IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Hell on Earth

Date: Aug. 30, 2015

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Kings 21:1-26

Key Verse: 2 Kings 21:14

“I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies;”

Ten years ago, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans early in the morning. It was a Category 3 storm when it hit with sustained winds of 100-140 miles per hour and stretched 400 miles across. It was a big storm, but what happened next was even worse. Levees were breeched and flood waters devastated the land. Hundreds of thousands from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were displaced from their homes. 34,000 people from New Orleans were rescued, but there was nowhere to go. The government was not prepared for the disaster. No one knew how many people needed aid or how bad the disaster was. No one knew how much food and water would be needed to help. 15,000 took refuge in the Superdome before the doors were locked. Tens of thousands of people broke into a convention center desperate for food and water, but only found chaos. People had nowhere to go and no food and water to survive. For many people, the aftermath of Katrina could be described as hell on earth. It was a time of torment and uncertainty. Many people lost everything and thought that they might die. They suffered and starved waiting for help and it didn’t come soon enough. Does that sound like hell to you? The way we understand hell is that it is a place of torment for evil and unrepentant people, but at its most fundamental idea, hell is a place where God is not. Hell is the place where people go when they turn their back on God and God turns his back on them. In this passage, the king of Judah turns his back completely on the Lord and the people go with him. Then God turns his back on the people and his hand of protection is removed.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about King Hezekiah. Now, he was a good king. He had a lot of troubles during his reign, but he did not waver in his trust in God. God delivered the people from the Assyrians and healed Hezekiah who was near death. Hezekiah trusted and loved God. He even got rid of all the idolatry that was instituted by his father Ahaz. He brought worship of the Lord back to Judah. It was a great time in Judah’s history. When Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh took over at the age of twelve and he reigned fifty-five years. Think about that for a moment. Manasseh ruled longer than any other king of Judah or Israel. Even David reigned for forty years and Solomon was the same. But Manasseh’s rule was not like that of David or even his father Hezekiah. Manasseh didn’t worship the Lord.

Instead, he followed the ways of his grandfather Ahaz. “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.” (2) Before the Israelites came in the land, the Canaanites lived there. The Canaanites did some pretty wicked things. They worshipped idols as gods and in order to appease those gods, they did countless evil things. They engaged in ceremonial prostitution and child sacrifice to try to get those idols to do something. They would kill a kid to get the rain to come. Strangers and visitors would be raped and killed. So, God used the Israelites to remove them from the land. They were evil, but you can’t get rid of evil by only getting rid of those doing evil. The Canaanites were gone, but their evil practices were revived by Manasseh centuries later. Evil endured.

The passage gives a laundry list of that evil, “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. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, ‘In Jerusalem I will put my Name.’ In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts.” (3-5) Everything Hezekiah did, Manasseh undid. He repaired all the high places that his father destroyed, but not only that, Manasseh took a page from Ahab and worshipped Baal and made an Asherah pole. Manasseh followed the example of the most wicked and ungodly king of Israel and brought Baal the storm god to Judah. If that wasn’t enough, Manasseh built altars to the stars in the temple of God. In God’s own house, Manasseh instituted worship of the stars, just like what the Assyrians did. Perhaps he hoped the Assyrian gods would give him strength as they did to the Assyrians. It looks like Manasseh abandons the Lord and starts to worship everything else. He’s just like a child having their first taste of freedom. They think that they can do anything and have a right to do everything.

However, that was not the end of it. Manasseh went even deeper. “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.” (6) Manasseh sacrificed his own son in the fire. He killed his son and roasted him like a steak. As a father, that is just despicable and disgusting. What selfishness would cause a man to sacrifice his own son? Parents are supposed to sacrifice themselves for their children and not sacrifice the children for themselves. There is no bizarro backwards land where this is ok. All life is sacred and that of your child should be especially sacred to you. Beyond the sacrifice, Manasseh practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He went into the world of the occult seeking thoughts and wisdom concerning what is to come. These things were explicitly forbidden by God because they pervert our souls, twisting them like a pretzel. It shows a lack of trust and love for God.

