Lessons from the Prayer of Manasseh
One of the most difficult tasks for any leader, pastor, parent, or grandparent, is not success but succession. Even some of the best leaders who have declared in their conference-talks that “There is no success without a successor!” have often actually ended their leadership journey without a successor! Even biblical leaders rarely succeeded at siring a worthy successor. This predicament is pronounced in the relationship between King Hezekiah and his son Manasseh. Manasseh had two claims to fame (or infamy). Firstly, he was Israel’s longest serving king. Secondly, he was Israel’s most evil king. Yet, in his final days he became a trophy of God’s redemption. What can we learn about passing the baton on from the transition from Hezekiah to Manasseh? This is what we need to explore.
¶ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation,
fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption
THE HISTORIC BATON TRANSITION THAT WENT WRONG
The story of the transition of the throne from King Hezekiah to his heir, Manasseh, is perhaps one of the greatest examples of the Redeemer’s power to transform failure and hopelessness into a glorious demonstration of how the All-Powerful can rescue, restore, and redeem. This redemptive transition should give every caring pastor, grandparent, or parent who cares for their wayward son or daughter, encouragement that their prayers for their children are not in vain, and the baton of goodness and faithfulness may yet still be grasped and carried forward toward the finish line.
1. KING DAVID’S SUCCESSION CHALLENGE
David was the archetypal king. He was particularly chosen by God Himself to lead the people of God who themselves had been commissioned to be the divine instruments of redemption to the world. The Lord told the prophet Samuel that Israel’s current king had now been disqualified from reigning due to his flagrant unfaithfulness and that God had sought out and found “a man after God’s own heart.”
Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’
But David was not chosen because he was incapable of failing. On the contrary, he was chosen despite his propensity to fail. After his coronation as the king of the united Israel, his transition to his successor was bloody and very messy. This shows us that even greatest leaders have struggled to do transition well. Theoretically it appears that David did much to ensure a smooth transition to his son Solomon. It appears that his inner leadership team were fully aware that Solomon was to the be chosen heir to the throne of Israel. The only problem seems to be that someone forgot to tell his eldest son Adonijah.
¶ Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?” He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom. He conferred with Joab the son of Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest. And they followed Adonijah and helped him.
First Kings 1:5-7
Good Succession Transition Requires Faithfulness Not Success
In many ways David was successful. This Scriptures tell us that was God’s favour, “And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him” (1Sam. 18:14). But, like many super-successful people who have enjoyed power, fortune, respect, and fame, David’s marriage/s and relationships with his children was often troubled and tragic. Yet by God’s grace David was able to able to snap out of the resultant depression and dark patches caused by the strife and chaos of strained marriage and parenting. He did by doing two simultaneous things that anyone else struggling with mental health could also benefit from. Firstly, in his gloom and despair his focus was on himself. His self-talk was probably typical of those spiralling into glumness. “I’m a terrible person.” “I’m rotten to the core – everything I do always goes wrong.” “Nothing I do is ever good enough.” But, the first thing David did to counter this was to stop listening to himself and start talking to himself – but not about himself – but about God’s faithfulness toward him.
¶ Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation
Psalm 42:5; 11; 43:5
“But the first thing David did was to stop listening to himself – and start talking to himself- but not about himself — but about God’s faithfulness toward him.”
The second of the two things that David continually did to snap out of him glumness was to focus on God by worshiping Him through praise. This is where spiritual warfare really begins. The enemy of our soul wants to distract all people (especially the child of God) from focusing on the Lover of our soul. This satanic distraction can come dressed in the guise of false religion, false causes (such as social justice, environmental activism, apocalyptic conspiracies, anti-capitalism), hurts and offences and unforgiveness, and even glum self-focus. The solution to any of these distractions is the same: worship God with praises. This is why congregational worship is so important and so therapeutic for our souls because when we sing our praises we are refocusing on the One who deserves our full attention.
By doing these two things (stop focusing on himself and begin focusing on God) David was enabled to repent and find forgiveness from God.
¶ I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
This is what qualified David as a man after God’s own heart. It is also what enabled him to be faithful to God. That is, despite however we may think that David failed in adequately preparing his son/heir/successor, he did the best he could. This becomes very apparent when we read through the first ten chapters of the Book of Proverbs where we read of how David sought to disciple Solomon into a wise man. Sometimes all a parent can do is their best. David did. And when it comes to passing on the baton there is a divine expectation that this is what we will also do – be faithful to God and do the best we can.
