-worship on "the heights" was restored. To this were added the Phoenician
rites of Baal and Asherah, which Ahab had introduced in Israel, and the Assyro-Chaldean
worship of the stars. All this was carried to its utmost sequences. In the Temple, on
which Jehovah had put His thrice Holy Name, and which, as a firm and lasting abode in
contrast to the Tabernacle, symbolized the permanence of His dwelling in the midst of
Israel, and their permanence in the land, Manasseh built altars to the host of heaven,
placing them in the outer and inner courts. Nay, in the sacred "house" itself,
he set up the vilest of idols: "the graven image of the Asherah," whose worship
implied all that was lascivious. Conjoined with this was the institution of a new
priesthood,* composed of them that had familiar spirits, and "wizards,"
while the king himself practiced divination and enchantment.*
* The expression (...) [ "he made" in 2 Kings 21:6 (see margin of
R.V.) implies their formal appointment.
** Soothsaying, or divination. I have preferred rendering it thus generally. In
Rabbinic usage it is understood chiefly of divination by observing the clouds (from (...)
); the expression for "enchantment" is chiefly referred to the whispering
of formulas of incantation, and to observing an omen: the having "familiar
spirits" refers to necromancy - either by conjuring up the dead or consulting them;
"the wizards" [lit., those who have knowledge] (...) are curiously explained in
the Talmud (Sanh. 65 b ) as magicians, who place in their mouths the bone of an animal
called Yaddua [(...)] when the bone speaks of itself. Comp. generally Leviticus 19:26.
And as usual, together with all this, (Compare Deuteronomy 18:10, 11.) the service of
Moloch, with its terrible rite of passing children through the fire, was not only
encouraged by the example of the king (2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chronicles 33:6), but apparently
came into general practice (2 Kings 23:10). Alike the extent and the shameless immorality
of the idolatry now prevalent, may be inferred from the account of the later reformation
by Josiah (2 Kings 23:4- 8). For, whatever practices may have been introduced by previous
kings, the location, probably in the outer court of the Temple, of a class of priests,
who, in their unnaturalness of vice, combined a species of madness with deepest moral
degradation,* and by their side, and in fellowship with them, that of priestesses of
Astarte, must have been the work of Manasseh.
* On the nameless abominations of this mania of vice, this is not the place to
speak. The classical scholar knows what the Galli were. It is not possible to determine
what these priestesses wove, whether "tents," or hangings - perhaps carpets, or
it may have been raiments for the rites of Astarte: but certainly something for the vile
worship with which they were connected (2 Kings 23:6). Perhaps the text is here
(purposely?) corrupted. In regard to such abominations, comp. Deuteronomy 23:17, 18. See
also 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12:22:46; Job 36:14.
We know that some such abominations formed part of the religious rites, not only of the
inhabitants of Canaan, but of the Babylonians.*
* Herod. 1. 199. Comp. Bar. VI. 43.
On the other hand, we can scarcely avoid the inference that these forms of idolatry
were chiefly encouraged for the sake of the vices connected with them. Thus it involved
not only religious, but primarily moral degeneracy. Yet, as might be expected, there was
also spiritual protest and a moral reaction against all this. Prophetic voices were heard
announcing the near doom of a king and people more wicked than the Canaanites* of old. But
it is significant that the names of these Divine messengers are not mentioned here.**
* The "Amorites" are named as the representatives of the Canaanites
generally, being the most powerful of the eleven Canaanitish tribes (Genesis 10:15-18).
Comp. Genesis 15:16; 48:22; Joshua 7:7; 13:4; 24:15; Ezekiel 16:3; Amos 2:9, and other
** Micah 6 and 7 are supposed to date from this period.
In truth, it was a time of martyrdom, rather than of testimony. There may be
exaggeration in the account of Josephus, that Manasseh killed all the righteous among the
Hebrews, and spared not even the prophets, but every day slew some among them (Ant. x. 3,
1); and only a basis of historical truth may underlie the Jewish tradition,* which
was adopted by the Fathers,** that by command of Manasseh Isaiah was sawn asunder in
a cedar-tree, in which he had found refuge. But Holy Scripture itself relates that
Manasseh had filled Jerusalem "from end to end" with innocent blood.
