Monday, May 23, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 106. King Hezekiah Of Judah, Part 4

Prophets And Kings
Day 106
King Hezekiah Of Judah
Part 4

Now that the temple is rededicated to the Lord, Hezekiah celebrates the Passover.

2 CHRONICLES 30:1-27
"Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord,in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. The king and all his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover of the Lord, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in such large numbers according to what was written." (2 Chronicles 30:1-5) Some scholars believe that when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, the king of Assyria carried away the golden calves the people were using in place of coming to the temple. If so, Hezekiah must have thought this was a wonderful opportunity to gather the wayward nation back into the fold. He invites all Israel to Jerusalem for Passover.

"At the king's command, couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and from his officials, which read: 'People of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that He may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. Do not be like your parents and your fellow Israelites, who were unfaithful to the Lord, the God of their ancestors, so that He made them an object of horror, as you see. Do not be stiff-necked, as your ancestors were; submit to the Lord. Come to His sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever. Serve the Lord your God, so that His fierce anger will turn away from you. If you return to the Lord, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn His face from you if You return to Him.'" (2 Chronicles 30:6-9) Hezekiah has a good basis for believing the Lord will bring the captives back if the hearts of Israel return to Him. When Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed, "When Your people Israel have been defeated by an enemy because they have sinned against You, and when they turn back to You and give praise to Your name, praying and making supplication to You in this temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of Your people Israel and bring them back to the land You gave to their ancestors." (1 Kings 8:33-34)

Through King Hezekiah, God appeals to His people. He extends His hand of mercy to them. He invites the remnant left in Israel to come to the temple to worship, to turn from their sins, to repent, and to pray for the captives so that they would be brought back. "The couriers went from town to town in Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun, but people scorned and ridiculed them. Nevertheless, some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem. Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord." (2 Chronicles 30:10-12) As in today's times, there are those who scorn the word of the Lord. But there are also those who listen. Our job is to love others and tell them God loves them. We are to tell them the gospel of the One who died for them, and then we are to leave the rest up to God. We cannot, ourselves, save a single soul. That's the work of the Holy Spirit. Some will resist Him to their own peril. Some will hear His voice and obey.

"A very large crowd of people assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They removed the altars in Jerusalem and cleared away the incense altars and threw them into the Kidron Valley." (2 Chronicles 30:13-14) We studied about this earlier in 2nd Kings. Hezekiah wants no trace of false gods to remain in the land. He doesn't even leave the old altars where people sacrificed to the Lord before the temple was built. These altars are too much of a temptation. They will cause the people to slip back into their old habits. Having the old altars in the land is like surrounding a recovering alcoholic with liquor; it's too much for them to handle right now. They are still only a step or two away from their previous practices and it wouldn't take much to send them spiraling back down.

"They slaughtered the Passover Lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the Lord. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests splashed against the altar the blood handed to them by the Levites. Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the Lord. Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Mannaseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God---the Lord, the God of their ancestors---even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.' And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people." (2 Chronicles 30:15-20) The people and priests from the northern kingdom have fallen so far from the true worship of God that they have forgotten the rules. They have failed to make themselves clean before coming to the temple to participate in this holy festival. But Hezekiah prays for the people, much like Moses prayed for the people in the wilderness, and God hears his prayer. The Lord looks on the people's hearts and not on their unclean hands. They have come to Jerusalem because something in them desires to know the God of Israel. They have obeyed His voice and have come to the temple with repentant hearts. 

This too is like our world today. The only thing I feel called to do is tell people about Jesus and about what He did for them in love. It's His job to clean up anything in their lives that needs cleaning up. I can't change another living soul. I'm not even able to change myself; it takes a holy God to instruct me in what is right and wrong, to tell me what I need to eliminate from my attitudes and behaviors. If we can just lead people to Christ, He is more than able to do any cleaning up that needs doing. I trust Him with that. 

"The Israelites who were present in  Jerusalem celebrated the Festival of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests praised the Lord every day with resounding instruments dedicated to the Lord." (2 Chronicles 30:21) What a wonderful celebration this must have been. I'm reminded of how the father of the prodigal son celebrated the son's return. God must have felt just like the father in that parable. His wayward children of Israel were home, in His temple. 

"Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the Lord. For the seven days they ate their assigned portion and offered fellowship offerings and praised the Lord, the God of their ancestors." (2 Chronicles 30:21) Hezekiah is a man with a gift for encouragement. He sees the hard work and dedication of the priests. He sees that they have studied in order to perform this festival exactly as proscribed by the law. And he makes certain to let them know he appreciates their hard work and dedication.

"The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully." (2 Chronicles 30:23) Have you ever had such a good time in the house of the Lord that you didn't want to leave? I think that's how the people feel. Something in their souls is renewed. Their hope is restored. The presence and power of the Lord is with them and they don't want the celebration to end. Of course the Lord will go back home with each of them and be present in their daily lives, but there's something about being assembled together in unity of spirit. The joy of each person increases the joy of the person beside him. There's something about God's people being gathered together in worship that strengthens the individual faith of everyone present.

"Hezekiah king of Judah provided a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep and goats for the assembly, and the officials provided them with a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep and goats." (2 Chronicles 30:24a) It might have been a hardship for some of the travelers to buy food for their families during the additional seven days and Hezekiah makes sure that nobody has to go home for lack of food. He and his officials provide food for everyone who has assembled so that no one goes without.

"A great number of priests consecrated themselves. The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel, including the foreigners who had come from Israel and also those who resided in Judah. There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood up to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, His holy dwelling place." (2 Chronicles 30:24b-27) This celebration is very much like the celebration that took place when Solomon first dedicated the temple. A great revival has broken out, all because one godly man stood up for the Lord.

We may feel doubtful such a revival could happen in the United States but why should we limit God? He spoke the universe into existence! Would revival be difficult for Him? He called the dead back to life! Would it be hard for Him to call the spiritually dead to new life in Christ? One king dared to stand up and challenge the hearts of a few priests, priests who had given up and lost their purpose, and somehow a fire began to burn in their souls. They in turn lit a fire in the souls of the citizens. The next thing we know, not only Judah but many from wayward Israel are rejoicing in the house of God. How many souls might be saved if we dare to believe God can do great things in our nation?

Lately every time I read the news online, I get upset, particularly whenever I read any political articles. And it isn't just the articles themselves, but also the angry comments underneath them. I've had to cut back on following the news because it discourages me. So I'm proposing an experiment that might help us all to feel better. For seven days, why don't we forgo the news and spend that time in the encouraging word of God instead? Sometimes when we read or watch the news we tend to feel like the whole world is falling apart. But when we read the Scriptures we find the Lord Jesus Christ saying, "I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) I wonder how much better we would feel if we took the time we normally spend following the news and spent it in the word of God instead. I wonder how much more hope we'd have. I wonder how much more peace we'd have. I'm not suggesting we be ignorant of what's going on around us, just that we take a break from it. I'm willing to try it if you are. I'm willing to try it and see what difference it makes in our lives a week from today. Instead of turning on CNN for seven days, let's open the book of God. Instead of feeling our blood pressure rise and our anxiety levels increase at the political bickering, let's bow our heads in prayer to the only One who is able to help us. Let's concentrate on the One who promises to be with us always, even to the end of the age.

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