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b.c. 686-641

2 Kings xxi. 1-16

"Shall the throne of wickedness have fellowship with Thee,
That frameth mischief by statute?
They gather themselves in troops against the soul of the righteous,
And condemn the innocent blood."—Psalm xciv. 20, 21.

"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience long He waiteth, with exactness grinds He all."

Manasseh was born after Hezekiah's recovery from his terrible illness. He was but twelve years old when he began to reign. Of his mother Hephzibah we know nothing, nor of the Zechariah who was her father; but perhaps Isaiah in one passage (lxii. 4) may refer to her name, "My delight is in her."623623   One legend says that Hephzibah was a daughter of Isaiah. Not so Josephus (Antt., X. iii. 1). The son of Hezekiah and Hephzibah was the worst of all the kings of Judah, and had the longest reign.

The tender age of Manasseh when he came to the throne may perhaps account for the fact that the352 "forgetfulness" which his name implied624624   See Gen. xli. 51. His name may have referred to the new union between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Comp. 2 Chron. xxx. 6, xxxi. 1. was not a forgetting of other sorrows, but of all that was noble and righteous in the attempted reformation which had been the main religious work of his father's life. In Judah, as in England, a king was not supposed to be of age until he was eighteen.625625   Chron. xxxiv. 1-3. For six years Manasseh must have been to a great extent under the influence of his regents and counsellors.

There always existed in Jerusalem, even in the best times, a heathenising party, and it was, unfortunately, composed of princes and aristocrats who could bring strong influence to bear upon the king.626626   See Zeph. i. 8. Comp. 2 Chron. xxiv. 17; Isa. xxviii. 14; Jer. v. 5, etc. They did not deny Jehovah, but they did not recognise Him as the sole or the supreme God of heaven and earth. To them He was the local deity of Israel and Judah. But there were other gods, the gods of the nations, and their aim always was to recognise the existence of these deities and to pay homage to their power. If their favour could not be purchased except by their immediate votaries, at least their anger might be averted. These politicians advocated a fatal and incongruous syncretism, or at least an unlimited tolerance for heathen idols, for which they could, unhappily, quote the precepts and example of the Wise King, Solomon. If any one questioned their views as a dangerous idolatry, and an insult to

"Jehovah thundering out of Zion, throned

Between the cherubim,"


they had but to point from the walls of Jerusalem to the confronting summit of Olivet, where still remained the shrines which the son of David had erected three centuries earlier to Chemosh, and Milcom, and Ashtoreth, who, since his day, had always found, even in Jerusalem, some worshippers, open or secret, to acknowledge their divinity.

And these worldlings, in their tolerance for the intolerable, could always appeal to two powerful instincts of man's fallen nature—sensuality and fear—"lust hard by hate." There was something in the worship of Baal-Peor and of Moloch which appealed to the undying ape and tiger in the unregenerate human heart.

The true worship of Jehovah is exactly that form of religion which man finds it least easy to render to Him—the religion of pure morality. Services, rites, functions, look like religious diligence, and readily secure a reverent outward devotion. Even self-maceration, fasts, and flagellation are a cheap way of escaping the "endless torments" which always loom so hugely in terrifying superstition.

Such superstitions are children of the fear and faithlessness which hath torment. They are the corruptions with which every form of false religion, and with which also a corrupt and perverted Christianity, are always tainted. And they demand the easy expiation of physical ritual. But all the best and most spiritual teachers of Scripture—alike the Hebrew Prophets and the Christian Apostles—are at one with the Lord Christ in perpetual insistence on the truth that "mercy is better than sacrifice," and that true religion consists in that good mind and good life which are the sole proof of genuine sincerity.


If Jehovah would but be contented with gifts, men would gladly offer Him thousands of rams and tens of thousands of rivers of oil. But the prophets taught that He was above all mean bribes, and that such offerings never could be anything to One whose were all the beasts of the forests and the cattle upon a thousand hills. It was not easy, then, to bribe such a God, or to make Him a respecter of persons.

How easy, again, would it be, if He would even accept human sacrifices! A child was but a child. How easy to kill a child, and place it in the brazen arms which sloped over the fiery cistern! Moloch and Chemosh were supremely to be won by such holocausts; and surely Moloch and Chemosh must be lords of power! But here again the prophets of Jehovah stepped in, and said that it was of no avail with the High, the Holy, the Merciful, to give even our firstborn for our transgressions, or the fruit of the body for the sin of the soul.

