Did Hezekiah Disregard God's Silence?
In considering a proper respect for the silence of Scriptures, one cannot help but be impressed by the exemplary attitudes of saints recorded in the Bible. Although we have previously studied and learned about the dangers of presumption in interpreting God's Word, a few Bible examples seem to suggest that the Lord had previously glossed over presumptuous sins. One such seemingly contradictory case is that of King Hezekiah, as recorded in II Chronicles 30. The goal of this article is to explain what appears to be three instances of presumption and disregard for God's silence in this chapter. Did Hezekiah, King of Judah, show disregard and disrespect for God's silence? Let us study carefully to discover the answer.
Case 1: Presumption or Preapproved Modification?
Immediately after Hezekiah's reign began in Jerusalem over Judah, he initiated a spiritual reform and restoration. In the first month of his reign, he directed the priests to sanctify themselves and cleanse the temple, which had become filled with the idolatrous rubble of preceding generations (II Chronicles 29:3-19; II Kings 18:1-6). After this cleansing, "rising early", he quickly restored the proper order of the temple worship by donating animals for sacrifices, commanding the priests to resume the proper sacrifices, organizing the musical worship as God had commanded David, directing the Levites to resume the Davidic singing, and finally inviting all to worship through "sacrifices and thank offerings" (II Chronicles 29:20-36). Next, Hezekiah sought to resume observance of the Passover feast. However, there was a problem:
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. (II Chronicles 30:2-5 NKJV)
God had proscribed that the people and priests be "cleansed" and "consecrated" before coming before the Lord (Exodus 19:10-11, 22; 28:3; 29:35). However, this apparently took time, which the people did not have at this point. So, they agreed to push the date out a month. Does that seem presumptuous? It might first appear that way, and yet the people received the Lord's blessing! Why? Please let us keep reading to understand fully:
"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." 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. (II Chronicles 30:9-12 NKJV)
Although Hezekiah and the people were not observing the proper month, God graciously permitted them to observe the Passover the following month. Why? Did God just gloss over their sin? First, God's nature is clearly one of mercy, as indicated in the above text. He is not looking to destroy, but to save (II Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23-32). But, second, God is also a just God, and He must be revered as holy (Leviticus 10:1-3). Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that the king's command was authorized and sanctioned by "the word of the Lord". When and how was that word of the Lord delivered? On at least one or two previous occasions, God revealed how the Israelites were to handle such situations.
Moreover, this was not the first time that some of God's people were unable to keep the Passover at the prescribed time of observance. During only the second observance of the Passover, which was the first observance after Israel's exodus from Egypt, some people were unable to keep the Passover at the appointed time. Hear the Lord's solution as recorded then:
And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight, in the Wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did. Now there were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and Aaron that day. And those men said to him, "We became defiled by a human corpse. Why are we kept from presenting the offering of the LORD at its appointed time among the children of Israel?" And Moses said to them, "Stand still, that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you." Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the LORD'S Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.'" (Numbers 9:5-11 NKJV)
By Hezekiah's time, the Lord had already long ago prescribed how the people were to handle exceptions. The only distinction was that the entire nation had to exercise the exceptional observance, as opposed to a few detained individuals.
Furthermore, this phrase, "at the word of the Lord", may indicate the Israelites had received a direct revelation from God. In support, we know from other books that the prophets, Isaiah and Micah, were active during this time (Isaiah 1:1; 36-39; Micah 1:1). Moreover, Scriptures often do not emphasize, articulate, or even record every revelation delivered by the Lord's prophets. For example, only in a brief postscript do we learn that David's arrangement of musicians at the Lord's house was originally commanded by the Lord (II Chronicles 29:25-26). Likewise, it could be that we are here learning only later that Hezekiah's rearrangement of the Passover's observance time came "at the word of the Lord", the details of which revelation are lost to us.
In either case, whether Hezekiah acted on contemporary revelation or ancient inspiration, the footnote indicates that God's king acted on explicit authority not presumption. Consequently, we must entreat our own consciences, "If Hezekiah did not act presumptuously, and if in fact he observed the Passover at a later date only because he had God's explicit approval, should we not also require today explicit authority for modifying God's previously delivered commands and pattern?"
Case 2: Ignoring or Atoning Transgression?
As the chapter continues recounting the events of this great observance, we learn that during the exuberant worship, an unintended transgression was committed:
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. 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. (II Chronicles 30:13-20 NKJV)
Maybe the journey had been long and time had been short, maybe these people were zealous but ignorant, maybe there were not enough priests to cleanse the people, but whatever the reason, these sojourners from the northern tribes of Israel were not properly cleansed, so their participation (eating) of the Passover was forbidden and condemning. However, God did not strike them dead? Why? Did God not care they had disobeyed? Was He simply glossing over their sin?
No, God was not ignoring their sin. In fact, God's wrath and displeasure was evidently already looming over these people prior to Hezekiah's prayer, because God "listened to Hezekiah and healed the people". There would have been no need to listen to Hezekiah's prayer, if the people were justified. There would have been no need to heal the people, if they were not condemned. Consequently, we can infer both that the unclean observance was not deliberately planned and that God was displeased with their participation, which actually condemns the attitude of presumption – not approve it.
Again, we see God's merciful nature manifested in this case. Many of these people's hearts were in the right place. And, we see that God granted unpromised mercy in this instance, based on those who were prepared in heart, even if the body was unprepared (II Chronicles 30:18-19).
