2 Chronicles 31 – Provision for the Priests
A. The aftermath of Hezekiah’s Passover.
1. (1) The work against idolatry.
Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke the sacred pillars in pieces, cut down the wooden images, and threw down the high places and the altars; from all Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh; until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned to their own cities, every man to his possession.
a. All Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke the sacred pillars: After the glorious double-length Passover celebration, the people renounced all idolatry in the strongest terms possible.
i. “Hezekiah’s previous emphasis on removing the paraphernalia of idol worship (cf. 2 Chronicles 29:15-19; 30:14; also 2 Kings 18:22) now became a popular movement.” (Selman)
b. From all Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh: This shows how broad the work was, including not only the kingdom of Judah but also substantial portions of the territory of the northern tribes.
i. This reformation “was not only carried on through Judah, but they carried it into Israel; whether through a transport of religious zeal, or whether with the consent of Hoshea the Israelitish king, we cannot tell.” (Clarke)
2. (2-3) The restoration and support of the regular priestly work.
And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites according to their divisions, each man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and peace offerings, to serve, to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the camp of the LORD. The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for the burnt offerings: for the morning and evening burnt offerings, the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths and the New Moons and the set feasts, as it is written in the Law of the LORD.
a. And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites according to their divisions: Hezekiah did not allow the recent Passover celebration to be a one-time event. He followed up by the organization and institution of the regular priestly service.
i. “The Hebrew for Hezekiah’s assigning the priests to divisions is definite: he ‘appointed THE divisions of the priests.’ He reestablished the twenty-four rotating courses that had been set up by David (1 Chronicles 25) to insure orderly worship.” (Payne)
b. For burnt offerings…to serve…to give thanks…and to praise in the gates: This shows some of the duties of the priests and the Levites. Their work included the administration of the sacrifices, general service, and worship.
i. In the gates of the camp of the LORD: “Of the temple, fitly compared to a camp, for the watch and the ward there kept by the priests, and for the convention of the people thither, as to their rendezvous, to pray, which is the chief service of our spiritual warfare.” (Trapp)
c. The king also appointed a portion of his possessions: King Hezekiah was so committed to the restoration of the proper priestly service that he personally supported their work with a portion of his possessions.
3. (4-5) The tithe is commanded and brought.
Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD. As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
a. Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites: King Hezekiah did not present this as an option for the people of Judah. They were commanded to fulfill their obligations under the Law of Moses to support the priesthood through their tithes (Numbers 18:21-24).
i. As God said in Numbers 18:21, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel. God commanded the tithes (a giving of ten percent of one’s income) be given to the Levites for their support. This establishes the principle that the tithes belong to God (He said I have given, so they are His to give), but He gave them to the Levites.
ii. When an Israelite failed to give their tithe, they were not robbing the Levite – though the money ended up with them. They were robbing God (Malachi 3:8-10), because God received the tithe from the giver, and He gave it to the Levite.
iii. Some today think the tithe, since it went to support the Levites (who were, in a sense, government workers in ancient Israel), is covered by government taxes of today, and that the free-will giving mentioned in the Old Testament answers to the New Testament emphasis on giving. We can say that the New Testament nowhere specifically commands tithing, but it certainly does speak of it in a positive light, if it is done with a right heart (Luke 11:42).
iv. It is also important to understand that tithing is not a principle dependent on the Mosaic Law; as Hebrews 7:5-9 explains, tithing was practiced and honored by God before the Law of Moses.
v. What the New Testament does speak with great clarity on is the principle of giving; that giving should be regular, planned, proportional, and private (1 Corinthians 16:1-4); that it must be generous, freely given, and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9).
vi. Since the New Testament doesn’t emphasize tithing, it need not be strictly applied by Christians (though some Christians do argue against tithing on the basis of self-interest); but since giving is to be proportional, we should be giving some percentage – and ten percent is a good benchmark – and starting place! For some to give ten percent is nowhere near enough; for others, at their present time, five percent may be a massive step of faith.
vii. If our question is, “How little can I give and still be pleasing to God?” our heart isn’t in the right place at all. We should have the attitude of some early Christians, who essentially said: “We’re not under the tithe – we can give more!” Giving and financial management is a spiritual issue, not just a financial one (Luke 16:11).
b. That they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD: This reminds us of another duty of the Levites, beyond what was mentioned in 2 Chronicles 31:2 – the study and teaching of the Law of the LORD. The support of the Levites through the tithes of the people enabled this.
i. This is much the same principle as what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:17-18: Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
c. As soon as the commandment was circulated…they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything: The response of the people was impressive. Instead of thinking of reasons why this command did not apply to them or excuses to relieve themselves of the obligation, they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
i. “The firstfruits were the priests prerogative (Numbers 18:12-13), but the tithe, whether of crops and fruit or the herds was presented to the Levites (Numbers 18:21; cf. Leviticus 27:30-33).” (Selman)
B. The distribution and blessing of the tithe.
1. (6-10) The reception of the tithes.
