The Ego Problem

On Human Pride

Kings of Israel and Judah

 Saul  1050-1010 BC
 David  1010-970
 Solomon  970-930

Judah (and Benjamin)

Israel (Ten Northern Tribes)

 King Reign  Character  Prophets  King  Reign  Character  Prophets
 1. Rehoboam  931-913  17 years  Bad  Shemaiah  1. Jeroboam I  931-910  22 years  Bad  Ahijah
 2. Abijah  913-911  3 years  Bad    2. Nadab  910-909  2 years  Bad  
 3. Asa  911-870  41 years  Good    3. Baasha  909-886  24 years  Bad  
   4. Elah  886-885  2 years  Bad  
 5. Zimri  885  7 days  Bad  
 6. Omri  885-874*  12 years  Bad  Elijah  Micaiah
 4. Jehoshaphat  870-848*  25 years  Good    7. Ahab  874-853  22 years  Bad
 5. Jehoram  848-841*  8 years  Bad    8. Ahaziah  853-852  2 years  Bad  
 6. Ahaziah  841  1 years  Bad    9. Joram  852-841  12 years  Bad  Elisha
 7. Athaliah  841-835  6 years  Bad    10. Jehu  841-814  28 years  Bad  
 8. Joash  835-796  40 years  Good  Joel  11. Jehoahaz  814-798  17 years  Bad  Jonah  Amos  Hosea
 9. Amaziah  796-767  29 years  Good    12. Jehoash  798-782  16 years  Bad
 10. Uzziah (Azariah)  767-740*  52 years  Good  Isaiah
 13. Jeroboam II  782-753*  41 years  Bad
 11. Jotham  740-732*  16 years  Good  14. Zechariah  753-752  6 mo  Bad  
 12. Ahaz  732-716  16 years  Bad  15. Shallum  752  1 mo  Bad  
 13. Hezekiah  716-687  29 years  Good  16. Menahem  752-742  10 years  Bad  
 14. Manasseh  687-642*  55 years  Bad/Repented  Nahum
 17. Pekahiah  742-740  2 years  Bad  
 15. Amon  642-640  2 years  Bad  18. Pekah  740-732*  20 years  Bad  
 16. Josiah  640-608  31 years  Good  19. Hoshea  732-712  9 years  Bad  
 17. Jehoahaz  608  3 mo  Bad 722 BC Fall of Samaria to Assyria
 18. Jehoiakim  608-597  11 years  Bad


   * Co-regency

 19. Jehoiachin  597  3 mos  Bad
 20. Zedekiah  597-586  11 years  Bad
 Destruction of Jerusalem, 9th Av, 586 BC, Babylonian Captivity

The Last Five Kings of Judah

  1. Josiah
Reigned 31 years (640-609 BC)
 2. Jehoahaz (Shallum)
Reigned 3 months (609 BC)
Taken prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco
 3. Jehoiakim (Eliakim)
Reigned 11 years (609-598 BC)
Died in Jerusalem
 5. Zedekiah
Reigned 11 years (597--586 BC)
Taken prisoner to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar
   4. Jehoichin (Jeconiah, Coniah)
Reigned 3 months (December 9, 598 - March 16, 597 BC)
Taken prisoner to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (with Ezekiel)

Manasseh was the fourteenth king of the Kingdom of Judah.

He was the oldest of the sons of Hezekiah and his mother Hephzibah.
He became king at the age of 12 and reigned for 55 years

Manasseh was the fourteenth king of the Kingdom of Judah. 

He was the oldest of the sons of Hezekiah and his mother Hephzibah. 
He became king at the age of 12 and reigned for 55 years.

Born: 709 BC, Jerusalem
Died: 643 BC
Spouse: Meshullemeth (m. ?–644 BC)
> Children: Amon of Judah
Parents: Hezekiah, Hephzibah
Grandchild: Josiah
House: House of David

Manasseh, the Prodigal King

  2 Kings 20:21 -21:18
2 Chronicles 33:10-20 

Series: Old Testament Character Studies

David H. Roper

I am sure that many of you have things in your life that you would like to be able to forget, memories that from time to time come back to haunt you. I know that I do. Many things in my past make me feel guilty, defiled, and unacceptable. Time and again I have had to turn to the Scriptures to find release from a sense of guilt about my past, and I have discovered that there is encouragement and instruction there which sets me free. The story of Manasseh has ministered to me in this respect, so I want to share with you some things the Lord has taught me from the life of this character:King Manasseh, the prodigal king. The account begins at verse 21 of 2 Kings 20:

So Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son became king in his place. Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Hephzibah.

Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, who was one of the few kings in David's line, the kings of Judah, called "good."Most of them were evil, Hezekiah was responsible for a spiritual revival during his reign that swept the entire nation. He did away with the idolatry that his father, Ahaz, had established,and purged the nation of apostasy. We know that the prophetic ministry of Isaiah and Micah helped him in his reign, whose writings are preserved for us in the Scriptures. There were a couple of invasions of Judah during this time by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. On both of these occasions the Lord used Hezekiah and Isaiah to protect Jerusalem. Although almost all of the land of Judah was devastated by the Assyrians, the capital city was preserved. Isaiah said that Jerusalem looked like a caretaker's hut in the midst of a cucumber field. All the fortified cities had been destroyed but Jerusalem was left. It was Hezekiah's wise leadership that made possible the preservation of the city and its people. He was a powerful spiritual force in Judah.

Manasseh came to the throne when he was twelve years old. He reigned for about ten years as co-regent with his father. Then when Manasseh was twenty-two his father died and he took over the reins of government. It is helpful to keep in our mind something of the heritage that this young man enjoyed. He had a godly father and lived in a time of spiritual vitality and prosperity. He had the words of the prophets Isaiah and Micah ringing in his ears. He had seen the Lord deliver Jerusalem in a very miraculous way when it was under siege by the Assyrians. And yet note what he did, verse 2:

And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel.

The nations referred to here are the Canaanite nations that were expelled by Joshua and the twelve tribes when they first entered the land. The Canaanites worshiped sex. Archaeologists have confirmed that this civilization was shot through with venereal disease. Even the children were infected, which explains, in some measure, the wars of extermination. And yet the Scriptures say that Manasseh outdid the Canaanite nations in his wickedness. Note verse 9 of chapter 21, "...Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel," and verse 11, "...having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him..."He was more wicked than the nations that God drove from the land when the Israelites took possession of it.

Verses 3 through 9 explain the abominations that Manasseh introduced. First,

...he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed...

The father of Hezekiah was Ahaz. Ahaz had built these "high places," groves on the tops of hills throughout Judah where idols were worshiped. Hezekiah destroyed them. Manasseh built them again.

...and he erected altars for Baal...

Baal was the chief Phoenician deity.

...and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done.

An Asherah was a female deity representing the goddess of sex and fertility. Many scholars believe that the monuments built in her honor were phallic symbols. Manasseh introduced this Assyrian sex cult into the nation of Israel.

...and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.

He worshiped the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars,and practiced astrology.

And he built altars in the house of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem I will put My name." For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.

He placed altars to foreign gods in the temple itself--in the outer court, and in the holy place where the priests worshiped.

And he made his son pass through the fire.

He sacrificed his own baby son to Molech, the god of the Amorites. And he

...practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists.

The Hebrew is much stronger here than the English translation. He actually took mediums and spiritists and those who dealt in the occult and placed them in positions of leadership.

Then [as though this were not enough] he set the carved image of Asherah that he had made, in the house of which the Lord said to David and to his son Solomon, "In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever. And I will not make the feet of Israel wander any more from the land which I gave their fathers, if only they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them."

He took these phallic symbols, these monuments he had built in honor of the goddess of sex, and he put them in the Holy of Holies, in the place where the Spirit of God dwelt.

