This chapter is dedicated to the celebration of the Passover. The Passover is to be celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month according to the LORD’s decree (Lev 23:5). However, Hezekiah is still busy with the consecration of the temple. That work is only finished on the sixteenth day of the first month (2Chr 29:17). But Hezekiah knows the provision that the LORD has made to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month in case it is not possible to celebrate it at the appointed time (Num 9:10-11).
In the Passover that Hezekiah celebrates, we find a special aspect. He wants each and everyone of the ten tribes realm to have the opportunity to celebrate the Passover. There is still time enough to invite them and Hezekiah uses that time for that too. Constitutional he is king only about Judah. Spiritually speaking, however, there is no dividing wall, but it is one people. That is why Hezekiah not only invites Judah, but he invites all Israel.
After celebrating the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is also celebrated. When this feast is celebrated, it is decided to add another seven days of feast. The people are so impressed by the revival that God has given so unexpectedly (2Chr 29:36) that they want to enjoy this special event for as long as possible.
1 - 12 Invitation to Celebrate the Passover
1 Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel. 2 For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month, 3 since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem. 4 Thus the thing was right in the sight of the king and all the assembly. 5 So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated [it] in great numbers as it was prescribed. 6 The couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with the letters from the hand of the king and his princes, even according to the command of the king, saying, “O sons of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that He may return to those of you who escaped [and] are left from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD God of their fathers, so that He made them a horror, as you see. 8 Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the LORD and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. 9 For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your sons [will find] compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn [His] face away from you if you return to Him.” 10 So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. 11 Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. 12 The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD.
“Now” (verse 1), after the cleansing and consecration of the temple in the previous chapter, Hezekiah wants to celebrate the Passover. For this he invites all Israel and Judah. He invites Ephraim and Manasseh – by which he meant the entire ten tribe realm – in writing. He sends couriers on the way with letters calling upon the ten tribes to “to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel”. The letters are not ordinary letters, but official letters. They do not contain a request, but an assignment.
Hezekiah came to this invitation after consultation with “his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem” (verse 2). The content of the consultations is the date of the celebration of the Passover. The Passover cannot be celebrated in the first month, because the fixed day, the fourteenth day of the first month (Lev 23:5), is passed. On that day he is still busy restoring the temple. The possibility of keeping it in the second month is now being considered in the consultation. The law regulates this possibility (Num 9:10-11). The question is whether it is possible, that is to say whether the priests have consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers and whether the people will gather in Jerusalem (verse 3).
We are faced with the question of whether we are in practice holy priests. We may know we are in position (1Pet 2:5), but if in practice there is no holy priesthood, no spiritual sacrifices can be brought. The other condition for a proper celebration of the Passover – that the whole people is gathered – raises the question of whether, at the celebration of the Supper, of which the Passover is a picture, we have the whole people of God in our mind. Is everyone welcome who belongs to the people of God and is clean?
The outcome of the consultation is that it is decided to keep the Passover in the second month (verse 4). As for the cause of the consecration of priests, we see farther in the chapter that priests have consecrated themselves (verses 15,24). About the gathering of the people at Jerusalem a decree is established that a proclamation should circulate “throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan” (verse 5a), that is, from the extreme south, where Berseba lies, to the extreme north, where Dan lies. Everyone must come to Jerusalem “to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem”.
The unity of God’s people can only be expressed in Jerusalem, for there stands the altar of the LORD. Jerusalem is the only lawful place to bring offerings (Deu 12:5-6). There is no other place or altar where God and His people can meet.
In the New Testament the Supper is the counterpart of the Passover. Besides a memorial meal commemorating the death of Christ, the Supper is also an expression of the unity of God’s people. We see that unity expressed where believers celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the Table of the Lord. Spiritual sacrifices are brought there. The Passover is a memorial meal, a unity meal, and a sacrificial meal. In this chapter we find in the picture the great significance of this for us.
