There are two kings, one of Judah and one of Israel, who were despicable. The Bible doesn’t mince words about them—they built idol temples and instituted idol worship and for one of these kings that turned into child sacrifice.
The thing is, that latter king, Manasseh, reigned the longest of any in both kingdoms—fifty-five years. The other, Ahab, wasn’t some brief footnote in history himself, holding his throne for twenty-two years.
They shed innocent blood, worshiped gods who were no gods, “seduced” the people to do evil, and in Manasseh’s case, involved himself in the occult.
But other kings who didn’t do half the horrific acts these two did, had short reigns: Jeroboam, the first ruler of the divided northern kingdom, Israel, was succeeded by his son Nadab who reigned two years. Omri, Ahab’s father, reigned twelve. Manasseh’s son Amon was on the throne for just two years.
Then there were the final four—the last kings of Judah who reigned for three months, eleven years, three months, and eleven years, respectively. All short in comparison to Ahab and Manasseh. Why did those evil kings stay in power so long?
Scripture spends a little more time on Ahab and his reign than many of the kings. Remarkably, despite Ahab’s waywardness, God sent prophets to him time and again, unbidden apparently, to help him in what appeared to be impossible circumstances.
The great threat of his day came from the north. The group of city-states known as Aram—the area we identify as Syria—came together under one powerful king and mustered a huge army to go against Ahab.
Israel’s forces were in decline. They’d had wars against Judah and were greatly weakened, so they were no match for the 100,000 Aramean troops that surrounded them. Enter the prophet of God. His message to Ahab was, God will get you out of this:
Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD. (1 Kings 20:13b)
Ahab asked one question: by whom? God answered, By the hand of the young men of the rulers of the provinces. Turns out that was a group of 232 young men—a smaller force than Gideon lead in an earlier generation.
Nevertheless, as the prophet said, God delivered this huge army into Israel’s hands.
The powerful Aramean king who’d apparently expected a pretty easy victory, raised another army as big as the first and he put military men in charge. Further, he changed the location of the battle since his advisers told him the God of Israel was a God of the mountains and not the plains.
Again the prophet came to Ahab:
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “The LORD is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” (1 Kings 20:28)
Israel did, in fact, reap a miraculous victory again, but Ahab let the Aramean king escape God’s retribution. God rebuked him for that. Ahab responded by allowing his wife to steal land he coveted from a neighbor and have the man killed. This time Elijah confronted Ahab and pronounced judgment on his house.
Up to that point Ahab’s legacy was abominable:
Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel. (1 Kings 21:25-26)
And yet, when he heard Elijah proclaim God’s judgment for his sins, he repented. He tore his clothes—the Middle East way of mourning—put on sackcloth, and fasted. There was a change in his demeanor, too.
God explained it to Elijah: “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?” (1 Kings 21:29a) The attitude change had to be genuine and deep. After all, God sees the heart. He wouldn’t be fooled by a hypocritical outward display that held no real change.
So as near as I can determine, God allowed Ahab to remain on the throne all those years, sending him prophets to help him and rebuke him, to give him opportunity to humble himself. What a display of God’s patience and mercy!
Same thing with Manasseh. We don’t know as many details about the events that turned him to God after all those years of evil, but here’s what 2 Chronicles says:
The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains and took him to Babylon. When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (33:10-13)
God patiently waited for this man so many of us would have written off as hopelessly, despicably evil and beyond God’s reach, to humble himself and know that the LORD is God.
I wonder what Ahab or Manasseh might be sitting in some Senate seat or governor’s mansion or state office today. Perhaps we should be praying that God will demonstrate His loving patience so that they can humble themselves and know that the LORD is God. Perhaps we should thank Him for His patience that extends to us that we too might humble ourselves and know Him.
This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2014.