The Great Repentance of King Manasseh

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asheroth, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, ‘In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.’ And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of the idol that he had made he set in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, ‘In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever, and I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land that I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses.’ Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

Afterward he built an outer wall for the city of David west of Gihon, in the valley, and for the entrance into the Fish Gate, and carried it around Ophel, and raised it to a very great height. He also put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah. And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.

Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, behold, they are in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. And his prayer, and how God was moved by his entreaty, and all his sin and his faithlessness, and the sites on which he built high places and set up the Asherim and the images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the Chronicles of the Seers. So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his house, and Amon his son reigned in his place.”

II Chronicles xxxiii, 1-20

So far the text.

I intended to put down my thoughts on this passage on the day for which it was an appointed reading, which was last Saturday, Holy Cross Day. Alas, time and the devil impeded my efforts to this end, so I’m writing several days later. Adjust your internal liturgical calendrics accordingly, please.

It is certainly no fault that Christendom looks upon King David as the chief icon of repentance in the Scriptures. The story of his adultery with Bathseba, all shot through with murder and deceit, fittingly stands as a titanic cautionary tale to the Church and to Her every member: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Co. xx, 12). More titanic still, though, is the Law of God which arrests the sinning king and the mercy which saves him (both delivered through the ministrations of the prophet Nathan). His song in the night, Psalm 51, is one of the most well known of all the penitential verses in Scripture, showing up in numerous places in the ancient liturgy of the Church. In my own tradition, the Missouri-Synod Lutheran, King David’s refrain is sung by the faithful as the Offertory during the preparation for the Liturgy of the Sacrament: “Create in me a clean heart, O God / And renew a right spirit within me; / Cast me not away from thy presence, / And take not thy Holy Spirit from me; / Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, / And uphold me with Thy free spirit. Amen.” Indeed, this is the whole liturgy of the Church writ small, for it epitomizes the hope in which we, the pilgrim souls of the Church on earth, stand; likewise, it gives voice to the faith which lays hold of this hope as its own.

So, again, it is entirely fitting that David is seen as something of a paragon of repentance, for these and other reasons. (It’s certainly germane to point out that he pretty much wrote the Psalter— if you’ve ever been too dried out and washed up by the world, the flesh, and the devil to invent your own prayers, chances are good that you leaned heavily upon the words of King David.) In my musings today, however, I want to consider another, lesser-known icon of repentance: King Manasseh.

I must confess that I often find reading Scripture to be terribly boring. Try as I might, some days I just slog through my breviary. The Old Testament readings especially can be tedious. Some guy with eighteen syllables in his name served as a scribe, and his son, who has eighteen consonants in his name, did evil, and you’re never going to hear about them again. Now here comes Assyria. Succotash begat Balderdash, and, lo, I didn’t remember a thing. Amen.

Really, I apologize if that seems irreverent, but I’m trying honestly to convey what happens when my flimsy attention-span and lazy, disinterested mind conspire during my devotions. The fault is with me, not with the text.

Sometimes, though, out of the blue and not by my choosing, I am completely and totally arrested by something I read, and Sacred Scripture becomes an electrifying page-turner. So it was with the foregoing Old Testament reading for Holy Cross Day, the story of Manasseh. I’ll admit right off the bat: it’s usually macabre details which grip me in this way. Pious ratiocination, if it comes at all, comes later.

So, King Manasseh. Here’s what the Wikipedia has to say:

Manasseh (Hebrew: מְנַשֶּׁה; Greek: Μανασσης; Latin: Manasses) was a king of the Kingdom of Judah. He was the only son ofHezekiah with Hephzi-bah. He became king at an age of 12 and reigned for 55 years (2 Kings 21:12 Chronicles 33:1). Edwin Thiele has concluded that he commenced his reign as co-regent with his father Hezekiah in 697/696 BC, with his sole reign beginning in 687/686 BC and continuing until his death in 643/642 BC. William F. Albright has dated his reign from 687 – 642 BC.[citation needed]