* Jewish tradition has it (Yebam 49b,) that Manasseh charged Isaiah with having
taught what was in opposition to the law of Moses (thus Isaiah 6:1, comp. Exodus 33:20;
Isaiah 55:6, comp. Deuteronomy 4:7; 2 Kings 20:6, comp. Exodus 23:26). To this Isaiah
replied, that he had indeed a good answer to these charges, but would not give it, in
order not to aggravate the guilt of Manasseh. Then the prophet spoke the Ineffable Name,
on which a cedar tree opened to receive him. The cedar was now sawn through. When it
reached the mouth of Isaiah, he gave up the soul. This, because Isaiah had charged his
people with being of "unclean lips." The legend has, with variations, passed
into the pseudepigraphic "Martyrdom of Isaiah" (in its original form, probably a
Jewish, in its present form a Christian book), which forms the first part (ch. i.-v.) of
the Pseudepigraph, "the Ascension of Isaiah" (ed. Dillmann, Leips. 1877). Other
versions of the legend, from a Targum, in Assemani, Catal. Bibl. Vat. I. p. 452, and in a
marginal note on Isaiah 66:1 in the Cod. Reuchl.
** Justin, Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, and Epiphanius. Comp. Schurer, Gesch. d.
Jud. Volks, II., p. 283, note 112, and pp. 685, 686.
As we have already marked, these sins were national, and this in a more special sense
than merely the identification of a nation with its rulers and their public acts. As this
condition of the people was not exceptional, but the outcome of a long course, so the
Divine judgments were to be cumulative, extending back from the first beginning to the
present stage of guilt (2 Kings 21:15). And commensurate not only with the sin of Israel,
but with their utter unfaithfulness to the meaning and purpose of their calling, would be
the coming evil.*
* Kings 21:12. The same expression for terrifying news occurs in 1 Samuel 3:11;
In the figurative language of Scripture, the desolation of Jerusalem would be as
complete as that of Samaria and of the house of Ahab - as it were, a razing to the ground,
so that the builder might stretch over it the measuring line and apply the plummet, as if
not anything had stood there (comp. Isaiah 34:11; Lamentations 2:8; Amos 7:7-9). Nay,
Jerusalem would be thoroughly emptied and cleansed, as a dish that was wiped, and then
turned upside down.*
* Other explanations of the figure - of which several have been offered - seem
For Judah - the remnant of what had been the inheritance of God - would be cast off,
and surrendered to their enemies for "a prey and a spoil" (2 Kings 21:12-14).
Here the history of Manasseh abruptly breaks off in the Book of Kings, to be resumed and
supplemented in that of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 33:11- 20). This in itself is noticeable,
first, as casting fresh light on the "prophetic" character of the history as
presented in the Books of the Kings, and, secondly, as attesting the historical value of
those of Chronicles. In the Books of the Kings, the writer, or compiler, gives not the
annals of a reign, nor the biographies of kings and heroes; but groups together such
events as bear on the Divine issues of this history, in relation to the calling of Israel.
This explains not only the brief summary of the longest reign in Judah or Israel - that of
Manasseh, which lasted fifty-five years - but specifically the omission of what he had
done for the defense of Jerusalem and Judah (2 Chronicles 33:14), as well as of his
captivity, his repentance, return to his capital, and reformation. For these defenses of
Judah were useless; the captivity of Manasseh was temporary; and his reformation was, as
we shall see, only superficial. But rarely has the skepticism of a certain school of
critics received more severe rebuke than in regard to the doubts which on internal grounds
have been cast - and that not long ago* - on the credibility of the narrative in 2
Chronicles 33:11- 20.
* But it is only fair to add, that the doubts about Manasseh's deportation have
not been shared by the more cautious critics of that school, although they deny the second
part of the narrative - although with no better reason.
It was called in question for this reason, that, in view of the silence of the Book of
Kings, there was not ground for believing that the Assyrians exercised supremacy in Judah
- far less that there had been a hostile expedition against Manasseh; and because, since
the residence of the Assyrian kings was in Nineveh, the reported transportation of
Manasseh to Babylon (ver. 11) must be unhistorical. To these were added, as secondary
objections, that the unlikely account of a king transported in iron bonds and fetters was
proved to be untrustworthy by the still more incredible notice that such a captive had
been again restored to his kingdom. Eminently specious as these objections may seem, they
have been entirely set aside by the evidence from the Assyrian inscriptions, the
preservation of whose testimony is here specially providential. Unfortunately, the lessons
which might have been learned in regard to skepticism on "internal grounds" have
had little influence.
Of the supremacy of Assyria over Judah in the time of Manasseh, there cannot be any
doubt, notwithstanding the silence of the Book of Kings. In a list of twenty-two subject
kings of "the land Chatti," in the reign of Esarhaddon, whom that monarch
summoned, appears expressly the name of Minasi sar mat (ir) Jaudi, Manasseh, king of
* We also recall here that Esarhaddon transported a fresh colony to Samaria
(Ezra 4:2, 10).