Asceticism, then—occasional fasting, severe self-deprivations—surely the gods would accept these? And they were as nothing compared to the burden of sin and the agony of conscience! Baal and Asherah could command agonised devotees, and could approve of them. By Jehovah and His prophets such bodily service is discouraged and forbidden.

Pleasure, then?—the consecration of the natural impulses, the devotion in religious cultus of the passions and appetites of the flesh—why should that be so abhorrent to Jehovah? Other deities exulted in licentiousness. Was not the temple of Astarte full of her women-worshippers and of her eunuchs? Was there no fascination in the voluptuous allurements, the orgiastic dances, the stolen waters, the bread eaten in355 secret, when not only was the conscience lulled by the removal therefrom of all sense of guilt and degradation, but such orgies were even crowned with merit, as part of an acceptable worship? After all, there was "a fascination of corruption" in these idols of gold and jewels, of lust and blood!

How stern, how cold, how bare, by comparison, was the moral law which only said, "Thou shalt not," and emphasised its prohibition with the unalterable sanctions, "This do, and thou shalt live"; "Do it not, and thou shalt die"! What could they make of a religion which was so eloquently silent as to the meritoriousness of ritual?

And how chill and simple and dreary was that which—according to Micah—Jehovah had shown to be good, and which He required of every man,—which was nothing more than to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God!

And what right had the prophets—so asked these apostates—to lord it over God's heritage in this way? Solomon was the greatest king of Israel and Judah; and Solomon had never been so exclusive in his religionism, though he had built the Temple of the Lord; nor Rehoboam; nor the great Phœnician Queen Athaliah; nor the cultivated and æsthetic Ahaz; nor, in the kingdom of Israel, the lordly warrior Ahab; nor the splendid and long-lived victor Jeroboam II. Had not Manasseh plenty of examples of religious syncretism, to which he might appeal in the joy of his youthful age?

Not impossibly there lay in the background another reason why the young king might be inclined to listen to these evil counsellors. Micah may still have been living; but of Isaiah we hear no more. Probably he was dead. It is not recorded that he delivered any356 prophecy during the reign of Manasseh, nor is it certain that he outlived the former king. Tradition, indeed, in later days, asserted that he had confronted Manasseh, and been doomed to death; that he had taken refuge in a cedar tree, and in that cedar had been sawn asunder; but the tradition is wholly without a vestige of authority. One of Micah's sternest oracles was perhaps uttered in the days of Manasseh.627627   Mic. vii. 1-20. But Micah was only a provincial prophet of Moresheth-Gath. He never moved in the midst of princes as Isaiah had done, or possessed a tithe of the authority which had rested for so many years on the shoulders of his mighty contemporary.

Moreover—so the heathen party might suggest—had not Isaiah's prophecies been falsified by the result? Had he not distinctly promised and pledged his credit to two things? and had not both turned out to be unworthy of reliance?

i. Surely he had prophesied the utter downfall of the Assyrians. And it was true that after his disaster on the confines of Egypt, Sennacherib had fled in haste to Nineveh, and his occupations with rebels on his own frontiers had left Judah unmolested, and he had been murdered by his sons. But, on the other hand, in no sense of the word had Assyria fallen. On the contrary, she had never been more powerful. Not one of his predecessors had seemed more irresistible than Esarhaddon. He was undisputed king of Babylon and of Nineveh. There would be no more embassies from Merodach-Baladan, or any revolted viceroy! And rumour would early begin to narrate that Esarhaddon had not forgotten the catastrophe at Pelusium, but357 intended to avenge it, and to teach Egypt the forgotten lessons of Raphia (b.c. 720) and Altaqu (b.c. 701).

ii. And as for Judah, where was the golden Messianic age which Isaiah had promised? Where did they see the Divine Prince whom he had foretold, or the lion lying down with the lamb, and the child laying his hand on the cockatrice's den?

All this, they would argue, had greatly shaken Isaiah's prophetic authority. Judah was a mere vassal—safe only in so far as she remained a vassal, and did not join Tyre or any other rebellious power, but abode safe under the shadow of Assyria's mighty wings.

Was it not, then, as well to look facts in the face? to accept things as they were? And—so they would argue, with false plausibility—since the triumph, after all, had remained with the gods of the nations, might it not be as well to dethrone Jehovah from His exclusive dominion, and at least to propitiate the potent and less-exacting deities, the charming Dî faciles who smiled at lewd aberrations, and even flung over them the glamour of devotion?

