During the height of the Cold War, I, like so many others, prayed for all those suffering so cruelly under atheistic communism. I cried out to God, asking why this horrific suffering and the death of millions had to take place. ‘How long O Lord?’ I asked, as did Habakkuk so long ago (Hab 1:2).
‘How long will all this misery and death go on for? Why don’t you do something God? When will you finally intervene and bring it all to an end?’ Well, we know that it did finally come to an end, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
But that was a very long period of time: the Bolsheviks took power in 1917, so we had a 72-year reign of terror, with the Gulag, the millions murdered, the destruction of the churches, and the impoverishment of the nation. Eventually all this evil did come to an end. But it was a very long time indeed if you lived under the jackboot of the Marxist worldview.
The lesson to learn here is that evil will not always triumph – it always comes to an end at some point. And the Bible and church history teach us exactly this lesson, and other lessons like it. There we learn that evil will not ultimately have the upper hand; that God is still on the throne; that God raises up and puts down nations; and that he uses his people to help defeat evil.
All these lessons are found in the passage I read today for my daily reading of Scripture. In 2 Kings 21-23 we find all these truths clearly spelled out. In 2 Kings 21 we read of the evil king of Judah, Manasseh. He was real bad news indeed, and unfortunately his reign lasted a whole 55 years.
He was followed by his evil son; Amon for another two years. So we have altogether 57 years of misery and evil under these two reprobate kings. What we read is not very pretty: Manasseh did just about every lousy thing you can imagine. For example:
-“He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them” (vv. 2-4).
-“He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger” (v. 6).
-“Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites. The LORD said through his servants the prophets: ‘Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols’” (vv. 9-11).
What an evil and despicable ruler he was. And his son was no better. But finally their reigns came to an end, and a godly king came to the throne: Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). He began his rule at eight years of age, and during the eighteenth year of his rule, as he was repairing the temple, the book of the law was discovered.
Not only was Josiah a godly king, but when the book of the law was discovered, he was the right person at the right place. He immediately recognised his sin, and the sin of his people, and sought to do something about it. In 2 Kings 22:10-13 we read:
“Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: ‘Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us’.”
A further response is recorded in 23:1-3: “Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by the pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant.”
And it was not just words and emotion, but concrete actions as well: “He pulled down the altars the kings of Judah had erected on the roof near the upper room of Ahaz, and the altars Manasseh had built in the two courts of the temple of the LORD. He removed them from there, smashed them to pieces and threw the rubble into the Kidron Valley. The king also desecrated the high places that were east of Jerusalem on the south of the Hill of Corruption—the ones Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the vile god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the people of Ammon. Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles and covered the sites with human bones. Even the altar at Bethel, the high place made by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin—even that altar and high place he demolished. He burned the high place and ground it to powder, and burned the Asherah pole also” (23:12-15).
We read of even more draconian steps taken to purge the land of false gods and pagan worship in 23:19-20, 24. So zealous was he in all this that we find this amazing tribute to him in v. 25: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”
Thus God does and will bring all evil to a halt. But he also works through his people in seeing to it that evil is halted and righteousness flourishes. So we can take hope in knowing that evil is never permanent, and God does intervene in the affairs of men.
But we must also realise that God often chooses to work through his people. We need Christian leaders (and lay people) like Josiah of old, who take God seriously and are willing to stand for righteousness while working steadfastly to remove evil.
Sure, the form that takes today may differ, but the same resolve, the same determination, and the same zeal for God and his cause is so very much needed today. We do not need any more Manassehs today but we certainly do need more Josiahs.