2 Kings 21-23
February 20, 2000
THE EFFECT OF GOOD AND
BAD RULERS ON A NATION
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
2 Kings 21-23
These chapters tell the stories of five kings of Judah who reigned in the 7th century BC. We could
describe them with a little ditty:
This little king was a bad king that's Manasseh
This little king was bad too that's Amon
This little king was a good king that's Josiah
But this little king was bad again that's Jehoahaz
And his brother the king was a bad king too that's Jehoiakim.
The good king is Josiah, and you might wonder how a bad king could have a good son, and a good king,
bad sons, but family and culture affect people a lot. We are in constant danger ourselves from
influence from the haunted people who make films and TV programs and the secular people who are our
classmates and who work in the office with us. When the bad person or the good person is king, he can
affect the course of a nation. An entire nation sins by popular consent this the only way to get
ahead, they say; by acquiescence I'll go along with this because everyone else is; or because they
are misled by its leaders. In Judah's case, there is some combination of the three.
Manasseh is the first king we meet in chapter 21, not that we want to meet him, but something can be
learned from his history. In fact, when we read the Bible, God speaks to us in two ways, directly and
indirectly. Indirectly, He speaks by the example of people and events. We see a king who does evil
and we read how God punished him and so we say, I won't do that or God will punish me. Directly, He
speaks to our own conscience or heart. It is when we read the Bible that God touches us by the Holy
Spirit and the Spirit strikes us immediately, not as an example, but by a felt weight or encouragement
on our hearts.
Manasseh is a truly evil king. He was more evil than the Amorites, according to verse 11. He builds
altars to the starry host, verse 5; he offers human sacrifices, verse 6; he practices sorcery and
divination, verse 6. An ancient Jewish tradition says that Isaiah the prophet was sawn in two during
Manasseh's reign and by the king's orders. According to verse 10, a number of prophets confronted him,
promising the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah because he was leading the entire nation into sin.
Can anything good be said of such a man?
Let's say you examine your own life. You are guilty of abusing your wife. You are having an affair
and it is driving your kids to drugs. For years you have been cheating on your taxes by not declaring
all your income. What should you expect from God? The answer is, you should expect judgment. So it
strikes us when we read in the parallel passage about the kings of Judah in 2 Chronicles 33, verses
11-13, how the Assyrians took Manasseh prisoner. They put a hook in his nose and bronze shackles on
his legs and arms and brought him back to Nineveh. And here is what Manasseh did. "In his distress he
sought the favor of the Lord and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers." And then
notice how God responds to this repentance from a man who has lived such a wicked life. Verse 13, "And
when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea." Did Manesseh
deserve that? Not in our minds; but God is gracious and God arranges that the Assyrians send him back
to Jerusalem and here is how verse 13 ends, "Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God." And 2
Chronicles 33 names the good deeds he did in Jerusalem after his return.
At 21:19, Manasseh's son, Amon, becomes king. He was like his father in doing evil in the eyes of the
Lord. So even though there was a change in Manasseh, it looks like the harm had already been done to
Amon. Amon had seen and been influenced by the evil Manasseh had done. Amon was so bad that his
officials plotted his assassination, according to 21:23. In 2 Chronicles 33, this is the take on Amon,
"unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the Lord."
Those officials of Amon's court must have had some influence on Amon's son, a lad eight years old when
he becomes king, Josiah. Josiah is the last good king of Judah. He reigns from 639 BC - 609 BC when
he is killed in battle against Neco, the pharaoh of Egypt. Jeremiah and Zephaniah are prophets of God
during his reign. At the age of 16 (according to 2 Chronicles 34:3), he begins to serve God, and at
the age of 20, he begins to purge the land of the abominations approved by Manasseh and Amon. At the a
ge of 26, his 18th year as king, according to 2 Kings 22:3, he orders the repair of the temple in
Jerusalem; and, there, the secretary of state, Shapan, and the high priest, Hilkiah, discover the book
of the law in the temple. The implication is that it has been there all the time, but hadn't been used.
One of the stories I recall from my college days right after I had become a Christian, came from a
little booklet by Robert Munger, a friend of Dit Fenton's, and then senior pastor of First Presbyterian
Church in Berkley, California. The booklet was the printed version of a sermon of his called, "My
Heart, Christ's Home."
The story goes that this young man becomes a Christian and Christ comes into his life and begins to
clean out the rooms of his life, including the closet where he kept all his stinking secret sins. But
like many young men, this man gets busy in his work and the pace of the rat race of modern life and one
morning, rushing out of the house, he stops, looks into the living room of his house, and there,
sitting there, is Jesus. The young man asks, "Are you waiting to see me?" And Jesus replies, "I have
been waiting for you every morning, but you have been so distracted and busy you have not seen me here."
That's the way Jesus is with us, of course; but that is also the way it was with the book of the law.
Forgotten all these years. God had waited for people to meet him in His Law. So Shaphan took the book
to Josiah and read it to him. This book is God's Word and it contains the instructions about what
God's people must do to obey him.