With these bolder renegades would be the whole body of the priests of the bamoth. Those old sanctuaries had been repressed by Hezekiah without any compensation; for in those days life-interests were little, or not at all, regarded. Multitudes of priests and Levites must have been flung out of employment and reduced to poverty by the recent religious revolution. It is not likely that they bore without a murmur the obliteration of forms of worship sanctioned by immemorial custom, or that they made no efforts to procure the re-establishment of what the people loved.

Thus a vast weight of evil influence was brought to bear upon the boy-king; and it was also the more358 powerful because repeated indications exist that, while the king was nominally a despot, and was surrounded with external observance, the real control of affairs was, to a large extent, in the hands of an aristocracy of priests and princes, except when the king was a man of great personal force.

Manasseh went over to these retrogressionists heart and soul, and he contentedly remained a tributary of Assyria. Even when Esarhaddon's forces marched to the chastisement of Egypt, he felt secure in his allegiance to the dominant tyrant of Babylon and Nineveh, whose interest it would be not to disturb a faithful subject.

There followed a reaction, an absolute rebound from the old monotheistic strictness and righteousness. The nation emancipated itself from the moral law as with a shout of relief, and plunged into superstition and licentiousness. The reign of Manasseh resembled at once the recrudescence of Popery in the reign of Mary Tudor, with its rekindling of the fires of Smithfield, and the foul orgies of debauchery at the Restoration of 1660, when human nature, loving degraded licence better than strenuous liberty, flung away the noble freedom of Puritanism for the loathly mysteries of Cotytto. The age of Manasseh resembled that of Charles II., in the famous description of Lord Macaulay. "Then came days never to be recalled without a blush, the days of servitude without loyalty, and sensuality without love, of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. In every high place worship was paid to Belial and Moloch, and England propitiated these obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and bravest children." Sensuous intoxication is in all cases closely connected with359 fiendish cruelty, and the introducer of voluptuous idolatries naturally became the first persecutor of the true religion.

1. The first step of the king, and probably the one which the people welcomed most, was the restoration of the chapelries under the trees and on the hills, which, more strenuously than any of his predecessors, Hezekiah had at least attempted to put down. For this step Manasseh might have pleaded the sanction of ages to which the Book of Deuteronomy had either been wholly unknown, or during which its laws had become as utterly forgotten as though they had never existed. To many worshippers these old shrines had become extremely precious. They felt it to be either an actual impossibility, or at the best intolerably burdensome, to make their way by long, dreary, and difficult journeys to Jerusalem, when they desired to pay the most ordinary rites of worship. They knew no reason, and had never known of any reason, why Jehovah should be worshipped in one Temple only. All their religious instincts led them the other way. They could point to the example of all the highly honoured saints who had worshipped God at Gilgal, Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, Beersheba, Kedesh, Gibeah, and many another shrine; and of all the saintly kings who had not dreamt of interfering with such free worship. Why should Jerusalem monopolise all sanctity? It might be a politic view for kings to maintain, and highly profitable for priests to establish; but none of their great prophets, not even the princely Isaiah, had said one syllable against the innocent high places of Jehovah. In those days there were no synagogues. The extinction of the high places doubtless seemed to many of the people an extinction of religion in daily life, and they were more360 than half disposed to agree with the Rabshakeh that Jehovah was offended by what they regarded as a burdensome, unwise, and sweeping innovation.—If it be necessary to answer arguments which might have seemed natural, against a custom which might have seemed innocent, it must suffice to say that it was the chief mission of Israel to keep alive among the nations of the world the knowledge of the One True God, and that, amid the constant temptations to accept the gods of the heathen as they were adored in groves and on high places, the faith of Israel could no longer be kept pure except by the Deuteronomic institution of one central and exclusive shrine.

