The Repentance of Manasseh

A Sinner Not Beyond Hope

“And when he was in distress, he besought Jehovah his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers” (2 Chronicles 33:12).

By Keith Belhumeur

The scriptural record of the reign of King Manasseh is a cautionary account of his initial rejection of Jehovah and of a king contributing to his nation’s decline into idolatry. It is, however, also one of repentance, humility, mercy, and hope. It shows us what can happen if we stray from the principles and standards that Jehovah expects of his people. It also shows us that Jehovah is the God of mercy, love, and reconciliation.

The biblical account of Manasseh’s reign is found in 2 Kings 21:1-18, 2 Chronicles 32:33-33:20, and is mentioned in Jeremiah 15:4. Manasseh was the eldest son of king Hezekiah and his mother Hephzibah. He was the fourteenth king of the Judean kingdom. He technically became a king at the young age of 12 and reigned for 55 years, the longest reign in Judah’s record. However, Scriptural evidence indicates his reign included a coregency with his ailing father for his first 11 years until Hezekiah’s death.1 Manasseh would have been in a unique position to observe and participate in the political and social business of the monarchy in Judah in a way most young men never get to experience at such a young age.

(1) Rice, D., Time and Prophecy, chart, page 55. San Diego, self-published, 1995 (reformatted 2021).

It made practical sense for Hezekiah to make Manasseh a co-ruler for several reasons. Scripture tells us that Hezekiah was extremely ill and had been informed by the prophet Isaiah that Jehovah had numbered his days. Hezekiah respectfully reminded Jehovah of his faithfulness and prayed in supplication and humility to Jehovah. Jehovah heard his prayer, saw his humble tears, and remembered his faithfulness. Jehovah had Isaiah return to Hezekiah and inform him that God had decided to extend his life for 15 years longer (2 Kings 20:1-6). Thus, with his illness and his 15-year limit on life, Hezekiah placed Manasseh on the throne as coregent when his son reached the age of responsibility. This was a good opportunity to apprentice Manasseh in valuable lessons about ruling and leadership that many kings did not get. This opportunity was probably instrumental in his ultimate success and the duration of his reign. In order to fully understand the issues Manasseh faced and his response to them while king of Judah, one must understand the politics and social situation leading up to his reign. It was a dramatic and tumultuous time for both Jewish kingdoms and the surrounding nations.

Ahaz and Hezekiah, Opposing Examples for Manasseh

Let us go back to the reign of Manasseh’s grandfather, Ahaz. By Ahaz’s time, about 280 years under kings, both Jewish kingdoms had so strayed from Jehovah that they were reaping the punishments Jehovah had warned of if they did not harken unto him (Leviticus 26:14-46). Ahaz had done extreme evil in the sight of Jehovah (2 Chronicles 28:2-4). Jehovah allowed the kingdom of Judah to be subdued by the Assyrians, Edomites, Philistines, and even King Pekah of the kingdom of Israel. Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, no doubt saw the negative impact of these things while growing up.

Hezekiah was a great reformer, seeing that his father’s reign had strayed completely from Jehovah, and brought God’s wrath with it. Hezekiah cleansed the temple, reestablished the activities of the priesthood, and sanctioned sacrifices in the temple. He removed all the idols from the high places in order to preclude Jehovah’s judgments against Judah. He “rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not” (2 Kings 18:7-8) and he defeated the Philistines. In Judah, the people once again celebrated the Passover feast. “And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered” (2 Chronicles 31:21). He also reinforced the walls in Jerusalem and improved the water distribution system around Jerusalem. During Hezekiah’s time, Judah witnessed the demise of the Kingdom of Israel under Hoshea by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:10).

In Hezekiah’s fourteenth year as king, Manasseh would have been about 7 years old. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, turned his sights on Judah. Sennacherib brazenly mocked Jehovah and Hezekiah. He attempted to go directly to Hezekiah’s subjects and leaders to convince them not to follow Hezekiah or Jehovah, since his Assyrian god was so powerful. “And Hezekiah the king, and Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz, prayed because of this, and cried to heaven” (2 Chronicles 32:20). Jehovah heard their prayer and “Jehovah sent an angel, who cut off all the mighty men of valor, and the leaders and captains, in the camp of the king of Assyria,” a total of 185,000, per 2 Kings 19:35. Sennacherib returned in embarrassment, later to be killed by his own children.

