The Word Made Fresh
1Hezekiah sent messages throughout Israel and Judah, especially inviting Ephraim and Manasseh to come to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the LORD God of Israel. 2The king and all the government officials in Jerusalem had been advised to keep the Passover in the second month. 3They were unable to keep the observance at its proper time because not enough of the priests had purified themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. 4The king and all the government officials approved the plan, 5so they made an official announcement throughout Israel from Dan to Beersheba that the people should come, because they had not kept the observance as they should have. 6Couriers were sent all through Israel and Judah with official letters from the king and his court that said, “People of Israel, come back to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that the LORD may turn again to those of you who have escaped being carried away by the kings of Assyria. 7Do not repeat the sins of your ancestors and your relatives who did not keep faith in the LORD God. That is why the LORD has punished them, as you know. 8Don’t be stubborn like your ancestors but surrender to the LORD and come to the LORD’s sanctuary which the LORD has made sacred forever. Serve the LORD your God and the LORD’s terrible anger will not be visited on you. 9If you return to the LORD your relatives and your children will be treated fairly by their captors and be allowed to return to this land. The LORD your God is kind and compassionate and will not abandon you.”
10The couriers traveled from city to city in Ephraim and Manasseh as far as Zebulun, but they were greeted with scorn and mockery. 11Only a handful from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun were humbled enough to come to Jerusalem. 12God’s hand was on Judah that they might all agree to do what the king and his officials were ordering them to do, according to the LORD’s word.
13A lot of people did come to Jerusalem, though, and they kept the festival of unleavened bread in the second month. 14They also worked on removing all the pagan altars around Jerusalem; they took the incense altars away and tossed them into the Kidron wadi. 15On the fourteenth day of the second month they slaughtered the Passover lamb. The priests and Levites were ashamed, and purified themselves and brought burnt offerings to the LORD’s temple. 16They did the work they were supposed to do according to the rules given them by Moses, the man of God. The priests splattered the blood passed on to them by the Levites. 12(There were still many who had not purified themselves, and the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for those who were not purified in order to make the sacrifice acceptable to the LORD.) 18A lot of the people, particularly those from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not purified themselves but still ate the Passover even though it was not appropriate. But Hezekiah prayed for them: “May the good LORD forgive all 19who wholeheartedly seek the LORD God of their ancestors even though the sanctuary rules of cleanliness have not been kept.” 20The LORD heard his prayer and accepted the people. 21The festival of unleavened bread was happily observed for seven days by the Israelites present in Jerusalem. The priests and Levites praised the LORD every day accompanied loudly by instruments designed for the LORD. 22Hezekiah encouraged the Levites who did well in service to the LORD. The people ate the festival food for seven days and made sacrifices of well-being and thanksgiving to the LORD, the God of their ancestors.
23Then they all agreed to keep the festival for another seven days, and they did so happily. 24King Hezekiah gave them a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep for offerings, and the government officers gave them a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep. A lot of the priests purified themselves. 25Everyone from Judah and Israel, plus the priests and the Levites, plus foreigners who lived in Judah were glad. 26A great joyfulness came over Jerusalem because there had been nothing like this since the time of Solomon, son of king David of Israel. 26Then the priests and Levites raised a prayer of blessing for the people, and their prayer was heard in the LORD’s sacred dwelling place in heaven.
1-9: 1 and 2 Chronicles record the reigns of the kings of Judah as preserved by the religious establishment, the priests. It is therefore deeply concerned with the ways in which the kings strengthened or weakened the religious life of the nation from the standpoint of faith in the LORD. Hezekiah undertakes sweeping reforms and thus his reign is given a lot of attention, more than any of the other kings except David, who was responsible for establishing the worship of the LORD as the central religion of the nation.
The temple has been restored and purified and now Hezekiah calls for the people to observe the Passover. It should have been kept in the first month of the year, but the reorganization of the priests has not yet been accomplished, so the king decrees that it be kept in the second month as a special observance to help turn the people back to the LORD. Couriers are sent throughout the nation and even into all of Israel as well. We might wonder if Hezekiah is using religious reform as a platform from which to attempt the reunification of Judah and Israel.
Curiously, the chronicler does not mention that Israel has been destroyed by the Assyrians and much of the population resettled elsewhere (see 2 Kings 17), but this has created a situation in which Hezekiah might well hope for the two nations to be joined together again. What better way to begin than to remind the people of their common heritage under the God of Abraham? The couriers even tell them that if they return to the worship of the LORD their children “will find compassion with their captors and return to this land,” clearly a reference to their having been exiled by the Assyrians.
10-12: The couriers are largely rejected throughout Israel, though, and only a handful of the folks up north answer the summons.
13-22: Well, it isn’t a perfect Passover. They are keeping it on the 14th day of the second month instead of the 14th day of the first month. There aren’t enough priests consecrated to do the work of offering the sacrifices, so some of the Levites step in to do the priests’ part (this elevation of the role of the Levites is an interesting side stage). Some of the people have not properly cleansed themselves, mostly those northerners from the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Issachar, and Zebulun who haven’t worshiped the LORD in so long they don’t even know how to do it correctly anymore. But it’s all okay, because Hezekiah, God bless him, prays for them and asks God to forgive their mistakes and accept their good intentions. Hezekiah also pats the Levites on the back and tells them what a good job they have done filling in for the priests who have been slack about keeping their credentials up to date. After the Passover they keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread for 7 days.
23-27: They are so caught up in the movement that they decide, in a rare show of consensus, to keep the festival for another week. Priests who have been lax in their duties are undergoing the purification rituals left and right. Hezekiah gives them 1000 bulls and the VIPs give them another 1000 bulls to keep the party going. And the people are all of one mind and heart – folks from Judah and Israel, even foreigners who have settled in Judah and Israel, all feel like they are one big family again. They have never seen anything like it. Surely God must be pleased!
The nation whose people come together under God is a nation that cannot perish from the earth. Bring people together in the LORD’s name in a festive celebration with lots of good food and you will forge a community that can survive the worst the world can dish out.