2. But Manasseh did far worse than rehabilitate the worship at the high places which his father had discouraged. "He reared up altars for Baal,628628   LXX., τῇ Βαά̈λ. The feminine, however, does not imply that Baal was here worshipped as a female deity, but is probably due to the fact that later Jews always avoided using the names of idols (from a misapprehension or too literal view of Exod. xxiii. 13), and therefore called Baal Bosheth ("shame"), which is feminine. Hence the names Mephibosheth, Jerubbesheth, Ishbosheth. In Suidas (s.v. Μανασσῆς) he is charged with having set up in the Temple "a four-faced image of Zeus." and made an Asherah, as did Ahab, King of Israel." This was the first bad element of the new cosmopolitan eclecticism. It involved the acceptance of the Phœnician nature-worship with its manifold abominations. The people had grown familiar with it under Athaliah (2 Kings xi. 18), and under Ahaz (2 Chron. xxviii. 2); but Manasseh, as we infer from the account given of Josiah's reformation, had gone further than either. He had actually ventured to introduce the image of Baal into the Temple, and to set up the Asherah-pillar in front of it (2 Kings xxiii. 4). Worse even than this, he had361 erected in the very Temple (id. 7) houses devoted to the execrable Qedeshim (Vulg., effeminati), in which also the women wove broidered hangings to adorn the shrines of the idol image, as in the worship of the Assyrian Mylitta.629629   For בָּתִּים, in 2 Kings xxiii. 7, the LXX. read χεττίμ (?). Grätz, (Gesch. d. Juden., ii. 277) suggests בְּנָדִים, "broidered robes." Ezek. xvi. 16. See Herod., i. 199; Strabo, xvi. 1058; Luc., De Deâ. Syr., § 6; Libanius, Opp., xi. 456, 557; Ep. of Jeremy, 43; Döllinger, Judenthum u. Heidenthum, i. 431; Rawlinson, Phœnicia, 431. He, at the same time, displaced the altar and removed the Ark. To the latter circumstances is perhaps due the Rabbinic legend that Hezekiah hid the Ark till the coming of the Messiah.

3. To this Phœnician worship he added Sabaism, the worship of the stars, "all the host of heaven, whom he served." This was an entirely new phase of idolatry, unknown to the Hebrews till they came in contact with Assyria.630630   Chron. xxxiii. 3; 2 Kings xxiii. 5. Movers, Rel. d. Phöniz., i. 65 "In all the books of the Old Testament written before the Assyrian period no trace of star-worship is to be to found." 2 Kings xvii. 16. It came rapidly into vogue, and exercised over their imaginations the spell of a seductive novelty, as we see from the strong testimony of the prophet Jeremiah.631631   Jer. vii. 18, viii. 2, xix. 13; Zeph. i, 5. This is why it is so emphatically forbidden in the Book of Deuteronomy.632632   See Deut. iv. 19, xvii. 3. The king built altars to the stars of the Zodiac (Mazzaroth), both in the outer court of the Temple, and in the court of the priests, and on these altars incense or victims were continually burned. He also introduced or encouraged the introduction into the Temple precincts of the horses and chariots dedicated to the sun.633633   2 Kings xxiii. 11, 12.

When we read of the actual invasion of the Temple-precincts in this as in preceding and subsequent reigns,362 we cannot but ask, Were these atrocities committed with the sanction or with the connivance of the priests? We are not told. Yet how can it have been otherwise? If the high priest Azariah could muster eighty priests to oppose King Uzziah, when he merely wished to burn incense in the Temple, as Solomon had done before him, and as Ahaz did after him—if Jehoiada could, according to the Chronicler, muster a perfect army of priests and Levites to dethrone Athaliah, and could so stir up the people that they rose en masse to tear down the temple of Baal, and slay Mattan, his high priest,—how was it possible for Manasseh to perpetrate these flagrant acts of idolatrous apostasy, if the priests were all ranged in opposition to his power? Was their authority suddenly paralysed? Did their influence with the people shrivel into nothing when Hezekiah had been carried to his tomb? Or did these priests follow the easy and profitable course which they seem to have followed throughout the whole history of the kings without an exception?—did they simply answer the kings according to their idols?

4. Another, and the most hideous, element of the new mixture of cults was the reintroduction of the ancient Canaanite worship of Moloch with its human sacrifices. Manasseh, like Ahaz, made his son or, according to the Chronicler and the Septuagint, "his sons"—pass through the fire to this grim Ammonite idol in Tophet of the Valley of Hinnom, so as to leave no chance untried. And herein he was far more inexcusable than his grandfather; for Ahaz had at least been driven by desperate extremity to this last expedient, but Manasseh was living, if not in prosperity, at least in unbroken peace. Moreover, he not only did this himself, but did his utmost to make a popular institution of children-sacrifice,363 so that many practised it in the dreadful valley and amid the rocks outside Jerusalem.634634   See Jer. vii, 31, 32, xix. 2-6, xxxii. 35; Psalm cvi. 37, 38.

