How delightful were our meditations on the last reign! How many pleasing views had we of Sion in its glory (that is, in its purity and in its triumphs), of the king in his beauty! (for Isa. 33:17 refers to Hezekiah), and (as it follows there, 2 Kgs. 21:20) Jerusalem was a quiet habitation because a city of righteousness, Isa. 1:26. But now we have melancholy work upon our hands, unpleasant ground to travel, and cannot but drive heavily. How has the gold become dim and the most fine gold changed! The beauty of Jerusalem is stained, and all her glory, all her joy, sunk and gone. These verses give such an account of this reign as make it, in all respects, the reverse of the last, and, in a manner, the ruin of it.
I. Manasseh began young. He was but twelve years old when he began to reign (2 Kgs. 21:1), born when his father was about forty-two years old, three years after his sickness. If he had sons before, either they were dead, or set by as unpromising. As yet they knew of nothing bad in him, and they hoped he would prove good; but he proved very bad, and perhaps his coming to the crown so young might help to make it so, which yet will by no means excuse him, for his grandson Josiah came to it younger than he and yet acted well. But being young, 1. He was puffed up with his honour and proud of it; and thinking himself very wise, because he was very great, valued himself upon his undoing what his father had done. It is too common for novices to be lifted up with pride, and so to fall into the condemnation of the devil. 2. He was easily wrought upon and drawn aside by seducers, that lay in wait to deceive. Those that were enemies to Hezekiah’s reformation, and retained an affection for the old idolatries, flattered him, and so gained his ear, and used his power at their pleasure. Many have been undone by coming too soon to their honours and estates.
II. He reigned long, longest of any of the kings of Judah, fifty-five years. This was the only very bad reign that was a long one; Joram’s was but eight years, and Ahaz’s sixteen; as for Manasseh’s, we hope that in the beginning of his reign for some time affairs continued to move in the course that his father left them in, and that in the latter end of his reign, after his repentance, religion got head again; and, no doubt, when things were at the worst God had his remnant that kept their integrity. Though he reigned long, yet some of this time he was a prisoner in Babylon, which may well be looked upon as a drawback from these years, though they are reckoned in the number because then he repented and began to reform.
III. He reigned very ill.
1. In general, (1.) He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and which, having been well educated, he could not but know was so (2 Kgs. 21:2): He wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, as if on purpose to provoke him to anger, 2 Kgs. 21:6. (2.) He did after the abominations of the heathen (2 Kgs. 21:2) and as did Ahab (2 Kgs. 21:3), not taking warning by the destruction both of the nations of Canaan and the house of Ahab for their idolatry; nay (2 Kgs. 21:9), he did more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed. When the holy seed degenerate, they are commonly worse than the worst of the profane.
2. More particularly, (1.) He rebuilt the high places which his father had destroyed, 2 Kgs. 21:3. Thus did he trample upon the dust, and affront the memory, of his worthy father, though he knew how much he was favoured of God and honoured of men. He concurred, it is probable, with Rabshakeh’s sentiments (2 Kgs. 18:22), that Hezekiah had done ill in destroying those high places, and pretended the honour of God, and the edification and convenience of the people, in rebuilding them. This he began with, but proceeded to that which was much worse; for, (2.) He set up other gods, Baal and Ashtaroth (which we translate a grove), and all the host of heaven, the sun and moon, the other planets, and the constellations; these he worshipped and served (2 Kgs. 21:3), gave their names to the images he made, and then did homage to them and prayed for help from them. To these he built altars (2 Kgs. 21:5), and offered sacrifices, no doubt, on these altars. (3.) He made his son pass through the fire, by which he dedicated him a votary to Moloch, in contempt of the seal of circumcision by which he had been dedicated to God. (4.) He made the devil his oracle, and, in contempt both of urim and prophecy, he used enchantments and dealt with familiar spirits (2 Kgs. 21:6) like Saul. Conjurers and fortune-tellers (who pretended, by the stars or the clouds, lucky and unlucky days, good and bad omens, the flight of birds, or the entrails of beasts, to foretel things to come) were great men with him, his intimates, his confidants; their arts pleased his fancy, and gained his belief, and his counsels were under their direction. (5.) We find afterwards (2 Kgs. 21:16) that he shed innocent blood very much in gratification of his own passion and revenge; some perhaps were secretly murdered, others taken off by colour of law. Probably much of the blood he shed was theirs that opposed idolatry and witnessed against it, that would not bow the knee to Baal. The blood of the prophets is, in a particular manner, charged upon Jerusalem, and it is probable that he put to death many of them. The tradition of the Jews is that he caused the prophet Isaiah to be sawn asunder; and many think the apostle refers to this in Heb. 11:37; where he speaks of those that had so suffered.
3. Three things are here mentioned as aggravations of Manasseh’s idolatry:—(1.) That he set up his images and altars in the house of the Lord (2 Kgs. 21:4), in the two courts of the temple (2 Kgs. 21:5), in the very house of which God had said to Solomon, Here will I put my name, 2 Kgs. 21:7. Thus he defied God to his face, and impudently affronted him with his rivals immediately under his eye, as one that was neither afraid of God’s wrath nor ashamed of his own folly and wickedness. Thus he desecrated what had been consecrated to God, and did, in effect, turn God out of his own house and put the rebels in possession of it. Thus, when the faithful worshippers of God came to the place he had appointed for the performance of their duty to him, they found, to their great grief and terror, other gods ready to receive their offerings. God had said that here he would record his name, here he would put it for ever, and here it was accordingly preserved, while the idolatrous altars were kept at a distance; but Manasseh, by bringing them into God’s house, did what he could to alter the property, and to make the name of the God of Israel to be no more in remembrance. (2.) That hereby he put a great slight upon the word of God, and his covenant with Israel. Observe the favour he had shown to that people in putting his name among them,—the kindness he intended them, never to make them move out of that good land,—and the reasonableness of his expectations from them, only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, 2 Kgs. 21:7, 8. Upon these good terms did Israel stand with God, and had as fair a prospect of being happy as any people could have; but they hearkened not, 2 Kgs. 21:9. They would not be kept close to God either by his precepts or by his promises; both were cast behind their back. (3.) That hereby he seduced the people of God, debauched them, and drew them into idolatry, 2 Kgs. 21:9. He caused Judah to sin (2 Kgs. 21:11), as Jeroboam had caused Israel to sin. His very example was enough to corrupt the generality of unthinking people, who would do as their king did, right or wrong. All that aimed at preferment would do as the court did; and others thought it safest to comply, for fear of making their king their enemy. Thus, one way or other, the holy city became a harlot, and Manasseh made her so. Those will have a great deal to answer for that not only are wicked themselves, but help to make others so.