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No. 48: The Prayer of Manasseh

OPEN BOOK, Views & Reviews, No. 48
Copyright (c) 1999 Biblical Horizons, October, 1999

1O Lord Almighty,

God of our fathers,

of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and of their righteous posterity;

2You who have made heaven and earth with all their order;

3who have shackled the sea by Your word ofcommand,

who have confined the deep and sealed it with Your terrible and glorious name;

4at whom all things shudder,

and tremble before Your power,

5for Your glorious splendor cannot be borne.

And the wrath of Your threat to sinners is irresistible;

6yet immeasurable and unsearchable is Your promised mercy,

7for You are the Lord Most High,

of great compassion, long-suffering,

and very merciful,

and You repent over the evils of men.

You, O Lord, according to Your great goodness have promised repentance,

and forgiveness to those who have sinned against You;

and in the multitude of Your mercies You have appointed repentance for sinners,

that they may be saved.

8Therefore You, O Lord,

God of the righteous,

have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,

who did not sin against You,

but You have appointed repentance for me, a sinner.

9For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea!

My transgressions are multiplied, O Lord!

They are multiplied!

I am unworthy to look up and see the height of heaven

because of the multitude of my iniquities.

10I am weighted down with many an iron fetter,

so that I am rejected because of my sins,

and I have no relief;

for I have provoked Your wrath and have done what is evil in Your sight,

setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.

11And now I bend the knee of my heart,

beseeching You for Your kindness.

12I have sinned, O Lord,

I have sinned,

and I know my transgressions.

13I earnestly beseech You,

forgive me, O Lord,

forgive me!

Do not destroy me with my transgressions!

Do not be angry with me for ever or lay up evil for me!

Do not condemn me to the depths of the earth!

For You, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,

14and in me You will manifest Your goodness;

for, unworthy as I am,

You will save me in Your great mercy,

15and I will praise You continually all the days of my life.

For all the host of heaven sings Your praise,

and Yours is the glory for ever.


Manasseh was the most wicked king Judah ever had. His history is recounted in 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20. From Chronicles we learn that later in his life he repented and sought the Lord. This is, of course, not the real prayer prayed by Manasseh, but a composition of a later date, probably in the second or first centuries before Christ.

Verse 8 contains the error that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not sinners and did not need to repent of any sin, a false doctrine still present among the Jews at the time of Jesus. Yet, even this false doctrine was based in the belief that there had to be a perfect Man, whose righteousness could be imputed to the faithful, and if we substitute "Jesus Christ" for "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," we can make the prayer our own.

And we should, for we are all Manassehs!

This beautiful prayer shows the strong influence of Biblical poetry. It is set up in triads, groups of three lines (for the most part), that have real beauty and form when read aloud. It is divisible into five sections:

1. The Majesty of God in Creation, vv. 1-4; we see just who God really is.

2. God’s Mercy in Granting Repentance, vv. 5-8; we see that this God is intolerant of sin, but also merciful.

3. Personal Confession, vv. 9-10; we confess our sin and distress.

4. Supplication for Pardon, vv. 11-13a; we ask for forgiveness.

5. Petition for Grace, and Doxology, vv. 13b-15; we pledge faithfulness to the Faithful God.