The Apocrypha’s “The Prayer of Manasseh”: The Right Prayer for the Right Occasion
I have deep appreciation for ceremony, like the singing of the Star Spangled Banner before sporting events. This particular song was a mystery to me for years, in part because I didn’t know the words, and, as my third grade teacher Mrs. Matthews discovered, utterly appalling that I didn’t know them (nor, to be fair, did anyone else in the class when she asked). I eventually learned the words—frequent Flyers games will drill this song into you—and, when I did, felt like certain mysteries had been revealed, like learning what some of the words actually were, like a rampart.
I imagine this song gets played because it galvanizes the audience by hitting that patriotic note. Prayers have a similar effect, though different purpose, depending on the context. For example, at some point, perhaps to ensure that children sleep well under the watchful eye of God—or at least put religiously-inclined people at ease with this notion, Children were taught the familiar bedtime prayer that begins with: “Now I lay me down to sleep….” I, however, know this best when it’s used in Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
Alcoholics have their chosen Serenity prayer, which apparently lends them mental strength in their struggle for sobriety: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” I know this from countless movies and TV shows.
I also learned of Psalm 23:4, recited for comfort when someone is dying: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” The first time I read the Bible, I was excited: finally, something I recognize!
Given the ubiquity of these particular prayers matched with particular uses, it’s clear that people do best with fewer options: at some point, a person mined the Bible for the best, most well-suited prayer for an occasion, and by selecting one, people seem to take comfort the moment the prayer begins. This perhaps explains why other prayers have been cut, and The Apocrypha’s “The Prayer of Mannasseh,” cut from the Old Testament, is an example of why.
Apparently, this is the prayer referred to in 2 Chronicles 33:18. Basically, the prayer praises God, admits the faults of the speaker, provides a brief history lesson to demonstrate that the speaker understands those who have come before (such as Abraham), and ends by stating that the speaker would like not be destroyed when he sins and will constantly praise God.
The prayer is nice—it carries a lot of appropriate, seemingly genuine religious sentiment, but unlike other popular prayers, it doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, which probably explains why it was cut from the Old Testament: you wouldn’t want to confuse the audience when it comes time to praise God and acknowledge your short comings. I’m no expert, so I can’t tell you which prayer/Bible excerpt best accomplishes that task, but it’s clear that this one is not it—why else would it have been cut?