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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Commentary on Prayer of Manasseh

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Invocation (vv. 1–7 )

(v. 1 ) Address

The title ‘Almighty’ (pantokratōr) anticipates vv. 2–3 and the prayer's first major theme, God's power in creation. It sets a tone for the prayer in its very first line, by expressing Manasseh's repentance from his polytheistic worship of rival gods. Taking up the Chronicler's reference to Manasseh's humility ‘before the God of his ancestors’ (lit. fathers, 2 Chr 33:12 ), the prayer strikes its second major theme, the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their righteous offspring. The appeal indicates Manasseh's repentance from his idolatrous apostasy from the covenant and is ironic, since Manasseh was anything but righteous, having ‘shed innocent blood’ (2 Kings 21:16 ).

(vv. 2–5a ) God's Power in Creation

God's creative power is a traditional topic in Jewish prayers (1 Enoch 9:5; Add Esth 13:10; 3 Macc 2:9 ). The Greek noun kosmos (order) translates the Hebrew ṣābā᾽ (host) in Deut 4:19; 17:3; Isa 24:21; 40:26 with reference to the host of heaven (Osswald 1974: 23). Perhaps Manasseh is here acknowledging that the sovereign God created the host whose idolatrous worship he had instituted in Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:3, 5; 2 Chr 33:3, 5 ). The shackling of the sea and sealing of the abyss alludes to the mythic notion that the Creator brought order from chaos by taming the great sea monster (cf. Job 38:8–11; Ps 89:9–10; 104:5–9; Prov 8:29; Jer 5:22 ; 1 Enoch 101:6 ). Depicted here as capture and imprisonment, it may imply the king's concession that his own imprisonment is an act of divine power and judgement. Although vv. 4–5 assert that the whole creation fears and trembles in the presence of God's power and majestic glory, these characteristics of God recall descriptions of the divine throne room.

Employing language found in Jewish texts and orthodox and Gnostic Christianity, vv. 5–6 use the Greek alpha privative (a- = ‘non-’ or ‘un-’) to describe God in terms of what God is not: ‘cannot be borne, unendurable, immeasurable, unsearchable’. This heaping up of adjectives reinforces Manasseh's repentance before the sovereign, almighty, and majestic God.

(vv. 5b–7 ) The Wrath and Mercy of the God of the Covenant

The emphasis on God's majesty continues in a description of God's activity within the covenant, which juxtaposes the threat of wrath against the sinner and the promise of mercy to the repentant. In the idiom of the section, the one is unendurable, while the other is immeasurable and unsearchable. This first major section of the prayer closes with reference both to God's unique power (‘Most High’) and to God's covenantal activity. The latter is phrased in a quotation of Joel 2:13 , which undergirds that prophet's appeal for repentance by allusion to the covenantal description of God in Ex 34:6–7 . Thus the author comes to the major point of the prayer and sets the stage for Manasseh's repentant confession of his sins. Although the two earliest Greek MSS of the Odes (A, T) omit most of v. 7 (‘O Lord, according to your great goodness…be saved’) the originality of these lines is attested by their inclusion in a later Greek biblical text (55), in the Vg, and in the Apostolic Constitutions and the Didascalia. The passage interprets the promise of mercy in v. 6 as the mercy that God promises to those who accept the divinely initiated repentance. Although v. 7b, following Joel 2:13 , could refer to the curses of the covenant that fall on sinners (‘human suffering’), the present context seems to allude to human wickedness and Manasseh's sins in particular.

Manasseh's Confession of Sin (vv. 8–10 )

(v. 8 ) Introduction

The continuation of the description of God in v. 8 reprises themes in v. 1 and thus seems to conclude the prayer's invocation. However, Manasseh's personal reference to ‘me, who am a sinner’ in the last line links it to the confession that follows. Thus the verse serves as a transition between the first and second parts. Employing the traditional Jewish distinction between the righteous and the sinner, Manasseh contrasts Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who have not sinned against God, with himself, who epitomizes the category of ‘sinner’. In normal Jewish usage, ‘righteous’ does not designate a person who never sins, but one who attends to his or her sins and does not let them accumulate; the ‘sinner’, by contrast, lives in effective rejection of God and the covenant (Pss. Sol. 3). The consequences of these two ways of life are the blessings and curses of the covenant. While the present verse is consonant with such usage, it emphasizes God's active role in establishing repentance as a means by which the sinner can become righteous (cf. v. 13 ).

