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From The Decline Of The Two Kingdoms
CHAPTER 10 - HEZEKIAH, (THIRTEENTH) KING OF JUDAH. HOSHEA, (TWENTIETH) KING OF ISRAEL.
Accession of Hezekiah - Political Circumstances of the Times - Religion the only True
National Policy - The Position of Assyria in relation to Judah - Religion the Central
Principle of Hezekiah's Reign - Idolatry Abolished in Judah - Restoration of the Temple
Services - Purification of the Temple - Services of Re. Consecration - Celebration of the
Pass-over - Invitation to the Northern Tribes - Subsequent Festival - Re-arrangement of
the Temple-Services - Provision for Priests and Levites - General Inferences - Activity of
Hezekiah in regard to the Canon of Scripture.
THERE is not a more striking instance of Divine mercy on the one hand, nor yet, on the other, of the personal character of religion even under the Old Testament, than that Ahaz should have been succeeded on the throne of Judah by Hezekiah. His name,* "Strength of Jehovah," or, perhaps better, "God is might," was truly indicative of the character of his reign. In every respect - not only as regarded the king personally, but also in the results of his administration, as affecting his country and people - this period was in complete contrast to that which had immediately preceded it.
Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, towards the close* of the third year of Hoshea's reign in Israel.
He was therefore a witness of the events which befell Samaria. From a merely political point of view, the position of a king of Judah must have been one of no small difficulty. In the northern kingdom Pekah had sown the wind, and Hoshea would reap the whirlwind. The one had brought upon himself the might of Assyria; the other would ultimately lose crown and life in his attempts to shake off the yoke of the conqueror. And in his ruin would Israel be involved. Assyria was the paramount power, not only in Samaria, which was so soon to become a province of that empire, but in Judah also. For Ahaz had made himself tributary to it, and held his crown almost at the mercy of the great world-empire. And, as will appear in the sequel, Hezekiah himself was to feel the power of Assyria even before he came into actual conflict with it.
All this succession of evils, and those which were still to follow, were the consequences of the disbelief and unbelief of Ahaz. As he had discarded the religion of Jehovah, so he despised His Word. In the political circumstances of the country, the only alternative before him was either to trust in the Lord for deliverance, or else to surrender to a foreign power. Against the admonitions and warnings of the great prophet, who had assured him of Divine help, Ahaz had chosen the second alternative. His resolve was not only sin: it was folly. His short-sighted policy brought in another power whose domination could never afterwards be permanently shaken off. Afterwards, when the kingdom of Israel came to an end, the two rival world-empires, Assyria and Egypt, stood face to face, only separated by little Judah - an object of ambition to both, a help to neither, yet whose subjection was absolutely necessary to Assyria, not only in view of its further projects, but even if previous conquests were to be preserved. And for an Assyrian monarch not to be successful was, as this history has shown, to lose crown and life.
So matters stood when Hezekiah ascended the throne. Of all the political combinations possible to him, he chose none. He returned to the point from which Ahaz had departed. His policy was not to have any policy, but to trust in the living God, to obey His Word, and to follow His guidance. His policy was his religion, and his religion was true policy. The only occasion on which he was tempted to deviate from it was at a later time, and it well-nigh proved fatal to him, as in the sequel it certainly did to his successors. Not that Hezekiah neglected to avail himself of political combinations as they arose. Indeed, this became the source of his danger. He may have argued that not to make use of the means placed within his reach was fatalism, not faith. In this he erred. Yet he did not put his trust in such alliances. He treated them rather as means for defensive, than as instruments sought for offensive purposes. The only real help which he sought was that of the living God.
Thus religion was the central principle of his reign and the secret of his success. The first act of his government was to abolish every kind of idolatry, whether of foreign or domestic origin. The "bamath," or "high places," were abolished; the matsebhoth, or stone pillars and statues erected for the worship of Baal, were broken down; and the Asherah,* or wooden symbol of the lascivious worship of Astarte, was cut down. Nay, even the brazen serpent, which had apparently been preserved** since the time of Moses, and had, no doubt in degenerate times, become almost an object of worship, was now destroyed, having received the appellation*** which, when made an idol, it deserved - Nechushtan, "brazen," a piece of brass (2 Kings 18:4).
In general, the sacred text describes Hezekiah as unequaled in religious earnestness and in conformity to the Divine law by any even of the pious kings that had preceded, or who succeeded him, and it places him on a level with "David his father." And this is fully vindicated by his abolition of even that form of Jehovah-worship on "heights" which Solomon, as well as Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Amaziah, and Uzziah had tolerated (1 Kings 3:2;15:12, 14;22:43; 2 Kings 12:3; 14:4; 15:4, 35).
