Hezekiah: A True Priest
2 Chronicles 30
WE have seen what a wonderful reformation was wrought by Hezekiah. We have been startled to find how much can be done by one man when he gathers himself up into his whole strength, and moves step by step under the inspiration of sacred conviction. Everything was repaired, restored, returned to its place, and now Hezekiah longs to see all Israel at worship. The idea is familiar to us, but it was novel under the circumstances indicated in this chapter. "Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah" ( 2 Chronicles 30:1). Can there be anything more? A very significant line follows—"and wrote letters also." Blessed be God for that extending, including, pathetic term!—such an extension of the invitation as includes others. "And wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh." He would have the northern kingdom included; he would forget all separations and boundaries; his enthusiam should overbear all mere details, and would weld together into one sacred consolidation the whole family of Israel. That family had been split up, had gone to war with itself, had become haughty as between one branch and another, and had receded with the object of founding competitive kingdoms or provinces. Under the inspiration of a sublime religious enthusiasm, Hezekiah would have them all meeting en masse. If anything can overcome littleness, bitterness, bigotry, sense of transient or permanent wrong, it is a great pentecostal enthusiasm. It is not a little fire that can melt some metals; we need a whole furnace, with men to watch it that it do not lose a single degree of its heat, that it be kept up to its highest possible atmosphere, so that the most stubborn metals may give way and flow out like oil. When the nation is caught in a pentecostal enthusiasm in relation to the cross, men will forgive one another all round with multiplied pardons; yea, they will so forgive as not to know they have done it, as a merely mechanical act; it will be part of their very worship, an essential feature of their own personal and spiritual life. Here is the operation of a noble instinct. When men are truly hospitable and plan a feast, how the list of guests grows! At first the proposition is for a definite number, but as a sense of hospitality warms the heart, the heart thinks of one more, and another; then suddenly the intending host says, What if this be the time for inviting—? and then after a pause he names an alienated member of the family, saying, in hopeful monologue, This may be the time for reconciliation: who can tell? At all events he shall have a letter: that letter may be as a gospel both to him and to me. And then he bethinks himself of another who may as well be invited, until he has exhausted his space, until he has called "all Israel and Judah," and written "letters also to Ephraim and Prayer of Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel." There is a hospitality that is evangelistic. There is a movement of the heart in hospitable directions, which being properly interpreted means that God has sent forth his messengers to all hungering and thirsting men, saying that his banquet is ready. Have we lost enthusiasm? Are we still only bigots and not believers? Are we still but constables of orthodoxy, and not the preachers of the great redemption? Is the Old Testament to exceed the New in largeness of thought, in inclusiveness of generosity? Is it better to be citizens of an empire that never saw Christ in the flesh, than to be citizens of a commonwealth which boasts his name? It would be hard work to outdo Old Testament saints in anything that is good; they stand well on the page of history; and when they were true of heart what music they made in the wilderness, and in the city, and in the house of God! When they sang, the only thing they were short of was space; it seemed as if such a surging song needed a new creation for a theatre. A pity it is if we are living retrogressively, backing out of the world, instead of going forward with the step and the port of conquerors.
The passover was held. A most remarkable statement is made in connection with that event. True worship had utterly gone down; it was impossible to keep the passover at the time, and to keep it in the appointed way, but still it was kept, at a time and after a fashion peculiarly its own. Read these words—
"Yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written" ( 2 Chronicles 30:18).