5. Even this did not suffice him. To these Assyrian, Phœnician, and Canaanite elements of idolatry he added Babylonian novelties. He practised augury, and used enchantments, and he dealt with familiar spirits and wizards, as though without Egyptian necromancy and Mesopotamian shamanism his eclectic worship would be incomplete.635635   Ewald infers from Isa. lvii. 5-9; Jer. ii. 5-13, that he actually sought for all foreign kinds of worship, in order to introduce them.

6. Thus "he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord to provoke Him to anger." He placed a graven image of his Asherah inside the Temple, and utterly profaned the sacred house, and seduced his people "to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel."

Whatever was the conduct of the priests, the prophets were not silent. They denounced Manasseh for having done worse than even the ancient Amorites, and declared that, in consequence of his crimes, God would bring upon Jerusalem such evil as would cause both the ears of him that heard it to tingle;636636   1 Sam. iii. 11; Jer. xix. 3. that he would stretch over Jerusalem for ruin the line and the level of Ahab;637637   Comp. Isa. xxxiv. 11; Lam. ii. 8. that He would cast off even the remnant, and deliver them to their enemies; that He would wipe out Jerusalem "as a man wipeth a dish, wiping and turning it upside down."638638   2 Kings xxi. 13. LXX., ἀλάβαστρος, al. πυξίον. The Vulgate also takes it to mean the obliteration of writing on a tablet: "Delebo Jerusalem sicut deleri solent tabulæ; et ducam crebrius stylum super faciem ejus."


The finest oracles of Micah (vi. 1-vii. 7) were probably uttered in the reign of Manasseh, and give the simplest and purest expression to the supremacy of morality as the one true end and test of religion. Micah is as indifferent as the Decalogue to all claims of rites, ceremonies, and outward worship. "Jehovah demands nothing for Himself; all that He asks is for man: this is the fundamental law of the theocracy."

The apostasies of the king and the denunciation of the prophets thus came into fierce collision, and led naturally to persecution and bloodshed. Perhaps in Mic. vii. 1-7 we catch the echoes of the Reign of Terror. The king resorted to violence, using, no doubt, the tyrant's devilish plea of necessity. He made blood run like water in the streets of Jerusalem from end to end,639639   2 Kings xxi. 16; Heb., "from mouth to mouth"; LXX., στόμα εἰς στόμα; Vulg., donec impleret Jerusalem usque ad os. Comp. 2 Kings x. 21. and in the exaggerated phrase of Josephus, was daily slaying the prophets.640640   Antt., X. iii, 1: "He butchered alike all the just among the Hebrews." To this reign of terror some refer Psalm xii. 1; Isa. lvii. 1-4. It was during this persecution, according to Rabbinic tradition, that Isaiah received the martyr's crown.641641   This (as I have said) cannot be regarded as certain. Isaiah began to prophesy in the year that King Uzziah died, sixty years before Manasseh. It is a Jewish Haggadah. See Gesen on Isa. i., p. 9, and the Apocryphal "Ascension of Isaiah."

And no miracles were wrought to save the martyrs. Elijah and Elisha had been surrounded with a blaze of miracles, but in Judah no prophet arose who could so wield the power of Heaven.

At this point the narrative of the historian about Manasseh ends. If he shared the current opinion of his day, which connected individual and national prosperity365 with well-doing, and regarded length of days as a sign of the favour of Heaven, while, on the other hand, misfortune and misery invariably resulted from the wrath of Jehovah, he could not have been otherwise than surprised, and perhaps even pained, to have to relate that Manasseh reigned fifty-five years. Not only was his reign longer than that of any other king of Israel or Judah; not only did he attain a greater age than any of them; but, further, no calamity seems to have marked his rule. A contented and protected vassal of Esarhaddon, secure from his attacks, and also unmolested by the weakened and subjugated nations around him, he would seem, in the story of the Kings, to have enjoyed an enviable external lot, and to have presided over a people who were happy, in that, during his rule, they had no history. But whatever the writer may have felt, he tells us no more, and lets us see Manasseh sink peacefully into his grave "in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza," and leave to his son Amon a peaceful realm and an undisputed crown. Such a career would undoubtedly perplex and confound all the preconceived opinions of Jewish orthodoxy. The prosperity of Manasseh would have presented as great a problem to them as the miseries of Job. They looked to temporal prosperity as the reward of righteousness, and to acute misery as the retribution of apostasy and sin. They had little or no conception of a future which should redress the balance of apparent earthly inequalities. Alike the sight of Manasseh's long reign and Josiah's undeserved death in battle would give a powerful shock to their fixed convictions.

