The prayer of Manasseh.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 November

Manasseh 1.1-15.

If you’re thinking, “Waitaminnit, there’s no book of Manasseh in the bible,” that’s true of most churches. It’s part of the apocrypha. Protestants and Catholics don’t include it in our scriptures, but since it’s in the Septuagint it is found in many Orthodox and Ethiopian bibles. There used to be a translation of it in English-language bibles, but when English Puritans started purging all the bibles of apocryphal books, Manasseh was taken out of the King James Version, along with all the other books.

Depending on the bible, sometimes it’s a separate prayer, and sometimes it’s made part of 2 Chronicles. No, we don’t know where the translators of the Septuagint got it.

It’s attributed to Manasseh ben Hezekiah, king of Israel. When he became king at 12 years old, 2Ch 33.1 he decided what we call “western religion” was not for him, and dabbled in pretty much everything else you could find.

2 Chronicles 33.3-7 KJV
3 For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. 4 Also he built altars in the house of the LORD, whereof the LORD had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever. 5 And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. 6 And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger. 7 And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God…

…and here the chronicler starts to rant about how he shouldn’t’ve done that. I’ll skip ahead.

2 Chronicles 33.11-13 KJV
11 Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. 12 And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, 13 and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

Here’s where the Septuagint inserted Manasseh’s prayer.

It’s a good prayer, which is why the ancient Christians kept it and used it. Every once in a while an Evangelical will come across it, won’t realize it’s apocrypha, and think, “Well that’s a pretty good prayer.” Might even use it for worship.

Happened years ago at one of my previous churches. Our worship pastor liked to pick a prayer from the bible for our Sunday morning scripture reading, and my guess is she was looking up bible passages on the internet. I made the slides, so she’d send me the passage… and one week she sent me a really long prayer “from 2 Chronicles” which had way more verses than that particular chapter usually had. I looked it up on Google and found it was Manasseh, in the New Revised Standard.

She was a little embarrassed that she picked a prayer which “isn’t bible.” But like I said, it is a good prayer. Like all the apocrypha, as Martin Luther once put it, there’s no reason we can’t read it and profit from it.

The text.

Here’s my translation, taken from Rahlfs’ edition of the Septuagint. You can also check out other translations on Bible Gateway, like the Common English Bible, the Revised Standard and New Revised Standard, and the Wycliffe Bible. Elsewhere there’s the Geneva Bible, the Good News Bible, the King James, and Lancelot Brenton’s translation.

Prayer of Manasseh
1 Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors—
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their right-minded descendants;
2 maker of sky and land, with everything in its world;
3 binder of the seas with your word and command;
closer of the Abyss, sealed with your fearful and glorious name:
4 Everything agitates and trembles in the face of your power,
5 for they find your magnificent glory unbearable,
and your rage at the threats of sinners, unstoppable.
6 Your promised mercy is infinite, and beyond understanding,
7 for you are the Lord, the Highest, sympathetic, patient,
very merciful to people repentant of their evil—
8 so you, Lord, are the God of the right-minded.
You don’t call the right-minded to repent;
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hadn’t sinned against you.
But you call me, a sinner, to repent.
9 For I sinned—a number of sins beyond the sands of the sea.
My lawlessness multiplied, Lord, multiplied.
I’m not worth looking down upon from the heights of heaven
because of my great unrighteousness.
10 Greatly bent down in iron chains, denied because of my sins,
there’s no rest for me, because I have angered your emotions.
I did evil before you. I set up abominations, and offensive things multiplied.
11 Now I bend the knee, and pray from my heart for your gentleness.
12 I’ve sinned, Lord! I’ve sinned, and I know my lawlessness towards you.
13 I ask this request of you: Forgive me, Lord, forgive me.
Don’t destroy me for my lawlessness,
nor hold onto your anger over my evil in the age to come,
nor condemn me to the lowest places of the earth,
for you are, Lord, the god of the repentant.
14 If you show me your goodness,
that by your mercy you’ll save me, though unworthy,
15 I’ll praise you all the days of my life,
for all the powers of heaven sing praise to you.
Glory to you in the age to come! Amen.

Yeah, I’m sure there are nitpickers who might try to wring an objection to the theology of one or two phrases… and illegitimately. Manasseh was no theologian, so we shouldn’t expect his understanding of God to be infallible. But he did get grace right. He knew full well he didn’t deserve God’s mercy. He wasn’t really trying to make a bargain with God—“Rescue me and I’ll praise you forever!”—so much as saying what he’d do once God saved him, because who wouldn’t praise a generous God who got him out of such a mess? (Well, ingrates. But they’re another story.)

So maybe Manasseh didn’t pray this. Whatever he did pray, was earnest and God decided to grant it and free him. Manasseh promptly returned to Jerusalem and got rid of all his idolatry, and had a 55-year reign. Annoyingly his son Amon brought Judah right back to paganism… and got assassinated two years later. Manasseh’s grandson Josiah was a great king though.