Have you ever met people who thought themselves to be “too far gone” to be forgiven? Perhaps they think they’ve sinned too grievously or maybe rebelled against God too willingly. Second, third, and fourth chances have been sought and squandered.
If so, show them the story of the King Manasseh of Judah in 2 Chronicles 33.
To see the significance of this text, you must compare it with 2 Kings 21. Go ahead and read the account.
The author of 2 Kings is writing from the Babylonian Exile of the Jewish people in the sixth century BC. Having experienced the devastation and the despair of this tragedy, his account of the nation’s history explains the theological “why” of the exile.
For what reason are the Israelites now experiencing their greatest crisis of faith in Babylon?
This author places the blame squarely at the feet of the Davidic kings. These kings should have led the people in right covenant relationship. These kings should have modeled righteousness and Torah obedience (Deut 17:14–20). These kings should have maintained the singular allegiance to Yahweh (Deut 6:4–5). Instead, monarch after monarch manifestly failed both God and the people.
Exhibit A for the author of the book of Kings was Manasseh. This son of the godly King Hezekiah had squandered every benefit, every promise, and every opportunity to lead the Israelites in a faithful manner. Instead, he had participated in the extreme opposite of everything righteous. According to the author, Manasseh reigned for fifty-five years in Jerusalem, and his sole occupation was idolatry. He constructed idols in the temple (2 Kgs 21:3–5). He sacrificed his own son through fire (v. 6). He filled Jerusalem from one end to the other with innocent blood (v. 16). He was even worse than the Canaanites (v. 9)
For these reasons, God would wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish (v. 13). The entire nation, and especially the capital of Jerusalem, would be held to account for the sins of this wayward Davidic king.
We get to the end of the story, and the author, in 21:17–18, simply states, “The rest of the events of Manasseh’s reign, along with all his accomplishments and the sin that he committed, are written in the Historical Record of Judah’s Kings. Manasseh rested with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his own house, the garden of Uzza. His son Amon became king in his place.”
So according to the author of Kings, Manasseh did a bunch of evil junk and then died. And because of him, exile came, and nothing—not even the righteous King Josiah who reigned shortly after Manasseh—could stop the inevitable. No repentance. No forgiveness. No hope.
Now consider the account in 2 Chronicles 33. Notice any differences.
Before we point these out, let’s recall the purpose and context of Chronicles. This author—the Chronicler—is “chronicling” the same history as the historian behind Samuel–Kings. But he is writing from the post-exile, rather than the exile, to a despondent and apathetic and hopeless people.
The Israelites were out of Babylon but still under Persian rule. They had a temple, but not like Solomon’s. They were back in the land, but the people continued to disobey Torah. The Davidic line remained, but those descendants did not sit on any throne. Could God forgive the nation after so much sin and apostasy? Will God’s kingdom and God’s covenant ever be restored?
The Chronicler writes his history in a way to encourage hope in God’s restoration. This hope is focused primarily on a future, ideal, Messianic Davidic king. But the author brings hope in other ways as well. One way is to show the possibility of repentance and forgiveness through his retelling of the history.
Now, what about 2 Chronicles 33?
Well, the author begins the account the same way as the author of 2 Kings 21, telling of all the evil of Manasseh. Indeed, it seems even worse here. For instance, the Chronicler clarifies that Manasseh actually sacrificed his “sons” through fire to pagan gods (v. 6).
But then we get to verses 10–13:
The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they didn’t listen. So he brought against them the military commanders of the king of Assyria. They captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze shackles, and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he sought the favor of the Lord his God and earnestly humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. He prayed to him, and the Lord was receptive to his prayer. He granted his request and brought him back to Jerusalem, to his kingdom. So Manasseh came to know that the Lord is God.2 Chronicles 33:10-13
What? Manasseh repented? God restored him? This idolatrous king even removed the idols (v. 15)? Why didn’t the author of Kings tell us this? Simple: That wasn’t his purpose. That author had “selected” his material to show the “why” of the exile.
On the contrary, the Chronicler selects his material to show the possibility of restoration and forgiveness after the exile. Are these stories contradictory? No. They are told for different purposes. Think about it. You could probably do the same thing in retelling the events of your life. You could select happenings from your life to show you to be the most righteous person ever. Alternatively, you might also select events that reveal you to be a pretty rank pagan.
But notice the way the author of Chronicles tells of what happened to Manasseh. He failed to listen to God. He was punished by being taken to “Babylon”—not Assyria, even though he was captured by the Assyrians. He was dragged away with bronze hooks in his nose. These are the very things that happened to the Jews in the exile. In a way, Manasseh becomes paradigmatic for the nation itself.
But Manasseh, one of the kings responsible for the exile, repents. And God “was receptive to his prayer” (v. 13), so that Manasseh knew his God—a sign of restored covenant relationship.
What is the author’s point?
If Manasseh, the most reprehensible person any Jew can remember and the one responsible for the nation’s exile, can be forgiven, so can the Jews as a whole. God can restore and forgive the Jews in the post-exile; they were not “too far gone.” But the only way to see that message is by comparing the texts and examining the selection and context of the authors—in other words, by using the tools.
By the way, if God can forgive Manasseh, he can also forgive any of us who believe that we are “too far gone.”
This article is excerpted from the forthcoming book by Dr. Cribb and Dr. Channing Crisler, The Bible ToolBox, to be released by Broadman and Holman in August 2019.
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.