The Prayer of Manasseh is a prayer attributed to Manasseh, the king of Judah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33. Manasseh is known as one of the most wicked kings of Judah who did evil in the eyes of the Lord by rebuilding pagan altars, worshiping idols, practicing sorcery and witchcraft, shedding innocent blood, and leading the people astray (2 Chronicles 33:1-9). However, after being captured by the Assyrians and taken to Babylon, Manasseh repented and humbled himself before God (2 Chronicles 33:10-13). The Prayer of Manasseh records Manasseh’s plea for forgiveness and restoration before God.
Although the Prayer of Manasseh is not considered canonical by Protestants and Jews, it is included in some manuscripts of the Septuagint and Vulgate. The prayer is also referenced in 2 Chronicles 33:18-19 which says that Manasseh’s prayer and how God was moved by his entreaty are written in the records of the seers. So while the Prayer of Manasseh itself may not have been originally part of the biblical text, it likely records a traditional prayer that was attributed to Manasseh’s repentance.
In the Prayer of Manasseh, Manasseh humbles himself before God, confessing his sin and wickedness (Prayer of Manasseh 1:1-7). He acknowledges that he deserves punishment for leading the people of Judah and Jerusalem into idolatry and immorality. Manasseh recognizes God’s power and righteousness in allowing the Assyrians to conquer him and take him captive to Babylon (Prayer of Manasseh 1:8-14). He pleads for God’s mercy and forgiveness, hoping that God will remember His covenant promises and restore him to his kingdom in Jerusalem (Prayer of Manasseh 1:15-2:9). Manasseh vows to praise God and teach the people to worship Him alone if his prayer is heard (Prayer of Manasseh 2:10-15). The prayer concludes with an appeal for God to accept Manasseh’s entreaty and have mercy on him (Prayer of Manasseh 2:16-20).
There are several key themes and purposes of the Prayer of Manasseh:
- It demonstrates the depths of Manasseh’s repentance and contrition before God. He fully owns up to his grievous sins and wickedness.
- It shows Manasseh’s understanding that God is sovereign and just to punish sin, yet also merciful and forgiving to those who humble themselves.
- It reveals Manasseh’s faith and hope in God’s covenant promises to restore those who repent.
- It portrays God’s mercy and readiness to forgive the most grievous of sinners when they genuinly repent.
- It encourages confession, repentance, and hopeful dependence on God’s mercy.
While not part of the biblical canon, the Prayer of Manasseh provides insight into a dramatic Old Testament example of repentance and God’s mercy. It shows that no sin is too great for God’s forgiveness when sinners humble themselves and plead for mercy. The themes of the prayer are echoed in other biblical passages about repentance like Psalm 51 and Luke 15:11-32. As such, the Prayer of Manasseh offers hope to all people that if they confess and forsake their sin, God is “ready to forgive” and “abundant in mercy” (Prayer of Manasseh 1:3, 7).
Here is a summary of the contents and main ideas in the Prayer of Manasseh:
Manasseh’s Confession of Sin (1:1-7)
Manasseh acknowledges before God that he has sinned grievously by leading the people into idolatry, shedding innocent blood, and provoking God to anger. He confesses his unworthiness and admits he deserves punishment.
Acknowledgment of God’s Justice (1:8-14)
Manasseh recognizes it is right for God to allow his captivity in Babylon as just punishment for his sins. He sees God’s sovereignty in judging sin.
Plea for Mercy Based on God’s Promises (1:15-2:9)
Manasseh appeals to God for mercy and restoration based on His covenant promises. He hopes in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Vow to Praise God and Lead People to Repentance (2:10-15)
If restored, Manasseh vows to praise God and teach all people to worship Him alone. He will lead people in repentance.
Final Plea for Mercy (2:16-20)
Manasseh makes one last plea for God to hear his prayer, have mercy and forgive him according to His lovingkindness.
By studying the Prayer of Manasseh, Christians can gain several helpful insights:
- No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy if they humble themselves and repent.
- True repentance involves confessing sin, acknowledging God’s justice, and appealing to His mercy.
- Forgiveness leads to a transformed life and a desire to lead others to repentance.
- God is faithful to His covenant promises and eager to show mercy to sinners.
- Prayer coupled with repentance is a pathway to restoration with God.
While apocryphal, the Prayer of Manasseh offers a portrait of repentance that resonates with the message of salvation and forgiveness through Christ. It provides hope that God can redeem anyone, no matter how far they have fallen into sin. As long as someone repents and seeks after God’s mercy, He is faithful and just to forgive their sins and grant pardon through the redeeming blood of Jesus.
Key Bible Passages About Manasseh and His Repentance
Here are some key Bible verses that provide context about King Manasseh’s sin and repentance:
2 Chronicles 33:1-2 – Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.
2 Chronicles 33:6 – And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.
2 Chronicles 33:10 – The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.
2 Chronicles 33:12-13 – And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
2 Chronicles 33:15-16 – And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. And he restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.