¶ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own
generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption
2. DAVID’S SUCCESSOR CHALLENGE
Despite Solomon’s gradual slide into idolatry and unfaithfulness to God, God had made a promise to David that from his descendants would come the Messiah who site on David’s throne. Solomon assumed that he might be the promised one (1Kings 8:20). But he wasn’t.
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Second Samuel 7:12-13
Almost immediately this promise to David looked like it could not be fulfilled. Not only did it seem like Solomon had become an apostate, his son Rehoboam got off to a disastrous start which led to the civil war between between the norther tribes of Ephraim and the southern tribes of Judah. Eventually the apostasy of the northern tribes would see them expelled from the Promised Land and become designated as “the last tribes of Israel”. But somehow, miraculously, the Lord preserved the line of David and even produced several godly descendants – Asa (1Kings 15:11), Jehoshaphat (1Kings 22:41, 43), Jehoash (2Kings 12:2), Amaziah (2Kings 14:3), Azariah (2Kings 15:3), Hezekiah (2Kings 18:1, 5), and, Josiah (2Kings 22:1-2). What’s interesting is just how perilously close to being wiped out the family line of David was and how powerfully God intervened to ensure that it didn’t. Satan had moved Kings Ahaz and Manasseh to even slaughter their own sons to demons (2Kings 16:3-4; 21:6) yet the Lord ensured that sons would yet be born to them and then ensured that these sons would be discipled by a godly priest or prophet.
When it comes to passing on the baton there is a divine expectation that this is what we will do – be faithful to God and do the best we can.
The Prayers Offered in One Generation Can Effect Generations to Come
Someone must have been praying. And based on what we read in Second Samuel 7 of David’s prayerful response to the prophet Nathan’s word from God we can well imagine that David himself prayed prayers that lingered for generations to come.
Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears. And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods? And you established for yourself your people Israel to be your people forever. And you, O LORD, became their God. And now, O LORD God, confirm forever the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, and do as you have spoken.
Second Samuel 7:21-25
Perhaps we have just discovered another component in how the baton can be passed effectively — it involves much prayer. What we can see from the lineage of David is that our prayers can “live” beyond us. Parents-to-be can pray for their children-yet-born — and Grand-parents-to-be can pray for their great-grand-children-to-be to live as godly and sincere followers of Christ.
I sometimes wonder what Mr and Mrs Graham in the early 1800s in North Carolina were praying as they started out in their marriage. Their grandson who would one day be born and grow to be a dairy farmer and bear the names William Franklin and their family name, Graham. He would also name his son (and their great-grandson), William Franklin II (the second), but would be known by Kings, Queens, Presidents, and Prime Ministers as Billy. His son, (and their great-great-grandson) would be named William Franklin III, and be known by all as Franklin. His son, and their great-great-great-grandson would also be named William Franklin IV, and be known by all as, Will. The remarkable thing about the prayers of Mr and Mrs Graham in the early 1800s was that each of these descendants have had a peculiar and remarkable anointing on their lives to lead others to Christ. But knowing what I now know about the Grahams, I am sure that each successive generation has also prayed for the next generation and generations to come.
3. WHEN SUCCESSION GOES WRONG
Even when the succession baton passing doesn’t seem to have been successful, God still has a way redeeming. Sometimes, as we see in His warning to the seven Asian churches in Revelation, this includes ending something. Every time I drive past a church that has long closed, I am reminded of this warning. I was recently reminded in reading C.K. Barrett’s Commentary on Paul’s First Epistle To The Corinthians that the Church is indestructible, but when a church ceases to be a part of the Church because it no longer honours God and His Word, unless it repents, it will be closed by the Lord.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
The editor of Second Chronicles (who was probably Ezra) revealed something quite remarkable about Judah’s most wicked king. He repented.
Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favour 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.
Second Chronicles 33:11-13
Even though Manasseh done irreversible damage to the future of Judah and David’s last royal descendants, God was still merciful to Manasseh. This tells us an enormous amount about God’s character. Manasseh had nearly brought the godly line of King David, from which the Messiah was also to descend from, by offering his sons as human sacrifices to demon false gods. Manasseh was also responsible for the martyrdom of the Lord’s prophet, Isaiah (Heb. 11:37). The Lord had a lot of reasons to smite Manasseh. But He didn’t. Instead, the Lord intervened in the life of this atrociously wicked man and brought him to repentance. Let us not think for one nanosecond that just because God has a cosmic To-Do list (to redeem His creation) that He is merely a Task-driven God. He is a Father who longs to redeem His wayward sons and daughters — even in their final moments. After Manasseh repented and cried out to God for forgiveness, “God was moved by his entreaty” and restored him to his throne.
