Last week, we saw the beginnings of King Hezekiah. His heart was for the Lord and so he immediately focused his actions on revival in the land of Judah. That meant his first order of business was to restore the temple to operation. Chapter 29 showed us that the temple was repaired and the sacrifices were restarted.
With a few exceptions, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah had been enemies for most of the last 220 years. But now that Judah was turning back to the Lord, King Hezekiah had upon his heart a burden to see Israel return as well. He sent letters of invitation to the upcoming Passover celebration.
According to the Law of God, the Passover was to be celebrated on the 14th of the first month (Lev. 23:5). But the temple repairs and restoration had taken 16 days, and there wasn't time for enough priests to ready themselves, or for all the Jews to respond to the invitation and travel to Jerusalem.
And so they decided to celebrate Passover a month later than the Law prescribed. Was this wrong? It was right in their eyes, but it is important that we never fall into making that the standard of right and wrong. In the book of Judges, we read of several very wicked times in Israel's history, when
Judg. 17:6 ...every man did what was right in his own eyes.
When we determine what is right, then who is to say that my right is your right? That is how we have gotten to such moral relativism in the world today. No, there must be a higher standard than simply, "If it seems right, it must be right."
That standard is the Word of God. God is the One Who has determined right and truth. What would God's Word say about celebrating the Passover a month late?
Amazingly enough, a similar situation had arisen during the days of Moses. In Numbers 9, we see that there were some men who were unable to celebrate Passover on the 14th of the month, because they were unclean. The Lord told Moses that the "make-up day" for Passover would be on the 14th of the second month (Num. 9:11).
And so here is our standard of measure to be able to say, "Yes, this was a good thing."
Hezekiah's letter of invitation to celebrate the Passover was far from politically correct. He had the audacity to actually tell them the truth - something that human beings have rarely wanted to hear.
The fact was, they had been unfaithful to God, but this was their chance to make things right. Instead of remaining in their stubborn unfaithfulness, they should come to the temple for Passover, and watch God's mercy and compassion manifest itself.
Some have been confused by Hezekiah's statements regarding "those of you who escaped and are left from the hand of the kings of Assyria" (30:6) and their brothers and sons returning from captivity (30:9).
Our first instinct is to equate is with the Assyrian Captivity. However, that would not happen for another few years. But just because the complete devastation of the Assyrian Captivity (in which all of Israel was killed or taken captive, to die in foreign lands) hadn't happened yet, that doesn't mean they haven't already experienced a big taste of it.
You see, we must remember that Assyria was the world empire at this point. And over the last 13 years, they had attacked northern Israel and carried many of them away captive. In 2Kings 15 we read,
2Kings 15:29 In the days of PEH-kakh king of Israel, Tig-LATH Pil-EH-ser king of Assyria came and captured Ee-YONE and Aw-BALE Bayth Ma-a-KAW and Yaw-NO-akh and KEH-desh and Khaw-TSORE and Ghil-AWD and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.
The Assyrians had made an incursion into the northern part of Israel, and had carried many of them away captive. But as terrible as that had been, the big one was yet to come.
But at this point, it is still not inevitable. If Israel repents, Hezekiah knows that God will have compassion and spare them. But if they don't, then the Assyrian Captivity is less than five years in their future.
Unfortunately, not everyone had the same heart to see Passover celebrated as King Hezekiah did. When the invitations were delivered, they weren't well-received. The language here (saw-KHAK law-AG) describes the people receiving the message as making sport of their laughing - stammering and making a game out of how much they could belittle the idea of being invited to come to Jerusalem for the Passover.
Fortunately, some did receive Hezekiah's rebuke and invitation. Three of the tribes, Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun, had men who humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. (We will see in verse 18 that Issachar was also represented.)
The tribes of Asher, Manasseh, Zebulun, and Issachar all bordered the tribe of Naphtali, where the Assyrians had invaded. It is quite possible that the fear of God was put in them when they realized how close to destruction they really were.
People often say not to preach hellfire and brimstone. That loving people into the kingdom of God is necessary, and that scaring them into the kingdom is manipulative and wrong. However, Jesus seemed to think that scaring people into heaven was just fine. Many of his teachings are warning against hell-fire.
Luke 12:4-5 "I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!"
Again, a confusing statement to some. Had they gathered at Jerusalem for the Passover, or for the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
The Feast of Unleavened Bread is the week-long celebration that happens after the day of Passover. In Leviticus 23, God said,
Lev. 23:5-6 "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD'S Passover. Then on the fifteenth day of the same month there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; for seven days you shall eat unleavened bread."
And so Passover and Unleavened Bread were back-to-back over the course of eight days. Consequently, the Passover holiday began to be frequently referred to as Unleavened Bread, as well as Unleavened Bread being called Passover (Mark 14:1; 14:12; Luke 22:1; 22:7). It was all like one big holiday to them, and they called it as such, in the same way that we apply the word "Christmastime" to more than just December 25th.