The call to the ten tribes to come refers back to the beginning, “as it was prescribed” (verse 5b). It has been not celebrated for a long time in the prescribed manner. This does not mean that it has not been celebrated for a long time, but that it has not been celebrated for a long time as a feast for the LORD in Jerusalem. It may have been celebrated by families in the houses, but that is not God’s intention. So it is not God’s intention today that every family or church celebrates its own supper. God’s desire is that the Supper be celebrated as an expression of the unity of the church where every member of the church is welcome.
After the consultation and the agreements, “couriers” are sent out (verse 6). They are not just messengers, but ‘couriers’, which shows that there is an urgent need. These are important things. The couriers go through all Israel and Judah. The first thing they say to the Israelites is not that they should all come to Jerusalem according to the prescription, but that they should repent. They must first come to the LORD.
It is not in the first place about an outer return to the old customs, but about an inner return, a return of the heart, to the LORD. First the LORD must be recognized in His rights and only then can they celebrate the Passover.
In the words of the couriers there is also hope. If they repent unto the LORD, He shall return to them that have escaped from being exiled, and have been left in the land by the Assyrians. Here we see that the kingdom of ten tribes has already been led away in exile (1Kgs 17:1-6). The words that the escaped hear from the mouths of the couriers are intended as encouragement to the remaining ones, who have seen many of their loved ones taken away by the Assyrians.
The couriers warn the remnant of the ten tribes that they do not follow the bad example of their fathers and their deported brethren (verse 7; cf. Psa 78:8,57). Their unfaithfulness has led to the destruction they can see for themselves. When they look at this destruction and think about what it came through, they won’t persist in evil stubbornly (verse 8), will they? Let them yield to the LORD, and then come to his sanctuary.
The expression “yield” is literally “give a hand”. It is a special expression and occurs only here in relation to the LORD. Giving a hand has, among other things, the meaning of reconciling with the other. That is certainly the case here. It means the acknowledgment that the judgment is deserved. Giving a hand can also mean surrendering or entrusting yourself to the other person to lead you and no longer govern your life yourself.
If there is reconciliation and surrender to God, there is also the right mind to come to the sanctuary and serve the LORD their God. For God there will be no more reason to maintain His burning anger, and He will turn it away from them. If we give our hand to the Lord, we are in the right mind to come to Him in the sanctuary and can also serve Him. Instead of taking His displeasure upon us, we will rejoice His heart.
Except that repentance to the LORD has blessed consequences for themselves, it also has blessing for others (verse 9). If they convert to the LORD, that is to say, return to Him, and obey Him, He shall cause those being led captive to return to them. He will then give compassion to their brothers and their sons “before those who led them captive and will return to this land”.
This indeed is a special promise. It only matters if they see their own sins and repent and if they believe that the LORD can work the heart of the Assyrians so that they let the captives go. The second depends on the first. If the hearts of the people bow before God, God will bring about restoration of His people in the land.
Thus the couriers of Hezekiah go with the invitation from city to city (verse 10). However, with a few exceptions, they are laughed to scorn and mocked. This is more often the fate of royal messengers who invite to a Divine feast (cf. Mt 22:3-7; Lk 14:16-24; Acts 28:24). Mocking is a special form of unbelief. It is a form of self-justification if unbelief cannot find a reasonable explanation for its attitude (Neh 2:19; Mt 9:24; Psa 22:8; Acts 17:32). Yet there are some men that humble themselves (verse 11). It concerns some from Asher (Lk 2:36), Manasseh and Zebulun. They are going to Jerusalem.
In Judah is unity by “the hand of God” (verse 12). He works that unity, or, as it literally says, He gives them one heart, as a result of the humiliation in the previous verse. Humility is the prerequisite for experiencing unity. It is our calling “with all humility” to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3). If all who belong to a local church are truly humble, the unity will be great. God will take care of that.
In verse 8 there is talk of the man who gives the hand to the LORD. Here in verse 12 there is talk of “the hand of God” which is at work. Man must give God his hand and then he notices that God uses His hand. Here we see what we so often encounter in Scripture, the combination of man’s responsibility and God’s actions. We should not try to combine the two sides, because we cannot. God can do that. He is God for that.