¶ Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the LORD, the God of Israel, behold, they are in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. And his prayer, and how God was moved by his entreaty, and all his sin and his faithlessness, and the sites on which he built high places and set up the Asherim and the images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the Chronicles of the Seers.
Second Chronicles 33:18-19
Let us not think for one nanosecond that just because God has a cosmic To-Do list (to redeem His creation) that He is merely a Task-driven God.
Second Chronicles 33:19 refers to a record of Manasseh’s prayer of repentance being recorded in “The Chronicles of the Seers”. It seems that either Manasseh wanted others to know what he prayed to God. While Second Chronicles doesn’t tell precisely what he prayed, it does tell us that it was documented. From the second century BC a copy of this prayer was widely known among Jews. Later scholars doubted its authenticity until it was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It could be pseudepigraphal (a document purporting to be written by someone but actually written by someone else). But its discovery among the Dead Sea Scrolls gives it the possibility that it is a genuine record of what Manasseh prayed. Either way, it’s a beautiful prayer:
THE PRAYER OF MANASSEH
1 Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors,
God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
and their righteous children,
2 you made heaven and earth
with all their beauty.
3 You set limits for the sea
by speaking your command.
You closed the bottomless pit,
and sealed it by your powerful
and glorious name.
4 All things fear you and tremble
in your presence,
5 because no one can endure
the brightness of your glory.
No one can resist the fury
of your threat against sinners.
6 But your promised mercies
are beyond measure and imagination,
7a because you are the highest, Lord,
kind, patient, and merciful,
and you feel sorry over human troubles.
b You, Lord, according to
your gentle grace,
promised forgiveness to those
who are sorry for their sins.
In your great mercy,
you allowed sinners to turn
from their sins and find salvation.
8 Therefore, Lord,
God of those who do what is right,
you didn’t offer
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
who didn’t sin against you,
a chance to change their hearts and lives.
But you offer me, the sinner,
the chance to change my heart and life,
9a because my sins outnumbered
the grains of sand by the sea.
My sins are many, Lord; they are many.
I am not worthy to look up,
to gaze into heaven
because of my many sins.
9b Now, Lord, I suffer justly.
I deserve the troubles I encounter.
Already I’m caught in a trap.
10 I’m held down by iron chains
so that I can’t lift up my head
because of my sins.
There’s no relief for me,
because I made you angry,
doing wrong in front of your face,
setting up false gods
and committing offences.
11 Now I bow down before you
from deep within my heart,
begging for your kindness.
12 I have sinned, Lord, I have sinned,
and I know the laws I’ve broken.
13 I’m praying, begging you:
Forgive me, Lord, forgive me.
Don’t destroy me along with my sins.
Don’t keep my bad deeds
in your memory forever.
Don’t sentence me to the earth’s depths,
for you, Lord, are the God
of those who turn from their sins.
14 In me you’ll show how kind you are.
Although I’m not worthy,
you’ll save me according
to your great mercy.
15 I will praise you continuously
all the days of my life,
because all of heaven’s forces praise you,
and the glory is yours
forever and always. Amen.
How To Pass The Baton
Be faithful to what God has called you to do, in, and to, your generation. “Stay in your lane.”
Be prayerful about the next generation/s.
Sow into the future generation through encouragement and mentoring.
When things go wrong, don’t despair, worship.
If God gives you a successor, give them the baton and let them run with it. Then cheer them on from a distance (if only in prayer).
If your successor fails, let God deal with it. Remember Manasseh.
Be kind to children and teens and where possible teach/train/coach them. (Recognise the value of team sport in shaping a young person, and the value of learning a musical instrument.)
The day will come when we as a church will have to transition my pastoral appointment to a successor. I hope my survey of biblical transitions where the baton has been passed well reveals that when interested people pray about this it is more probable to invoke God’s blessing. And if there is anything to learn from the Graham family it is also possible that such prayers can also be effective for successive generational transitions of the baton. My prayer is that Legana Christian Church will be faithful to Christ and His Cause for generations to come so that even in four hundred years there will be a bright spiritual flame burning with passion for Jesus — especially among the children and youth of our then church so that hundreds of the members of their generation to will also turn to the Redeemer.
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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