Among many, to the highest degree dramatic personalities,
commemorated in the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament, one of the most
dramatic is Manasseh — one of the last kings of the southern Hebrew kingdom.
In his time the northern Hebrew kingdom — that of
Israel, was already destroyed and conquered by the blood-thirsty Assyrians,
Salmanassar and Sargon already conquered Samaria, taking dozens, and maybe
hundreds of thousands of Israelites into cruel Assyrian captivity — all the
flower of the nation, and moved the pagans from the Aramaic provinces of
Assyria onto their place.
But the southern kingdom — the Jewish —was still
standing. Politically weak, unstable, trembling before their neighbors,
deteriorated, weakened, for many times being unfaithful to their Lord, the Only
True God, many times falling into the most disgusting idolatry, and multiply
punished for that by God, having lost the greater part of its former
possessions, former wealth and glory, in spite of all that it gave exactly in
those times the inner fruits of the amazing purity and highness, spiritual
fruits, which it had not given even in the best periods of its political
blossoming forth. In the streets of Jerusalem was heard the voice of the
relative of kings, St. Prophet of God Isaiah; were already heard his almost
Evangelical words: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she
should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet
will I not forget thee," "How beautiful upon the mountains are the
feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth
good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation."
There was already heard his bright sermon about
the coming Savor: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was
bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and
with his stripes we are healed " (Is. 49:15; 52:7; 53:4).
The father of Manasseh, King Hezekiah, was pious.
He reverently listened to his relative (an uncle or a cousin), prophet Isaiah,
and the Lord gave to the king bright proves of His power, as in the personal
life of the king, the same way in the destiny of his state: having fallen
fatally ill and having received through prophet Isaiah the notification that
his days were counted, king Hezekiah appealed to God, saying: "Remember
now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a
perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.." And he
cried bitterly. Prophet Isaiah had not yet left the city, when he heard the
Lord’s word: "Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of
David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I
will add unto thy days fifteen years."
Assyrian king Sennacherib, the ruler of the whole
Middle East starting with Caucasus till Egypt and from the Mediterranean sea
till India, intrudes into Judea and surrounds Jerusalem, in order to conquer
and destroy it, as there was destroyed the northern Jewish capital Samaria and
other Israel cities. But Hezekiah prays:
"O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that
dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the
kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, O
LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of
Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. Incline thine ear, O
LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of
Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. And have cast their
gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood
and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O LORD our God,
save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou
art the LORD, even thou only."
And the Lord sends prophet Isaiah to tell the
"Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the
king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there,
nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he
came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the
LORD. For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my
servant David's sake."
"Then the angel of the LORD went forth,
and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five
thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead
corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned" (Is. 37:33-37).
And Hezekiah, who started his rule in the
political restraint and poverty, ends it in wealth and glory, both spiritual
"And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and
honor: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for
precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of
pleasant jewels. Storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil;
and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks. Moreover he provided
him cities, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance: for God had given
him substance very much." (2 Kings 32:27).
Under such impressions, such influences passed the
early youth of future king Manasseh, the youngest and most loved son of King
Hezekiah, the child of his elderly years. It seemed, one could have a hope that
Manasseh — the son of the pious father — would inherit his piety and continue
the business of his father. But that did not happen. The mother of Manasseh was
the Phoenician princess Hephzibah, what meant "in her is my delight."
So with love she was called by her husband, king Hezekiah, when he in his old
age, after God had heard his prayers and gave him 15 years of life more,
married a young, and one might think, beautiful Phoenician.
The influence of the mother-Phoenician upon
Manasseh was extremely pernicious. "Manasseh was twelve years old when he
began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's
name was Hephzibah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD,
after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the
children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his
father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as
did Ahab king of Israel; And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the
two courts of the house of the LORD."
The meaning of these deeds of Manasseh was
intensified by the fact that the temple of God in Jerusalem was at those times
the only temple of True God in the whole world, in the time when the whole
earth was filled with the heathen temples. So, Manasseh did not spare the
unique temple of God, but filled it with Phoenician abominations. The special
indignation of the Jews, who stayed faithful to God, was caused, because
Manasseh "set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the
house" (4 Kings 21:7). Serving to Astarte and its idols (fallos) was
connected with the cultural corruption, cult prostitution of boys and girls.