(vv. 9–10 ) The Confession

Manasseh's confession fits well with the emphasis of the biblical accounts on the quantity and quality of his sins. Although v. 9c recalls Ezra's confession (Ezra 9:6 ), the combined language of vv. 9a and 9c with reference to the multitude of Manasseh's sins may be an inverted allusion to the covenantal promises about the multitude of Abraham's descendants (Gen 22:17; 15:5 ). The verb ‘they are multiplied’ (eplēthunan) corresponds to the same verb in 2 Kings 21:6; 2 Chr 33:6 , and the doubling of the verb ‘I have sinned’ (cf. v. 12 ) emphasizes the point. The vivid reference to the physical conditions of Manasseh's imprisonment (‘I am unworthy to look up…I am weighted down’, lit. bent down, v. 10 ) complements v. 9c , and his physical condition may be seen to symbolize the spiritual (cf. the variants of v. 10b in Gk. MSS T and 55 and the Didascalia). Manasseh's iron fetters are not mentioned in 2 Kings or 2 Chronicles, but the specification of ‘iron’ in the narrative section preceding the prayer in the Apostolic Constitutions (2.22.10) may indicate that the prayer was composed as an integral part of the narrative preserved in that text. Manasseh's lack of ‘relief’ from his torment also suggests an allusion to the specific conditions of his imprisonment described in that narrative. This particular complaint and its repetition in v. 13b recalls a similar repetition in the confession of the ‘mighty kings’ in 1 Enoch 63:1, 5, 6, 8 ). The language of the second half of v. 10 refers to details in 2 Kings 21:2, 6 and 2 Chr 33:2, 6 .

Manasseh's Petition for Relief and Forgiveness (vv. 11–15 )

(vv. 11–12 ) Introduction

Like v. 8 , these introductory verses provide a transition between what precedes (a double confession of sin; cf. 9b) and what follows (formal petition). The introductory ‘And now’ is formulaic in Jewish prayer (Add Esth 13:15; 14:6, 8; 3 Macc 6:9 ; 1QpGenAp 20:13; Tob 3:12 ; 1 Enoch 9:9–10 ). Again, external condition symbolizes the internal state. Physically bent down and, presumably, kneeling in prayer, he submits his will (heart) to the God against whom he has sinned. The sentiment again recalls Joel 2:13 . The appeal for God's ‘goodness’ (chrēstotēs; cf. agathosynē in 14) is a request for the covenantal blessing (Deut 30:15 , ṭôb, agathon), which God promises to those who repent (Deut 30:1–10 ). The second of the parallel lines in v. 12 is one of several resonances of Ps 51 (cf. Ps 51:3 ).

(vv. 13–14 ) Petition

The language of v. 13ab with its participle, ‘making petition’ (deomenos), and its doubled verb reprise at vv. 11, 12a . Having twice confessed that he has sinned, he now twice begs for relief (Gk. anes) from the suffering (cf. 10c, anesis) that is a consequence of his sin. This implies God's forgiveness, although NRSV may overtranslate the verb as ‘forgive’; cf. ‘relief’ in v. 10 ). The three parallel lines in 13cde expand on the notion in negative form, ‘do not destroy, do not be angry, do not condemn me’. Most serious is the possibility of eternal destruction in the underworld. ‘Evil things’ (Gk. kaka), i.e. the covenantal curses (Deut 30:15 ), contrast with the ‘goodness’ he seeks in vv. 11, 14a . The rationale is expressed in the climax of a triad of divine appellations: ‘Lord the God of our ancestors’ (v. 1 ), ‘Lord, God of the righteous’ (v. 8 ), ‘Lord, the God of those who repent’ (v. 13f ). v. 14a may allude to Ex 33:18–19 , where Moses asks to see God's glory and is promised a vision of God's goodness, which is epitomized in a reference to the covenantal mercy that is now extended to the repentant Manasseh. On the king's unworthiness and need for ‘much mercy’, cf. v. 9cd and his unworthiness due to ‘the multitude of my iniquities’. The wording of v. 14b recalls Ps 51:1 .

(v. 15 ) The Praise of God

The promise to praise God after relief from present distress is typical of the psalms. More importantly, it corresponds with the Chronicler's account of Manasseh's return to the worship of the true God (2 Chr 33:15–17 ), and it echoes specifically the wording of the narrative in Ap. Con. 2.22.16, ‘He worshipped the Lord God alone with all his heart and all his soul all the days of his life.’ Parallel to Manasseh's promise to praise God is the statement, ‘For all the host of heaven sing your praises.’ Coming from one who had instituted the worship of ‘the host of heaven’ (cf. v. 2 ), it is a fitting reinforcement of his repentance from polytheism and a suitable reprise of prayer's opening invocation of the ‘LORD Almighty’. It remains only to assert the eternity of that God's glory (v. 15c ).

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