A huge assembly of people had gathered at Jerusalem to celebrated Passover/Unleavened Bread.
The people were in Jerusalem to honor the Lord God. But all around Jerusalem, they saw altars to other gods, where people would offer sacrifices and incense. This was the same place that the Levites had carted off the trash in the temple (2Chron. 29:16) during the restoration project we saw in the previous chapter.
The instruments of idolatry were treated as trash. Saints, this is a vital thing for us to see. When we rid ourselves of the worldly practices and things associated with them, we often make the mistake of passing them on. Pot gets handed off to a friend instead of flushed. Secular CDs get taken to the pawnshop instead of the garbage can. I can think of no biblical justification for not destroying these things.
In the city of Ephesus, Paul was preaching the Word daily, and people were being saved, and repenting of their former ways.
Acts 19:18-19 Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
When I got saved, I had a huge collection of books ranging from witchcraft and satanism to existentialism, Hinduism, and telekenitics. I kept them around for quite awhile, thinking that they had great monetary value, but one day the Spirit led me to burn them all in a barrel in the backyard.
A few years ago, a brother in our fellowship invited me to go to the firing range with himl. He brought along his extensive secular CD collection, and we had a great time blowing them to smithereens!
I wonder what's in your house today that the Lord would desire to see burned, bagged, or bashed?
In chapter 29, we saw that the Levites had been more zealous to consecrate themselves than the priests had been, and were serving in priestly functions because not enough priests had been diligent to purify themselves. Now, as this huge crowd has gathered for Passover, the problem is multiplied.
So once again, the Levites are doing the work of the priests, until the priests are shamed into consecrating themselves, and stepping up to do the work.
Saints, this is yet another reminder that as priests of the most High God, we must be ready to minister at all times. Paul told Timothy,
2Tim. 4:1-2 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season (and) out of season...
Be ready in season out of season, for that is what Paul's original words were. When you're out of season, make sure you're still in season, ready at all times, no matter what is happening. That you're never surprised. If you're a Sunday School teacher, you should be ready right now to teach a class, even if you're not on the schedule for another two weeks. If you are a man of God, you should be so fresh in your prayer and devotions that I can say, "Hey, I need you to cover tonight's home Bible study." If you're a pastor or elder, your relationship with God must be so sharp that I can come down with the stomach flu ten minutes before service, and you've got it covered no problem at all. That's what it is to be ready in season out of season.
Many of the people were also not purified. But they had a desire to worship the Lord in Passover. What should be done? Should they be sent home with a, "Sorry Charlie. Try again next year"?
There are times when absolute purification is an impossibilty, and you have to absolutely rely upon the mercy of God. In the late 1970's, my pastor Jon Courson, was preaching to the pot growers in the Applegate Valley. They lived in a huge treehouse community, and he would go and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. In a massive move of the Spirit, they turned to Christ and became born again. He called for them to be baptized, and they did - standing in Yale Creek, stark naked! Now what should he do? Tell them, "No, go home and put on some swimsuits! Put on your bathrobes"? No, he baptized them, and rejoiced with them. That night, they burned all their pot in a huge bonfire, and many of them still fellowship at Applegate Christian Fellowship. Some of them are now pastors!
Mercy over mandates. Not every time, but certainly at times. And so the Levites stepped in as go-betweens, sacrificing for the people, and the people ate the Passover, while Hezekiah prayed that God's mercy would cover the whole situation. It did.
Day after day, the praise was played with loud instruments. I find it fascinating that for some reason, the translators of the NIV left out the term "loud." Instead, it says,
2Chr. 30:21 ...accompanied by the LORD's instruments of praise.
I wonder if the guy responsible for translating this passage of Scripture just doesn't like loud worship services, so he changed it?
But saints, since at least the days of David, worship has been loud. Remember that when King David was having the ark brought into Jerusalem,
1Chr. 15:16 Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.
It is perfectly biblical to have a worship service be a noisy affair. Psalm 150 declares,
Psa. 150:1-6 Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!
Hezekiah had seen all that the Levites had done in the past month and a half. They had really stepped up to the plate, filled in all the holes, and gone the extra mile. He encouraged them for having such good insight and being so available. This is something that we don't articulate often enough. When you get a cup of coffee at the coffee shop, do you thank the person for serving? When you get a tape or CD at the Media Ministry table, do you thank the person for volunteering? When you drop off your baby, do you encourage the nursery worker? When you pick your child up from Sunday School, do you thank their teacher? I pray that we would be those that encourage the Levites among us, who serve above and beyond the call of duty.
Everyone had such a great time praising the Lord, they said, "Let's do this again sometime! How about now?" Oh, how I long for the day when our congregation cries out and says, "what a great time in worship and the Word! Let's do it again now!"