There is a prescribed religion, an orderly worship, a programme lined out in most minute detail. The passover was to be eaten upon a certain day, and was to be eaten multitudinously, that is to say, all the people were to be there in their thousands. It was not to be eaten personally and individually, or snatched at in any irregular form; it was meant to be the feast of the nation. But for various reasons the law could not be carried out literally. What did the people then do? Just what we are called upon to do: they did what was possible. We must not stand too much upon literal ceremony. If we cannot all come together to worship God in one mass, those who can come must come and do their best. If men cannot all come on the appointed day—sweet, queenly Sabbath day—let them come in at some odd time and touch the altar; it shall be as if they had come on the appointed morning; God will accept their time; God will put himself at the disposal of men whose time is not their own: He is a merciful God; he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust; he knows all the conditions which surround us and limit us, and when we cannot rise to the rigorous requirements of the law he will meet us more than half-way. Jesus answered prayers on the roadside. There was a temple and there was an hour of prayer:—"Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." That was right. But Jesus Christ did a great deal of irregular work; he made the hedgeside a sanctuary, he made the open turnpike a way that lay straight up to heaven and ended at the very throne of God. When blind men cried to him, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon us!" he did not refer to the temple or to the hour of prayer. Where the prayer was the answer was; where needy man is Christ will not be absent. The one condition of his presence is conscious need. Let the soul say, I want him, I pine for him—O that I knew where I might find him! and he will be there. He loves the heart that yearns for him. We need not be alone. Our solitude is a proof of our impiety. Faith lives in perpetual fellowship, hope is never out of society, yet never in it in any sense that trammels its liberty or beclouds its outlook. On the other hand, we need not make ourselves eccentric worshippers merely for the sake of being eccentric. Under the circumstances detailed in the narrative the people could do no other. Things had so disordered themselves, and all religious life had fallen into such desuetude or dilapidation, that it was impossible to keep up a punctilious observance of times and numbers and places. So the passover was eaten "otherwise than it was written." If we do not urge this term "otherwise" to false issues it may really be a most comfortable word in the matter of religious education. Apply it to irregular places, and it covers them and consecrates them. Men who cannot get to the altar in the temple may find an altar at their work, even when they have to work on the Sabbath day, as on the sea and in difficult circumstances—colonial life, wilderness life, relations that involve anxiety and danger. A man may be in church when he is thousands of miles away from any building known by that name. Let us apply this idea to other things. It is an extraordinary thing that all men do not think alike. But they are as little divided upon religion as they are upon many other subjects which are great. Men are even divided in their political thoughts, strange as it may appear—citizens of the same country, patriots of the same empire, living and dying for the land in which they were born; yet sometimes even politicians speak loudly to one another, and loudly about one another. So in the religious world there is no monotony. Every man builds a universe for himself, even when he says nothing about it. There is a chamber of imagery in the heart, in the soul, in that spiritual mystery which lies within and makes us men. But where we are sincere, not according to the light we have, but sincere in desiring more light, we shall eat the passover, though we may eat it "otherwise than it is written ": no formal Church may recognise us, no well-organised community may look upon us otherwise than with suspicion; yet all the while we may be eating bread with the Lord and having our hunger grow by what it feeds on, for having tasted that he is gracious we want to eat and to drink abundantly, endlessly, saying, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
Hezekiah showed himself to be a true priest as well as a true king, for recognising the irregularity of the work he prayed for them, saying,
"The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary" ( 2 Chronicles 30:18-19).
Did the whole matter end in spiritual excitement? Was this enthusiasm a swelling billow which, having heaved itself to the utmost, subsided with more or less of foam as it broke upon the shore? No. Out of this enthusiasm came iconoclasm, image-breaking, the spirit of destruction. That is the real meaning of salvation. The meaning of salvation is destruction, as well as preservation. As saints go up in their structure, and in all spiritual value and nobleness, devils go down: as heaven enlarges, hell curtails—would God its last cinder would burn itself out and leave the universe clear of its awful smoke!
Hezekiah ("strength of Jehovah"), twelfth king of Judah, son of the apostate Ahaz and Abi (or Abijah), ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, b.c726. Since, however, Ahaz died at the age of thirty-six, some prefer to make Hezekiah only twenty years old at his accession, as otherwise he must have been born when Ahaz was a boy of eleven years old. This indeed is not impossible; but, if any change be desirable, it is better to suppose that Ahaz was twenty-five and not twenty years old at his accession.