Now, it is significant that nowhere in this account is there any mention of the worship of Jehovah. Manasseh selected his pantheon from all the cultures surrounding Israel--from the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Phoenicians--but not one reference is made to the worship of the God of Israel. Only He was excluded. Again, verse 9 says, in summary, that:

Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.

Verse 10:

Now the Lord spoke through His servants the prophets, saying "Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols; therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am bringing such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle. And l will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab. '"

"As a surveyor would take a transit and level out a place on which to build," the Lord said, "that is what I am going to do to Jerusalem. I will level it as I leveled Samaria and the house of Ahab. The measure of extermination that the northern kingdom of Israel and the house of Ahab experienced is what Jerusalem is going to experience."

"'...and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.'"

What a vivid picture! There will not be one thing left--total extermination.

"'And I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become as plunder and spoil to all their enemies because they have done evil in My sight, and have been provoking Me to anger, since the day their fathers came from Egypt, even to this day.'"

There are a couple of things I want you to note. The first is this: Manasseh obviously was a wicked man. He was perhaps the most wicked king that ever reigned over Judah. He did things which no king had ever done before. He led Judah in doing things which no nation had ever done before. And yet which of us can sit in judgment upon him? We all can look back into our lives and see that we have done the same things! It is only a question of degree. We may not have worshiped Baal and Asherah per se, but we have worshiped other things. We have set up other idols in our lives. We worship our vocation, or the pursuit of a degree, or our house,or some boy or girl, or man or woman. Or we may quite literally set up a phallic symbol in our own spirits, the Holy of Holies of man, and worship sex. So we all can look back on our lives and see that we are just as guilty as Manasseh, just as worthy of judgment. That is the first thing we need to recognize.

The second thing I want you to observe is the procedure that the Lord undertakes in order to reclaim his man. God loved Manasseh,and because he loved him he would not let him continue to live in rebellion. First he spoke very quietly to him. As Manasseh began to indulge in these idolatrous practices God said, "Manasseh,Jerusalem is where my name is placed." That is, "Jerusalem is My possession. You have no right to set up any other gods there."And then when Manasseh didn't listen, God's voice came with greater clarity and insistence. He reminded him of his promises, both positive and negative--promises of blessing if Manasseh would obey and of judgment if he did not. And finally God thundered at him through the prophets so that everywhere Manasseh turned he was faced with the voice of God. He could not avoid it.

Have you had that experience when you have turned from the Lord?First, the Lord will speak to us in that gentle, quiet, gracious way of his. He reminds us that we belong to him. If we don't listen he speaks with greater clarity through his word, and through his Spirit, witnessing to our spirit. And then if we still don't listen he surrounds us with many witnesses to the truth, so that everywhere we turn we hear the voice of God. We can't get away. In times when I have been in headlong flight from the Lord, even when I think I've gotten away Scot-free, I hear him say, "Psst, here I am!" I turn on the radio and, "Psst," there he is! I feel like David; if I made my bed in hell I would hear his voice, "Here I am!" I can't get away from Him.

I had an appointment with a student at Stanford one day. I was waiting for him in front of the chapel, but he was late. There was another student sitting on a park bench there so I sat and started to chat with him. I discovered that he was born in China. That was interesting to me and so I asked him a bit about his past. The Lord opened an opportunity to share the gospel with him and to tell him of the Lord's love for him. But as I began to speak he got red in the face and very angry, and he jumped up to his feet! His reaction was so unusually adverse that I was really surprised. I asked him what was wrong. "Well,"he said, "I guess the reason I am reacting this way is that I was born and raised in a Christian home. My parents were missionaries in China. And all my life I have been running away from God. But everywhere I go God sends someone to talk to me about my relationship with him." I said, "Brother, I can really identify with you!" God has been called, with reverent affection, "the Hound of Heaven" because everywhere we go he hems us in and keeps reaching out to us. That is exactly what he was doing with Manasseh. 
But notice verse 16. Manasseh was determined to silence the voice of God, and the only way he could silence that voice was to silence the prophets:

Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another...

Josephus, the Jewish historian, in writing about this event said that he "slew all the righteous men that were among the Hebrews, nor would he spare the prophets, for he every day slew some of them until Jerusalem was overflown with blood."There is a very substantial and long-lasting Jewish and Christian tradition that it was during this time that Manasseh put Isaiah in a hollow oak tree and had him sawn in two. This may be what is behind the reference in Hebrews 11 to men of faith, some of whom were "sawn asunder." Manasseh slew the prophets. He wouldn't listen. He didn't want to hear the voice of God. So he

...shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord.

Do you know that both the author of 2 Kings and Jeremiah affirm that it was because of the sins of Manasseh that the nation of Judah was taken captive? It was only fifty years after Manasseh's death that the nation went into the Babylonian captivity. How would you like to be known to posterity for that? That was Manasseh's reputation. He was responsible. Now look at verses 17 and 18:

Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh and all that he did and his sin which he committed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And Manasseh slept with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza, and Amon his son became king in his place.

I remember the first time I read that passage. I thought, "That's strange! Here is a man who thumbed his nose at God for sixty-seven years and died a ripe old age in his own bed in peace--the most wicked king in Judah's history, and God did nothing! Isn't that strange? He reigned longer than any other king in the history of Israel or Judah. Didn't you see, God? Weren't you aware of what was going on? Can a person really live that way and get away with it?"

Well, you see, the problem is that the entire story of Manasseh's life is not given to us in 2 Kings. The purpose of this book is to show us the precipitous decline of the nation. Many events in the lives of these kings were passed by for that reason. But the account is resumed and supplemented in 2 Chronicles. I would like you to turn with me to that record, to 2 Chronicles 33, wherein the first nine verses we have a restatement of the first nine verses of 2 Kings 21, almost word for word. Then verses 9 through 11 say:

Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel. And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. [This is a briefer account of the ministry of the prophets to Manasseh and the people.] Therefore [emphasis mine] the Lord brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains, and took him to Babylon.

This mighty king of Judah, with a ring in his nose and chains on his hands and feet, was dragged off to a Babylonian dungeon!At this time Babylon was a province of Assyria.

This is one of a number of Old Testament accounts for which we have excellent secular historical confirmation. A number of years ago Assyriologists found an inscription which dated from the reign of Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib. Sennacherib was the king who invaded Judah during the reign of Hezekiah, Manasseh's father. He died in 680 B.C., interestingly enough the traditional date of Isaiah's death. Sennacherib never invaded Judah again because his last invasion cost him 168,000 men! But his son, Esarhaddon,was a young, ambitious, militaristic leader who was spoiling for a fight with Judah. You can see that God was preparing his instrument to chastise Manasseh, even though Manasseh seemed to be getting by Scot-free. Esarhaddon came to the throne in 680 and some six years later he invaded Judah. The inscription describes this invasion. It says that, "twenty-two kings harkened to him," i.e.,he called them, and they came! And, "of these was Manasseh,king of Judah." Esarhaddon took him off to Babylon, and for twelve long years he languished in that Babylonian dungeon with a ring in his nose and chains on his hands and feet.
You see, that is the end of the process that God uses in our lives to bring us around. He will speak to us softly, and then with more insistence. Then he hems us on every side, with every witness to the truth that he can bring to bear. And then if we refuse to listen...he lets us have our way. He takes his hands off us, we reap what we have sown, and we become a slave to our own passions and desires. Thus we are brought to the end of ourselves. That is what happened to Manasseh.

But look closely at verse 12:

And when he was in distress [the Hebrew says, "when he was hemmed in," i.e., when he was in the extremity and had no other place to turn], he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.

Did you notice?--he entreated his God. He had lost his title but he hadn't lost his relationship. Jehovah was still his God. You see, God intends for us to reign in life, to live in victory over every habit and every circumstance of life. But when we rebel against him we lose our capacity to rule, and we become enslaved to our circumstances and to our own passions and habits. But we never lose our relationship to him, if we are truly his. So when Manasseh hit bottom he turned to the Lord his God and he humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He said,"Lord, I am sunk. I am beat. I've had it. I am to blame. I have sinned." Josephus says that he "esteemed himself to be the cause of it all." He saw that he had no one else to blame. The problem was not his circumstances, nor the culture in which he lived. He had had every advantage. The problem wash is own rebellious heart. He came to the place where he was willing to submit that heart to the Lord. He humbled himself greatly before the Lord his God.

