Saturday, May 16, 2015

II Chronicles 33

II Chronicles 33 is about King Manasseh of Judah.  In both II Chronicles 33 and II Kings 21, Manasseh is considered to be an especially wicked king.  In II Chronicles 33, however, Manasseh repents after the Assyrians capture him and take him to Babylon.  Here are some items:

1.  More than one commentary that I read said that, according to Assyrian sources, Manasseh was a loyal and reliable vassal of Assyria.  Raymond Dillard, in the Word Biblical Commentary, identifies the Assyrian sources as ANET 291 and 292.  According to Assyrian sources, Manasseh helped out with the construction of the Assyrian city of Nineveh and was part of a military campaign against Egypt.

Why did the Assyrians capture Manasseh, if he was such a loyal vassal?  One proposal that Dillard mentions is that Manasseh may have joined Babylon in an unsuccessful attempt to rebel against the Assyrians.  That would explain why Manasseh was taken captive to Babylon rather than an Assyrian city, a detail of II Chronicles 33 that has puzzled more than one commentator.  (Some see that detail as a foreshadowing of the Jews’ exile in Babylon.)

I should also add that, according to the Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary, there is evidence that the Assyrians allowed kings who “repented” by submitting to them to return to their thrones.  For the Chronicler, the building projects that Manasseh undertook after resuming the throne were probably an indication of God’s blessing on him now that he had become righteous.  Dillard, however, mentions the view that the building projects under Manasseh were actually an attempt to strengthen the southern border of the Assyrian empire against Egypt.

2.  In the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, conservative biblical scholar Gleason Archer addresses the question of how Manasseh’s repentance can be historical if II Kings does not mention it.  II Kings 23:26 actually says that, notwithstanding the righteous reforms of Manasseh’s grandson Josiah, God did not turn God’s wrath from Judah on account of the deeds of Manasseh, which provoked God to anger.  Does Manasseh sound forgiven there?  In II Kings, God stayed mad at Manasseh for a long time, even after Manasseh’s death.

According to Archer, II Kings is focusing on the effects of Manasseh’s wicked policies, whereas II Chronicles is looking at King Manasseh as an individual.  Even though Manasseh repented and tried to overturn his idolatrous policies, Archer contends, his wickedness still had an effect on the people.  More than one scholar has said that the Chronicler focuses on individual divine retribution: God punishes and rewards individual kings, usually immediately, which is different from punishing succeeding generations for the sins of their fathers.

I would say, though, that the Chronicler, too, has some notion of succeeding generations being punished for the sins of their forefathers, even if the Chronicler does stress divine reward and punishment of individuals in an immediate sense.  In II Kings 32:26, God delays God’s punishment of Judah and Jerusalem for the pride of Hezekiah after Hezekiah repents.  In II Chronicles 34:28, God promises righteous king Josiah that Josiah will not see the evil that God brings to Jerusalem, indicating that Josiah’s repentance postpones God’s punishment but does not eliminate it.

I would agree with Archer, however, that there was some failure in Manasseh’s repentance, that it was not entirely successful in rooting out corruption.  II Chronicles 33:22, after all, states that Manasseh’s wicked son, Amon, sacrificed to and served the carved images that Manasseh made.  Manasseh did not totally destroy the idols, so they were around for Amon to worship.  But Amon’s righteous successor Josiah would smash idols to dust (II Chronicles 34:1-7).

3.  According to II Kings 21:16, King Manasseh killed many innocents.  The commentator on Chronicles in the Jewish Study Bible observes that the Chronicler says nothing about this, focusing instead on Manasseh’s idolatry.  The commentator suggests that the Chronicler perhaps could not picture God forgiving the murder of innocents.  That is an interesting picture: God forgives sins against God, but is reluctant to forgive the murder of innocent human beings.  Of course, there are other biblical books that seem to have a different perspective: God forgives David for killing Uriah in order to take Bathsheba as a wife (II Samuel 11-12).  Of course, the Chronicler does not have that story about David, perhaps because he wants to depict David as, overall, a righteous king, the type who does not shed innocent blood (even though the Chronicler did have a slight problem with David’s wars; see I Chronicles 22:8; 28:3).

4.  According to II Chronicles 33:20, Manasseh was buried in his own house; it does not say that he was buried with other kings in their royal sepulchers.  I cannot make a blanket statement that all wicked kings get bad burials in Chronicles whereas all good kings get honorable burials, in royal sepulchers.  It does seem, though, that the Chronicler goes out of his way to note when wicked kings got bad burials (see here).  By contrast, II Chronicles 32:33 says that Hezekiah, a righteous king notwithstanding his flaws, was buried in the “chiefest of the sepulchres of the sons of David” (KJV).  Maybe Manasseh, despite his repentance, was given a sub-standard burial on account of the severity and effect of his wickedness, which his repentance could not totally undo.  Still, I would suggest that God in the eyes of the Chronicler still honored Manasseh’s repentance: Manasseh was restored to the throne, reigned longer than most kings of Judah, and undertook building projects.

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