The Chronicler’s account of Manasseh’s reign (2 Chronicles 33:1-20) is organized in a chiasm:
A. Manasseh becomes king, v. 1
B. Builds high places, erects altars and an image, vv. 2-9
C. Manasseh does not listen, v. 10
D. Yahweh brings host of Assyrians, v. 11
C’. Humbles himself, prays, Yahweh is entreated, vv. 12-13
B’. Build walls, demolishes altars and removes image, high places remain, vv. 14-17
A’. Remainder of acts of Manasseh, vv. 18-20
B and B’ are inversely parallel to one another. B describes Manasseh’s construction of a) high places, b) altars, and c) images. In B’, Manasseh builds walls instead of altars, and then removes c’) foreign gods, demolishes b’) altars, replacing it with Yahweh’s altar. Yet verse 17 informs us that a’) high places were not taken away.
C and C’ make for an interesting contrast. Manasseh does not pay attention to Yahweh’s warnings (v. 10). Though the verb isn’t repeated in verses 12-13, the sense is that Yahweh does attend to Manasseh’s humble prayers. The God who calls Israel to “Hear” in the shema shamas king Manasseh.
A sevenfold structure raises the possibility that the text is meant to evoke the creation week, and a few details match that supposition. D, matching Day 4, speaks of “hosts” of Assyrians, an unheavenly army.
Following his repentance, Manasseh engages in various projects that mark him as a restored Adam. He makes the city of David an enclosed, well-watered place, a garden, and then makes the cities of Judah enclosed “paradises” as well (v. 14). Specifically, he builds a way around the Gihon spring (v. 14); Gihon is the location of Solomon’s anointing (1 Kings 1:33, 38, 45), but the name “Gihon” evokes the rivers of Eden (Genesis 2:13).
Within this overall chiasm, verses 2-9 have a complex structure of their own:
A. Manasseh did evil in eyes of Yahweh, according to abominations of nations, v. 2
B1. Built high places, v. 3a
B2. Raised altars, v. 3b
B3. Prostrated and served host of heaven, v. 3c
B4. Built altars in Yahweh’s house, v. 4
B5. Built altars for host of heaven, v. 5
B6. Made sons pass through fire, v. 6a
A’. Manasseh did much evil in the eyes of Yahweh, v. 6c
B8. Image of idol in the temple, v. 7a
(Yahweh’s promise to establish Israel, vv. 7b-8)
A’’. Manasseh did more evil than nations Yahweh expelled, v. 9
Verses 2-6 are framed by the phrase “evil in the eyes of Yahweh,” but verses 2 and 9 also form an inclusio. Verse 2 speaks of the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh dispossessed, and verse 9 again makes reference to the nations that Yahweh destroyed. This double inclusio sets up a “this . . . and also this” structure. Manasseh does all this evil; and then he surpasses himself by doing even more evil.
That pattern is reinforced by the numerical structure of the section. By my reckoning, verses 2-6 list seven evils done by Manasseh. His evil has a heptamerous fullness; his idolatry makes for a complete de-creation. Just when you think the catalog of idolatry is complete, though, the Chronicler adds an eighth, the worst evil of all, the placement of an idol in the house of Yahweh, the house that Yahweh Himself chose for His name (vv. 7b-8). Just when you think the symphony of horrors has come to its climax, there’s a further, dissonant coda.
The chapter ends with another small chiasm (v. 19):
A. His prayer and how Yahweh was entreated
B. His sin (chatt’at)
C. His ma’al
B’. Places he built high places, erected Asherim and images
A’. Before he humbled himself.
This doesn’t add any facts to the story, but the use of ma’al at the center of the verse is significant. This term is, as I have noted in earlier blog posts, a key term in Chronicles, a name for the sacrilege that results in Israel’s expulsion. Manasseh is expelled because of his sacrilege, taken in chains and “thorns” to Assyria.
There, he prays and Yahweh answers. As Solomon hoped (2 Chronicles 6), Yahweh hears when his people humble themselves and pray, and restores them to their land. Even ma’al can be forgiven; even the enormities of a Manasseh can be atoned for. And even Israel, exiled in Babylon, can hope for release.