Hezekiah was one of the three most perfect kings of Judah ( 2 Kings 18:5). His first act was to purge, and repair, and reopen, with splendid sacrifices and perfect ceremonial, the Temple, which had been despoiled and neglected during the careless and idolatrous reign of his father. This consecration was accompanied by a revival of the theocratic spirit, so strict as not even to spare "the high places," which, although tolerated by many well-intentioned kings, had naturally been profaned by the worship of images and Asherahs ( 2 Kings 18:4). A still more decisive act was the destruction of a brazen serpent, said to have been the one used by Moses in the miraculous healing of the Israelites ( Numbers 21:9), which had been removed to Jerusalem, and had become, "down to those days," an object of adoration, partly in consequence of its venerable character as a relic, and partly perhaps from some dim tendencies to the ophiolatry common in ancient times. To break up a figure so curious and so highly honoured showed a strong mind, as well as a clear-sighted zeal, and Hezekiah briefly justified his procedure by calling the image "a brazen thing." When the kingdom of Israel had fallen, Hezekiah extended his pious endeavours to Ephraim and Prayer of Manasseh, and by inviting the scattered inhabitants to a peculiar Passover kindled their indignation also against the idolatrous practices which still continued among them. This passover was, from the necessities of the case, celebrated at an unusual, though not illegal ( Numbers 9:10-11) time, and by an excess of Levitical zeal, it was continued for the unprecedented period of fourteen days. For these latter facts the chronicler ( 2 Chronicles 29, 2 Chronicles 30, 2 Chronicles 31) is our sole authority, and he characteristically narrates them at great length. It would appear at first sight that this passover was celebrated immediately after the purification of the Temple; but careful consideration makes it almost certain that it could not have taken place before the sixth year of Hezekiah"s reign, when the fall of Samaria had stricken remorseful terror into the heart of Israel ( 2 Chronicles 31:1; 2 Chronicles 30:6, 2 Chronicles 30:9).—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
Almighty God, fill our hearts with thy light; establish our confidence in thy righteousness; lead us in the paths of uprightness for thy name"s sake. All the work is thine; we cannot do it, it is too great for us; but thou hast made us willing in the day of thy power that thou shouldest do it within us and for us altogether. We would yield ourselves to thy ministry, thou holy Spirit; we want light, rest, peace, hope. Thou knowest how many things are against us, always fighting against our prayer and our best desire and our tenderest longing; but they that are for us are more than they that be against us. We will trust in the living God, we will look unto the Almighty for defence, we will stand within the sanctuary of thy righteousness, and thy love, and thy pity; then shall we be comforted, how dark soever the sky may be, and how uncertain soever may be the blessings of this life. Teach us the right method of looking at all things; may we not be busy here and there, and let the king pass by without seeing him; for then we should play the fool before God, and spend our industry in vanity. Give us to feel what is important, and what is not important; and may we, having ascertained that the soul is more than the body, and the future more than the present, and the spiritual greater than the material, betake ourselves with faithful constancy to the reading of thy will, and to obedience to all thy precepts. The time past should more than suffice, for we have wasted it: O that we had hearkened unto thy law and kept thy commandments! for then had our peace flowed like a river, and our righteousness like the waves of the sea. We bless thee for the power to repent, we thank thee that we are not reduced to the callousness which does not feel how wicked we have been; whilst we can thrill under thy rebukes, we shall have hope in thy mercy; because we know the terrors of thy judgment, we shall surely be led to the tenderness of thy cross. Grant unto us a manifold Christian experience, rich, noble, generous; may we be able to appreciate all the way of life, and to sympathise with all men in all the variety of their experience; then shall we be shepherds appointed by Christ, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, and accepting Christ as the one guide and Lord. Blessed Saviour, mighty Son of God, wounded but not destroyed, buried but risen again, to thee we come with full hearts, with memory charged with thankfulness, and again we make oath and say that by the grace of God we will be Christ"s evermore. Help us through the weariness of life; whisper to us that life is but a poor dull grey day which prepares the way for the dawn of heaven; then shall we be patient, resigned, quiet, and our ears shall be quickened to hear the sounds of our Lord"s coming, and many a time we shall be surprised into sudden and ecstatic joy. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 30". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34