Verse 13:

When he prayed to Him, He [God] was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was [the] God.

Notice the second phrase in verse 13. It is translated, "He was moved by his entreaty." The Hebrew says, "He was interceded for him," which is awkward and untranslatable,and so it is translated this way. But the point is that someone was standing between God and Manasseh and was interceding for him. Thus God "was interceded." Now, who was that? Who was standing between the Lord and Manasseh?

We have the same picture in Zechariah 3, where Zechariah sees Joshua, the high priest, standing before the Lord of all the earth. And Satan is there to accuse him, because Joshua is clothed in filthy garments. Satan is saying in effect, "Look at Joshua. He is filthy! He has no right to be a priest." And the angel of Jehovah, who is the preincarnate Lord Jesus, intercedes for him, saying, "Remove the filthy garments from him... See,I have taken your iniquity away from you... Put a clean turban on his head..." That was the Lord Jesus interceding for Joshua. He is the one who interceded for Manasseh. And He intercedes for us.

God may have to chasten, because he chastens those whom he loves. He may have to discipline. He may bring hardship into our lives because of our rebellion. But He sees us as righteous in Jesus Christ. There is no sin that you can ever commit which will disqualify you in God's sight. You are forgiven! God never stops loving. He never stops accepting.

And so when Manasseh prayed, the Lord "heard his supplication,and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom." He was restored to his place of authority. And that is what God does with us. We don't have to work our way back into his good graces. We don't have to prove that we are acceptable. We just keep on walking in a forgiven state. Paul says, "In him [Christ]we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,according to the riches of his grace." And we can never,never, never look back on the past and say that anything we have ever done disqualifies us. We are clean. We are forgiven. We are righteous in God's eyes. 

Then, verse 13 says, Manasseh knew that the Lord was, literally, the God. He realized that those idols had nothing for him--there was only one God and that is Jehovah. You see, God uses even ours in, the most despicable sin that we could ever commit, in a redemptive way, to show us that he is the Lord. For some reason Manasseh had to go through this process in order for him to get where God wanted him to go. It was painful, but yet it was productive. And he knew at the end of all these experiences that the Lord was the God.

What follows in verses 14 through 17 is an account of his activities in Jerusalem after his kingdom was restored to him:

Now after this he built the outer wall of the city of David on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance of the Fish Gate; and he encircled the Ophel with it and made it very high.

He rebuilt and strengthened the wall and the fortress that protected the city on the east and the southeast, overlooking the Kidron Valley. Evidently this was the place where the Assyrians had earlier breached the wall when he was taken into captivity. So he went back to that weak spot in the city's defenses and reinforced it.

Then he put army commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah.

He placed contingents of soldiers with commanders in each of the fortified cities in the outlying districts. He set his defenses out beyond the walls of Jerusalem so that he would not be surprised again by an attack right at the wall.

He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city.

He purged the city of idolatry. He took every Asherah, every Baal, and threw them out of the city. He wanted nothing more to do with them.

And he set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.

He rebuilt the altar that he had destroyed, and he offered peace and thank offerings--the two offerings which have to do with our relationship with God--peace because we have been reconciled to him, thanksgiving because it grows out of that reconciliation.

These steps which Manasseh took are the marks of true repentance. If one is truly repentant of the sins he has committed he will do these things. He will recognize that there are areas where he is weak, where he has fallen before, and he will rebuild those areas and strengthen them. Then he will determine to guard against surprise assaults in areas where he has been defeated before. He will move his defenses out beyond the point of weakness. He will "make no provision for the flesh." And he will deal with every vestige of idolatry in his life. Every false God will come under judgment and be cast out of the domain. And he will make Jesus Christ Lord.

Note the parallel with Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 7, in which he contrasts godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow,he says, produces death. Worldly sorrow is the sorrow we experience because we have been caught in our sin or have reaped what we have sown, but then there is no desire to set things right. It produces death, defeat, despair, and depression. But there is a godly sorrow. There is a sorrow that will lead us to true repentance. Paul says that repentance is seen in a determination to clear ourselves. He says, "Behold what earnestness...this godly sorrow has produced in you, what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!" That is, "You have determined to do what is right." That is a godly sorrow. Manasseh had that kind of sorrow. He dealt not only with his idolatrous spirit, he moved out into every area of life to deal with all causes of rebellion.

Verses 18 through 20 give us the final word on his life:

Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh. Even his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, behold, they are among the records of the kings of Israel. His prayer also and how God was entreated by him and all his sin, his unfaithfulness, and the sites on which he built high places and erected the Asherim and the carved images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the records of the Hozai [prophets or the seers whose writings evidently are the basis for many of our prophetic books]. So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house. And Amon his son became king in his place.

God gave him twenty more years of rule--ten years with his father, thirteen years of wickedness, twelve years in the dungeon,twenty years of righteous rule. He became one of the mightiest kings of Judah. So that is the story of Manasseh.

There are a number of things which speak to me from this biography. First, we all can identify with Manasseh because God could write"Manasseh" over each of our lives. We all have sinned as he sinned. Second, we can see something of the process that God uses to bring us to repentance. First he speaks to us quietly,then with greater and greater intensity. Finally, he disciplines us in order to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we will turn to him.

But most important, these passages speak of the completeness of the forgiveness of God. 

Manasseh was notorious in Israel. He was an evil, wicked man. And yet God reestablished him on his throne. He was fully forgiven. He lived in power and authority throughout the rest of his years. Do you know what Manasseh's name means in Hebrew? "Forgotten."That is the name that God writes over your sordid past. Your sins are forgotten. Every time your past comes back to haunt you, and you say to God, "There, Lord, I have done it again,"do you know what the Lord says to you? He says, "You've done what? I don't even remember!" He has forgotten. You can read his own words from Hebrews 10: "Your sins and your lawless deeds I will remember no more." He has forgotten the past. We walk on in life, forgiven.

We thank you for that complete forgiveness, Lord, and for the freedom to serve you because we know that we are at peace with you, in Christ's name, Amen.

Light and Shadow (Ray Stedman)

Since the two books of Kings in our present Bible were originally one book, 2 Kings continues on in the account of the kings of Judah and Israel where I Kings ends.

Second Kings opens with the closing incident of the life of Elijah during the reign of King Ahaziah of Israel, the son of Ahab. Ahaziah reigned for only two years and the last word we read of him in I Kings was that he "provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done." Perhaps for this, he fell through a lattice window and, while lying injured, sent to inquire of the pagan god, Baalzebub, as to whether he would recover. For this he was severely rebuked by Elijah the prophet, who informed him that he would die.

When the king sent a band of 50 soldiers to capture him, Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume them. Another band of 50 men met with a similar fate, and when the third band of 50 came, the captain entreated Elijah to spare him and his men, and the prophet went with him to the king to convey personally his sentence of doom. When the king died his brother Jehoram succeeded him, for Ahaziah had no son.

Here a certain degree of difficulty enters in keeping straight the two lines of kings in Israel and Judah, for when this Jehoram had reigned for seven years in Israel another Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat j began his reign in Judah. The problem is further complicated by the fact that a shorter spelling, Joram, was used for both kings at various times. A similar confusion later exists with Kings Ahaziah and Joash.

Elijah's last moments on earth and his triumphant and miraculous translation into heaven without dying is next related in careful detail. When the faithful Elisha refused to leave him until his moment of translation, the mantle of Elijah fell upon him. He had been promised a double portion of the spirit of Elijah and this became evident immediately in the first two incidents of his ministry. There was the punitive character of Elijah in the story of the she-bears who came out of the woods to destroy those youths who jeered at him, in mockery of Elijah's translation (2:24). But there is also clearly evident the spirit of grace and kindness when he made the bitter waters wholesome by throwing a handful of salt into them (2:20,2 1).

