What makes a king?

Midweek Lent 4 – 2 Chronicles 33:1-9

What makes some presidents great, and others not so great?

Normally, we judge a president by how the economy does during his time in office.  If the economy is booming and jobs are plentiful, and everyone is happy, then we must have been a great president.  Or, if something happens, either locally or overseas, and the President is seen as strong in responding, then he must have been great.

By contrast, the bad presidents are normally those who oversee the country when the economy is down, and jobs are scarce and people are generally unhappy.  Or if something major happens, and the president is seen as weak, then he must be a truly bad president.

That is a pretty simplified view on how we judge our presidents, but is it not true?  President Jefferson doubled the size of the county; President Lincoln oversaw the country during a vicious war; President Teddy Roosevelt projected an image of power; and they are all considered great.  On the other hand, President Andrew Johnson was perceived as weak, and President Hoover was in office when the depression started, thereby, they are bad presidents.

We judge presidents by how we feel during their time in office.  If we feel good, if life is good, the President must also be good; but if we feel bad, if life is hard, then the President must be bad as well.

Which makes it curious when we turn to the books of Kings and Chronicles, as well as the prophets and read of the many and various kings who ruled over Israel and Judah during the time of the Divided Kingdom.

There is often surprisingly little detail on the reign of most of the kings.  Sometimes, their reign is summed up in as little as three verses.  We know practically nothing of their economic policies; or their views on education or on defense; we don’t even know how they felt about immigration.

And try as you might, you will not find a single opinion poll in the Old Testament telling how the people felt about one king or another.

That is by no means to say that these things did not exist.  The very reason for the Divided Kingdom is the labor policies that King Rehoboam enacted.  In Amos we read that under King Jeroboam in the North and King Uzziah in the South, their economic policies had caused a great gulf between the rich and the poor in the land.  And on can scarcely imagine that King Ahab was very popular when at the word of Elijah, the heavens were closed and there was no rain for three years and six months.  To say nothing of Solomon’s open door immigration policy that ushered in a great many people who did not confess the one true God.

These policies and practices of the various kings of Israel and Judah no doubt led the inhabitants to form their own list of which were the great kings and which were the awful kings.  There is no Mount Rushmore in Israel, but one can only imagine that if there were, after David, the debates would be long and furious about who else would be worthy of such an honor.

But it should be noted that God judges the kings of Israel and Judah far differently than the way you or I rate presidents, just as God judges His people far differently than how others would.

For notice our reading from Chronicles, Manasseh reigns 55 years, the longest reign of any king.  Today, there would be statues erected and schools named after him; his image would be on our currency and on postage stamps.  He would be our modern day George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt.

And yet, how is his reign described?  The first line says that he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the verses that follow list off his wicked acts.  He built altars to false gods, including Asherah poles, he erected altars to Baals, and he even burned his sons as a sacrifice to Molech.

55 years in power, and he is described as nothing more than an idol worshiping pagan.  Nothing about his economics, or his defense policy, or any building projects he led, outside of the idols he built; nothing about whatever good he might have done; the focus is on his ushering in of idolatrous practices.

But did you notice the worst parts?  He rebuilt the same idols that his father Hezekiah had torn down.  And to make matters worse: he even built altars in the temple, God’s own holy house.

That is how God judges kings.  That is how God judges presidents.  And that is how God judges you.

God doesn’t care how much money you have, or how many buildings have your name on them.  God doesn’t worry about whether you are deemed great by those around you, or if you are judged to be awful by everyone in the community.

God judges you based on whether or not you were faithful.  Did you believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?  Or did you reject Him?

One would think that both you and Manasseh are doomed, that both of you have no hope of surviving the judgment that will rightly come upon you.

And for most of the kings of Israel and Judah, and indeed most of the people who have followed since, this is indeed true.

But note what happens in the verses that follow:


2 Chronicles 33:10-16


Manasseh repents.  He personally turns from his wickedness; and because of his position of power, he can do so with far reaching effect, tearing down the same idols that he had built up.

Manasseh is remembered as a great king, not because of anything he did or did not do economically or domestically or internationally or anything else; Manasseh is great because he repented; he turned away from his sins, and he worshiped the one true God of heaven and earth.

Let that be your vow this Lententide.  Repent of your sins; tear down your idols; hear the words of the Lord spoken to you this day, and live.

For like Manasseh, you have been given a new lease on life; not after you were dragged away in hooks and chains by the Assyrians, but because your Savior, Jesus, was beaten and killed on your behalf.  You now can repent and live and be great in your heavenly Father’s kingdom because you repented of your wickedness and received forgiveness and life eternal.

What makes one great, whether they rule the nations, or if they rule over nothing more than the dust beneath their feet?  It is whether or not you are found to be faithful in the eyes of the Lord.  Nothing more, nothing less.

About revschmidt

An LCMS Pastor in North-Central Kansas
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