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Monday, November 29, 2010

God Still Hears the Prodigal

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.--2 Chronicles 33: 16 NIV
The last two evenings, before I went to sleep, I read the consecutive reigns of King Hezekiah  and his son Manasseh in Judah.  Hezekiah was a good king; he obeyed God, and what's more, he honored God first.  God blessed him with a twenty-nine year reign and peace with his enemies.  Then, he died at the age of fifty-four (a ripe old age, in those days), and his twelve year-old son succeeded him as king and proceeded to destroy all that his father had built up (see 2 Chronicles 29-32 for more details of Hezekiah's reign).

King Manasseh was a very wicked man in his early days.  Whereas his father started his rule by purifying and rededicating the temple for worship, Manasseh began by defiling it in every way, even moving idols and altars into the temple courtyard and inside the building itself.  Hezekiah directed all of Israel to turn back to the God of their fathers, and ordered the high places (used for Baal worship) and the idols to be torn down and destroyed.  Manasseh built them back up and directed all of Judah to rush headlong into this worship, until it could be said, "Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites," (2 Chronicles 33:9 NIV).

So, in a span of one lifetime, from the joyous rededication feast at the start of Hezekiah's reign, to approximately thirty to thirty-five years later, when the temple was defiled with idols, God was remembered and forgotten again.  It didn't take long at all, did it?  Honestly, I read this and at first felt some despair.

Surely, as Manasseh was growing up, he saw his father standing for what was right, and he heard (if not witnessed first-hand) how God had miraculously delivered Judah from Sennacherib, the Assyrian King, and how God had prospered them all for their obedience.  He was born almost half-way through his father's reign!  He saw so many of these things with his own eyes, but in his youth, he didn't accept them.

I was praying about this, and saw that it just reveals a basic truth about Manasseh, and the whole human race.  Each generation--in fact, each individual--has to make their own decision to come to God or to turn away from Him.  All the bravery, and all the good examples and wise teaching of an older generation doesn't change that.  We have all been given free will to go, and many do.

Getting back to the story, King Manasseh did evil in God's eyes, and God sent him warnings.  Manasseh didn't heed those any more than he had his own father's successful example, so God sent the Assyrians to trouble him again.  This time God let the Assyrians get the upper hand, and they "took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon," (2 Chronicles 33: 11 NIV).  This sounds like a hopeless situation, and it can become that way, but Manasseh's story had a hopeful (if bittersweet) ending.  When he found himself utterly powerless and humiliated, when he saw that all of his gods and goddesses had not saved him,
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. (2 Chronicles 33: 12-13 NIV)
 While it is true that God can be forgotten, even by the children of those who know Him, God does not forget those children.  He still hears prodigal sons!  As long as those children turn away, there is only suffering in their future, because God is against sin; but when they return, God does more than just take them back.  He blesses them with more than they deserve or have earned!

Like the prodigal son in Jesus' story in Luke 15, Manasseh realized that even the peasants who ministered in God's temple courts were better fed and cared for than he was at the Assyrian's table.  He turned back to God, and God took him home and gave him a chance to reverse the choices he'd made earlier!

God did that for Manasseh, and He still does it for those who repent and return to Him.  Today, if you find yourself going down a road your predecessors rejected, there is still time to turn back before disaster strikes.  If you've already gone down that road, and you are on the other side of disaster, there is still time to remember God and watch Him rescue you from an impossible situation.  I've seen it happen.  He's even done this for me.  But, don't just take my word for it.  Here are the words of Jesus, telling us just how God would receive us if we came running back to Him:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 
The son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
“But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." So they began to celebrate. (Luke 15: 20-24 NIV).
 I'm praying for you!  Don't forget the Lord, who has been good to you.  He can help you again!  Until next time, this is me, reminding you, to stay humble, and stay savvy!