2 Chronicles 30 – Hezekiah’s Passover
A. The letter of invitation.
1. (1-5) The tribes of Israel are invited to celebrate the Passover.
And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover to the LORD God of Israel. For the king and his leaders and all the assembly in Jerusalem had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at the regular time, because a sufficient number of priests had not consecrated themselves, nor had the people gathered together at Jerusalem. And the matter pleased the king and all the assembly. So they resolved to make a proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem, since they had not done it for a long time in the prescribed manner.
a. Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah: The timing of this invitation is somewhat hard to precisely determine. It seems to have happened when Israel was defeated and prostrate under Assyria, yet perhaps before the kingdom as a whole had been depopulated through exile. Therefore this invitation actually went out to the remnant that had, up to this point, escaped exile (2 Chronicles 30:6).
i. “In all probability, this Passover was observed before the final passing of the northern kingdom into captivity.” (Morgan)
ii. “Any such compliance had been prohibited during the two centuries that had followed Jeroboam’s division of the Solomonic empire (2 Chronicles 30:5, 26; 1 Kings 12:27-28). But now King Hoshea’s capital in Samaria was subject to Assyrian siege (2 Chronicles 30:6; 2 Kings 17:5), and the northern ruler was powerless to interfere.” (Payne)
b. To keep the Passover: This great feast celebrated the great and glorious deliverance of God on Israel’s behalf in the days of the Exodus (Exodus 12). It was a deliberate, emblematic reminder of the central act of redemption in the Old Testament (the deliverance from slavery in Egypt).
i. Communion is likewise an emblematic reminder of the central act of redemption of the New Testament (and the Bible as a whole). The long neglect of Passover among the tribes of Israel would be like a church that had not celebrated the Lord’s Table in a long, long time.
ii. “Jesus is the ultimate Passover lamb, who by his own body and blood established a new covenant (cf. Luke 22:14-20). Just as Hezekiah’s congregation were cleansed and healed, Christians are made clean by their Passover sacrifice, except that Jesus’ sacrifice is the ultimate and unrepeatable Passover.” (Selman)
c. Had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month: Normally, Passover was kept in the first month (Numbers 9:1-5). However, there were special circumstances under which Passover could be kept in the second month (Numbers 9:5-14). Because they could not keep it at the regular time, here, under Hezekiah, they kept it in the second month.
i. “Hezekiah therefore, and his counsellors, thought that they might extend that to the people at large, because of the delay necessarily occasioned by the cleansing of the temple, which was granted to individuals in such cases as the above, and the result showed that they had not mistaken the mind of the Lord upon the subject.” (Clarke)
d. Since they had not done it for a long time: Even though Passover was one of the three feasts that deserved special emphasis (Exodus 23:14-17), it had not been celebrated for a long time. Hezekiah was dedicated to righting this wrong.
2. (6-9) The letter to the tribes.
Then the runners went throughout all Israel and Judah with the letters from the king and his leaders, and spoke according to the command of the king: “Children of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel; then He will return to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. And do not be like your fathers and your brethren, who trespassed against the LORD God of their fathers, so that He gave them up to desolation, as you see. Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you. For if you return to the LORD, your brethren and your children will be treated with compassion by those who lead them captive, so that they may come back to this land; for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him.”
a. Children of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel: The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen and all that remained after the exile to the Assyrians was the remnant of you who have escaped. Yet Hezekiah still believed in the concept of the Children of Israel, those of the tribes of Israel descended from the great patriarchs.
i. In the history of the divided kingdoms there were some attempts to reunify by force, but these came to nothing. “In comparison with previous failures, this incident shows that the only really effective approach to unity has to be based on the principle of faithful worship.” (Selman)
ii. “The good of our brethren in other kingdoms must also be minded.” (Trapp)
b. Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were: This was especially relevant as the letter went to the remnant of the northern kingdom. Generally speaking, they had neglected the Jerusalem Passover for a long time.
i. “Hezekiah knew that the poor remnant of Israel were in great affliction: he therefore presseth them to repentance, whereby men return to God, as by sin they run from him.… Hezekiah thought it was good striking while the iron was hot.” (Trapp)
c. For if you return to the LORD: The letter of invitation promised two things if the remnant of Israel would return to the LORD and obediently celebrate this Passover in Jerusalem. First, under God’s blessing it would go well with those already taken captive by the Assyrians. Second, God would restore the northern kingdom and allow them to come back to this land.
i. These promises were based on an eternal principle of God’s character: that He will not turn His face from you if you return to Him. God promises to draw near to those who draw near to Him.
3. (10-12) The reaction to the letter in Israel and Judah.
So the runners passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed at them and mocked them. Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the LORD.
a. But they laughed at them and mocked them: Mostly, the reception among the remnant of the northern kingdom was not warm. Reflecting the same attitude of heart that brought the kingdom as a whole into exile, the people of the northern kingdom laughed at and mocked the messengers who invited them to this great Passover in Jerusalem.
i. We note there was no rational argument against the invitation; it was all opposed with simple laughter and mocking. For the frivolous and simple-minded, these replace serious thought.
ii. “Josephus saith that these Israelites thus invited slew both the messengers and those prophets also that exhorted them to go up.” (Trapp)
b. Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem: Happily, there was a remnant of the remnant that responded to the message and came from the former northern kingdom.
i. “Far more northerners participated than previously, and the recent fall of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. meant that Jerusalem now offered the only alternative for corporate worship of the Lord.” (Selman)
c. The hand of God was on Judah: The response among the peoples and villages of Judah was entirely different. God gave them singleness of heart to obey the command of the LORD and their king.
B. The Passover celebrated.
1. (13-17) Preparations and sacrifices made.
