2 Chron. 33:1-6

King Manasseh of Judah was one seriously bad dude. His father, Hezekiah, was a good man who led his people back to God. Manasseh seemed determined to go as far as he could in the opposite direction, and drag his people down with him.

Manasseh rebuilt all the high places his father had demolished. These were places to worship a slew of false gods various cultures had invented. There were gods of fertility, rain, battles, wine, women and song – whatever people lusted after or were afraid of, there was a god that might take care of it if only they could find the right formula to appease them.

These gods were moody and unpredictable. The general idea of worshipping them was “You bring me lots of sacrifices, and maybe I’ll help you if I feel like it.” Even if you did what they demanded, they might turn on you anyway. Since there was a different god for everything, you had to jump through lots of hoops if you wanted to keep any or all of them from getting mad at you. It was a tricky business at the best of times.

The Israelites had been taught about the one true God; had seen His power and care for them over and over and over. Why on earth would they turn their backs on God, who could be counted on to do what he had promised, and turn to these capricious and unreliable idols?

Perhaps the basic reason was that these false gods only required external worship in the form of sacrifices and rituals. God, on the other hand, was after the heart. He wanted worship that was internal, that affected every thought, attitude and action. To them, and no doubt to us, that’s much harder to give, because it means taking things out of our hands and putting them in God’s. Human beings have always wanted to control God, not to give control to God. Worshipping idols gives the illusion of control, since we decide which ones we want to serve and why.

So King Manasseh thumbed his nose at God and made his own choices. He worshipped Baal, also called Beelzebub, a name we still sometimes use for Satan. He bowed down to the goddess Asherah. He put their altars in the temple in Jerusalem – the equivalent of us setting up altars to honor Satan in the church sanctuary. He had some of his own children burned alive as sacrifices to Molech. He killed his people unjustly, filling Jerusalem with their blood. He did more evil than all the kings before him, and seemed proud of it. He was definitely doing it his way.

This went on for years, and not because God hadn’t warned Manasseh of the consequences of his choices. But then something happened that got Manasseh’s attention.

. . . the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.

He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank-offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.

Manasseh got a second chance because he acknowledged that his own sin had caused his downfall, and took full responsibility for it. God knows we need to admit our sin for our benefit, not His. The people who keep making the same mistakes and following the same destructive patterns are usually the ones who won’t accept responsibility for their actions. If it’s always someone’s else’s fault, they never have to change.

Then Manasseh humbled himself before God and sought his forgiveness. God is always moved when we are genuinely sorry and sincerely want to submit to him. We can’t con God – we may fool ourselves or others, but not Him. Because God was moved, we know Manasseh’s repentance was real. He responded to God’s mercy by a complete reversal of his previous ways, getting rid of his idols and restoring God to his rightful place in his own life and the life of his nation.

Real repentance is much more than being sorry; it means turning away from sin and back to God. It produces evidence of lasting change. It involves seeing our sin, sorrow for our sin, and seeking God’s mercy to turn things around. It means submerging our will in His so we can go forward with Him and not backward to our previous ways. Repentance means restoring God to His rightful place in our hearts, throwing out the things that have taken His place, being in fellowship with Him and being thankful we’re serving Him and not ourselves. It means healing at the deepest level of our being.

For God said, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14).

Father, may I not need a hook in my nose before I see my sins, seek Your mercy, and throw out what I’ve exalted in Your place. May I be hooked on You, and not a prisoner of my own pride.