2 Chronicles 29 – Hezekiah and the Cleansing of the Temple
A. The cleansing of the temple.
1. (1-2) The general assessment of his reign.
Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.
a. Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old: Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah at the very end of the kingdom of Israel. Three years after the start of his reign the Assyrian armies set siege to Samaria, and three years after that the northern kingdom was conquered.
i. The sad fate of the northern kingdom was a valuable lesson to Hezekiah. He saw first-hand what happened when the people of God rejected their God and His word, and worshipped other gods.
b. He reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem: Hezekiah was one of the better kings of Judah, and thus had a long and mostly blessed reign. No doubt his mother Abijah was a godly and important influence on his life.
i. “His mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah, probably the person mentioned by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 8:2) as a ‘faithful witness.’ This possible friendship of his mother for the prophet, combined with the certainty that up to this time he had been under the influence of Isaiah’s ministry, may account for Hezekiah’s action on coming to the throne.” (Morgan)
c. He did what was right in the sight of the LORD: Hezekiah was one of Judah’s most zealous reformers, even prohibiting worship on the high places (2 Kings 18:4). These were popular altars for sacrifice set up as the worshipper desired, not according to God’s direction.
i. “God was never happy about this practice, but none of the other good kings ever found the courage to forbid it. Hezekiah did.” (Dilday)
ii. 2 Kings 18:5-6 makes this remarkable statement about Hezekiah: He trusted in the LORD God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses.
2. (3-11) Hezekiah exhorts the cleansing and restoration of the temple.
In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them. Then he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them in the East Square, and said to them: “Hear me, Levites! Now sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place. For our fathers have trespassed and done evil in the eyes of the LORD our God; they have forsaken Him, have turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and turned their backs on Him. They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. Therefore the wrath of the LORD fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble, to desolation, and to jeering, as you see with your eyes. For indeed, because of this our fathers have fallen by the sword; and our sons, our daughters, and our wives are in captivity. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that His fierce wrath may turn away from us. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him, and that you should minister to Him and burn incense.”
a. Sanctify yourselves, sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry out the rubbish from the holy place: Tragically, the condition of both the Levites and the temple was so bad that they seemed incapable of reforming themselves without this push from King Hezekiah.
b. Have turned their faces away…and turned their backs on Him: They had failed because they gave God their back instead of their face. One might say that in every opportunity to encounter God, we have the choice to turn either our back or our face to God.
i. Poole suggests that the idea of turning the back to God could also be understood literally, because according to 2 Kings 16, in the days of Ahaz the altar was moved and its replacement was directed to the east, in the manner of pagan altars instead of toward the west as God commanded. The idea was therefore that under this dangerous innovation, one had to literally turn his back to the temple and the ark of God to stand before the altar.
c. They have also shut up the doors of the vestibule, put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings: This happened in the days of Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 28:24). Hezekiah knew that it was time to open up the temple again, both to clean it out and so that it could operate as intended.
d. Therefore the wrath of the LORD fell upon Judah and Jerusalem: In a remarkable way, Hezekiah recognized that the calamities that had come to Judah came because of their disobedience. It takes a wise and godly person to admit this, and to act appropriately.
i. “He made no attempt to blame on God the calamities which had overtaken the nation.” (Morgan)
e. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to serve Him: This call to courage from Hezekiah to the priests and Levites was focused on their sense of calling (the LORD has chosen you). Getting back to a focus upon their calling and their central purpose (to serve and honor God) was essential, and this exhortation demonstrates that they had lost this focus.
i. Hezekiah set the example in this devoted service to God, in that he even destroyed a notable artifact from the Exodus – the bronze serpent of Moses known as Nehushtan – when it became an idol (2 Kings 18:4).
3. (12-19) Cleansing the temple.