These two men, Elijah and Elisha, both portray the future ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Elijah pictures His attitude toward official Israel, reflected in Christ's two cleansings of the Temple with the whip of cords and with flashing eyes, while Elisha pictures the ministry of Jesus to individuals, filled with compassionate tenderness and helpfulness.

During the reign of Jehoram of Israel, the nation Moab rebelled against Israel's control and Jehoram joined with King Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom to suppress the rebellion. The allied kings found themselves in the desert with no water. They sought the counsel of Elisha who promised that the valley should be filled with water, though no rain would fall, and that their attack upon Moab would be successful. Evidently a flash flood from some considerable distance did indeed fill the valley with water without any rain falling on the spot, and their campaign was successful, as the prophet had predicted.

Chapters 4-8 contain a series of incidents from the life and ministry of Elisha, which are given in a somewhat jumbled chronological order but are presented together in this way to indicate the ministry of mercy extended to individuals while the judgments of God ground out the ultimate overthrow and exile of the nation. In these miracles Elisha provided a continuous flow of oil to a poor widow until she had enough to pay her debts; he healed the barrenness of a wealthy woman of Shunem who had been kind to him; she later bore a son and he raised this same child from the dead when he succumbed to a sudden fever; he rendered harmless a pot of poisonous vegetables by casting in a handful of meal; he fed several hundred men with only 20 loaves of bread; he healed the Syrian general, Naaman, from leprosy by having him dip seven times in the Jordan River; he caused a lost axehead to float on top of water; he opened his servant's eyes to see the Lord's chariots of fire that were protecting them when the Syrian army was besieging them; he rescued the city of Samaria by making the attacking Syrian army hear sounds of a great army which frightened them away; he predicted to Hazael, the Syrian general, that his master, Ben-hadad, king of Syria, would recover from his sickness but would be murdered by Hazael who would then proceed to bring much distress upon Israel. This insight caused Elisha to weep, much as centuries later Jesus wept over the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

In 2 Kings 8:16 the chronicler returns to the history of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, giving a brief account of the reign of Joram, the son of Jehoshaphat, who married the daughter of Ahab of Israel and "walked in the way of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done" (v. 18). As a result of his evil the land of Edom revolted from the rule of Judah as did the city of Libnah. Joram was succeeded by his son Ahaziah (v. 24) who joined with King Joram of Israel to war against Hazael, king of Syria.

During the battle Joram of Israel was wounded and returned to Jezreel to recover. While Ahaziah of Judah was visiting him Elisha sent one of the young prophets to anoint Jehu, the general of Israel to be king in Joram's place. Immediately Jehu mounted his chariot and, driving furiously, headed for Jezreel.

Learning that Jehu was on his way, the two kings (Joram and Ahaziah) set out to meet him and came upon him at the vineyard, formerly belonging to Naboth. There the prophecy of Elijah to Ahab was fulfilled when Jehu drew his bow and slew Joram, leaving his body in the vineyard of Naboth. As Ahaziah fled, he was shot by Jehu's men and, wounded, fled to Megiddo, where he died.

Coming back to Jezreel, Jehu saw Jezebel, Ahab's widow, looking at him from her window. Jehu called to her attendants to throw her down from the window. When they did so her body was eaten by dogs, again according to the prophecy of Elijah.

Jehu then became a terrible scourge in the hands of God. But he himself did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam and "was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart" (10:31). As a consequence, parts of Israel fell into the hands of Syria and after a reign of 28 years, Jehu died and his son Jehoahaz reigned in his stead.

When the queen mother, Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel) learned that her son, Ahaziah, was dead, she seized the throne of Judah for herself, murdering the entire royal family (her own grandsons), except for an infant named Joash, who was hidden by his sister in the Temple. Like her mother, Jezebel, Athaliah was a devotee of Baal worship, and for the six years of her reign she did her best to introduce the worship of this male sex god to Judah, installing a priest named Matthewen to officiate at her altars.

During this six year period, the boy king, Joash, was still hidden in the Temple, as evidence of the divine overruling of human events. But in the seventh year, Jehoiada the priest, the husband of the woman who had hidden Joash, organized a plot to put Joash on the throne. With the support of the army and the priesthood, he brought the seven-year-old boy out and publicly anointed him as king. Athaliah was slain and the temple of Baal destroyed (11: 13-18).

Joash (also spelled Jehoash) reigned for 40 years in Judah; and it is recorded he "did right in the sight of the Lord all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him" (12:2). The major event of his reign was the repairing of the Temple, which had been neglected for many years. This was accomplished by special offerings which the king himself oversaw. The close of his reign was shadowed by an invasion from Syria which Joash, in cowardice, averted by surrendering the treasures of the Temple to the king of Syria. Soon after this, a conspiracy was plotted by his servants, and Joash was slain in Jerusalem and his son Amaziah ascended the throne.

Turning again to Israel the Northern Kingdom, we find Jehoahaz, the son of Jehu, upon the throne. He continued the evil of the kings before him and in consequence the Syrians, under King Hazael, reconquered great portions of the land, and left Jehoahaz with an army of only 50 horsemen and chariots and 10,000 soldiers. Seeing the low state of Israel, the king turned to the Lord and besought His help. In response, "a savior" was granted to Israel. We are not told who this was, but it is very likely that it refers to an incident with Elisha the prophet, which immediately followed (13:14-19).

After a reign of 17 years Jehoahaz died and his son, Joash (not to be confused with the Joash of Judah) reigned. During his reign Elisha died and was buried, but even after his death miracles followed him. A group of men seeking to dispose of a body were suddenly surprised by a mob of bandits. They threw the body into the tomb of Elisha and when the body touched the bones of Elisha the man sprang back to life. Thus the entire ministry of Elisha seems to typify the ministry of the Spirit of Christ in bringing life out of death.

Turning briefly to Judah we are told that Amaziah, the son of Joash, "did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like David his father" (14:3). Still the high places were not removed and worship continued there instead of at the Temple in Jerusalem where it belonged. Amaziah won a great victory over Edom and, emboldened by this, he challenged the power of King Joash of Israel. They met in battle and Amaziah was captured and a portion of the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and the Temple entered and sacked. Though Amaziah was permitted to reign 15 years after the death of Joash of Israel, eventually a conspiracy was made against him and he was slain in the city of Lachish. His son Azariah, who was only 16 years old, was made king in his place.

In Israel Jeroboam II, who followed his father Joash to the throne, had reigned for 41 years. During this time he reconquered all of Israel's territory from Syria and even brought Damascus and Hamath of Syria under tributary to Israel. The prophet Jonah (famous for his escapade with a fish) ministered in Israel during the days of Jeroboam II, also the prophets Amos, Hosea and Isaiah. Yet despite this gracious touch from the Lord, Jeroboam walked in evil ways and after his long reign, was replaced by his son Zechariah (15:8).

Azariah (15:1) is known as Uzziah in the book of 2 Chronicles (26:1-3) and also in the prophecy of Isaiah (6:1). It was during his long reign of 52 years that Isaiah began his great ministry. Azariah followed in the footsteps of his father, Amaziah, but like him did not remove the high places nor interfere with the worship that went on there. In 2 Chronicles 26:16 we are told that "when he became strong, his heart was...proud" and sought to offer incense himself upon the altar in the Temple at Jerusalem. For this he was smitten with leprosy and remained a leper until his death. His son Jotham shared the regency with him and succeeded to the throne upon Azariah's death.

Meanwhile in Israel, things were rapidly sliding into chaos. Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam, only reigned for six months and was slain by Shallum who thus ended the dynasty of Jehu in the fourth generation, as had been predicted. Shallum was only on the throne one month, and was succeeded by Menahem, who slew him and reigned for 10 evil years, characterized by cruelty and extortion. During his days the land was invaded by the new world power of Assyria to the north. Menahem was forced to pay tribute to Pul (otherwise known as Tiglath-pileser).