Now many people, a very great assembly, gathered at Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month. They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and they took away all the incense altars and cast them into the Brook Kidron. Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought the burnt offerings to the house of the LORD. They stood in their place according to their custom, according to the Law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood received from the hand of the Levites. For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the LORD.
a. Many people, a very great assembly: This was the greatest assembly gathered for a Passover in generations. Not only had the Passover been neglected in Judah for many years, but this Passover also included those from the remnant of the northern tribes who responded to the invitation.
b. They arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem: These were either altars to pagan gods or unauthorized altars to the true God. Both were prohibited, and as a demonstration of preparation for this great Passover, the city was cleansed of all idolatrous or unauthorized worship.
i. “So must we also first cast the baggage into the brook, and then come to the Lord’s supper.” (Trapp)
c. Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the second month: This shows the Passover being celebrated according to the Scriptural commands (allowing for the celebration of Passover in the second month according to Numbers 9:5-14). They took care to honor and obey in their celebration of this important feast.
2. (18-20) God is merciful to the ignorant worshippers.
For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.” And the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.
a. For a multitude of the people…had not cleansed themselves: This multitude seems to have mostly come from the remnant of the northern tribes, who would naturally be ignorant about how to properly prepare for Passover.
i. “It was a motley crowd which assembled, and multitudes of the people were utterly ignorant of the Divine arrangements for preparation. Hezekiah’s tenderness was manifested in the pity he felt for these people, and in the prayer he offered on their behalf.” (Morgan)
ii. “This largeness of heart is always characteristic of men who are really in fellowship with God, for it is in harmony with the heart of God.” (Morgan)
b. Yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written: We would expect that this would result in a great punishment or judgment against them. Instead, Hezekiah prayed for them, asking the good LORD to provide atonement. In response, the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.
i. This shows the wonderful and warm mercy of God. By the letter of the command, the people deserved judgment for their disobedience. Yet God showed His mercy and goodness to those who had prepared their heart to seek God, though in ignorance they did not do it all according to the commandments.
ii. “Unaccustomed to temple usage, strangers to the temple rites, they had participated in the festivities of this great Passover without submitting first to the necessary ablutions. Their heart was prepared to seek God, they were proud of the great past, they desired to stand right with the Lord God of their fathers; but they were sadly ignorant and careless. The only thing to be done was to pray that their ignorance and negligence might be forgiven.” (Meyer)
iii. “You may not understand doctrine, creed, or rite; but be sure to seek God. No splendid ceremonial nor rigorous etiquette can intercept the seeking soul.” (Meyer)
iv. Their pattern of preparing to receive the Passover is instructive for those who come to the communion table, especially those who feel unworthy to partake of communion.
· They forgot their differences and came together as one people.
· They removed their idols.
· They prepared their hearts.
· Their sins and ignorance were confessed.
· They prayed.
3. (21-22) Worship, teaching, and fellowship.
So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing to the LORD, accompanied by loud instruments. And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the LORD; and they ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers.
a. So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem: There was special gladness for these who had come from the northern tribes. They had never before experienced such obedient and joyful worship, where they praised the LORD day by day, singing to the LORD.
b. All the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the LORD: The gathering at this Passover was not only given to worship, but also to teaching. This was helpful and good at all times; one might say it was urgently needed with the presence of the northern tribes.
i. This remnant of the remnant of the northern tribes came to God in ignorance, and in His mercy God received them (2 Chronicles 30:18-20). Yet God didn’t want to leave them in ignorance, so He used the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the LORD.
ii. “It is a fine and expressive character given of these men. ‘They taught the good knowledge of God to the people.’ This is the great work, or should be so, of every Christian minister. They should convey that knowledge of God to the people by which they may be saved; that is, the good knowledge of the Lord.” (Clarke)
c. They ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession: The third component to their gathering was fellowship. They shared the same food, the same relationship with God (demonstrated by the peace offerings) and the same need for Him (demonstrated by their confession of sin).
i. “Making confession: either, 1. Confessing their sins; which work was to accompany many of their sacrifices; of which see Leviticus 5:5; 16:21. Or rather, 2. Confessing God’s goodness, or praising of God, which oft goes under this name, as 1 Chronicles 16:8, 24, which also seems to be more proper work for this season of joy.” (Poole)
4. (23-27) The resulting joy and answered prayer.
Then the whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another seven days, and they kept it another seven days with gladness. For Hezekiah king of Judah gave to the assembly a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep, and the leaders gave to the assembly a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep; and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. The whole assembly of Judah rejoiced, also the priests and Levites, all the assembly that came from Israel, the sojourners who came from the land of Israel, and those who dwelt in Judah. So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.
a. The whole assembly agreed to keep the feast another seven days: This was a remarkable and wonderful response to their experience of worship, teaching, and fellowship. They wanted to make the necessary sacrifices to continue the feast for another week, and they did it with gladness.
i. There is no indication in the text that they offered more Passover lambs or continued eating unleavened bread, which belonged to the specific seasons of these feasts. The emphasis is on their continuation of worship, teaching, and fellowship.
ii. This was substantially supported by King Hezekiah. “A thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; which generosity is the more considerable, because it was in the beginning of his reign, when he found the royal exchequer exhausted and empty; and when he had been at great expense about the cleansing and refitting of the temple, and making preparations for this great feast.” (Poole)
b. Since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem: Since those days there had not been a Passover in Jerusalem so widely and enthusiastically celebrated.
c. The priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people: According to Numbers 6:22-27, it was the duty of the priests to bless the people with these words: The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. As the priests obeyed this command, their voice was heard, even to heaven and the people were indeed blessed.
i. “The phrase ‘the priests and the Levites’ may here be rendered as ‘the Levitical priests,’ since it was the priests whom Moses had authorized ‘to bless the people.’” (Payne)