“Now” (verse 11Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel.), after the cleansing and consecration of the temple in the previous chapter, Hezekiah wants to celebrate the Passover. For this he invites all Israel and Judah. He invites Ephraim and Manasseh – by which he meant the entire ten tribe realm – in writing. He sends couriers on the way with letters calling upon the ten tribes to “to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel”. The letters are not ordinary letters, but official letters. They do not contain a request, but an assignment.
Hezekiah came to this invitation after consultation with “his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem” (verse 22For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month,). The content of the consultations is the date of the celebration of the Passover. The Passover cannot be celebrated in the first month, because the fixed day, the fourteenth day of the first month (Lev 23:55In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover.), is passed. On that day he is still busy restoring the temple. The possibility of keeping it in the second month is now being considered in the consultation. The law regulates this possibility (Num 9:10-1110“Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a [dead] person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the LORD.11In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.). The question is whether it is possible, that is to say whether the priests have consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers and whether the people will gather in Jerusalem (verse 33since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem.).
We are faced with the question of whether we are in practice holy priests. We may know we are in position (1Pet 2:55you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.), but if in practice there is no holy priesthood, no spiritual sacrifices can be brought. The other condition for a proper celebration of the Passover – that the whole people is gathered – raises the question of whether, at the celebration of the Supper, of which the Passover is a picture, we have the whole people of God in our mind. Is everyone welcome who belongs to the people of God and is clean?
The outcome of the consultation is that it is decided to keep the Passover in the second month (verse 44Thus the thing was right in the sight of the king and all the assembly.). As for the cause of the consecration of priests, we see farther in the chapter that priests have consecrated themselves (verses 15,2415Then they slaughtered the Passover [lambs] on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the LORD.24For Hezekiah king of Judah had contributed to the assembly 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep, and the princes had contributed to the assembly 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep; and a large number of priests consecrated themselves.). About the gathering of the people at Jerusalem a decree is established that a proclamation should circulate “throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan” (verse 5a5So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated [it] in great numbers as it was prescribed.), that is, from the extreme south, where Berseba lies, to the extreme north, where Dan lies. Everyone must come to Jerusalem “to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem”.
The unity of God’s people can only be expressed in Jerusalem, for there stands the altar of the LORD. Jerusalem is the only lawful place to bring offerings (Deu 12:5-65But you shall seek [the LORD] at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.6There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the contribution of your hand, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock.). There is no other place or altar where God and His people can meet.
In the New Testament the Supper is the counterpart of the Passover. Besides a memorial meal commemorating the death of Christ, the Supper is also an expression of the unity of God’s people. We see that unity expressed where believers celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the Table of the Lord. Spiritual sacrifices are brought there. The Passover is a memorial meal, a unity meal, and a sacrificial meal. In this chapter we find in the picture the great significance of this for us.
The call to the ten tribes to come refers back to the beginning, “as it was prescribed” (verse 5b5So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated [it] in great numbers as it was prescribed.). It has been not celebrated for a long time in the prescribed manner. This does not mean that it has not been celebrated for a long time, but that it has not been celebrated for a long time as a feast for the LORD in Jerusalem. It may have been celebrated by families in the houses, but that is not God’s intention. So it is not God’s intention today that every family or church celebrates its own supper. God’s desire is that the Supper be celebrated as an expression of the unity of the church where every member of the church is welcome.
After the consultation and the agreements, “couriers” are sent out (verse 66The couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with the letters from the hand of the king and his princes, even according to the command of the king, saying, “O sons of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that He may return to those of you who escaped [and] are left from the hand of the kings of Assyria.). They are not just messengers, but ‘couriers’, which shows that there is an urgent need. These are important things. The couriers go through all Israel and Judah. The first thing they say to the Israelites is not that they should all come to Jerusalem according to the prescription, but that they should repent. They must first come to the LORD.
