“And the LORD was not willing to forgive.” You ask, what is going on here? The LORD always forgives! And so we think with some good reason.
In Exodus 34 when God was introducing Himself more fully to Moses He said about Himself, “the LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin” (Christian Study Bible).
There are plenty of other places in the Bible that show God to be willing to forgive. Just as a sample here are two in the New Testament--Acts 10:43 and Colossians 1:14: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” and “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Christians depend on the God Who forgives.
So what is the deal here?
We really need to quote two verses, because they make up one sentence. 2 Kings 24:3-4: “Indeed, this happened to Judah at the LORD’s command to remove them from his presence. It was because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all he had done, and also because of all the innocent blood he had shed. He had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive.”
What happened? The beginning of the chapter relates that Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar attacked Judah in order to destroy it. Actually he attacked several times, and, as the rest of the chapter shows he took all the important and useful people along to Babylon when he returned. Judah was done, and it was because of divine judgment.
It’s in that setting that “the LORD was not willing to forgive.” God really is known for forgiving sin, and it is remarkable that in this one place He did not. In this case it at least meant the end of a sovereign nation for more than two millennia.
Sometimes we try to soften the language, but there is no softening it here. It says that this happened at the LORD’s command. It was not only that He allowed this sorry outcome--He actually commanded it. And it says that they were not merely removed from the land, but they were also removed from His presence. No more relationship with God for those folks.
Now notice why this happened. Israel and Judah had been rebelling for a long time, but it reached the limit in the time of Manasseh. He ruled for fifty-five years. Can you imagine us having a certain president for that length of time? I can’t either. A president can do lots of evil in fifty-five years.
2 Kings 21 tells what Manasseh did as king. He was a master of idolatry, star-worship, witchcraft, divination, and child-sacrifice, to name a few. You name a religion, and he probably practiced it.
But notice what is singled out as his outstanding sin. He was skilled in executing people in the capital city of Jerusalem. At least he was skilled in executing people who were innocent. The amount of blood shed must be sizable when it says, “He had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood.” What is innocent blood? It is a reference to human executions of those who have not committed capital crimes.
We need to look closely at one word here, the word “forgive.” There are several words in biblical Hebrew for “forgive,” and each as its special nuance. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says of this word that it “is used of God’s offer of pardon and forgiveness to the sinner. Never does this word in any of its forms refer to people forgiving each other.” So it is especially appropriate because it appears in a setting involving God and Judah.
Further, pardoning releases the person from the legal charges against him or her. Each of us needs that if we are to be welcome in heaven. But our text says that in this case that pardoning was absent.
We could look at the nations of the world and at our own. Do you think the time could come when God would no longer forgive? Some of us could probably agree. But this was not written so we could gaze far around the world and try to find someone who forfeits forgiveness; it was included in the history so we might examine ourselves individually. May the LORD have mercy on us so that we do not come to the time when He is unwilling to forgive us.