And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the LORD their God they laid in heaps. In the third month they began laying them in heaps, and they finished in the seventh month. And when Hezekiah and the leaders came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD and His people Israel. Then Hezekiah questioned the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps. And Azariah the chief priest, from the house of Zadok, answered him and said, “Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed His people; and what is left is this great abundance.”
a. In the third month they began laying them in heaps: The giving of tithes was so abundant that it took four months to simply receive all the gifts. No wonder Hezekiah and the leaders blessed the LORD and His people Israel when they saw the evidence of generous giving.
i. “They blessed the Lord; both for giving such plentiful provisions to his land in this year, and for giving his people such liberal and pious hearts towards this good work.” (Poole)
ii. Their happiness was not only because it meant that there would be plenty for the priests and Levites, it also showed that the Spirit of God was working powerfully in the people of Israel.
iii. The tithe of holy things: “The tithe of the holy or dedicated things probably refers to gifts made by the Levites to the priest from what they themselves had received.” (Selman)
b. Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and have plenty left: The priests and Levites had long been neglected, and now they had plenty.
2. (11-19) The administration of the tithes.
Now Hezekiah commanded them to prepare rooms in the house of the LORD, and they prepared them. Then they faithfully brought in the offerings, the tithes, and the dedicated things; Cononiah the Levite had charge of them, and Shimei his brother was the next. Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah were overseers under the hand of Cononiah and Shimei his brother, at the commandment of Hezekiah the king and Azariah the ruler of the house of God. Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, the keeper of the East Gate, was over the freewill offerings to God, to distribute the offerings of the LORD and the most holy things. And under him were Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, his faithful assistants in the cities of the priests, to distribute allotments to their brethren by divisions, to the great as well as the small. Besides those males from three years old and up who were written in the genealogy, they distributed to everyone who entered the house of the LORD his daily portion for the work of his service, by his division, and to the priests who were written in the genealogy according to their father’s house, and to the Levites from twenty years old and up according to their work, by their divisions, and to all who were written in the genealogy; their little ones and their wives, their sons and daughters, the whole company of them; for in their faithfulness they sanctified themselves in holiness. Also for the sons of Aaron the priests, who were in the fields of the common-lands of their cities, in every single city, there were men who were designated by name to distribute portions to all the males among the priests and to all who were listed by genealogies among the Levites.
a. Hezekiah commanded them to prepare rooms in the house of the LORD: King Hezekiah was wise enough to know that it was important to properly manage the generous gifts of God’s people. They were concerned to do everything faithfully, out of respect to both God and His people who generously gave.
b. Cononiah the Levite had charge of them: Hezekiah put faithful men in positions of responsibility and accountability over these tithes. The king knew that faithful administration is promoted when people are accountable as overseers.
i. “Good planning and the implementation of adequate supporting structures provide a framework in which wholehearted and meaningful worship can take place. Hezekiah therefore prepared storerooms to receive the gifts, and various officials were appointed to collect and distribute them.” (Selman)
c. They distributed to everyone who entered the house of the LORD his daily portion for the work of his service: The tithes were used to support those who did the work of ministry to the LORD and His people (and of course, to support their families as well).
i. “This is alleged as a reason why their wives and children were provided for out of the holy things, because they sequestered themselves from worldly affairs, by which they might otherwise have provided for their families, and entirely devoted themselves to holy administrations.” (Poole)
ii. “Moses had ordered that the Levites should not begin their labour till they were thirty years of age: but David changed this order, and obliged them to begin at twenty.” (Clarke)
3. (20-21) Hezekiah’s godliness and prosperity.
Thus Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and true before the LORD his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, in the law and in the commandment, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart. So he prospered.
a. He did what was good and right and true before the LORD his God: Hezekiah’s godliness was exemplary among the kings of Judah. His concern was not primarily for political power or prestige, but for what was good and right and true before the LORD. Additionally, when he did something he did it with all his heart.
i. “Hezekiah finished his task because he sought God wholeheartedly. In this, he complied with David’s advice (cf. 1 Chronicles 22:19; 28:9) and followed the pattern of other kings (cf. 2 Chronicles 15:17; 22:9; cf. 2 Chronicles 11:16; 19:3).” (Selman)
ii. “In every respect he was a thoroughly excellent man, saw his duty to God and to his people, and performed it with becoming zeal and diligence. May God ever send such kings to the nations of the world; and may the people who are blessed with such be duly obedient to them, and thankful to the God who sends them!” (Clarke)
b. So he prospered: His prosperity was evidence of the blessing of God, especially in connection with his own generosity and wise stewardship.
i. “These words reveal his purpose, his method, and the result; and form a revelation of abiding value to all who are called upon to perform Divine service in any form. His purpose was ‘to seek his God’; and the expression is exactly equivalent to that with which we are familiar: ‘Seek ye first His kingdom.’ His method was that of complete devotion, ‘with all his heart.’ The result was that of prosperity, that is, of success in the very work which was attempted.” (Morgan)