25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. 26 Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And the Lord said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.” 2 Kings 23:25-26
Through the Bible: 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35
Many years ago, I was the camp pastor for a youth camp where they had an “ask the camp pastor” session. This was an opportunity for the kids to ask me any question they wanted to from the Bible. These were sharp kids. During the junior high session, one of the kids asked, “Will there be animals in heaven, and if not, where does the white horse Jesus comes back on come from?”
I will never forget the question a high school student asked me, though. He had been studying today’s passage about Josiah, and he stood up and asked me, “So, 2 Kings 23 talks about what a good king Josiah was–how he destroyed the idols and repaired the temple and reinstituted the Passover. 2 Kings 23:25 says there was never a king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart.”
“But the very next verse says that none of this was enough to turn away God’s wrath from the people of Judah because of all the terrible things Josiah’s father Manasseh did.”
“So, I guess my question is, what’s fair about that?”
That question has haunted me ever since. I don’t remember what my answer was. I just remember the pain of the question. What’s fair about a God who punishes one generation for the sins of the previous generation, no matter how earnestly that generation turns to the Lord?
One answer, which I admit is not a very “feel good” answer, is that God is faithful to all His promises, not just the ones we benefit from. Back in 2 Kings 21, God pronounced judgment on Manasseh:
11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, 12 therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, 15 because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” (2 Kings 21:11-15)
We might think it is unfair that God would still punish Judah even after Josiah’s reforms, but the fact is, it was God’s mercy that preserved the kingdom for five more generations after Manasseh. God stayed His hand long enough for Manasseh to repent. He was followed by Amon, who was just as wicked as his father, but unlike Manasseh did not repent. Then came Josiah, the last good king of Judah. Through Josiah, God allowed one more generation to seek the Lord, to find the Book of the Law, and to reinstate the Passover. After Josiah came three evil kings in a row, and then the end.
So, to answer the young man’s question in as biblically faithful a way as I could, I guess I should have said that God’s judgment after Josiah’s reforms wasn’t fair. But neither was God’s mercy for five generations after Manasseh. Grace and mercy are never about what’s fair. That’s what makes grace so amazing.