Few things in life are as beautiful and extraordinary as an ordinary testimony of faith. I envy (righteously I hope) those in the church who can say that they’ve never known a time in their life when they didn’t know Jesus Christ as Lord. I’ve prayed that would be true of my son since before he was born. In our culture which craves sensationalism, we in the church can easily fall into the trap of unwittingly placing a spiritual premium on the dramatic and exciting redemption experiences that demonstrate a radical one hundred-and-eighty degree life change. Yet, every sinner who trusts in Christ, regardless of his or her age or life circumstances, brings rejoicing in heaven (Luke 15:7). Having said that, I do think it's important to take time to meditate on surprising and powerful evidences of God’s redeeming grace in the lives of unlikely converts. We don’t do this to exalt and glory in the changed person themselves, but to marvel at the magnificence of God’s mercy. Saul of Tarsus, the thief on the cross, and a young moabite woman named Ruth are all powerful narratives from God’s word that teach us of God’s kindness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Despite these and many others, perhaps the most surprising convert of all in scripture is Manasseh of Judah.
Recently I began preaching through the book of Habakkuk, an Old Covenant minor prophet. In explaining to my congregation the redemptive historical context of this brief book, I was reminded once again of the heinous and tragic decline of the nations of Israel and Judah. Consecrated to be a priesthood to the nations, they had become even more immoral than their neighbors by polluting the worship and profaning the name of Yahweh with great evil. 1 and 2 Kings were written to remind God’s people in exile why they were being presently disciplined in Babylon. In reading through those hundreds of years of history of God’s people in a divided kingdom, it’s easier to count on one hand the number of righteous kings than it is to make a full list the wicked ones. If we had to nominate two individuals for the distinction of being the most evil king in both the north and south, two names would likely immediately come to mind: Ahab in Israel and Manasseh in Judah. The story of Manasseh’s life is one of the saddest episodes in Judah’s history. Though the son of a godly king in Hezekiah, Manasseh not only lead Judah into pagan idolatry and wickedness by reversing the reforms his father put in place, but he went beyond the regular apostasy of his forebears. 2 Kings 21:1-6 gives a sobering and awful account of his evil:
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem… And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Ashram, as Ahab King of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, ‘In Jerusalem will I put my name.’ And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with medium and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.”
Sacrificing his own child, blaspheming God and the temple by setting up idols and altars, practicing and guiding Judah into deep idolatry, personally employing witchcraft and mediums to communicate with the dead—such was the extent of his sin that Jeremiah prophesied that God would wipe out Jerusalem as He had done to the northern kingdom (Jeremiah 15:4) Though Scripture does not say, Jewish tradition holds to the legend that Manasseh even murdered the prophet Isaiah.
If all we had was the testimony of 1 and 2 Kings, the life story of Manasseh would simply be a horrific tale of a monster. Thankfully, God has included 1 and 2 Chronicles in his special revelation for our benefit and profit (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Chronicles were written to Judah after the exile in Babylon. That generation was in great need of hope that God would restore His covenant blessings they formerly enjoyed. The chronicler thus emphasizes pre-exilic kings and people who repented and were restored in his writing. We need hope too, in our own day, don’t we? 2 Chronicles 33 tells of Manasseh’s sins, just as 2 Kings 22 does. But wonderfully we read that after Manasseh was bound with chains and dragged to Babylonian exile, he found himself in great distress and despair. And then this happened:
“And when he was in distress, he entered the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.” 2 Chronicles 33:12-13
God’s people need never despair. Although it was too late for the nation of Judah as a kingdom, it was not too late for Judah’s king or people. The conversion of Manasseh testifies to the great hope that no one is beyond God’s ability to save. The author of a TableTalk daily devotional from October 2019, commenting on this passage from Chronicles reminds us that "God’s people should not fear that the Lord will be unwilling to forgive them. Instead, we must understand that our Creator wants to show mercy. He is eager to forgive and to bless. We must confess our sin, but having done so, we must not inordinately focus on our depravity but should focus on the gracious character of God who will pardon us and bless us abundantly if we return to Him.”
Jesus tells us that He will never turn away anyone who seeks Him and His forgiveness. (John 6:37) What a marvelous promise and hope! No one is beyond Christ’s riches and ability to pardon. The great Puritan preachers Richard Sibbes and John Bunyan respectively remind us of these tremendous truths: “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us” and “No child of God sins to that degree as to make himself incapable of forgiveness” Oh that many generations in the church will continue to have testaments of “boring” and extraordinary faithfulness that is spared the shrapnel of collateral damage and grievous sin. Yet praise the Lord for those equally gracious and powerful examples of God’s sovereign power and reign in the lives of depraved and darkened sinners, like Manasseh. God’s grace is equally needed and available to any and all: whether your life story up till now is as drastic as Manasseh or seemingly virtuous as Mother Theresa. God is willing to welcome you home, if you will humble yourself and receive His gracious gift by faith. May it be so!
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7