When you read something in the Bible, what effect does that have on you? In 22:19 we learn how Josiah
responded when he heard this book of the law of God. He did three things:
1. His heart was responsive. God can't do anything with a person who isn't responsive. This is like
a teacher in an 8:00 a.m. class who explains exactly how to solve a differential equation, then gives a
quiz and the students who weren't paying attention, fail.
2. He humbled himself before the Lord. There's a lot of cockiness in the world. And you might
understand how a king, or a president, holding such power as they do, might decide to ignore God. Only
weaklings who can't do something themselves need God, they say. But Josiah admitted his true status
before God. He humbled himself.
3. Josiah tore his robes and wept in God's presence which are signs in the Jewish culture of
And here is what God says in verse 19, because you did these things, "I have heard you!" But these
acts of personal piety were not the end of Josiah's response. Josiah acts publically. He calls the
people together, the people who had worshiped the starry hosts and burned their children as sacrifices
during the time of Manasseh and Amon. And Josiah asks them to return to the Lord's covenant. Not when
they felt like it back home in private, but publically and formally right then. Josiah read to them the
covenant so that they would understand what they were making a commitment to.
Then he killed the false priests. No longer would they lead people astray. He destroyed all the idols
and places of false worship and the Tolpeth where children were sacrificed to Molech. And positively,
he re-instituted the Passover, that meal which symbolized God's redemption of His people. All of this
happened within that 18th year of his reign. Once Josiah saw what needed to be done, he did it
immediately. How many of you are people who have seen what needs to be changed in your life and you
have hesitated doing anything about it? You keep saying, I'll do something about it soon, and you
hesitate until it no longer seems urgent.
I was talking with a doctor this week who told me about a patient of his whom he had seen six months
ago, recommending to her that she needed to do certain things. (He does not tell me the names of these
people) And here, six months later, she had come back for her next appointment. Have you done those
things I asked you to do? No, I haven't done them, she replied. Well, you're going to have trouble.
You'll have these physical symptoms. I hope it isn't too late. We wait like that girl.
What Josiah did, he did, as 23:24 says, "to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book."
When you become convinced that what is written here is God speaking to you, you'll be as anxious as
Josiah to do something about it. And when you act, and do all you can do for yourself and the people
you are responsible for, will that be enough to forestall the anger of the Lord? The answer in 23:26
is, "Nevertheless the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against
Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to provoke him to anger."
This consequence is seen over and over in the Bible, summarized by a line in the book of Proverbs that
I have often applied to warn myself, "He who being often reproved, hardens his neck, shall suddenly be
destroyed, and that without remedy." (Proverbs 29:1) Don't push God to the limit on this one!
For all his spirituality, Josiah dies ignominiously. Verse 29, Neco, pharaoh of Egypt, has marched out
with his army to join battle with the Assyrians against the Babylonians at Haran. When Josiah comes to
battle against Neco in 609 BC, he is killed and Neco says to him, in 2 Chronicles 35, God has spoken to
me and told me to go to war. Why are you trying to prevent me? Is that true? Is it the true God and
not Ra, the Egyptian god who tells him that?
Well, who can piece together what God has in mind when we're not told, but Josiah's action delays Neco
so that he didn't arrive in Haran in time to help the Assyrians, and so the Babylonians escape. Four
years later Neco is defeated by the Babylonians at Carchemish. Had Josiah not delayed Pharaoh, perhaps
the Babylonians would have been defeated and never have invaded Jerusalem. Who knows, but these "what
ifs" about history are interesting to ask, and they are related to obeying the Lord or not.
The remainder of the chapter is about two more kings of Judah who do evil. Good needs to be constantly
worked on. We can't take for granted the effect of once-upon-a-time good in people's lives. Or, to
put this to you, don't think that because you made a commitment to Christ, and were baptized, and
became a church member, that you can rest on these things. God wants you to go on with Him. When you
come to the point where you are at the same place with God that you were last year, something is wrong.
One of those books which has influenced me in my life in seeing the balance in God of the two character
traits we see in the chapters of 2 Kings is J. I. Packer's, Knowing God. In that book Packer
recognizes two parts of God's nature based upon a sentence in Romans 11. Here is what Packer says:
"Behold, therefore, the kindness and severity of God," writes Paul in Romans 11:22. The crucial
word here is 'and'. The apostle is explaining the relation between Jew and Gentile in the plan of
God. He has just reminded his Gentile readers that God rejected the great mass of their Jewish
contemporaries for unbelief, while at the same time bringing many pagans like themselves to saving
faith. Now he invites them to take note of the two sides of God's character which appeared in
this transaction. 'Behold therefore the kindness and severity of God: on them which fell,
severity; but toward you, kindness.' The Christians at Rome are not to dwell on God's kindness
alone, not on His severity alone, but to contemplate both together. Both are attributes of God
aspects, that is, of His revealed character. Both appear alongside each other in the economy of
grace. Both must be acknowledged together if God is to be truly known."
And that says exactly what happens in 2 Kings. It says what we can expect of God in our lives.