Then these Levites arose: Mahath the son of Amasai and Joel the son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites; of the sons of Merari, Kish the son of Abdi and Azariah the son of Jehallelel; of the Gershonites, Joah the son of Zimmah and Eden the son of Joah; of the sons of Elizaphan, Shimri and Jeiel; of the sons of Asaph, Zechariah and Mattaniah; of the sons of Heman, Jehiel and Shimei; and of the sons of Jeduthun, Shemaiah and Uzziel. And they gathered their brethren, sanctified themselves, and went according to the commandment of the king, at the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. Then the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and brought out all the debris that they found in the temple of the LORD to the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it out and carried it to the Brook Kidron. Now they began to sanctify on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the LORD. So they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished. Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offerings with all its articles, and the table of the showbread with all its articles. Moreover all the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are, before the altar of the LORD.”
a. Then these Levites arose: These were men who had been complicit in the neglect and disgrace of the temple. Yet the Chronicler rightly noted these men by name, because when they were exhorted by King Hezekiah to do what was right in cleansing and restoring the temple, they did it.
b. On the sixteenth day of the first month they finished: This relates the staggering extent of the prior damage to the temple, in that it took 16 days to simply carry out the rubbish that had accumulated in the temple, including even the inner part of the house of the LORD.
c. All the articles which King Ahaz in his reign had cast aside in his transgression we have prepared and sanctified; and there they are: After the first step of removing the problem, now they could put back what had been taken out during the reign of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:24 and 2 Kings 16:17-18).
B. The restoration of worship.
1. (20-27) Sacrifice and worship are organized again.
Then King Hezekiah rose early, gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the LORD. And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary, and for Judah. Then he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD. So they killed the bulls, and the priests received the blood and sprinkled it on the altar. Likewise they killed the rams and sprinkled the blood on the altar. They also killed the lambs and sprinkled the blood on the altar. Then they brought out the male goats for the sin offering before the king and the assembly, and they laid their hands on them. And the priests killed them; and they presented their blood on the altar as a sin offering to make an atonement for all Israel, for the king commanded that the burnt offering and the sin offering be made for all Israel. And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with stringed instruments, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for thus was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets. The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah commanded them to offer the burnt offering on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD also began, with the trumpets and with the instruments of David king of Israel.
a. Then he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD: In his bold restoration of the service of the temple, Hezekiah was not so foolish as to overstep the Biblical and traditional commands and to offer these sacrifices himself. His great-grandfather Uzziah did this to his own judgment (2 Chronicles 26:16-23).
i. “The whole enterprise is characterized by a concern to do everything as God required, especially as the king’s command was regarded as ‘the words of the LORD’ (2 Chronicles 29:15).” (Selman)
ii. “For the assembly to lay their hands on the goats of the sin offering was to designate these as substitutes for their own lives and to transfer their sins to the animal victims…. The goats thus served as types of Christ’s death in the sinner’s stead (2 Corinthians 5:21).” (Payne)
iii. The diligence of Hezekiah was evident in that he rose early to do these things. “His zeal for God’s glory made his obedience prompt and present, ready and speedy. He could not rest until he had reformed.” (Trapp)
iv. It was also shown in offering more than the law commanded. “This was more than the law required; see Leviticus 4:13, etc. It ordered one calf or ox for the sins of the people, and one he-goat for the sins of the prince; but Hezekiah here offers many more.” (Clarke)
b. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the LORD also began: In his arrangement of this restoration of temple service, Hezekiah was careful to include both offering and worship. Each honored God in important ways.
i. “The Hebrew that lies behind the phrase ‘singing to the LORD’ is literally ‘the song of the LORD’ (NASB), which suggests a specific writing, i.e., perhaps including the canonical Psalms that were then available for use in worship.” (Payne)
ii. Hezekiah was wise in making worship such a priority. “Every human being’s first priority should be to acknowledge God’s worth. That, for example, is how the ten commandments begin (Exodus 20:3-6), it is the reason for Jesus’ obedient death on the cross, and it is the chief characteristic of the community in heaven (Revelation 4:1-5:14; 22:1-9).” (Selman)
2. (28-30) The assembly of Judah joins in the worship and recognition of sacrificial offerings.