But the capture of Manasseh by the Assyrian captains, and his deportation to Babylon,
recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:11, seems to have taken place not in the reign of Esarhaddon,
but in that of his successor, Asurbanipal (the Sardanapalus of classical writers), when
his brother Samas-sum-ukln, the viceroy of Babylon, involved among other countries also
Phoenicia and Palestine in his rebellion. And although the ordinary residence of
Asurbanipal was in Nineveh, we have not only reason to believe that after his assumption
of the dignity of king of Babylon, he temporarily resided in that city, but monumental
evidence of it in his reception there of ambassadors with tributary presents. Lastly, we
find the exact counterpart alike of this, that Manasseh was carried to Babylon with
"hooks,"* and "bound in fetters," and then afterwards restored to his
kingdom, in the Assyrian record of. precisely the same mode of deportation and of the same
restoration by Asurbanipal of Necho of Egypt.**
* This is the correct rendering.
** Comp. Schrader, u.s., pp. 366-372.
Holy Scripture tracing this restoration - not, as in the Assyrian inscription, to its
secondary cause "the mercy of the king" - but to its real source, connects it
with the repentance and prayer of Manasseh in his distress (2 Chronicles 33:12, 13). That
in such circumstances the son of Hezekiah, with the remembrance of the Divine deliverance
of his father in his mind, should have recognized the folly and guilt of his conduct,
humbled himself, and prayed unto the LORD* - seems so natural as scarcely to require
* "The Prayer of Manasseh" in the Apocr., is certainly of late date,
and not even received as canonical by the Romish Church. The curious reader is referred to
Fritzsche, Handb. zu d. Apokr., I., pp. 157-164, to the literature there mentioned, and to
Fabricius, Cod. Pseudepigr, I., 1100-1102.
Yet there is such, at least of his return to Jerusalem, in the historical notice of his
additions to the fortifications of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33:14). And if his abolition of
the former idolatry, and restoration of the service of Jehovah, seem not consistent with
the measures that had afterwards to be adopted by his grandson Josiah, we have to remember
that between them intervened the wicked reign of Amon; that Manasseh seems rather to have
put aside than destroyed idolatry; and that the sacred text itself indicates the
superficiality and incompleteness of his reformation (2 Chronicles 33:17).
The events just recorded must have taken place near the close of this reign, which
extended over the exceptional period of fifty-five years. As Holy Scripture refers to his
sins as extreme and permanent instance of guilt (2 Kings 23:26; 24:3; Jeremiah 15:4), so,
on the other hand, Jewish tradition dwells upon the repentance of Manasseh and the
acceptance of his prayer, as the fullest manifestation of God's mercy, and the greatest
encouragement to repentant sinners.* And, in truth, the threatened judgment upon
Jerusalem was deferred for more than half a century. So it was in peace that Manasseh laid
himself to sleep.** He was buried in a garden attached to his palace, which
popularly bore the name of "the garden of Uzza."***
* The Talmud (Sanh. 103a) says that to deny that Manasseh had share in the world
to come, would be to weaken the hands of penitents. As justice demanded that heaven should
be closed against him, the Almighty opened for him a hole in the firmament. In the Midrash
(Deba. R. 2) a legendary account is realistically given, first of the idol he set up; then
how, when he was being burned by the Assyrians, and found all his gods failed him, he
cried to the LORD; lastly, how the ministering angels had shut up all the windows of
heaven against his prayer, but God had bored for it a hole under the throne of His glory
for the encouragement of penitents to all time.
** The reference in 2 Chronicles 33:19 to "the history of Hozai," may
be to a prophetic book, now lost, or else a clerical error for (...) , "the
seers." The latter seems to have been the view of the LXX.
*** The locality is unknown. It has lately been identified with the
burying-place of Alexander the Maccabee, on the eastern side of the Haram.
That the reformation made by Manasseh could only have been superficial, appears also
from the record of the brief reign of his son and successor Amon. Indeed, some writers
have seen a picture of that period in certain of the utterances of Zephaniah,* although he
prophesied during the reign of Josiah.
* For ex. 1. 4-6, 12, 13; 3. 1-4, 11. But most critics refer all such utterances
of the prophet to the insufficiency of the reformation in Josiah's time.
Amon was twenty-four years old at his accession, and his rule only lasted two years. It
was marked by the resumption of the idolatry of Manasseh - apparently in an even
aggravated form (2 Chronicles 33:23). A palace-conspiracy put an end to his life. As on a
former occasion (2 Kings 14:20, 21), "the people of the land" secured the
Davidic succession by proclaiming Josiah, the youthful son of Amen, heir to his throne.
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