But the reformation initiated was not only negative, and Hezekiah restored the services of the Temple in their completeness and purity. From the detailed account in the Book of Chronicles, we learn that "the house of the Lord" had actually been closed (2 Chronicles 29:3, 7). By this we understand the closing of the Sanctuary itself, that is, of the holy and most holy places, since Ahaz continued to use the court of the priests, although for sacrifices at the heathen altar which he had reared. But now the doors of the Sanctuary were repaired, and once more thrown open. Then Hezekiah "gathered" the priests and Levites in "the wide place on the east,"* probably some well-known locality in the eastern part of the Temple-buildings** (comp. Ezra 10:9; Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 16).
This for the purpose of calling upon them to sanctify themselves, and to remove the heathen abominations which had defiled the Temple. And with this object, the king made in their hearing an earnest review of the sinful past, with its consequent judgments, and a declaration of his purpose "to make a covenant with the Lord."
The response to his appeal was immediate and hearty. In the account of the work now taken in hand by representatives of the Levites they appear once more according to their ancient division into the three families of Kohath, Merari, and Gershon, as David had arranged their courses (1 Chronicles 23:6-23, comp. ver. 27). With these were conjoined as a special branch, probably on account of their pre-eminence (Numbers 3:30), the representatives of the house of Elizaphan, a chief of the Kohathites (Exodus 6:18). Next in the enumeration we find the representatives of the three ancient divisions of Levite musicians - the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and Jeduthun (comp. 1 Chronicles 25:1-6; 2 Chronicles 5:12).
While these heads of Levite houses gathered their brethren to do the work assigned to them, the priests similarly cleansed the inner part of the house, when the Levites flung the remnants of past heathen defilement into the brook Kidron. It marks the zeal with which the work was carried on that, begun on the first day of the first month of the first year of Hezekiah's reign - reckoning its ecclesiastical commencement from the month Nisan* - it was completed on the sixteenth day.
Then the vessels which Ahaz had cast away were restored, viz., the altar of burnt-offering, the stands for the brazen lavers, and that for "the sea" (comp. 2 Kings 16:14, 17).* The Temple having been thus purified, its services were recommenced with a grand function, when seven bullocks, seven rams, and seven lambs were offered for the congregation as burnt-offerings, and seven he-goats as sin-offerings** (comp. Leviticus 4:14; Ezra 8:35).
In strict accordance with the Mosaic law, all the sacred functions were discharged by the Aaronic priesthood, with sprinkling of blood on the altar, and imposition of hands on the sacrifices, denoting their vicariousness (Leviticus 1:4; 4:4, 15, 24, and Leviticus 4:7, 18, 30; 5:9). But what specially distinguishes these services is that the sin-offerings were brought not only for Judah, but "for all Israel" (2 Chronicles 29:24), indicating alike the solidarity of "all Israel" as the congregation of the Lord, and the representative character of these sacrifices. And in accordance with the institution of David, the sacred strains from Levite instruments, and the inspired hymns of David and of Asaph,* once more filled the Temple with the voice of melody and of praise,** while the king, the princes of Judah, and the people responsively bowed their heads in lowly worship.
The more direct sacrificial offerings for the people were followed, at the king's suggestion, by thankofferings (comp. Leviticus 7:11, 16), also of a public character, to which "as many as were of upright heart" - probably they who had stood aloof from the idolatry of the previous reign - added burntofferings. As these thankofferings were brought by the congregation as a whole, the victims were not slain and flayed by the offerers, as was the case when brought by private individuals (Leviticus 1:5, 6); but this part of the service devolved on the priesthood, who called in, as in such case they might, the assistance of the Levites. When we remember that, besides the special "burnt-offerings" of individuals (70 bullocks, 100 rams, and 200 lambs), the "thankofferings" of the congregation amounted to no less than 600 oxen and 3,000 sheep (2 Chronicles 29:32, 33), we scarcely wonder that the priests alone should not have sufficed for the service. And as the text significantly marks, recalling the special defection of the priesthood, from the high-priest Urijah downwards (comp. 2 Kings 16:15), the number of priests who had as yet sanctified themselves was proportionally smaller than that of the more faithful Levites. "So the service of the house of Jehovah was established. And Hezekiah rejoiced and all the people, because of that which God had prepared to [for] the people [probably referring to their willing participation and contribution to these services], for the thing had come suddenly" [without long previous preparation] (2 Chronicles 29:35, 36).