So all the assembly worshiped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished. And when they had finished offering, the king and all who were present with him bowed and worshiped. Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
a. So all the assembly worshipped, the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: Each person played their part in this large, communal honoring of God.
i. “This chapter contains a parable of the cleansing of the heart, meant to be a temple for God; but the doors of prayer are unopened, the lamps of testimony unlit, the burnt-offerings of self-sacrifice neglected.” (Meyer)
ii. “You tell me that you cannot sing the Lord’s song; then I know you have gone into the strange land of backsliding. You acknowledge that for some time now you have taken no delight in God or his service; then I am sure that the temple is badly in need of renovation.” (Meyer)
iii. “The music of your life is still, because you are out of accord with the will of God; but when by surrender and consecration there is unison, your heart will be filled with songs without words, and love like an ocean in the fullness of her strength.” (Meyer)
iv. The description of instruments in this passage is compelling evidence that they should be used today in worshipping God, but not all are convinced of this. “Away with such portentous baubles from the worship of that infinite Spirit who requires his followers to worship him in spirit and in truth, for to no such worship are those instruments friendly.” (Clarke)
b. King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer: They worshipped God with the best words they could find – the words of the great psalms of praise written by David and others.
3. (31-36) Thank and fellowship offerings and the resulting joy.
Then Hezekiah answered and said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the LORD.” So the assembly brought in sacrifices and thank offerings, and as many as were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. And the number of the burnt offerings which the assembly brought was seventy bulls, one hundred rams, and two hundred lambs; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD. The consecrated things were six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep. But the priests were too few, so that they could not skin all the burnt offerings; therefore their brethren the Levites helped them until the work was ended and until the other priests had sanctified themselves, for the Levites were more diligent in sanctifying themselves than the priests. Also the burnt offerings were in abundance, with the fat of the peace offerings and with the drink offerings for every burnt offering. So the service of the house of the LORD was set in order. Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly.
a. Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near, and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the LORD: Once they had properly sacrificed and cleansed the temple and their own hearts before the LORD, now the assembly was invited to come and bring their personal offerings. One of the great purposes of the temple – as a place for the personal sacrifice and worship of the believer – was now restored.
i. “Sacrifices and offerings are only acceptable when those offering them are themselves consecrated to Jehovah.” (Morgan)
ii. “Sacrifice for sin in both the Old Testament and the New is the springboard for the sacrifice of praise (Colossians 3:15-16; Hebrews 13:15) and for the fellowship or communion meal (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).” (Selman)
b. The priests were too few, so that they could not skin all the burnt offerings: The pent-up desire of the people to sacrifice and honor God through sacrifices was so great that when they were given the opportunity the priests were overwhelmed.
i. Wisely, their brethren the Levites helped them until the work was ended. This was a good example of temporarily suspending a commandment out of godly necessity.
ii. It was also fitting on this occasion because the Levites were more diligent in their sanctifying themselves than the priests. “For the truest faith is often found among the humble; and throughout history ‘professional’ religious leaders have too often been among those least willing to submit to Christ and to the Word.” (Payne)
c. Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people: The remarkable response of the assembly was proof that God had prepared the people. There could never be such a response unless God was at work among His people, and this was evidence of such a work.
i. “It was, as a very great, so a sudden change, that the people, who but the other day were so ready to comply with wicked Ahaz in his idolatrous and impious prescriptions, were now so free and forward in God’s service; whereby it plainly appeared to be the work of the Almighty God changing their hearts by his Holy Spirit.” (Poole)
ii. “Two consequences followed from these offerings. The first was to acknowledge that only God had made it all possible (2 Chronicles 29:36; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:18). The second was that everyone rejoiced (2 Chronicles 29:36), in complete contrast with the situation with which they had begun.” (Selman)