Not only was it a lack of trust and love, it was outright hatred for God. “He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, ‘In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their ancestors, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.’” (7-8) In God’s own house, that Solomon built, Manasseh set up an Asherah pole. It was like making a room and bed for a prostitute in your own house while your spouse still lives there. It is a slap in the face of God, an insult. God chose that place to put his Name forever. That is where he promised his people that he would love them forever. Would you like somebody coming into your house and getting mud and filth and drugs and disease all over the place? But that is just what Manasseh did with the Asherah pole in the temple.

God said that he would never make the Israelites wander again if they obeyed his word. When Solomon built the temple, God had a warning for his people, “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’” (1 Kings 9:6-9)

Just like with the northern kingdom, Judah was well warned about straying away from God. But as this passage says, “But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.” (9) Manasseh and Judah were worse than the people with whom God was angered before. They did terrible, crazy things, but Judah, God’s chosen people did even more. They cranked it up a notch and escalated the evil to levels never before heard of. The people would not listen to God’s word, but they just went full steam ahead. Again, the people were very much like children. If you know or have little children, you know that many times telling them not to do something will only get them to do it all the more. When my son gets upset, he likes to smack. If he gets upset at his sister, then he will smack her. When we see it, my wife and I tell him not to hit his sister, but that only results in an immediate swat from our little man.

The king and the people were spiritually depraved, but that wasn’t the end of it. “Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (16) The innocent blood that was spilled was either the blood of the prophets that were killed during Manasseh’s reign, which may have included Isaiah, who according to legend was sawn in two. Or, the innocent blood refers to all those who were sacrificed to the many gods that Manasseh brought into Judah. At any rate, it showed the depravity that was rampant in Judah.

When you look at Judah during the reign of Manasseh, there are a lot of evil things that are going on. Worship looks like chaos and life is rendered insignificant. There is death and lawlessness. It reminds me of what is going on in some parts of Mexico. The drug cartels have gained significant power over the past few years and those cartels are brutal. They engage in kidnapping, ransom, murder, robbery and extortion. They force women into prostitution. When the police arrest cartel members, the cartels retaliate brutally and publicly killing police officers involved to make a point. In one region, there is no sheriff because every sheriff has been murdered and no one wants the job. The conditions seem so much like hell.

When you think of hell, what do you think of? The cartoon version involves a red devil with horns, a pointy tail and a pitchfork. The devil is gleefully in charge of tormenting people. There is fire and blood all around. Screams fill the air as the condemned wallow in pain and torment without relief. They are punished for eternity for all the evil that they have done. Hell is the worst torment that you could ever imagine administered by a figure orchestrating it all. That figure seeks his personal benefit at the cost of everyone else. By our accounts and our thoughts, Manasseh created a hell on earth. Children, his own children, were sacrificed for his own benefit, blood of the innocent filled the streets of Jerusalem, prophets were murdered for speaking the word of the Lord. Evil didn’t just endure, it reigned like never before.

When we look at the world around us, we many times wonder if the world is getting darker and darker. In the Middle East, Islamic State is murdering, destroying and raping at a brutal rate. They put the burnings and beheadings on social media so the world can see their brutality. In this country, Vester Flanigan approached two journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward live on TV and shot and killed them. If that were not enough, he filmed the incident from his point of view and posted it on Facebook and Twitter. Within moments, the murders were auto-playing in peoples’ feeds and people saw the executions of two innocent journalists. There have been shootings in movie theaters and crazed lunacy because of new and untested illicit drugs. With all the new technology, we invent ways of doing evil. Before photos and video, there was no pornography. Before the internet, terrorists could only get their message out via audio cassettes giving to the media.

It just seems to be getting worse and worse. If that is the case, then what will it look like to my grandchildren? What kind of world will they live in? When we continue down the path of evil and selfishness, where does it end? If we are told to live our lives by doing what makes us happy, there is very little to stop us from taking someone else’s happiness. It becomes a time of survival of the strongest. If you have the means to take what you want, then you should do it. Then wars rage across the planet. This is how we had two world wars. Nations taking what belongs to others because they are strong. Europe was ravaged by the wars. Their landscape was forever changed by the conflicts.

