The Prayer of Manasseh

Christians think of Saul, known to the gentiles as “Paul,” as a forgiven sinner. Saul invented Christian martyrdom, with St. Stephen as the victim. The first notable “act” of The Acts of the Apostles might be this murder of an apostle

But to that murderer Saul, the image of the forgiven sinner would have been King Manasseh

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel
2 Kings 21:1-2

A Child-King, Manasseh may have killed his children. At the very least he dedicated them to other gods

Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spirits and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.
2 Kings 21:6

Even if his sons survived, the holy martyrs did not

Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord.
2 Kings 21:16

When Saul was out and about, the Lord spoke to him, and promised more information once he went to a certain city.. Damascus

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Acts 9:3-6

When Saul arrived in Damascus, the Lord used a man named Ananias to further encourage Saul to repent.

With King Manasseh, the LORD was first rebuffed.

And the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen
2 Chronicles 33:10

So He used another city, and another foreigner: BABYLON and ESARHADDON

Therefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.
2 Chronicles 33:11

It is in his captivity that King Manassah cried out, and in his captive impotence he begged the LORD for forgiveness.

Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,  and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God….

Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. Also his prayer and how God received his entreaty, and all his sin and trespass, and the sites where he built high places and set up wooden images and carved images, before he was humbled, indeed they are written among the sayings of Hozai
2 Chroncicles 33:12-13,18-19

The Apocrypha held sacred by the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox churches purports to have a text of this prayer. Whether or not the Prayer of Manasseh is actually the prayer of that king, or a devout attempt to reconstruct one, is unknown. But what is important, I think, is that it was prayed during Manasseh’s weakness, when he was unable to save his country, and unable to do anything except pray and repent and look to a future where he might not be in bondage. The LORD will chose his own instruments. It is for man to repent, and if he cannot do better, a least desire to so do.

It reads, in its entirety:

O Lord Almighty, God of our fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and of their righteous seed,

You Who have made heaven and earth with all their adornment,

You Who have bound the sea by the word of your command, You Who have shut the deep, and sealed it with your fearsome and glorious Name,

You at whom all things shudder, and tremble before Your power,

for unbearable is the magnificence of Your glory, and not to be withstood is the anger of Your threat toward sinners,

and unmeasurable and inscrutable is the mercy of Your promise,

for You are the Lord Most High, compassionate, patient, and merciful, repenting from the evil deeds of people.

You, O Lord, according to the fullness of Your clemency, promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against You, and in the fullness of Your mercies, You have appointed repentance for sinners toward salvation.

Therefore, You, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not given repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who had not sinned against You, but you have given repentance for me, the sinner.

For I have sinned more than the number of sand of the sea; my lawless deeds are multiplied, O Lord, multiplied, and I am not worthy to look and see the heights of heaven because of the multitude of my unrighteous deeds.

I am bent down by too many a bond of iron for the lifting of my head because of my sins, and there is no relief for me, for I have provoked Your wrath and done evil before You. I have set up abominations and multiplied provocations.

And now I bend the knee of my heart, begging for Your clemency.

I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my lawless deeds.

I am asking, begging You: forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my lawless deeds, nor for all ages keep angry with me, nor condemn me to the depths of the earth, for You, O Lord, are the God of those who repent.

And in me You will display Your goodness, for, my being unworthy, You will save me according to Your great mercy.

And I will praise You throughout all the days of my life, for all the power of the heavens sing Your praise. For Yours is the glory, to the ages. Amen.
The Prayer of Manasseh 1:1-15

Finally, the story has a happy ending. Manassah does return to Jerusalem, he clears out the idols, and (while the high places are not destroyed) at least God is worshiped there. He reigned for many years and died peacefully, the King in Jerusalem

So Manasseh rested with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza. Then his son Amon reigned in his place.
2 Kings 21:18

3 thoughts on “The Prayer of Manasseh”

  1. It’s moving. No western church considers it canonical, but it nonetheless was bound with the Vulgate bible, Luther’s bible, and King James’ bible.

    Most of the poetic criticism I can find praises the changing perspective (from the cosmic to the interior), and the imagery (bending the knee of the heart). I was struck by the reference to the sinless patriarchs. I’ve not encountered that anywhere in the Scripture.

    It may be a window into his mental state, or intended as such.

    If so it is a tyrant truly lost, and truly trying to go back.

    There’s no indication that Manasseh’s first century analogue, Herod the Great, experienced that grace in life. May he have experienced it, before a second death.

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