"And he caused his children to pass
through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom" (2 Kings 33:6). About that in several centuries with
indignation remembers holy prophet Jeremiah: "They have set their
abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it. And they
have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of
Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire" (Jer.7:30
and 32:34). The tophet — is a
Phoenician word, which means the stone platform, on which stood the idol of
Moloch, copper or bronze, inside of which there was set a fire, and when the
idol got very hot, on his stretched hands were put the children, brought as a
sacrifice to Moloch, and were burnt alive. This terrible custom was widely
spread in all Phoenician and Punic cities. About Carthage the Roman writers
reported that there in the festive days hundreds of children were sacrificed to
Moloch and goddess Tanit, both the offspring of the Punic families, and the children
of the prisoners of war).
"Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood
very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another" (4 Kings 21:16).
He ordered to execute the elderly relative of his,
the spiritual leader of his father, great prophet Isaiah. The ancient targums,
and St. Justin the Philosopher ("Against Tyron," p.120) tell that
demonstrating the acute cruelty, Manasseh ordered to saw the prophet in halves
with a wooden saw.
"Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done
these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did,
which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols" (4 Kings 21:11).
Surely, the cruelties and abominations in the
beginning of Manasseh’s rule, until he still was an adolescent, we can assign
to his mother-Phoenician and her servants. But the horror and abomination of
the acts of Manasseh lasted for 45 years, when his mother was already dead. In
these abominations passed his youth and mature life, and his old age
Could there be any hope for the change and moral
revival of such a man? He sinned out of ignorance: he was a son of the
righteous king, he heard almost the whole Evangelic sermon of St. Prophet
Isaiah, his relative. And he trampled on everything, he bathed everything in
blood and dirty, disgusting impurities. Can such a man repent? For there must
be a limit even for the Divine patience. But there is no limit for the Divine
forgiveness. And Manasseh repented.
It is hard to think about it without inner
spiritual anxiety. In our terrible time, which had seen the blood of the
righteous, lavishly shed in the streets of settlements and our cities, and
seeing now in every step of the way abominations, which exceed those Phoenician
ones, we, the children and descendants of the righteous fathers and great
grandfathers, who had violated their faith, we by all means need to know, that
there is no limit for the Divine forgiveness, that for no one, even for us, are
shut the gates of repentance.
In 647 BC Shamash-shum-ukin, the brother of the
Assyrian king Ashurbanipal, who was to inherit the rule of Babylon, raised a
rebellion against his brother, the king, and invited Manasseh, a semi-vassal in
the respect of Assyria king, to join Babylon as an ally against Assyria. In his
turn, Manasseh had to start the negotiations with the equal semi-vassal kings
of the Phoenician cities-states, attracting them into the alliance with
Shamash-shum-ukin. Manasseh agreed but acted indecisively. Meanwhile,
Ashurbanipal decisively intruded into Babylon, routed his rebellious brother,
and the latter, being afraid to find himself in the arms of his enraged and
famous for his cruelty brother, burnt his palace and himself in it.
Ashurbanipal demanded Manasseh to arrive to him into Babylon and report back
about his actions.
The representatives of the Assyrian king arrived
to Jerusalem. The moment was decisive and ominous. The king of Assyria, in the
head of his triumphant, victory-bearing, inspired by the success troops, stayed
in Babylonia, in several days of walk from Judea. If Manasseh does not show
submissiveness, Ashurbanipal, intruding into Judea, would captivate the country
and Jerusalem. It was hard to believe that the Lord would repeat a miracle,
which He revealed to Hezekiah, for Manasseh. Even if Manasseh would show
submissiveness, then maybe this would not happen to his country, but personally
for him there was almost no hope. There Manasseh for the first time revealed
some gleams of kindness and courage: being a 59-year-old man, facing the old
age, he agrees to go to the king of Assyria without resistance.
The messengers of the Assyrian king did not stand
on ceremony with him. They "took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound
him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon" (2 Kings 33:11).
About this event tell the Assyrian chronicles.
Mentioning the kings, defeated by Ashurbanipal, they name "Manasseh, the
king of Yagudu" (Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, Schrader II. 149,239).
In this captivity Manasseh spent several years,
how many exactly, we do not know, but surely not less than 5.
The Holy Bible narrates: "And when he was
in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before
the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and
heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his
kingdom" (2 Kings 33:12 and 13).