Menahem was succeeded by his son, Pekahiah, who reigned for two brief, evil years (2 Kings 15:23) and was slain by an army captain named Pekah. During Pekah's reign of 20 years, Tiglath-pileser of Syria invaded the northern portion of Israel and carried off captives from Galilee. Pekah later was slain by Hoshea, who had the support of Assyria. This murderous state of affairs in Israel was testimony to the persistent evil of king and people, in turning from the living God.

Things were not much better in Judah, for though Jotham, the son of Amaziah, walked before the Lord in some degree of righteousness, nevertheless, during his 16-year reign, the kings of Syria and Israel threatened the land of Judah, sent, as we are told, by the hand of the Lord as a judgment against Judah.

Jotham was followed by his son Ahaz, who likewise reigned for 16 years in Jerusalem. During the reign the nation sank to a new low, for the king himself practiced the abominations of the Canaanites, even offering his son as a burnt offering to the god Moloch. When the combined armies of Syria and Israel came against him he sought help from the king of Assyria, offering to be his vassal. He followed this idiocy by constructing a heathen altar in the actual courts of the Temple, commanding the priests to offer sacrifice on it 16: 1~16). Further, he desecrated some of the holy furnishings in the outer court of the Temple. Yet during his reign, Isaiah and Micah, the prophets, carried on a faithful ministry of testimony to the truth.

In chapter 17 we have the record of how God's long patience with Israel was at last exhausted, and the divine stroke of judgment falls. During the nine-year reign of Hoshea, the last king of Israel, Shalmaneser V of Assyria, invaded Israel and besieged Samaria. After three years the city fell and the Assyrian king systematically deported the Israelites into various cities of Assyria and Media.

Careful assessment is made of the reasons for this overthrow of the people of God. Their persistent sins of pride, evil practices, and public idolatry are detailed, and especially set against the patient love of God who had warned them repeatedly through prophets and seers.

When the 10 tribes had been deposed, the Assyrian king attempted to repopulate the land of Israel with people from Babylon and other countries, who brought with them their own idols. Experiencing some difficulty in settling in the land, they blamed it on their ignorance of the God of Israel, and it is recorded that they "feared the Lord, and served their graven images" (17:41, KJV). This attempted religious mixture probably contributed to the enmity between the Jews and Samaritans which, centuries later, was recorded in the New Testament (see John 4). This is clear testimony to the folly of trying to mix the religion of man with divine revelation. The result is corruption worse than anything else. The Christian church can provide many examples of this principle.

While Israel was collapsing in the north, Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, began his reign in Jerusalem (chap. 18). His father had been an ungodly king, but Hezekiah, perhaps warned by the fate of Israel, began to walk wholeheartedly before the Lord. It was said of him "after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him" (18:5). The kingdom had fallen into such decay that when he came to the throne his first act, as we learn from 2 Chronicles, was to cleanse the Temple. It took the Levites 16 days to carry out all the rubbish which had collected (2 Chronicles. 29:17). Hezekiah also reinstated the Passover in Israel and destroyed the great brazen serpent which the people had been worshiping (2 Kings 18:4). This was the serpent God had used for their blessing when Moses erected it in the wilderness. It had become a source of idolatry just as many things which once blessed our lives become idols if we begin to hold them in too high regard.

When Hezekiah had been on the throne for 14 years, the Assyrian king Sennacherib, who had replaced Shalmaneser, invaded Judah and took certain of their fortified cities. Frightened by this, Hezekiah offered to pay tribute, and was forced to strip the gold from the Temple to meet the payment required. Undeterred by this, the Assyrian king sent his general Rabshakeh, to besiege Jerusalem. With terrible arrogance and scorn, the Assyrian general challenged, not only the might of Israel, but the power of their God to deliver them.

In desperation, Hezekiah turned to his old friend, Isaiah the prophet, who reassured the king that God was yet in control and would turn the Assyrian hosts aside, by causing them merely to "hear a rumor" 19:7). When Rabshakeh returned to learn Hezekiah's answer, he found that Sennacherib had been diverted by rumors of an attack from Ethiopia. A letter was sent to Hezekiah to warn him that the Assyrians would return, and nothing could save him from their wrath. Hezekiah spread the letter before the Lord in the Temple, and in a moving prayer, called upon God for His deliverance (19:14-19).

Apparently when the Assyrians returned to the attack, Isaiah the prophet sent word to Hezekiah announcing that the Lord held Assyria and its armies in utter contempt, and by His own mighty hand would turn them back upon the way they had come. That very night an angel of the Lord entered the camp of Assyria and slew 185,000 men (19:35). Secular history records this as a great plague which swept the camp. With the remnant of his army Sennacherib departed for Nineveh, where, according to the prophecy of Isaiah, his sons slew him in the temple of his gods.

When King Hezekiah fell sick and was told he would die, he wept bitterly and besought the Lord for a reprieve (chap. 20). In response to this, his life was extended for 15 years, and as a sign, the shadow on the sundial turned back 10 degrees. In those 15 years, however, Hezekiah had a son whom he named Manasseh, who became the worst king Judah ever had. His was the longest reign of any of the kings, extending for 55 years of ungodliness. Some have said, therefore, that Hezekiah was "the man who lived too long," for had he accepted the word of the Lord about his death, Israel would have been spared the terrible days of Manasseh. Also during these 15 years, Hezekiah received the envoys of the king of Babylon and showed to them all the treasures of the house of the Lord. For this he was severely rebuked by Isaiah, who prophesied that the things which the envoys had seen would ultimately be carried to Babylon. In due course Hezekiah died and Manasseh became king.

Manasseh's long reign of 55 years is covered in brief account, for it is said, "he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah...and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them" (21:3). His reign is summarized in these words, "Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel" (v. 9). His son, Amon, followed him to the throne, to reign for two years. He was killed in a conspiracy and his son Josiah was made king in his stead.

Josiah was eight years of age when he came to the throne (22:1). His reign marked the last attempted reformation before the kingdom would be carried into captivity. The evil state of the nation after Manasseh and Amon is seen in the fact that when King Josiah attempted to clean out the Temple and repair it a book of the Law of Moses was found within. Incredible as it may seem, neither the king nor the people seemed to know of its existence. The sacred writings had been so neglected that the actual Temple copy was lost. When this book was read to the king, his sensitive conscience was greatly distressed, and he turned for counsel to the prophetess Huldah. She responded that it was too late to save the nation from its fate, but that the reforms which the king would effect would delay the judgment of God until he had gone to his grave.

With great enthusiasm the king began his reform, first reading the book of the Law directly to the people and then making a personal covenant to walk before the Lord and keep His commandments with all his heart. The Temple was cleansed of all idolatries of the false cults, and throughout the country idolatrous priests and altars were put away (chap. 22). The reform extended even to Bethel in the north, which had been part of Israel, and the altar at Bethel which Jeroboam had erected was torn down and ground to dust.

Following this the Passover feast, which had long been neglected, was observed again in moving ritual and power (23:21-23). Homosexual prostitutes, wizards, mediums, and other abominations were swept from the land. But despite King Josiah's sincere efforts at reform, the heart of the people was not truly repentant, and when Josiah was slain in battle with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt and his son Jehoahaz succeeded him, the nation immediately returned to evil ways.

After a brief reign of three months, the king of Egypt deposed Jehoahaz and set his brother Eliakim, whose name he changed to Jehoiakim, upon the throne.

For 11 years Jehoiakim reigned, first as a tributary to Egypt and then for his last three years, under tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (24:1). During these years the land was torn by raiding bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites and Ammonites, for the long patience of God was now ended.