What followed shows that, however sudden the impulse in this religious revival, it was neither transient nor superficial. Of all the festivals in Israel, the most solemn was that of the Passover. It commemorated Israel's national birthday as the redeemed of the Lord, and pointed forward to that better deliverance of which it was the emblem. Ordinarily this feast commenced on the evening of the 14th Nisan (Exodus 12:6, 8, and parallels). But in the present instance this was impossible. Not only had the cleansing of the Temple occupied till the 16th of the month, but a sufficient number of priests for the services had not yet sanctified themselves, while further time was required to make announcement of the Passover throughout all Israel. For, unlike the services at the reconsecration of the Temple, which seem to have been confined to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, this was to be observed as a great national festival. But it was possible to remove the difficulty thus arising. The law, while fixing the ordinary date of the Passover, had also made provision for an after-celebration of the feast on the corresponding day of the second month in cases of unavoidable hindrance (Numbers 9:6-13). This is one of the most instructive commendations on the character of the Mosaic law. It shows that the outward form was not of its essence, but was flexible and adaptable. Thus the law was not something rigidly outward and absolutely permanent, but gave indication of the possibility of an enlargement by a higher fulfillment of its spirit as distinguished from the mere letter. Hence such a provision seems like an unspoken pledge of a future transformation of the law, in accordance with the higher conditions and the wants of new circumstances. Lastly, it also affords a precedent and a warrant for such a change as that of the transference of the Sabbath from the close of the week to its beginning; from the day of rest to that of the Resurrection of Christ; from the memorial of the completion of the first creation to that of the second in the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Of this legal provision of an after-Passover, Hezekiah resolved to avail himself. We mark as specially interesting in itself, and as foreshadowing great changes in the future political and ecclesiastical organization of Israel, that Hezekiah acted in this with the advice of "his princes and all the congregation in Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 30:2). And yet more interesting is it to learn that the invitation to attend the Passover addressed by the king "and his princes" was sent not only to the cities of Judah, but to all Israel, "from Beersheba even to Dan." To this the text adds the retrospective notice that previous Paschal observances had been partial, not general: "for not in multitude [in large numbers] had they done it, as it is written"* (2 Chronicles 30:5).
This brotherly invitation to the feast of Israel's birth and the common worship of their God and Redeemer was, so to speak, the answer which repentant Judah now made to that fratricidal war which Israel had so lately waged with the object of exterminating the kingdom of David. And the letters of the king and the princes bore such tender references to past sin and judgment, and to present national calamity,* and breathed such a spirit of religious hope for the future, as almost to rise to the level of New Testament sentiment.
In spite of the mockery with which at least at first the invitation was received by the majority in what still remained of the northern kingdom, the final response was truly encouraging (comp. vers. 10, 18). In Judah it was both hearty and unanimous (2 Chronicles 30:12). From the other parts of the country "a multitude of people, even many," came from out of five of the tribes that still constituted the kingdom of Israel. For Naphtali had been annexed to Assyria, and Reuben and Gad been deported.* The festival in Jerusalem was followed by a spontaneous national movement against idolatry.
For while the purification of the Temple had been a public act of reform initiated by the king, it was left to the people gathered in Jerusalem to remove the altars in the capital, whether in private houses or in more public places, which were the remnant of the idolatrous worship introduced by Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:24).
The only drawback to the right observance of the Passover festivities was that many of the worshippers "were not sanctified." Accordingly the Levites had to offer for them the Paschal lamb, which, by the law, each offerer should have slain for himself and his house. This applied specially to those who had come from the northern kingdom (ver. 18). If, none the less, they were allowed to partake of the Paschal feast, this was a concession almost necessary in the circumstances, since otherwise theirs would not at all have been a Passover; and for this Hezekiah implored and obtained forgiveness from the Lord.*
How deeply this revival had struck its roots appears from the voluntary resolve of the people to follow up the seven days of the Passover by other seven days of festivity. For the wants of the people during that time King Hezekiah and the princes made liberal provision (vers. 23, 24). It was at this time also that the removal of all traces of idolatry from the land, briefly noticed in 2 Kings 18:4, took place. This was effected, as the fuller account in the Book of Chronicles explains, by a spontaneous popular movement which extended beyond Judah to "Ephraim also and Manasseh" (2 Chronicles 31:1), although, as we may reasonably conjecture, only in districts from which the chief inhabitants had come to Jerusalem. Closely connected with the restoration of the Temple services were the arrangements now made for their orderly continuance. The "courses" of the priests and Levites were once more settled. The public sacrifices of the congregations - daily, Sabbatic, and festive - were provided by the king as his contribution. the "portion of his substance." The latter was indeed very large (comp. 2 Chronicles 32:27-29); but the number of sacrificial animals and other requisites furnished by the king according to the requirements of the law (Numbers 28, 29) was correspondingly great. It has been calculated to have amounted to "nearly 1,100 lambs, 113 bullocks, 37 rams, and 30 goats, besides vast quantities of flour, oil, and wine for the accompanying meat and drink-offerings."*
For the personal support of the ministering priests and Levites nothing more was required than the re-enactment of the ancient provision of firstfruits, tithes, and firstlings (Exodus 23:19; Numbers 18:12, 21, etc.; Leviticus 27:30-33). These, together with "the tithe of dedicated things"* (Leviticus 27:30; Deuteronomy 14:28), were now offered in such quantity as not only to suffice for the wants of the priesthood, but to leave a large surplusage, to the thankful joy and surprise of Hezekiah and the princes.