Far different is the end of the story in the Book of Chronicles. The records of Esarhaddon tell us that366 in 680 he made an expedition into Palestine to restore the shaken influence of his father,642642   Esarhaddon reigned only eight years, till 668, and then resigned in favour of his son Assurbanipal. In his reign Psammetichus recovered Egypt, and put an end to the Dodecarchy. In the reign of his successor, Assuredililani, Assyria began to decline (647-625). and about 647 he mentions among his submissive tributaries the kings of Tyre, Edom, Moab, Gaza, Ekron, Askelon, Gebal, Ammon, Ashdod, and Manasseh, King of Judah ("Minasi-sar-Yahudi"), as well as ten princes of Cyprus. Whether the King of Judah rebelled later on, and intrigued with Tirhakah, we do not know; but in 2 Chron. xxxiii. 11 we read that Esarhaddon sent his generals to Jerusalem, took Manasseh by stratagem, drove rings through his lips, bound him in chains, and brought him to Babylon, where Esarhaddon was holding his court.643643   Comp. Isa. xxxix. 6; Jos., Antt., X. iii. 2. The phrase "among the thorns" means "with rings" (comp. Isa. xxx. 28, xxxvii. 29; Ezek. xxxviii. 4; Amos iv. 2). Assurbanipal says similarly that he seized Necho, "bound him with bonds and iron chains, hands and feet," but afterwards allowed him to return to Egypt (Schrader, ii. 59). We find from the Eponym Canon that Tyre revolted from Assyria in the tenth year of Esarhaddon, and Manasseh may have been drawn away to join in the revolt; or he may have joined Shamash-shum-ukîn, the Viceroy of Babylon, in his revolt against his brother Assurbanipal. As a rule, the lot of a conquered vassal at the Assyrian Court was horrible, and in his utter misery Manasseh repented, humbled himself, and prayed.644644   Late and worthless Haggadoth, echoed by still later writers (Suidas and Syncellus), say he was kept in a brazen cage, fed on bran bread dipped in vinegar, etc. See Apost. Constt., ii. 22: "And the Lord hearkened to his voice, and there became about him a flame of fire, and all the irons about him melted." John Damasc., Parall., ii. 15, quotes from Julius Africanus, that while Manasseh was saying a psalm his iron bonds burst, and he escaped. See Speakers Commentary, on Apocrypha, ii. 363. His prayer was heard. The despots of Nineveh were capricious alike in their367 insults and in their favours, and Esarhaddon not only pardoned Manasseh, but sent him back to Jerusalem,645645   Such pardon from a king of Assyria was rare, but not unparalleled. Pharaoh Necho I. was taken in chains to Nineveh, and afterwards set free (Schrader, K. A. T., p. 371). thinking that he would be more useful to him there than in a Babylonian dungeon. After this reprieve he lived like a penitent and a patriot. Esarhaddon was preparing for his expedition against Tirhakah, and would not attack a king who was now bound to him by gratitude as well as fear. But the times were very troublous. Manasseh prepared for eventualities by building an outer wall on the west of the city of David, unto Gihon in the Valley, by surrounding Ophel with a high wall, and by garrisoning the fenced cities.646646   See 2 Chron. xxvii. 3. The "fish gate" was, perhaps, a weak point (Zeph. i. 10). All this was necessary and patriotic work, considering that Judah might be attacked by other enemies as well as the Assyrians. She was like a grain of corn amid the grinding mills of the nations. Media and Lydia were rising into strong kingdoms. Babylon was becoming daily more formidable. Dim rumours reached the East of movements among vast hosts of Cimmerian and Scythian barbarians. Jerusalem had no human strength for war. She could only rely upon her battlements, on the natural strength of her position, and on the protection of her God. Almost in the last year of Manasseh, the powerful Psammetichus I., king of a now united Egypt, made an assault on Ashdod; but he did not venture on the difficult task of besieging Jerusalem.

