PMW 2019-032 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Elsewhere on this blog site I define postmillennialism as follows:
Postmillennialism holds that the Lord Jesus Christ established his kingdom on earth in the first century through his preaching and redemptive work. Since then he has continued to equip his Church with the gospel, empower her by his Spirit, and charge her with the Great Commission to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of men living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions, the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history. Associated with his return will be the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows. Because of its worldwide historical implications, postmillennialism generates an holistic worldview touching on all areas of life.
That being the case, we must be alert to an important distinction between true and false conversions. Postmillennialists are glad for the general influence of Christianity on the world. But what we labor for and ultimately expect is a dramatic impact on the world that is rooted in true conversions by the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). We are all aware that much of Christianity is today made up of falsely-professing “believers.” These people should be targets of our evangelistic outreach, for being “almost persuaded” is not enough.
We can even examples of false conversions in Scripture. These should forewarn us of the danger of false conversions so as to forearm us to confront them. One classic example is evil King Manasseh.
The picture of Manasseh that we see in 2 Kings is wholly negative. For example, we read: 21:11 “ Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols” (2 Kgs. 21:11; cp. vv. 9, 16, 17). However, the 2 Chronicles report is distinct in its ending on a positive note suggesting his repentance and conversion.
In 2 Chronicles we read that he “entreated the LORD” and “humbled himself greatly” before God (2 Chron. 33:12). And that he also “prayed to” God who “heard his supplication” then brought him out of captivity, with the result that he “knew the LORD was God” (v. 13). This is followed by his removing idols from the temple (v. 15) and setting up an altar to God and offering peace and thank offerings on it, while ordering his people to “serve the LORD” (v. 16). Then the concluding summary of his life highlights “his prayer to his God” (v. 18), noting how “God was entreated by him” when he “humbled himself” (v. 19).
Conservative scholars are divided as to whether or not Manasseh truly repents. However, I believe the evidence suggests that his “conversion” is superficial at best, not being deeply-rooted and genuine. In fact, it appears to be prompted solely by his emotional “distress” while in captivity (2 Chron. 33:12). As a result, it produces only partial, temporary results. The negative evidence against his conversion includes the following.
First, the writer of Kings does not mention it, though it would be a remarkable example of God’s covenant faithfulness and mercy. And if Manasseh’s conversion were real, it would afford an opportunity for the writer to commend him. For the historian frequently highlights good kings who did “right” in God’s eyes (1 Kgs. 15:5; 22:43; 2 Kgs. 10:30; 12:2; 14:3; 15:3, 34; 18:3; 22:2). Yet, no evaluative commendation of Manasseh appears in the biblical text.
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Second, immediately after the report of Manasseh’s supposed “conversion” (2 Chron. 33:12–18), he is used as an evil standard by which his own son is denounced (2 Chron. 33:22). It would be odd for someone to be praised as a devout follower of God in one breath then used as an example a great evil in the next — if he were truly converted.
Third, Manasseh remains a standard of evil that is used to evaluate bad kings:
“He did evil in the sight of the LORD, as Manasseh his father had done” (2 Kgs. 21:20; 2 Chron. 33:22).
“The LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him” (2 Kgs. 23:26).
Fourth, despite good king Josiah’s later reforms (2 Kgs. 23:4–25), God’s wrath is not turned from Judah. Thus, we may used 2 Kgs. 23:26–27 once again, but from this additional perspective: “because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him” (2 Kgs. 23:26–27).
Fifth, Jeremiah also points to Manasseh as the reason for Judah’s “doom” — despite his supposed conversion. In fact, he says that not even Moses or Samuel could appear before God to effectively plead for Judah, such is the depth of her sin . . . “because of Manasseh”:
“Then the LORD said to me, Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go! And it shall be that when they say to you, Where should we go? then you are to tell them, Thus says the LORD: Those destined for death, to death; / And those destined for the sword, to the sword; / And those destined for famine, to famine; / And those destined for captivity, to captivity. I will appoint over them four kinds of doom, declares the LORD: the sword to slay, the dogs to drag off, and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. I will make them an object of horror among all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.” (Jer. 15:1–4).
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Sixth, Manasseh is frequently presented as the cause of Judah’s collapse (2 Kgs. 21:11–15; 23:26–27; 24:2–4). Earlier, though, God put off Judah’s destruction because of God’s love for David (2 Kgs. 8:18–19; 13:23; 2: Chron. 21:7). But this gracious delay is soon coming to an end — because of Manasseh:
“The LORD sent against him bands of Chaldeans, bands of Arameans, bands of Moabites, and bands of Ammonites. So He sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD which He had spoken through His servants the prophets. Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the LORD would not forgive.” (2 Kgs. 24:2–4).
Seventh, Manasseh’s religious reforms are only partial for: (1) The people continue worshiping at the “high places” (2 Chron. 33:17). In this case we apparently have a syncretism with pagan worship, unlike in previous situations where “the people were still sacrificing on the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the LORD until those days” (1 Kgs. 3:2). We may surmise this difference because of Manasseh’s originally rebuilding these places in his rejecting God’s worship (2 Kgs. 21:3). True reform should stop evil worship practices (2 Kgs. 23:4–7; 2 Chron. 34:3ff).
(2) Manasseh only moves the idols out of Jerusalem: “he also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord (2 Chron. 33:15a). He does this rather than destroying them per God’s law (Exo. 23:24; 34:13; Deut. 7:5; 12:3). Idol destruction is used by several kings who succeed an idolatrous king (1 Kgs. 19:10; 2 Kgs. 15:3; 23:6–8, 12, 15; 23:17; 2 Chron. 15:12; 34:4, 7). Consequently, Manasseh’s idols that were merely moved (re-located) will be brought back and used by his son Amon (2 Kgs. 21:21).
(3) Manasseh also simply removes the pagan altars (2 Chron. 33:15b), as we learn from Josiah’s later destroying these very altars as a part of his thorough reform (2 Kgs. 23:12). (4) No mention is made of Manasseh even removing the altars for the “hosts of heaven” that he set up (cf. 2 Kgs. 21:3b), whereas the particular reforms he does make reverse the false worship he established (2 Chron. 33:15 with vv. 3, 7). (5) He apparently removed “the book of the law” and the ark of the covenant from the temple but never returns them. For they are not returned until fifty years later during Josiah’s reign (2 Kgs. 22:8; 2 Chron. 35:3).
But why does the Chronicler present Manasseh’s apparent conversion? It seems designed to mirror Judah’s national pattern based on Manasseh’s personal life. That is, his life serves to illustrate how Judah sins against God, half-heartedly returns to him, then rebels, only to be ultimately cast away from God.
Even though we can be thankful for the general influence of Christianity in the world, what we must seek is the specific influence of true Christianity. A Manasseh-conversion will not do.