With Manasseh bringing hell to earth, what was the consequence. God had given his people a warning about wandering from him, and they refused to listen.” 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. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.’” (10-12) The Lord said through the prophets that Manasseh did more evil than the Amorites. This is similar to the judgment given to Ahab in the northern kingdom centuries earlier. God said that he was going to bring such a disaster on Judah that the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. The judgment that the Lord would bring would send shivers down the spine of everyone who hears it. It wasn’t an empty threat. God was enraged and he had had enough.

He said, “I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.” (13-15) Judah was the remnant of his people. It was the house of David and God’s own inheritance. God promised David that he would have a descendant on the throne forever, but because of all the evil that Judah had done, culminated in Manasseh’s wickedness, God was willing to forsake it all and destroy his inheritance.

Right here, we come to the true meaning of hell. Hell is torment and pain and suffering for all eternity because God removes his hand of protection. Hell is the place where those who abandoned God are abandoned by God. The devil doesn’t rule in hell. Satan is thrown in hell and tortured just like everyone else (Matthew 25:41). The pain and agony is so severe that it is considered the second death because you are forever severed from the author of life. All that pain and suffering never ends because there is no release like death. You want to cease to exist, because then the pain will also cease, but there is no end. There is only burning sulfur and agony.

Some people like to think that hell does not exist, but Jesus talked about hell a lot. The one who is the embodiment of grace talked about hell. We want to deny hell because we want to deny judgment. Our depravity doesn’t want punishment, so we think that the punishment is a myth. But when we deny hell, we deny the magnitude of God’s grace. If we accept the existence of hell, then we can see the magnitude of his grace to us. If there is a place of eternal torment, then it is God’s grace that he doesn’t want for us to go there. He gives us every opportunity to turn from our wicked way. He even gave his own son so that we could be saved from the pit of fire. Jesus experienced hell on the cross when God’s back was turned on him. When Jesus became sin for all people, God turned his face and that total abandonment was like hell to Jesus. While Jesus died on the cross, his connection to God was severed. He did that for us so that we wouldn’t have to experience hell.

Honestly, I don’t really think a lot about hell and judgment. Sometimes, it feels like the concept of hell is contrary to the nature of God. Why would God have a place of eternal torment? Wouldn’t he want to save everyone? He does want to. God finds no joy in condemning people. He is not the gleeful, little red devil poking you with a pitchfork. God doesn’t want to force his will on anyone. He was the power to make everyone do what he wants, but the wisdom to know that that is not a good idea. We were created in God’s image, not as machines. We are thinking and living. We make our own choices by design and God respects his design. He wants for us to be plugged into life, but we have to make a choice to do so. Every sin that we do leads us away from that life and plunges us into the arms of death. The Lord tries to help us see where we are going and get us to turn back to life. He even gave his son so that we wouldn’t have to end up there. Ultimately, though, we have to choose to do so. God does not condemn; he allows for us to condemn ourselves.

Judah had countless times where they could turn their hearts to God, but time and time again, the Israelites turned their hearts to worthless idols. When a king had their heart on God, like David or Hezekiah, the people followed God, but if a king was not so resolute, the people chased after idols. It happened time and time again. When Manasseh reigned, it was the very large straw that broke the camel’s back. God had enough and pronounced his judgment and the people reacted by continuing to do what they were doing. Manasseh’s son Amon continued in his father’s ways and the people killed him after two years of rule. Judgment was coming, as we heard last week, in the form of Babylon.

The topic of this passage is really dark. I mean, talking about hell is not that uplifting. Hell is where God is not. Many times things are hard for us and we feel like we are in hell. My family is so busy and it is starting to take a toll on each of us. We feel like we are reaching a breaking point and sometimes it feels like hell. But, in those hard times, in those hellish times, if we can still find God, then it is not hell, because hell is where God is not. Hell is a place where God has turned his back. It is a shadowy place that never sees the light of day, but God wants to save people from it. We are so curious about the darkness and flame, but God is calling us away from the brink. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came so that we would not find hell and make it for ourselves on this earth like Manasseh did. Praise God for his grace.

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