He is not ignorant of Yahweh’s commands; it appears that his policy is calculated to systematically contradict them. “For he rebuilt the high places that
Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an
Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them” (2 Kings 21:3). He profanes the house of Yahweh by making it a center of idolatry: “And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger” (2 Kings 21:6). The worst kings up to this point, the ones that provoked the most condemnation for Yahweh’s people
(Jeroboam, Ahab and Ahaz) cannot even compare with Manasseh and his evil. The narrator must go back to pre-Israelite times to find a comparison with his iniquities: “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” (2 Kings 21:2).
And that prepares us for the condemnation that Judah will receive for these actions. We’ve read the warnings several times: “But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you” (Leviticus 18:26-28). “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out
before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them” (Leviticus 20:22-23).
Therefore judgment is coming: “Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle” (2 Kings 21:12). Notice that this sentence echoes the introduction to the judgment that
Yahweh declared to Samuel against the house of Eli in 1 Samuel 3:11. Then He told Samuel, “Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever” (1 Samuel 3:14). This
suggests that the judgment in 2 Kings 21:12 likewise will be astonishing, national and without the possibility of cancellation. Like the house of Eli, Manasseh has passed the limit, and the entire nation must suffer the consequences.
This is a judgment directed by Yahweh: “I am bringing… I will stretch…” (2
Kings 21:12, 13) There is no doubt who will execute justice against Manasseh. The events of the coming chapters will not occur by accident. He who worked so often in Judah’s favor now will direct His sovereignty and power against it.
This is a judgment in conformity with historical precedents: “I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab” (2 Kings 21:13). Yahweh does not act in an arbitrary or uncertain way; He always judges in accordance with His eternal righteousness. If someone wants to see how He will punish, Judah only needs to look back to see what happened to the ten tribes in the north in 2 Kings 17.
This is a complete judgment that will remove iniquity completely: “I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down” (2 Kings 21:13). Like washing a dirty plate, the judgment against Jerusalem will be
complete, leaving no sign of its former uncleanness.
This is a judgment in which Judah will experience abandonment by the God that they have abandoned: “And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the land of their enemies” (2 Kings 21:14).
It is a judgment of historical proportions: “They have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day” (2 Kings 21:15). It is directed to the accumulation of sin through generations because the people have not repented of past sins but have nursed and multiplied them.
The announcement of this certain, astonishing, national, unchangeable and cumulative judgment with Yahweh’s abandonment of His people makes our reading of Josiah’s reforms in 2 Kings 22 – 23 that much more impressive. Just as Manasseh worked decisively to establish idolatry, Josiah worked to uproot it and solidify worship of Yahweh. Notice the military campaign of destruction and defilement that Josiah leads in 2 Kings 23:4-20. He even goes beyond the borders of Judah to eliminate idolatry! We can compare this to the military campaigns of Joshua, or those of David against his enemies after his royal throne is established, or of Jehu against Ahab’s royal house, but in this case the enemies are not Canaanites nor Israel’s neighbors but idols, places of idolatry and the priests who promote it. Josiah not only defeats and pulverizes them but ritually contaminates them so that they never can be used again.
Along with this military campaign against idolatry, Josiah leads the people in devotion to Yahweh comparable only to the best moments of greatest thankfulness for His grace: “And the king commanded all the people, ‘Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant’. For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah” (2 Kings 23:21-22). “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses, nor did any like
him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:25).
That is what makes the following verses about the judgment on Judah so shocking: “Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the LORD said, ‘I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there’” (2 Kings 23:26-27). The judgment over the nation of Judah is so certain that even a king as repentant and devoted as Josiah cannot derail it.
Therefore, two sobering lessons stand out in today’s reading: 1) we don’t know the day or the action in which Manasseh crossed the line to unleash this kind of judgment against Judah. But when it happened, there was no way of stopping its consequences. Wouldn’t it be better to repent of our sins immediately instead of continuing to pamper and play with them, not knowing when Yahweh finally will declare, “Enough”? 2) Is Yahweh worthy of devotion, repentance and worship… even though these actions may not counteract the future judgment of our societies? Josiah’s life demonstrates that Yahweh is worthy of the reformation of all aspects of our daily lives, even if that reformation does not eliminate all the consequences of our sins or the judgment for having committed them. May Yahweh be praised even when His devastating judgment is about to be launched.