13 - 22 The Feast of Unleavened Bread
13 Now many people were gathered at Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month, a very large assembly. 14 They arose and removed the altars which [were] in Jerusalem; they also removed all the incense altars and cast [them] into the brook Kidron. 15 Then they slaughtered the Passover [lambs] on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the LORD. 16 They stood at their stations after their custom, according to the law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood [which they received] from the hand of the Levites. 17 For [there were] many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves; therefore, the Levites [were] over the slaughter of the Passover [lambs] for everyone who [was] unclean, in order to consecrate [them] to the LORD. 18 For a multitude of the people, [even] many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon 19 everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification [rules] of the sanctuary.” 20 So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. 21 The sons of Israel present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread [for] seven days with great joy, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day after day with loud instruments to the LORD. 22 Then Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good insight [in the things] of the LORD. So they ate for the appointed seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the LORD God of their fathers.
The invitation is done. It has been heard by many. There is “many people”, “a very large assembly”, gathered at Jerusalem (verse 13). God also expects His people to come together now. He warns His own not to forsake their “own assembling together” (Heb 10:25). In the New Testament God’s people come together among other things to pray (Acts 4:31), to receive instruction (Acts 11:26) and to break bread (Acts 20:7). Meetings are an indispensable element in the life of the believer. He who thinks he does not need fellowship with and education by other believers, will grow in a spiritual imbalance.
Although the invitation concerns the celebration of the Passover (verse 5), we read here that they have come together to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That does not mean that it is now suddenly another feast. It’s the same feast, but with a different accent. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread form a whole and are even identified in Luke 22: “Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was approaching” (Lk 22:1). The Passover cannot be celebrated without the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread supposes that all that is unclean has been removed on the basis of the Passover (cf. 1Cor 5:7-8).
This is what we read next: everything that is contrary to the service to the true God is removed (verse 14). This is about removing uncleanness out of the city of Jerusalem, while 2 Chronicles 29 is about removing uncleanness out of the house of God. Daily life takes place in the city. To really celebrate the Passover, daily life in all areas must be cleansed.
After everything that obstructs the celebrating of the Passover has been removed, the Passover lamb is slaughtered on the day indicated by God (verse 15). The priests and the Levites are now able to perform their service during the Passover. They were ashamed of their laxness and consecrated themselves in time. They also bring burnt offerings, expressing the fact that they can only do their service on that ground. God cannot tolerate a priest in His presence to be engaged in holy things if that priest does not lead a consecrated life. One excludes the other.
The priests are in the right place where they perform the acts prescribed for them in “the law of Moses the man of God” (verse 16a). Moses is emphatically called “the man of God”. In times of decay, it comes down to being a man of God. The title ‘man of God’ appears in the New Testament only in the first letter to Timothy and the second letter to Timothy (1Tim 6:11; 2Tim 3:17). It is of special value to God that in a time of decay, a time when His rights are not taken into account, there are men, men and women who take His rights into account by keeping to His Word.
The blood of the Passover lamb is taken by the priests from the hands of the Levites and sprinkled (verse 16b). Sprinkling means that the object on which the blood is sprinkled is covered by it. The blood covers and removes what is unclean before the eyes of a holy God. Priests know its value. The fact that they took the blood “from the hands of the Levites,” shows that they learned its value through the teaching of the Levites.
The Levites have also taken on the task of slaughtering the Passover lambs for those who are not clean (verse 17). There are also many who are not clean. Many of them come from the ten tribes (verse 18). They are not barred, but are not suitable for slaughtering the Passover lamb themselves.
It is not self-evident that people who have not cleansed themselves are spared. They are spared, because Hezekiah prays for them. The decay and ignorance are so great that they no longer know what fits the purity of the altar.
The application for us is in connection with the Lord’s Table, of which the altar is a picture. It may be that someone celebrates the Supper, but that he does not have sufficient insight into its meaning due to a wrong spiritual education. Then he will not be barred from the Supper, but others will express the appropriate thanks and worship for him.
