The history found in the Bible sometimes reads like a catalogue of evil people doing evil things for evil reasons. Reading these passages can be difficult because the Bible doesn’t shy away from the evil of humankind. No, the Bible forces its readers to look at these evil men and women in all their horror because their portraits are like mirrors that point out our own sin and help us realize that deep down all people are not inherently good; that’s a myth.
One of those mirrors was especially evil. But his story includes a surprising twist ending that you may not see coming. His name was king Manasseh and this is his story.
An Evil King Reigns
Manasseh was born to king Hezekiah, a good king who was faithful (mostly) to God. He centered the life of the people around the worship of Yahweh, destroyed the idols that were leading the Judahites astray, and re-established a decaying priesthood in the temple. He ruled well, saw the people of Judah through times of conflict and peace, and died in his old age, blessed by God and fondly remembered by the people.
Manasseh took the throne at the age of twelve, in many respects still a boy. But a boy who wielded the power and privileges of the throne. We don’t know why he didn’t follow in the steps of his father, but instead of walking in Hezekiah’s righteousness, he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. In fact, he was one of the most evil kings Judah ever saw.
Every place of idol worship that Hezekiah had torn down, Manasseh rebuilt. He didn’t just rebuild them for the people; he bowed down before the idols of Baal and the Asheroth himself. In the courts in front of Jerusalem’s temple, Manasseh built altars to false gods. He then went inside the temple and built two more altars there. He consulted fortune-tellers and searched out omens, dealt with sorcery and consulted with mediums and necromancers. He carved out a huge idol and placed it in the center of Solomon’s Temple, the Temple that was erected to be the house of Yahweh himself. And in a horrifying act of evil that most of us can’t comprehend, Manasseh took his sons to a burial ground outside the city walls and burned them there as child sacrifices to false gods.
It’s hard to grasp someone being so evil. It’s even more hard to grasp a nation following that king and joining him in that evil. But that’s exactly what the people of Judah did. One generation after the people had rededicated themselves to the worship of Yahweh, they turned their backs on him and did “more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.” It was the last straw. Because of their repeated rebellion against the Lord, punctuated by only brief seasons of repentance and righteousness under the leadership of good kings like Hezekiah, Yahweh declared that there was no turning back. They would now have to face exile.
An Evil King Repents
The exile didn’t come for a few more generations, but God punished Manasseh right away. The Assyrian army came and captured the evil king and took him away to the land that would soon be Babylon, the future home of the Judahite exiles. But while Manasseh was in distress, captive to the armies of a foreign power, something unexpected happened. Something that no one familiar with Manasseh’s evil reign would see coming.
He called out to the Lord while he was in chains and he humbled himself before him. He asked for God’s favor and pleaded with God to save him from his captors.
And amazingly, graciously, miraculously, that’s exactly what God did. God saved Manasseh!
Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Oh sure, Manasseh was in trouble so he called on God to get him out of it, but that’s no sign of true repentance.” And after everything Manasseh did you’d have a right to be skeptical.
But after God rescued Manasseh, the once evil king didn’t revert to his old ways. In fact, for the rest of his life he did everything he could to undo all the damage he had caused. He removed all the idols, including the monstrosity he’d commissioned and erected in the house of the Lord. He pulled down all the altars to the false gods that he’d built and commanded the people of Judah to stop their idolatry and to worship Yahweh, the one true God. And he didn’t just command this, he led the worship himself, making sacrifices to Yahweh on his altar in the temple and leading the people in thanksgiving. The altars in the high places never came down, a sign of incomplete reform, but now when the people used them, they sacrificed not to the false gods, but to Yahweh.
An Evil King Remembered
If you’re like me, you know how much of a mess you are. You know that you’re a sinner. And you hate your sin. You hate that it gnaws at you and draws you in. You hate the sin that you see in other people and you hate what it does to them. You hate the way that sin has warped the world, seeping into the deepest structures of society, twisting and perverting them into institutions of wickedness.
And you hate that you love it so much.
But the good news is that we serve a God who saves evil people! Evil people like king Manasseh. Evil people like you and me. Oh sure, we don’t like to think of ourselves as evil, but apart from Christ that’s exactly who we are. We’re sin-loving, God-hating, self-exalting evil people.
The truth that the mirror of Manasseh shows me is that I am Manasseh. And so are you.
But if Manasseh’s cry was heard by God and if a man as evil as Manasseh could be saved and transformed, then God can also save and transform us! I am Manasseh! If he can be redeemed then so can I! No matter how dark my sin, how broken my soul, how wicked my flesh, God can redeem me!
Friend, you are not beyond saving. You will never be too far gone. Remember Manasseh and follow his example. Humble yourself before the Lord, repent of your sins, cry out to God for salvation. God the Father promises that if you do he will hear your plea and by the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he will rescue you and begin the miraculous work of transforming you with his Holy Spirit.
What depths of love, what amazing grace, what a powerful God who is in the business of saving evil people like you and like me!
*I encourage you to read the story of King Manasseh for yourself. You can find it in 2 Kings 21 and an extended version in 2 Chronicles 33.