In answer to the king's inquiry the high-priest Azariah explained that the large store accumulated was due to the special blessing bestowed by the Lord on a willing and obedient people (2 Chronicles 31:5-10). The collection of this store began in the third month - that of Pentecost - when the wheat harvest was completed, and it ended in the seventh month - that of Tabernacles, which marked the close of the fruit harvest and of the vintage. And these contributions, or dues, came not only from Judah, but also from "the children of Israel" (ver. 6); that is, from those in the northern kingdom who had joined their brethren in returning to the service and the law of their Lord.
For the storage of these provisions, Hezekiah ordered that certain chambers in the Temple should be prepared, and he appointed officials, who are named in the sacred text, alike for the supervision and the administration of these stores (verses 11-19). Again and again it is noted with what "faithfulness" one and the other duty were discharged by each in the special department assigned to him (verses 12, 15, 18).* The provision for the priesthood included not only those who were for the time actually on service in the Temple,** but also the others in the priest cities, together with their wives and children, and lastly to those in the country districts around these cities (vers. 16-19).
These and all kindred arrangements were extended throughout all Judah. And the detailed account given of the religious activity of Hezekiah closes with the twofold notice that he "wrought the good, the right, and the truth before Jehovah his God;" and that in all he undertook, whether as matter of public or private religious arrangement, "he did it with all his heart, and prospered" (2 Chronicles 31:20, 21).
To the description of the reformation inaugurated by the piety of Hezekiah, it seems desirable to add some further particulars, either illustrative of the text or derived from other notices in Holy Scripture. As regards the trustworthiness of the account of the sacrificial worship in the restored Temple - that it was not of later invention, and designed to bear out the priestly institutions first enforced in the time of Ezra - we have to point to the important fact that the number of sacrifices and sin-offerings in the time of Hezekiah notably differs from that at the dedication of the Temple in the time of Ezra (comp. 2 Chronicles 29:21, 32 with Ezra 6:17). This, considering especially the symbolism of numbers, shows that the one account could not have been framed upon the other. It follows that the Mosaic institutions must have existed in and before the time of Hezekiah, and could not, as a certain school of critics contends, have originated with the priesthood at a much later period. Indeed, as we follow the present line of argument, by a comparison of the services in the time of Hezekiah with the Mosaic institutions to which they bear reference, the conviction grows upon us not only of the existence of the latter, but of their general acknowledgment, since, keeping in view the circumstances of the previous reign, it is impossible to suppose that all this could have been "invented" in the first year of Hezekiah's reign. And as connected with this we mark that not only were the liturgical services conformed to a previous model - the Davidic - but that the hymns chanted were in "the words of David and of Asaph the seer" (2 Chronicles 29:30). This seems not only to imply the existence at the time.of Davidic and Asaphite psalms - the absence of any mention of other Psalm-collections here deserving special notice - but even to indicate some orderly collection of these Psalms in books. In short, it casts light on the beginning of the present arrangement of the Psalter in five books. It may well have been that, subject to later revision, the former collection of Psalms consisting, roughly speaking, of the two first books of Psalms (now Psalm 1-41; 42-72), was now enriched by the addition of a further collection - roughly speaking, the present third book of Psalms (Psalm 73-89), which in its present form begins with an Asaphite Psalm (Psalm 73), and has in succession eleven Psalms of the same authorship* (Psalm 73-83).
But whatever our view, or more accurately, our conjectures, on this subject, there cannot at least be doubt that Hezekiah actively busied himself, under competent guidance, with the collection and arrangement of the existing sacred literature of Israel. This is expressly mentioned as regards a part of "the Proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, collected"* (Proverbs 25:1).
And to this, as assuredly among the most important parts of Hezekiah's activity, the closing notice of his religious work done by him may also bear reference:
"And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered" (2 Chronicles 31:21).
Yeshua is the Messiah!