The religious reformation of Manasseh attested the368 sincerity of his amendment. He flung out the Asherah from the Temple, put away the strange gods, destroyed the altars, burnt sacrifices to God, and used all his power to restore the worship of Jehovah. He did not, however, destroy the high places. For this story the Chronicler refers to "the words of Chozai,"647647   2 Chron. xxxiii. 19. Heb., dibhrî Chozai; A.V., "the story of the Seers"; R.V., "in the history of Hozai"; LXX., ἐπὶ τῶν λόγων τῶν οὐρανιῶν; Vulg., in sermonibus Hozai. The elements of doubt suggested by the name "Babylon," and by the liberation of Manasseh, have been removed by further knowledge. See Budge, Hist. of Esarhaddon, p. 78; Schrader, K. A. T., 369 ff. according to the present text, which some suppose to have meant "the story of the Seers." He also refers to a prayer of Manasseh, which cannot of course be the Greek forgery of the second or third century which goes by that name in the Apocrypha.648648   Since the Council of Trent this prayer has been relegated to the end of the Vulgate with 3, 4, Esdras. Verse 8 (the supposed sinlessness of the Patriarchs) at once shows it to be a mere composition. His repentance doubtless secured his own salvation. "Whoso saith 'Manasseh hath no part in the world to come,'" said Rabbi Johanan, "discourageth the penitent";—but the partial reformation was too late to save his land.

Is this a literal history, or an edifying Haggadah? The non-historical character of the story is maintained by De Wette, Graf, Nöldeke, and many others. Both views have been taken. This we can, at any rate, assert—that there seems to be nothing in the story which is inconsistent with probability. The Chronicler may have derived it from genuine documents or traditions, though it is difficult to account for the silence of the elder and more trustworthy historian. Nor is it only his silence for which we have to account; it is the continuance of his positive statements. It would369 be, in any case, a strange conception of history which, after narrating a man's crimes, omitted alike the retribution which befell him on account of them, the heartfelt penitence for the sake of which they were forgiven, and the seriously earnest endeavour to undo at least something of the evil which he had done. Not only does the historian make these omissions, but in no subsequent allusion to Manasseh does he so much as indicate that he is aware of his amendment.649649   2 Kings xxiii. 12. He says that Amon "did evil in the sight of the Lord, as his father Manasseh did."650650   2 Kings xxi. 20. He speaks of the altars to the hosts of heaven which Manasseh had made in the two courts of the Temple as still standing in the reign of Josiah, though the Chronicler tells us that Manasseh had cast them all out of the city.651651   2 Chron. xxxiii. 15. He says that, notwithstanding all that Josiah did, "the Lord turned not from the fierceness of His great wrath, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked Him withal,"652652   2 Kings xxiii. 26. and that on this account God cast off Jerusalem. Never, even by the most distant allusions, does he refer to Manasseh's captivity, his prayer, his penitence, or his counter-efforts. Had he been aware of these, his silence would have been neither generous nor just. Nay, he even leaves apparent facts at conflict with the Chronicler's story, for he makes Josiah do all that the Chronicler tells us that Manasseh himself had done in the removal of his worst abominations.

Even now we have not exhausted the historic difficulties which surround the repentance of Manasseh. During his reign Jeremiah received his call, and while still a young boy began his work. Neither he, nor Zephaniah, nor Habakkuk drop the slightest hint that370 the wicked, idolatrous king had ever turned over a new leaf. Jeremiah's silence is specially difficult to account for. He, too, records Jehovah's final and irrevocable decree, that He would give up Judah to death, to exile, and to famine, to the sword to slay, to the dogs to tear, to the fowls of the heaven and the beasts of the earth to devour and to destroy.653653   Jer. xv. 1-9. And the cause of the pitiless doom pronounced by a Judge weary of repenting is "because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, King of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem."654654   The later Jews certainly took no account of his repentance. His name was execrated (see the substitution of Manasseh for Moses in Judg. xviii. 30), and he was denied all part in the world to come. The Apocryphal "Prayer of Manasses" has no authority, though it is interesting (Butler, Analogy, pt. ii., ch. v.).

The judgment was not long delayed.

It was the vast movement of the Scythians in Media and Western Asia, and the rumours of it, which gave to Manasseh and Amon such respite as they had; and even this respite was full of misery and fear.655655   In estimating the Chronicler's story, we cannot wholly forget the fact that a number of Haggadic legends clustered thickly round the name of Manasseh in the literature of the later Jews. He is charged with incest, with the murder of Isaiah, the distortion of Scripture, etc., and is represented as having got to heaven, not by real repentance, but by challenging God on His superiority to idols. The Targum, after 2 Chron. xxxiii. 11, adds, "And the Chaldees made a copper mule, and pierced it all over with little holes, and put him therein. And when he was in straits, he cried in vain to all his idols. Then he prayed to Jehovah and humbled himself; but the angels shut every window and lattice of heaven, that his prayer might not enter. But forthwith the pity of the Lord of the world rolled forth, and He made an aperture in heaven, and the mule burst asunder, and the Spirit breathed on him, and he forsook all his idols." "No books," says Dr. Neubauer, "are more subject to additions and various adaptations than popular histories." See Mr. Ball's commentary (Speaker's Commentary, ii. 309, and Sanhedrin, f. 99, 2; 101, 1; 103, 2).