The prayer, composed by him in captivity, reached
us, but not in the Hebrew original, which was lost, but in the ancient Greek
translation, though in the Hebrew variant of the Holy Scripture there is some
mention about it (2 Kings 33:19).
It is astounding in its power. Let us cite it in
Russian, church-Slavonic variants, which literally reproduce the Greek text:
O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; who hast made heaven and earth,
with all the ornament thereof; who hast bound the sea by the word of thy
commandment; who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by thy terrible and
glorious name; whom all men fear, and tremble before thy power; for the majesty
of thy glory cannot be borne, and thine angry threatening toward sinners is
importable: but thy merciful promise is immeasurable and unsearchable; for thou
art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and
repentest of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to thy great goodness
hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against thee:
and of thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they
may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not
appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which
have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that
am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My
transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I
am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities.
I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot life up mine head, neither
have any release: for I have provoked thy wrath, and done evil before thee: I
did not thy will, neither kept I thy commandments: I have set up abominations,
and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart,
beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I
acknowledge mine iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech thee, forgive me, O
Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with mine iniquities. Be not angry with me
for ever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of
the earth. For thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me
thou wilt shew all thy goodness: for thou wilt save me, that am unworthy,
according to thy great mercy. Therefore I will praise thee for ever all the
days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise thee, and thine is
the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
From many historical sources, narrating about
those times, we know about the dozens and hundreds of prisoners, who suffered
in the cruelest Assyrian bondage. Rarely any nation even in the heathen
antiquity had such insatiable thirst for tortures and murders. "It is
in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few" — says about
Assyria prophet Isaiah. He calls the Assyrians "a fierce people."
And St. Prophet Nahum calls the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, "the
bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery."
Many of the proud and cruel statements of the
Assyrian kings about how many countries they ruined, how many cities they
destroyed, how many people they killed, made blind, have driven into the
bondage. They boast with their cruelty, mercilessness, ruthlessness. By these
boastful monuments are filled the contemporary museums and collections of
Meanwhile, the voice of their victims, those whom
they captivated and tortured, is almost unheard of, muffled by the multitude of
the past centuries, and also by the fact that probably no one came out of the
Assyrian bondage alive, to tell about one’s own sufferings, and those of the
co-prisoners, with only one exception: with the exception of the given here
prayer of king Manasseh. Therefore we can say that in it he speaks not only for
himself but for the hundreds of thousands of those, who, like him, were
suffering in terrible Assyrian prisons. More than that, he speaks on the behalf
of the millions of other prisoners, including the contemporary ones.
When he says: "I am bowed down with many
iron bands, that I cannot life up mine head, neither have any release"
—he does not speak figuratively. He speaks of his real physical state, when he
could not lift his head, which was bound by iron chains and bands. On the
contrary, he could only say figuratively that he "bows the knee of his
heart," — he could not kneel physically to pray at that time.
For us, as for all the rest of the readers of his
astounding prayer, in these definite images is hidden the important and
profound figural meaning, for the sin bounds and ties the man not less severely
than the Assyrian prison-guards.
Returning to Jerusalem, Manasseh tried as much as
possible to efface the harm, caused by him. "Then Manasseh knew that
the LORD he was God…And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the
house of the LORD, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the
house of the LORD, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city…And he
repaired the altar of the LORD, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and
thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel"
(2 Kings 33:13-16).
It is hard to say why the Assyrians took mercy on
him, against their customs. Maybe, having not conquered Judea, they thought it
to be wiser to put on the Jerusalem throne the man, who saw their power and was
amazed by their cruel authority. We can only guess that it was on the Divine
will that this heavily sinned and ardently repented king was let out of these
terrible bounds, so that he would tell the world about his experience and would
pass his fiery prayer to all the repenting generations, showing by his example
the necessary for all people truth, that there is no limit for the Divine
All-Forgiveness, and the gates of repentance are shut for no one.
Entered into the order of the Great Compline and
placed in all the Christian book of Hours, read in the Orthodox churches daily
in the time of Great Lent and many times in the rest of the year, having found
a response thanks to that in the hundreds of millions of hearts, this prayer of
Manasseh, the king of Judea, composed in the stinking darkness of the Assyrian
prison, sounds, of course, infinitely louder than all those boastful monuments
of the Assyrian rulers, superficially recalled of just for some minutes by the
visitors of museums and the compilers of historical collections, testifying by
it that the power of God is fulfilled in infirmity since the ancient years till
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