Jehoiakim was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin, but after a brief reign of three months Nebuchadnezzar came against the city, besieged it, and eventually overthrew it and carried off to Babylon both the people and the treasures of the city. Jehoiachin was carried to Babylon as well and his brother, Zedekiah, was set upon the throne as a vassal king in Jerusalem. In his ninth year he attempted to rebel against Babylon, and again Nebuchadnezzar came against the city and besieged it. In Zedekiah's eleventh year a breach was made in the city wall. The king was captured and blinded and sent to Babylon in chains. The house of the Lord was burned, the walls of the city broken down, and a governor was appointed over the land. When the governor was later murdered, the remnant of Israel fled to Egypt (25:26). Thus the nation which God had called and delivered from the power of Egypt, returned to that land as a scattered and suffering people.

Yet a touch of grace closes the book, for after 37 years of imprisonment in Babylon, Jehoiachin was released by Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, who showed him great kindness and permitted him to feast from the king's table for the rest of his life.

We remember that the book of Kings began with the wonderful scene of Solomon, his kingdom at peace kneeling in his royal robes, praying to the God of heaven. Contrast this with the final scene when the Temple lay in ruins, the city was destroyed and the people were slaves and bond-servants in a foreign country. In this contrast we have a vivid picture of what happens in the human heart when it disobeys God. God's loving warnings are ignored for so long that God's patience draws to an end and disaster follows.


Since the record of 2 Chronicles chapters 21-36 cover the same events that we have just covered in 2 Kings it is unnecessary to repeat the story in detail. Though in general the accounts are briefer than in 2 Kings, the author of Chronicles gives more understanding of the reason events occurred. Greater detail is given of the reformation under King Hezekiah and King Josiah than in Kings, and we learn from Chronicles that Manasseh, the most wicked king of Judah, after he had been taken captive by the Assyrians and sent to Babylon, repented from his evil and turned with a whole heart to God. He was restored to his throne and in the closing years of his life accomplished certain reforms within Jerusalem. But although the king's personal repentance was genuine, and met with the gracious restoration of God, nevertheless his long years of evil had so affected the people of the nation that when his son Amon came to the throne, the evil ways of Manasseh broke out in full force again throughout the land.

The closing days of Judah and the exile into Babylon are traced in much briefer detail than in Kings, and in the closing paragraphs we learn that the reason for the 70 years of exile was in order to permit the land to enjoy its Sabbath; the nation for 490 years failed to keep the sabbatical year of rest.

An additional note of hope is struck at the very end of Chronicles when the writer recounts how the Spirit of the Lord stirred up Cyrus, the king of Persia, after the years of exile, to issue a decree to build again the house of God in Jerusalem. This lays the groundwork for the record in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and suggests perhaps that the writer of Chronicles was Ezra, the priest.

As we contemplate in these historical books the sorrowful record of the decline of the nation from its days of glory in the time of Solomon to the awful record of the exile, there are many valuable lessons to draw in the parallel experiences of our individual lives. Certain steps can be traced in the downward path of the nation.


First, there was the self-indulgence of Solomon, which weakened the spiritual strength of the people. Following him, Rehoboam his son turned a deaf ear to the advice of his older counselors and, it is recorded that when he was strong, "he forsook the law of the Lord." As a result, the kingdom was invaded by the Egyptians. So in our lives the moment there is a turning away from obedience to the voice of God there is an immediate weakening of the defenses of life and the enemies begin to invade.

When Jehoram followed his father Jehoshaphat to the throne, a spirit of jealousy in the royal family enters, and it is recorded that Jehoram slew all of his brothers with a sword and also some of the princes of Israel. Further he made high places in the hill country of Judah and led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into unfaithfulness. This too was quickly followed by invasion and by plague.

In Israel, King Ahaz introduced directly the worship of the Baals with their despicable practices of vile and sexual nature. Ahaz further burned his sons as offerings; immediately invasion followed from the king of Syria. We sometimes wonder why we fall prey to afflictions and oppressions, to nervous reactions, and depressive neuroses. Sometimes these are from physical causes, but often it is because the defenses of our temple are destroyed. Some inner idolatry is weakening us, and we find ourselves defenseless against the invaders of the spirit that bring on depression, frustration, defeat and darkness. So the awful account goes on, set against the continual efforts of a patient God to awaken the consciences of evil kings and correct the practices of a stubborn and rebellious people.


By contrast, the good kings of Judah reflect the grace of God in cleansing and restoring the land and the people. There are five great reformations recorded during which God sought to arrest the deterioration of the nation and restore it to the place of glory and blessing as in the days of David. With each one, certain principles of reformation are revealed which have also application to us.

The first of these periods of reformation was under King Asa. He not only took away the foreign altars and high places, broke down the pillars, and hewed down the Asherim (a sex symbol), but also "commanded Judah to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the law and the commandment"(2 Chronicles. 14:4, italics added).

It is not surprising, therefore, that when he was attacked by the Ethiopians with an army of a million men, the prophet Oded met him and said to him, "The Lord is with you when you are with Him" 15:2). Thus in Asa we find a determination to obey the Lord as an important principle in reformation. The way to return ends in renewal of the vow, a renewal of the determination and hunger to walk before the Lord. Immediately, there is a return to rest.

King Jehoshaphat during his reign also cleaned out the idols from the land, but in 17:7-9 a second principle of restoration is stated: "In the third year of his reign he sent his teach in the cities in Judah...having the book of the law of the Lord with them"(italics added). Here the great principle is that of study and teaching of the law and the Word of God.

Under King Joash we have the third principle of reformation. The main accomplishment of Joash was to restore the Temple, and to do it required the collection of long neglected taxes. If, as we have seen, the Temple represents the human spirit, then the repairing and restoring of it is a picture of the strengthening of the spirit. This is often accomplished by the process of restitution--the paying of that which we owe. It may be an apology to someone, or the restoring of something wrongfully taken, or putting back something which has been wrongfully used. No matter--it is an important principle of return.

In Hezekiah's reign, a fourth principle is seen in the cleansing of the Temple. The Temple was finally cleansed after 16 days of clearing out rubbish. The worship was restored and a Passover celebrated. This clearly pictures the cleansing of the Temple of our spirit by putting away the filth which has accumulated. It is to turn away from wrong ideas and concepts and attitudes to which we have given ourselves and to turn back to the cleansing of the Lord and the renewing of our minds with truth.

Then, in Josiah, the last good king of Judah, we find the final principle of restoration. His attempts to restore the worship of the Temple resulted in finding anew the book of the Law which had been lost. Josiah himself publicly read this book to the people and made a covenant to walk before the Lord and obey His commandments. Thus the final principle of restoration Is a return to the hearing of the Word of God and a determination to daily walk in its light and understanding.

Let us never forget that as we read these books we must bear in mind the words of Paul in I Corinthians 10:11: "Now these things happened to [Israel] as an example." We have noted specific details of these from the various incidents we have covered, but even in the total picture there is a remarkable parallel.

From the very beginning of the monarchy there were two divisions within the nation. Even under David this was true, for David was king only of Judah for seven years and it was only during the last 33 years of his life that he reigned over all 12 tribes. Thus a division between the 10 tribes of the north and the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south existed from the start. But though there were two sections within the nation they were intended to worship only at Jerusalem and to be under the authority of only one king. Taken as a whole, therefore, it is evident that the nation of Israel represents the divisions of our humanity.

There are clearly two divisions in us: the outer man, consisting of the body, and the inner man, consisting of soul and spirit. But in the capital city of Jerusalem the very essence of the nation was vested in the Temple wherein the living God dwelt. We know from the Scriptures that in the human life there is not only body and soul but within the soul, so closely linked with it that only the Word of God can divide between soul and spirit, is the spirit, the dwelling place of God. Thus the temple of the Spirit was in Jerusalem and all the worship of the kingdom was to be there.

In this picture, then, the 10 tribes of the north represent the body, while the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south represent the human soul, and linked to the soul is the temple of the spirit where the Spirit of God Himself dwells. This is surely what the Lord Jesus had in mind when He said to the woman at the well of Samaria, "God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24, italics added). We find many who worship him in soul, that is mere emotional worship. But God is not interested in that. He is looking for that worship which is centered in the deepest part of our nature--in the spirit.