As mentioned earlier, Hezekiah was ill. However, he and Judah prospered. Because of his success both in wealth, public works, and military engagements, Hezekiah allowed his self-pride to get the best of him. He committed a blunder that set the stage for what would ultimately end with the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem a century later. At that time, the king of Babylon “sent letters and a present unto Hezekiah; for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick” (2 Kings 20:12). Babylon was taking notice of Judah’s success and wealth. Hezekiah showed the Babylonian envoy everything, gold, silver, riches, armor, and other secrets of Judah. Isaiah the prophet asked what these men wanted and where they came from. Hezekiah told Isaiah that he showed them everything. “And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah, Hear the word of Jehovah. Behold, the days come, that all that is in thy house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith Jehovah. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, whom thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Kings 20:16-18).

Manasseh Chastised

Manasseh would have lived and benefited from the renewal of Judah. At 12 years old, the age of responsibility, Manasseh was elevated to king as coregent and ruled parts of his first 11 years with Hezekiah. Since times were so good, Manasseh would not be intimately familiar with the hardships and consequences that Judah had experienced when they had strayed from Jehovah under Ahaz and prior kings. He might have even become somewhat indifferent to the strict devotion and reforms Hezekiah had quickly implemented after coming to power. Like most children, he may have felt constrained by his father’s oversight. These situations probably contributed to his behavior early in his sole reign. Unfortunately, soon after Hezekiah died, Manasseh “did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah” (2 Kings 21:2). “He built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made an Asherah, as did Ahab king of Israel, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of Jehovah” (2 Kings 21:3-4). He sacrificed his son, practiced divination, spiritism, appointed sorcerers as advisors, shed innocent blood, and “wrought much evil,” causing Judah to sin as well. He even set the graven image of Asherah up in the temple in Jerusalem. This provoked Jehovah’s anger, “Behold, I bring such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle” (2 Kings 21:12).

We are not given many details regarding the events that led to Manasseh’s capture or the reasons. “Wherefore Jehovah brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon” (2 Chronicles 33:11). However, Manasseh’s reaction to his captivity was remarkable. “And when he was in distress, he besought Jehovah his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed unto him; and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah he is God” (2 Chronicles 33:12-13).

Manasseh probably recalled the words of Psalms 116 in his time of trouble and set to work. “I will pay my vows unto Jehovah, yes, in the presence of all his people, in the courts of Jehovah’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye Jehovah” (Psalms 116:18-19). God heard Manasseh’s supplication and returned him to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 33:13). Upon his return, Manasseh answered God’s mercy with action and reverence. He did just as his father had done and began to improve the fortifications of the kingdom. He took away the foreign gods and idols out of the house of Jehovah. He removed the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of Jehovah and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. He restored the altar of Jehovah and offered thereon sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving (see Psalms 116), and commanded Judah to serve Jehovah, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:15-16). Jehovah rewarded his earnest, humble repentance, and subsequent devotion with a long reign as king.

A Lesson for Us

Manasseh’s experience provides us with many lessons. First, we should “keep the commandments of Jehovah thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him” (Deuteronomy 8:6, Proverbs 8:32). God has revealed his expectations for us in his word. We must study them, learn them, and then make sure we apply them in our lives daily. Manasseh’s experience reminds us to be faithful and obedient to Jehovah’s standards, His ways, and His written word.

Secondly, we all have struggles with our flesh, the world, and things contrary to God. We need to be vigilant not to love the world nor the things of the world. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Manasseh learned this the hard way.

Thirdly, if we have stumbled and sinned, let us remember it is never too late for earnest repentance. “But God, being rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5). Jehovah shows mercy to the repentant and contrite.