AMON656656   The name Amon is unusual. Some identify it with the name of the Egyptian sun-god (Nah. iii. 8). If so, we see yet another element of Manasseh's syncretism, and (as some fancy) an attempt to open relations with Psammetichus of Egypt. But perhaps the name may be Hebrew for "Architect" (1 Kings xxii. 26; Neh. vii. 59).

b.c. 641-639

2 Kings xxi. 19-26

The brief reign of Amon is only a sort of unimportant and miserable annex to that of his father. As he was twenty-two years old when he began to reign, he must have witnessed the repentance and reforming zeal of his father, if, in spite of all difficulties, we assume that narrative to be historical. In that case, however, the young man was wholly untouched by the latter phase of Manasseh's life, and flung himself headlong into the career of the king's earlier idolatries. "He walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them"—which was the more extraordinary if Manasseh's last acts had been to dethrone and destroy these strange gods. He even "multiplied trespass," so that in his son's reign we find every form of abomination as triumphant as though Manasseh had never attempted to check the tide of evil. We know nothing more of Amon. Apparently he only reigned two years.657657   2 Kings xxi. 19. The LXX. reads "twelve years," but not so Josephus (Antt., X. iv. 1), or 2 Chron. xxxiii. 21. He is the only Jewish king who bears the name of a foreign—an Egyptian—deity.

For pictures of the state of things in this reign we may look to the prophets Zephaniah and Jeremiah, and they are forced to use the darkest colours.


This is Zephaniah's picture:—

"Woe to her that is rebellious and polluted, to the oppressing city!
She obeyed not the voice; she received not instruction;
She trusted not in the Lord; she drew not near to her God.
Her princes in the midst of her are roaring lions;
Her judges are evening wolves; they gnaw not the bones on the morrow.
Her prophets are light and treacherous persons:
Her priests have profaned the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law."658658   Zeph. iii. 1-11. Comp. i. 4.

He tells us that Baal and his black-robed chemarim659659   Chemarim, 2 Kings xxiii. 5; Hos. x. 5. The root in Syriac means "to be sad," but Kimchi derives it from a root "to be black." The Vulgate renders it æditui and aruspices. are still prevalent—that men worshipped on their house-tops the host of heaven, and swore by "Moloch their king." Therefore would God search Jerusalem with candles, and would visit the men who had sunk, like thick wine on the lees, and who said in their infidel hearts, "Jehovah will not do good, neither will He do evil." He is an Epicurean God, a cypher, a fainéant. "Men make all kinds of fine calculations," says Luther, "but the Lord God says to them, 'For whom, then, do you hold Me? For a cypher? Do I sit here in vain, and to no purpose? You shall know that I will turn their accounts about finely, and make them all false reckonings.'"

Not less dark is the view of Jeremiah.660660   We are told in the titles of their books that both these prophets prophesied in the days of Josiah; but such pictures can only apply to the earliest years of his reign. Like Diogenes in Athens, Jeremiah in vain searches Jerusalem for a faithful man. Among the poor he finds brutish obstinacy, among the rich insolent defiance.373 They were like fed horses in the morning—lecherous and unruly. They are slanderers, adulterers, corrupters, murderers. They worship Baal and strange gods. "They set a trap, they catch men. As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit. They are waxen fat, they shine; yea, they overpass in deeds of wickedness."661661   See Jer. v., vi., vii., passim. "An astonishment and horror is done in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?"662662   Jer. vi. 13-15.

"From the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. They have treated also the hurt of My people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abominations? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall."663663   Jer. v. 30, 31.

The wretched reign ended wretchedly. Amon met the fate of Amaziah and of Joash. He was murdered by conspirators—by some of his own courtiers—in his own palace. He was not the victim of any general rebellion. The people of the land were apparently content with the existent idolatry, which left them free for lives of lust and luxury, of greed and gain. They resented the disorder introduced by an intrigue of eunuchs or court officials. They rose and slew the whole band of conspirators. Amon was buried with his father in the new burial-place of the Kings in the garden of Uzza, and the people placed his son Josiah—a child of eight years old—upon the throne.

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