In line with this, it is instructive to note that when the nation began to disintegrate, it was the 10 tribes of the north which fell apart first. It is amazing how early marks of sin begin to appear in the body when there is a dissolute and debauched way of life. Coarseness and vulgarity soon begin to mark the bodies of those who give themselves to overindulgence in food and drink and a debauched lifestyle. The body is the first to deteriorate, as Israel was the first to go in this record.

But Judah (depicting the soul, the personality), was next, arrested temporarily by the reformations we have noted. Ultimately, the kingdom declined until Judah too was carried away into captivity. For a few years the Temple remained in Jerusalem, but in the end it too was stripped and burned. Thus the whole record is a picture of a wasted life. It is the picture of an individual who is a Christian but who has built upon the foundation of Christ with only wood, hay and stubble. Eventually the test of fire comes and only that which cannot be burned survives.

A Lesson About the Straight and Narrow (YouTube clip)

Fertility Cults of Canaan

Only recently have scholars begun to unravel the complex religious rituals of Israel's Canaanite neighbors. Much of our knowledge of the origins and character of these fertility cults remains tentative and widely debated. What we do know reveals dark, seductive practices that continued to entice the people God had chosen to be his witnesses.


The people of Israel developed their faith in the wilderness. Abraham lived in the Negev desert, where God made his covenant of blood with him and sealed it with circumcision. Moses met God in a burning bush in the desert, where he learned the greatness of God's name and received his commission to bring the Hebrews out of Egypt. God spoke to his people on Mount Sinai and reestablished his covenant with them in the Ten Commandments. Throughout the Israelites? 40-year journey in the wilderness, their Lord accompanied them, protected them, fed them, and guided them to the Promised Land. There was no doubt that Yahweh was God of the wilderness.


When the Israelites entered Canaan, they found a land of farmers, not shepherds, as they had been in the wilderness. The land was fertile beyond anything the Hebrew nomads had ever seen. The Canaanites attributed this fertility to their god Baal, and that is where the Israelites problems began. Could the God who had led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness also provide fertile farms in the Promised Land? Or would the fertility god of Canaan have to be honored? Maybe, to be safe, they should worship both;Yahweh and Baal.

An intense battle began for the minds and hearts of God's people. The book of Judges records the ongoing struggle: the Israelites attraction to, and worship of, the Canaanite gods; God's disciplinary response; the people's repentance; and God's merciful forgiveness until the next time the Israelites reached for Baal instead of Yahweh.

Under the kings, this spiritual battle continued. By the time of Ahab and Jezebel, the fertility cults appeared to have the official sanction of Israel's leaders. Ahab, with his wife's encouragement, built a temple to Baal at his capital, Samaria. All the while, prophets like Elijah (which means ? Yahweh is God?), Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah thundered that Yahweh alone deserved the people?s allegiance. It took the Assyrian destruction of Israel and the Babylonian Captivity of Judah to convince the Israelites that there is only one omnipotent God.

This struggle to be totally committed to God is of vital importance to us today as well. We don't think of ourselves as idol worshipers, yet we struggle to serve God alone in every part of our lives. It is easy (and seductive) to honor possessions, fun, relationships, fame, money, and a host of other potential "gods."

We need to learn from Israel's experience and respond to Jesus' command for total allegiance. One way we can accomplish this is to study the gods that attracted Yahweh's people 3,000 years ago.



The earliest deity recognized by the peoples of the ancient Near East was the creator god El. His mistress, the fertility goddess Asherah, gave birth to many gods, including a powerful god named Baal ("Lord"). There appears to have been only one Baal, who was manifested in lesser Baals at different places and times. Over the years, Baal became the dominant deity, and the worship of El faded.

Baal won his dominance by defeating the other deities, including the god of the sea, the god of storms (also of rain, thunder, and lightning), and the god of death. Baal's victory over death was thought to be repeated each year when he returned from the land of death (underworld), bringing rain to renew the earth's fertility. Hebrew culture viewed the sea as evil and destructive, so Baal's promise to prevent storms and control the sea, as well as his ability to produce abundant harvests, made him attractive to the Israelites. It's hard to know why Yahweh's people failed to see that he alone had power over these things. Possibly, their desert origins led them to question God's sovereignty over fertile land. Or maybe it was simply the sinful pagan practices that attracted them to Baal.

Baal is portrayed as a man with the head and horns of a bull, an image similar to that in biblical accounts. His right hand (sometimes both hands) is raised, and he holds a lightning bolt, signifying both destruction and fertility. Baal has also been portrayed seated on a throne, possibly as the king or lord of the gods.


Asherah was honored as the fertility goddess in various forms and with varying names (Judges 3:7). The Bible does not actually describe the goddess, but archaeologists have discovered figurines believed to be representations of her. She is portrayed as a nude female, sometimes pregnant, with exaggerated breasts that she holds out, apparently as symbols of the fertility she promises her followers. The Bible indicates that she was worshiped near trees and poles, called Asherah poles (Deuteronomy 7:5, 12:2-3; 2 Kings 16:4, 17:10; Jeremiah 3:6,13; Ezekiel 6:13).


Baal's worshipers appeased him by offering sacrifices, usually animals such as sheep or bulls (1 Kings 18:23). Some scholars believe that the Canaanites also sacrificed pigs and that God prohibited his people from eating pork in part to prevent this horrible cult from being established among them. (See Isa. 65:1-5 for an example of Israel's participating in the pagan practices of the Canaanites.) At times of crisis, Baal's followers sacrificed their children, apparently the firstborn of the community, to gain personal prosperity. The Bible called this practice "detestable" (Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:9-10). God specifically appointed the tribe of Levi as his special servants, in place of the firstborn of the Israelites, so they had no excuse for offering their children (Numbers 3:11-13). The Bible's repeated condemnation of child sacrifice shows God's hated of it, especially among his people.

Asherah was worshiped in various ways, including through ritual sex. Although she was believed to be Baal's mother, she was also his mistress. Pagans practiced "sympathetic magic", that is, they believed they could influence the gods' actions by performing the behavior they wished the gods to demonstrate. Believing the sexual union of Baal and Asherah produced fertility, their worshipers engaged in immoral sex to cause the gods to join together, ensuring good harvests. This practice became the basis for religious prostitution (1 Kings 14:23-24). The priest or a male member of the community represented Baal. The priestess or a female members of the community represented Asherah. In this way, God's incredible gift of sexuality was perverted to the most obscene public prostitution. No wonder God's anger burned against his people and their leaders.


Many, if not all, of the Old Testament gods had disappeared, at least in name, by the time of Jesus. Beelzebub, based on the Philistine god Baalzebul, had become a synonym for the prince of demons, Satan. Many of the ancient pagan deities lived on, however, now identified with the gods of the Greeks and Romans, the nations who controlled the people of Israel before and during New Testament times. It is not appropriate here to discuss all the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon; however, a few of them were significant in the first century, and some are even mentioned by name in the Bible.

The leader of the gods, Zeus (Jupiter to the Romans), took on the role of Baal, the god of weather or storms. Artemis, the goddess of childbirth and fertility, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love, continued the Asherah cults under a new name (Acts 19:35), but with worship practices that were as immoral as ever. It is said that in Corinth alone, there were more than 1,000 prostitutes in Aphrodite's temple. Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, became the namesake for the place of the dead and even for hell itself. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus referred to the gates of Hades, or the underworld, believed by some to be the grotto at Caesarea Philippi, from which one of the sources of the Jordan River came. The grotto itself was part of a temple complex used in the worship of the Greek god Pan.