We may speculate about what would have happened had Hezekiah not prayed, but the text simply does not address it, except to indicate that atonement and healing were required. Certainly, we would not want to "go beyond what was written" and assume that God would have spared them without their repentance or other mediatory intervention (Romans 14:23; I Corinthians 4:6). Instead, let us focus on what we can confidently learn from the text, which was that adding to God's command brought God's wrath, and only special mediation alleviated it.
Case 3: Violation or Generically Authorized Extension?
Lastly, as feast draws to a close, the text records a third curious instance of apparent presumption:
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. 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. (II Chronicles 30:21-25 NKJV)
After the proscribed 7 days of Passover observance were completed, the people extended the feast's observance another 7 days! Did they add to God's command? Did the Lord ignore what seems to be a blatant addition to His Word and violation of His law?
To answer this question, let us notice exactly what the people did during the feast, based on the above text:
- Levites and priests praised the Lord through singing and loud instruments.
- Hezekiah encouraged the Levites.
- The Levites taught the people the knowledge of the Lord.
- They ate.
- They offered peace offerings.
- They confessed to God.
- Hezekiah and his officials provided animals to sacrifice.
- Priests sanctified themselves.
- The whole assembly rejoiced.
Which of these actions required further approval from God? Had not God already provided general authority and a standing order for these generic acts of worship?
- Freewill offerings and peace offerings could be sacrificed anytime, but in a certain way (Leviticus 22:18-25).
- Eating of freewill offerings was to occur at the tabernacle or temple grounds (Deuteronomy 12:1, 5-7, 17-18).
- Prayer and praise were also acceptable as "freewill offerings" (Psalm 119:108).
- Confession was to be made as part of trespass offerings (Leviticus 5:1-6; Numbers 5:6-10).
- Teaching was to occur at every occasion (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
The assembly of Israel did not "add" to God's command, even though they did "add" to the feast by extending it, because God had already provided authority for them to voluntarily and additionally worship in the above manner, whenever they saw fit. Similarly, if we choose to assemble more regularly, we can (Hebrews 10:24-25). And, if we want to offer additional worship in the privacy of our own home, we can (James 5:13). The children of Israel's extension of the Passover feast is comparable to us meeting multiple times on Sunday, or even more if the need arises (Hebrews 10:25). Both are authorized by the generic permission to offer freewill worship according to the proscribed manner. Therefore, the requirement to feast for 7 days served more as a minimum requirement, given the standing authority to worship more frequently. Consequently, the Israelites did violate God's law, rather that honored it and Him.
Testing For Absurd Conclusions
Having drawn this parallel, we may naturally wonder, "If the Israelites continued to eat the holy Passover lamb for additional time, can we likewise observe our holy meal at additional times, like a Monday or Tuesday?" This seems a fair question, but let us first check the premises of this question. Did the Israelites indeed eat the Passover lamb, herbs, and other ritual elements for all 14 days?
'Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire-- its head with its legs and its entrails. You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD'S Passover.' (Exodus 12:5-11 NKJV, see also Leviticus 23:4-8)
So, the Passover lamb was not eaten for 14 days. In fact, it was not even eaten for all of the first 7 days. It had to be completely consumed or destroyed during the first night of the Passover week! Every sacrificial meal eaten during the remaining 6 or 13 days would have been centered around the meat of trespass, atonement, thanksgiving, or freewill offerings, which could be offered and eaten any time. Likewise, our holy feast, the Lord's Supper, may be observed on the Sunday of a week long "gospel meeting", but assemblies convened on every other day must focus on the freewill and thanksgiving sacrifices of our lips and hearts, not the Lord's Supper (Hebrews 13:15; I Thessalonians 5:17; II Timothy 4:1-4).
Furthermore, the text indicates that lambs were not eaten for the additional 7 days, instead they ate bulls and grown sheep. In fact, the text further indicates that this generous gift from Hezekiah and his officials, and the sanctification of additional priests, was the only reason the people could keep the feast an additional 7 days. (In the phrase, "kept it another seven days with gladness. For Hezekiah … gave ...", the word, "for", indicates causality.) Therefore, the people were not eating sacrificial Passover lambs, but rather they were eating sacrificial bulls and sheep for additional 7 days, which were generically authorized. Consequently, the analogy of observing the Lord's Supper on additional days is not parallel to this account, and therefore consistency is maintained.
In this account of Hezekiah restoring observance of the Passover feast, we find 3 curious cases of apparent presumption, which would otherwise violate a respect for God and His silence. These cases found in II Chronicles 30 are:
- Mutually agreed postponing of the observance by one month.
- Spontaneous and unscriptural observance by many unsanctified individuals.
- Adding to the number of days for which the feast was observed.
Although these events may appear to be instances of presumptuously violating the silence of the Scriptures, we see that these actually support a respectful observation of God's silence in Scripture, because:
- The postponement was authorized and the second observance commanded "by the word of the Lord".
- The contrary observance is Scripturally recognized as being "contrary to what was written", and the people needed mediatory prayer and "healing" after such ignorant but presumptuous behavior, indicating God's initial condemnation.
- The 7-day extension of the feast was already approved by the generic authority for "any time" thanksgiving, trespass, and other freewill offerings.
Therefore, upon closer inspection this account actually supports a respect for God's silence rather than providing permission to presumptuously disregard it.
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