These verses demonstrate the depths of Manasseh’s wickedness and idolatry, his refusal to listen to God at first, his eventual repentance in Babylon, and the changed life and worship of God that followed his restoration. Manasseh’s story provides a portrait of the transforming power of repentance and God’s mercy.
Historical Context and Background
To better understand the Prayer of Manasseh, it is helpful to examine the historical background related to King Manasseh’s reign and repentance:
- Manasseh became king of Judah around 698 BC at the age of 12 and reigned for 55 years as one of the longest reigning kings (2 Chronicles 33:1).
- He reversed the religious reforms of his father Hezekiah and led the people into idolatrous practices (2 Chronicles 33:2-9).
- The Assyrian empire was dominant during Manasseh’s reign until around 612 BC when the Babylonians began gaining power.
- Around 642 BC, Assyrian records mention Manasseh became a vassal to Esarhaddon, an Assyrian king.
- It is likely Manasseh was taken captive to Babylon sometime after 642 BC by either the Assyrians or Babylonians.
- Manasseh’s idolatry and alliance with Assyria led to God’s judgment, allowing his captivity to occur (2 Chronicles 33:10-11).
- While in captivity, Manasseh humbled himself and prayed to Yahweh, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:12-13).
- God heard Manasseh’s prayer, released him, and restored him as king in Jerusalem where Manasseh then reversed his idolatrous policies (2 Chronicles 33:14-17).
Placing Manasseh’s story in its historical context helps explain what led to his sin and repentance. God allowed his suffering to draw him back to worship of Yahweh alone. Manasseh’s prayer and repentance were key to his restoration as king.
Themes and Literary Analysis
There are some key themes and literary techniques to notice in the Prayer of Manasseh:
- Confession of sin – Manasseh openly confesses his grievous idolatry and disobedience before God (1:1-7).
- God’s justice – The prayer affirms God’s righteousness in punishing sin through Manasseh’s captivity (1:8-14).
- Appeal for mercy – While deserving judgment, Manasseh pleads for God’s mercy and forgiveness (1:15-2:9).
- Repentance – Manasseh vows to live in repentance with renewed obedience if shown mercy (2:10-15).
- God’s forgiveness – The prayer highlights God’s mercy in forgiving genuinely repentant sinners (2:16-20).
Literary techniques include:
- Use of repetition – “O Lord Almighty” (1:1, 15), “O Lord, God of our fathers” (2:3, 5)
- Allusions to history – recalling the Exodus and conquest (2:4-5).
- Rhetorical questions – “For who among the sons of kings is equal to me?” (1:12)
- Contrasts – Manasseh’s sin vs. God’s righteousness, judgment vs. mercy.
These techniques help paint a vivid picture of heartfelt repentance and dependence on God’s mercy.
Relation to Other Biblical Repentance Accounts
The Prayer of Manasseh has similarities to other significant repentance accounts in Scripture:
- Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24), Manasseh returns to God in humility after rejecting Him.
- As with David’s prayer (Psalm 51), Manasseh acknowledges his sin before asking for forgiveness.
- His restoration mirrors the account of Jonah and Nineveh’s repentance (Jonah 3:6-10).
- His zeal to make amends resembles Zacchaeus’ changed heart (Luke 19:1-10).
Each of these biblical examples provide portraits of what true repentance looks like. The Prayer of Manasseh offers another illustration of a dramatic change of heart and plea for mercy. God delights to forgive any sinner who comes to Him in humble repentance.
Later Christian Reception and Influence
Although not included in the Hebrew Bible or Protestant canon, the Prayer of Manasseh has had significance among some strands of Christianity:
- It was accepted as part of the Septuagint and Vulgate used by early Greek and Latin church fathers.
- References to the prayer appear in early Christian literature like Shepherd of Hermas.
- 4th century church historian Eusebius considered it a lost Scripture that was useful to read but not authoritative.
- It came to be excluded from the canon for Judaism and most Protestant groups.
- It remains part of the biblical appendix in the Orthodox Study Bible and the Vulgate.
- Some theologians like John Calvin accepted its authenticity and value as a record of Manasseh’s repentance.
While not universally accepted, the prayer has provided encouragement about the limitless reach of God’s mercy for many throughout church history. It remains part of the tradition of some Christian groups today.
Practical Application and Lessons
The Prayer of Manasseh offers the following helpful applications for believers today:
- No one is so lost that they cannot find mercy and forgiveness in Christ through repentance.
- Humbling oneself before God is key to receiving His forgiveness and grace.
- Confession should acknowledge the depths and specifics of one’s sin.
- Forgiveness leads to a transformed heart and life lived in worship of God.
- Restored sinners should help others find repentance and renewal.
- God’s mercy triumphs over judgment when there is genuine contrition.
This ancient prayer vividly depicts the power of repentance through its themes of honesty before God, dependence on His mercy, and the hope of spiritual renewal. Christians today can gain deeper appreciation for God’s readiness to receive all who come to Him in humility and faith.