Pan was depicted as an ugly man with the horns, legs, and ears of a goat. Most stories about him refer to sexual affairs. The worship practices of his followers were no different. Pan was associated with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and orgies, whose worshipers continued many of the sexual rites of the Old Testament gods of the Baal cult. Dionysus was worshiped in the pagan Decapolis across the Sea of Galilee from the center of Jesus' ministry. Clearly, though the names of the gods had changed, the people?s worship practices had not. Only the child sacrifice of the Baal cult came to an end with the Greeks and Romans.


Many ancient peoples practiced magic. They foretold the future by examining animal entrails or by watching flights of birds. The Greeks had oracles, shrines where gods supposedly communicated the future to priests and priestesses. Demon possession was a topic of much fascination. Many sorcerers claimed to have the ability to cast out demons (Acts 8:9-24, 13:6-12), as did some Pharisees. Because the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, recognized the reality of the demonic world and condemned all of its practices (Deuteronomy 18:10-12,20; Micah 5:2; 1 Cor. 10:20-21), we can be sure these practices continued and were a temptation to many.

Jesus provided the ultimate solution to resisting the seductiveness of pagan idol worship. He showed that he alone held power over the demons, sending them into the Abyss (Luke 8:31). He promised his disciples that his church would overcome all evil, even the gates of Hades itself.

CONCLUSION: Though today our gods--such as money, power, and possessions, are less "personalized" than in ancient times, the temptations for us are no less enticing. We would do well to remember the complete powerlessness of the pagan gods, from Baal, Canaan's bloodthirsty fertility god, to Hades, Greek god of the underworld, to prevail against the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ. (That the World May Know, by Ray Van Der Laan)

"Judah’s syncretistic worship was reflected in the practice of swearing by the Lord and, at the same time, by Milcom
who may be either the Ammonite deity of 1 Kings 11:5, 33 or Molech, the worship of whom included child sacrifice,
astrology and temple prostitution (cf. Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 17:16; Ezekiel 23:37; Amos 5:25, 26; Acts 7:40-43)."
---The MacArthur Bible Commentary, John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2005, p. 1038.

Canaan Culture

by Susan C. Anthony

We know from the Bible and from experience that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. The Bible tells us that again and again.

A question I’ve been asked is, “How could a good God command the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, child, and even animal in the cities of the Canaanite nations? Isn't this the same God that listed ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ in the 10 Commandments?” 

In Deuteronomy 20:16-17, God gives these instructions to Israel:

In the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you. 

I think it’s important to be able to answer to this question for our neighbors. As most of you know, the sixth commandment is actually, “Thou shalt not murder” rather than “Thou shalt not kill.” There is a difference. God does not call all killing “murder”.

But what about infants and tiny babies? The command says to kill everything that breathes. This is a judgment on the people of Canaan, similar to the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah. What was going on in Canaan that was so bad that God ordered even children killed? People who want reasons to reject the Bible often point to this as an immoral command. But we know God is perfectly righteous. How do you explain it?

First of all, we need to remember that God created us. He gave life and it is His right to take it back. He is not accountable to us for what He chooses to do. We are accountable to Him.

Second, recall that the Canaanites had seen Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed completely. This was a warning that God would judge wickedness. So many horrible things were happening in Sodom that the angel of the Lord said in Genesis 18:20-21, 

...the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin is so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.

It was.

Ancient stories give hints about the evil in Sodom. Strangers and travelers who came into the city would be robbed, stripped, and held captive within the city. They would wander the streets slowly starving to death, to the great amusement of the citizenry. One account relates that visitors to Sodom were offered a bed according to the Middle Eastern laws of hospitality, but it was a bed of torture. Short people were stretched. Tall people had their legs cut off. If a traveler had no money, he would be given bricks of gold and silver with his name on them! But nobody would sell him bread and water, even for all that gold and silver, so the traveler slowly died of starvation. The Sodomites gathered around the corpse and took back the gold and silver. The people in Sodom were not just evil, they were proud of being evil. Imagine being a child in a place like that!

These stories give us a hint of how bad things had gotten in Sodom. It was probably worse than our imaginations can conceive. The Canaanites knew about the destruction of Sodom. They knew that God would judge evil. They also knew about Melchizedek and Abraham. They had access to truth. They weren’t ignorant or innocent. Egypt and other nations, despite their great sin, were not completely destroyed, so the sin of the Canaanites must have been more serious. God restricted Israel from attacking Edom, Moab and Ammon, so despite their sins, they must not have deserved such a severe judgment.

Leviticus 18 and 20 list some of the detestable religious practices of the Canaanites and says that these acts caused the land to become defiled, so that its inhabitants were "vomited out." This comes with the warning that if the Israelites copy those practices, the land will also vomit them out. That is exactly what happened after the Israelites adopted the practices of Canaan.

Archeology gives some hints about what the Canaanites did. On one High Place, archaeologists found several stone pillars and great numbers of jars containing remains of newborn babies. When a new house was built, a child would be sacrificed and its body built into the wall to bring good luck to the rest of the family. Firstborn children were often sacrificed to Molech, a giant hollow bronze image in which a fire was built. Parents placed their children in its red hot hands and the babies would roll down into the fire. The sacrifice was invalid if a parent displayed grief. Mothers were supposed to dance and sing. The Israelites later copied this practice in a valley near Jerusalem called Gehenna. Hundreds of jars containing infant bones have been found there.

This seems horrible. But is our culture superior? I was shocked to learn that in the United States, there are more than 3600 abortions every day, day after day. The number of legal abortions every year far exceeds the number of U.S. soldiers killed in every war since the nation began! 

There was a great deal of sexual sin among the Canaanites. They believed that cultic prostitution was important to encourage their gods, Baal and Ashtoreth to mate so that the land would be fertile and rain would come. VD may have been rampant. Many young people forced into prostitution were abused to the point of death. Even the surrounding pagan nations were appalled by Canaanite religious practices.

Yet God did not hurry to judge the Canaanites. In Genesis 15:16, God tells Abraham:

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. 

God gave the Canaanites 400 years while Israel was in Egypt. After Israel passed through the Red Sea, He waited 40 more years while Israel wandered in the wilderness. The people of Canaan knew Israel was coming, and that God had given the land to them, according to the Rahab, a Canaanite, in Joshua 2:9:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you."

Jericho had six additional days to repent while Israel did laps around it. The day judgment finally came to Jericho, Israel marched around the city seven times. God judges swiftly when He finally acts, but He patiently warns and allows time for repentance.

Families who wished could have migrated out of the land and settled in nearby areas. God said repeatedly that he would drive out the inhabitants of the land before Israel. Those who wished to leave had time and opportunity. The point was to destroy the evil Canaanite culture rather than the individual Canaanite people. Only individuals who stubbornly refused to leave were destroyed with military force, along with their children, who could not have survived without parents. God gave no instructions to hunt down and kill Canaanites who left the land peacefully. Later in the Bible, Canaanite individuals like Uriah the Hittite show up as righteous characters. Rahab herself was a Canaanite harlot who repented before Jericho was destroyed. She is an ancestor of Jesus Himself. God’s judgment was not based on racism or favoritism. 

God is never arbitrary or unjust, despite how some events appear at first glance. The same people who are angry because God doesn’t do anything about all the evil in the world are the first to cry foul when He exacts judgment. But those of us who know Him trust that His perfect justice. He knows all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.  We do not.  His patience and forgiveness are immense. He waits for repentance. He gives people an opportunity to choose between salvation and judgment. He won't wait forever. Judgment, at some point, is certain.

A Few Extra Resources

The Pure in Heart

Baal, Ashtoreth and Molech – God’s Old Testament rivals 

Baal - Ancient Deity - Britannica

Ba'al Worship: Jewish Virtual Library

The Largest Ba'al Worship in America

Worshiping the god of Sex

Ba'al Worship Comes to America

Is Ba'al Worship Going on in the United States? 

Asherah and Ashterim: Goddess or Cult Symbol?

Phallic Worship

Sex and Phallus Worship

The Meaning of Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah: Canaanite Cities which Abraham Visited 

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November 10, 2023.