One of the things about heaven that is likely to surprise us will be the people who actually made it there. That is because no one is beyond God’s reach. We might write people off as unredeemable, but God never does. And he will go to great lengths to bring them home to himself. History is filled with testimonies of prodigal children who found grace when they finally came home to the Father. So never give up on people. God never does.
Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 21:1-6
Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years…He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, following the detestable practices of the pagan nations that the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He rebuilt the pagan shrines his father, Hezekiah, had destroyed. He constructed altars for Baal and set up an Asherah pole, just as King Ahab of Israel had done. He also bowed before all the powers of the heavens and worshiped them. He built pagan altars in the Temple of the Lord, the place where the Lord had said, “My name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” He built these altars for all the powers of the heavens in both courtyards of the Lord’s Temple. Manasseh also sacrificed his own son in the fire. He practiced sorcery and divination, and he consulted with mediums and psychics. He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing his anger.
Your first response to the text I have selected for this devotional is likely to be one of incredulity. Maybe you are thinking, “Dude, you need to get better inspirational material!” Well, I agree, except this is about all I have to work with from 2 Kings 21. Manasseh was a very bad, no good, rotten man, and he reigned as king in Judah longer than any of the other kings. For fifty-five really awful years, God endured this insufferable king; a half-century of the same evil leadership guiding the nation to new depths of sin.
Truly, this man was Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin wrapped into one. Now in today’s world, we often invoke those awful people to demean the leadership of someone with whom we disagree, but the impact is always lost because that leader is nowhere near the awful, evil person with whom we compare them. We simply don’t like them, or we vehemently disagree with their policies, so we call them the worst name possible. But in Manasseh’s case, the comparison is appropriate. There is a line in the description of his reign that reveals the darkness of Jerusalem under this king:
Manasseh also murdered many innocent people until Jerusalem was filled from one end to the other with innocent blood. (2 Kings 21:16)
Needless to say, God was none too happy with this king: “He did evil in the Lord’s sight,” (2 Kings 21:2) … “He did much that was evil in the Lord’s sight, arousing his anger,” 2 Kings 21: 6) … “Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: ‘King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites.’” (2 Kings 21:10-11) God was so disgusted with Manasseh that he would wipe the entire nation of Judah away, including even the remnant that he always preserved for himself:
So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” (2 Kings 21:12-15)
This isn’t getting any better, is it? I still haven’t found a way to turn a corner into a more uplifting look at 2 Kings 21. And I am not going to turn that corner; there isn’t one. But you get the picture: Manasseh was as bad as they come. If anyone could be beyond the reach of God’s mercy, grace and love, it was this man.
Or was he? You have to go to another part of the Bible to find this, but the story has a redeeming end to it. In 2 Chronicles 33:10-20, we find that under severe judgment, evil Manasseh finally turned to God. God allowed the Assyrians to attack Jerusalem, and they took the king captive. They humiliated him by putting a hook in his nose and literally dragging him into captivity. It was there in a dark, dank Babylonian prison of despair that we are told,
In his distress Manasseh sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 33:12)
And the Lord took pity on him. He even restored Manasseh to the throne in Jerusalem—which would have been an exceedingly rare thing for a captive king to be returned to his throne in the ancient world. But God did it for the repentant monarch. And in the final few years of his life, Manasseh did his best to restore all that he had done wrong in the Lord’s sight. He ended well. There were probably those who never forgave him for the evil he had inflicted upon Judah, and there were those who probably thought his conversion was a sham, but the Lord knew. And the evil king finished with a flurry as a good man in God’s sight.
The truth is, no one is beyond God’s reach. You and I might write people off, but God doesn’t. And he will go to extreme lengths to bring them home to himself. History is filled with testimonials of prodigal children who found grace when they finally came to their senses and came home to the Father.
I suspect that one of the things that will surprise us in heaven will be the unlikely people who made it there. So never give up on people. God never does.