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(2 Chronicles Xxxiii. 11.)
Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, began his reign B.C. 696. At his exaltation to the throne he was only twelve years old. This was a dangerous period of life to be placed in such an exalted station; for the thoughts of man are evil from his youth. The rank seeds of vice, which are in the heart by nature, are nourished by worldly grandeur. Manasseh was, therefore, beset by dangers from within and without. Nor was it from a corrupt nature and worldly grandeur alone that this young monarch had cause for fear. He was surrounded by evil counsellors, which, combined with innate corruption and the splendours of a court, proved too strong for his youth. He became so corrupted, that it seemed the special object of his reign to overthrow all the good which his pious father had wrought in Judah.
The crimes of the former kings of Judah, indeed, though great, were surpassed by those which disgraced the early reign of Manasseh. He revived all the abominations that Hezekiah had destroyed; he built altars for all the host of heaven, in the very courts of the Temple of Jehovah; he erected an idol in the house of God; he sacrificed his children to Moloch in the valley of Hinnom; he used enchantments and witchcraft, and made divination by Ob ;* he maintained numerous necromancers, astronomers, and soothsayers; he planted a grove for idolatry in the precincts of the Temple; and he made Judah and Jerusalem to do worse than the heathen whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. Wickedness reigned dominant, and righteousness and truth were, consequently, so persecuted, that, in the emphatic language of the sacred historian, "innocent blood filled Jerusalem from one end to another."
God, therefore, threatened the wicked monarch that he would bring manifold miseries upon him and his people. His denunciation reads thus:—" Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day," 2 Kings xxi. 12—15.
* The worship of the serpent, which is to be traced through all heathen antiquity, and was, in fact, the worship of Satan.
This prediction was early verified. While the evil doings were transacting in Judah, Esarhaddon, the king of Assyria, was consolidating his power, and making strenuous efforts to reunite the broken fragments of his father's empire. He was successful in the east, and he then turned his attention westward, fully determined to restore his authority in that quarter, and to avenge the loss and disgrace which the Assyrians had sustained in Palestine. He entered Judah with a great force, defeated Manasseh, took him alive, and sent him, together with many of his nobles and people, bound in fetters, to Babylon.
The object of the Illustration accompanying this article is to represent Manasseh in this condition. The authorities for the design have been selected chiefly from the sculptures discovered in Persepolis and the vicinity of Babylon, no remains of the latter far-famed city being in existence to furnish the remotest idea of its architecture, or costume, except, perhaps, the figure of a woman and child, now in the British Museum. The cylindrical seals of the Babylonians, however, have afforded important assistance to the artist. The figure of the monarch in the chariot has been dressed from a regal personage in the Persepolitan sculptures. His crown, resembles in many points a military helmet, and agrees in character with the spear, which he holds in his hand as an emblem of regal authority, and which, at this period, was the sceptre and badge of sovereign power. The chariot is designed from a Persian sculpture in the British Museum. The captive Jewish monarch has been attired from early Egyptian representations of persons, supposed, by Rosellini and Wilkinson, to be those of the Hebrew and Syrian nations. He is exhibited as bound to the axle of the conqueror's chariot, which was the customary mode of treating regal prisoners by oriental conquerors. Such a usage is frequently represented, for instance, in the paintings and sculptures of the Egyptians, and allusions are made to it in Scripture in many sublime passages. The soldiers in the foreground have been accoutred from the models given in the Persepolitan bas-reliefs, and the common people dressed after the analogies furnished by servants and attendants, as represented in the same sculptures. The banner, with two tassels, occurs at Naksh-i-Roustan, and has been here adopted to enrich the design.
The season of Manasseh's affliction proved a blessing to his soul. In the solitude of his prison at Babylon he became a true penitent. The sins of his past life were brought vividly to his view, and humbling himself before the God of his fathers, he cried earnestly for pardon, and besought an opportunity of evincing the sincerity of his repentance. His prayer was heard. After the lapse of twelve years Esarhaddon released him from prison, and sent him home with honour.
Convictions in the hour of adversity are too frequently of a transitory nature. The sinner, oppressed by the recollection of his crimes, cries mightily to God for relief from suffering and the fear of death, and promises that, if his prayer is heard, he will end his days in his service. No sooner, however, is the rod removed, and the fear of death abated, than the suppliant returns to his former evil courses, casting the fear of God behind his back. He returns, like "the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire," 2 Pet. ii. 22.
The conduct of Manasseh was very different, and affords a lesson for penitents in all ages. On his return to the throne of his fathers, he applied himself with great diligence to the correction of the abuses of his former reign. He abolished the idols he had set up, and so far reformed the national religion, that, though the people still sacrificed in the high places, it was unto the Lord their God only. Manasseh, also, fortified the city of Zion, that "fair place," on the west side by a second wall, and endeavoured to restore his kingdom to a better state. He died B.C. 641, after the long reign of fifty-five years.
The reformation of Manasseh offers a remarkable instance of the power of Divine grace. His early history holds him up to the gaze of mankind as an atrocious transgressor. But his heart was subdued by the grace of God, he bewailed his guilt, and brought forth fruits meet for repentance. Let no trembling sinner, therefore, despair of obtaining mercy. There is forgiveness with God that he may be feared, and Christ is able to save unto the uttermost those that come unto God by him. And this cannot be done too soon. There is no day like to-day. Yesterday has fled away upon the eagle-wings of time; to-morrow belongs to God, and not to man. To-day, therefore, while it is called To-day, repent. Think of the solemn period when the Ancient of Days shall have passed judgment on mankind.
The days and years of time are fled,
Sun, moon, and stars have shone their last;
The earth and sea gave up their dead,
All secret things have been revealed,
Judgment is past, the sentence sealed,
And man, to all eternity,
What he is now, henceforth must be.
From Adam to his youngest heir,
Not one escaped that muster-roll;
Each, as if he alone were there,
Stood up, and won or lost his soul.
Reader, you must be among this vast assemblage, either lost or saved. Examine yourself, whether you be in the faith; for if you are not—if death should overtake you in your present state, your soul will be lost! irrecoverably, and for ever lost!