In view of the uncleanness Hezekiah calls upon “the good LORD”. This is another special expression. God is often called ‘good’, but the name ‘the good LORD’ is only found here. Hezekiah appealed not so much to His goodness as to Himself as to the good One. He does not make this appeal for indifferent Israelites, for those who play fast and loose with God’s holiness. He does it for “everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers” (verse 19). First is looked at the heart. God “desires truth in the innermost being” (Psa 51:6).
That does not mean that practice does not matter. It certainly matters and must also be brought into line with the Word, but that is not emphasized here. There is a balance between God’s grace and God’s holiness. If we know God’s principles, we must act accordingly, and we gracefully must take into account ignorance.
The prayer of Hezekiah is answered by the LORD and He gives healing (verse 20). The healing He gives does not have to be the healing of a physical disease, a disease that would also be the result of their sins. There is no reason in the text to think of this. Perhaps we could think of healing the pain of the soul caused by the memory of sins committed (Psa 41:4), or of healing of the wandering from behind the LORD (Jer 3:22; Hos 14:5).
The cleansing is followed by great joy lasting seven days (verse 21). Separation to God is not a sad thing. Sin causes sadness and misery. The people are in Jerusalem, the place God has chosen to dwell there. The LORD and all that is of Him are a source of joy for his people. There is seven days great joy. This joy is expressed every day. The LORD is praised day by day. Thus every day of our lives may be filled with thanks to our God and Father (Eph 5:20).
Hezekiah expresses his appreciation for the work of the Levites (verse 22). They have shown their good understanding of the LORD’s service through their deeds. In the same sense, the Lord Jesus appreciates all the work of His servants aimed at bringing His church to the celebration of the Supper in a manner consistent with His Word.
If healthy teaching is given by the teachers and the church assumes it, it will awaken the spiritual appetite. It’s an appetite that doesn’t sink. For seven days the sacrifices of the feast are eaten. The consequence of this is that peace offerings are brought, that is to say, that it promotes and strengthens fellowship with other believers. It all ends in praise of the LORD, Who gives all this to His people.
23 - 27 Another Seven Days of Feast
23 Then the whole assembly decided to celebrate [the feast] another seven days, so they celebrated the seven days with joy. 24 For Hezekiah king of Judah had contributed to the assembly 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep, and the princes had contributed to the assembly 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep; and a large number of priests consecrated themselves. 25 All the assembly of Judah rejoiced, with the priests and the Levites and all the assembly that came from Israel, both the sojourners who came from the land of Israel and those living in Judah. 26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem, because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel. 27 Then the Levitical priests arose and blessed the people; and their voice was heard and their prayer came to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.
After the seven days of feast, new consultations take place (verse 23; verse 2). This time it is about whether they will add another seven days of feast to the seven days of feast they have already celebrated. They decide to do so, because Hezekiah still has sacrifices that he makes available (verse 24). Also the leaders, following Hezekiah, make sacrifices available. There is also a large number of priests who are in the right condition to occupy themselves with these sacrifices.
The impressions of the Feast of Unleavened Bread are so overwhelming that it is decided to extend the feast voluntarily. What is prescribed gets a voluntarily followed up, because doing what is prescribed gives such great joy. Then the heart desires to continue with that. It wants to hold on to that joy. We see it with “all the assembly of Judah” and with “all the assembly that came from Israel” and also with the sojourners from both these areas (verse 25). Everyone is happy.
The joy is great because this Passover is such a special Passover. It is a Passover that has not been celebrated in this way since “the days of Solomon” (verse 26). We will see that the Passover celebrated under Josia is even more exceptional. That is because it is not so celebrated “since the days of Samuel the prophet” (2Chr 35:18) and thus goes even further back than the days of Solomon. This means that it is even more impressive than what is happening here under Hezekiah. And that already is so special.
The last activity in connection with this great feast is reserved for the Levites. They stand up and bless the people on behalf of God. For this blessing they first addressed God, Who answers their prayer (verse 27). In this situation there is, as it were, a direct connection between God’s holy dwelling in heaven and God’s holy dwelling on earth. Heaven rejoices with the joy on earth. Heaven and earth unite, as will be perfectly the case in the realm of peace, when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven (Mt 6:10).