It is not in the first place about an outer return to the old customs, but about an inner return, a return of the heart, to the LORD. First the LORD must be recognized in His rights and only then can they celebrate the Passover.
In the words of the couriers there is also hope. If they repent unto the LORD, He shall return to them that have escaped from being exiled, and have been left in the land by the Assyrians. Here we see that the kingdom of ten tribes has already been led away in exile (1Kgs 17:1-61Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”2The word of the LORD came to him, saying,3“Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.4It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.”5So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.). The words that the escaped hear from the mouths of the couriers are intended as encouragement to the remaining ones, who have seen many of their loved ones taken away by the Assyrians.
The couriers warn the remnant of the ten tribes that they do not follow the bad example of their fathers and their deported brethren (verse 77Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD God of their fathers, so that He made them a horror, as you see.; cf. Psa 78:8,578And not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not prepare its heart
And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
57But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
). Their unfaithfulness has led to the destruction they can see for themselves. When they look at this destruction and think about what it came through, they won’t persist in evil stubbornly (verse 88Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the LORD and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you.), will they? Let them yield to the LORD, and then come to his sanctuary.
The expression “yield” is literally “give a hand”. It is a special expression and occurs only here in relation to the LORD. Giving a hand has, among other things, the meaning of reconciling with the other. That is certainly the case here. It means the acknowledgment that the judgment is deserved. Giving a hand can also mean surrendering or entrusting yourself to the other person to lead you and no longer govern your life yourself.
If there is reconciliation and surrender to God, there is also the right mind to come to the sanctuary and serve the LORD their God. For God there will be no more reason to maintain His burning anger, and He will turn it away from them. If we give our hand to the Lord, we are in the right mind to come to Him in the sanctuary and can also serve Him. Instead of taking His displeasure upon us, we will rejoice His heart.
Except that repentance to the LORD has blessed consequences for themselves, it also has blessing for others (verse 99For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your sons [will find] compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn [His] face away from you if you return to Him.”). If they convert to the LORD, that is to say, return to Him, and obey Him, He shall cause those being led captive to return to them. He will then give compassion to their brothers and their sons “before those who led them captive and will return to this land”.
This indeed is a special promise. It only matters if they see their own sins and repent and if they believe that the LORD can work the heart of the Assyrians so that they let the captives go. The second depends on the first. If the hearts of the people bow before God, God will bring about restoration of His people in the land.
Thus the couriers of Hezekiah go with the invitation from city to city (verse 1010So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.). However, with a few exceptions, they are laughed to scorn and mocked. This is more often the fate of royal messengers who invite to a Divine feast (cf. Mt 22:3-73And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come.4Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are [all] butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”‘5But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business,6and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them.7But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.; Lk 14:16-2416But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;17and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’19Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’20Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’21And the slave came [back] and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’22And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’23And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel [them] to come in, so that my house may be filled.24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”; Acts 28:2424Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.). Mocking is a special form of unbelief. It is a form of self-justification if unbelief cannot find a reasonable explanation for its attitude (Neh 2:1919But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard [it], they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”; Mt 9:2424He said, “Leave; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they [began] laughing at Him.; Psa 22:88“Commit [yourself] to the LORD; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
; Acts 17:3232Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some [began] to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”). Yet there are some men that humble themselves (verse 1111Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.). It concerns some from Asher (Lk 2:3636And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with [her] husband seven years after her marriage,), Manasseh and Zebulun. They are going to Jerusalem.
In Judah is unity by “the hand of God” (verse 1212The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD.). He works that unity, or, as it literally says, He gives them one heart, as a result of the humiliation in the previous verse. Humility is the prerequisite for experiencing unity. It is our calling “with all humility” to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-32with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,3being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.). If all who belong to a local church are truly humble, the unity will be great. God will take care of that.
In verse 88Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the LORD and enter His sanctuary which He has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. there is talk of the man who gives the hand to the LORD. Here in verse 1212The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD. there is talk of “the hand of God” which is at work. Man must give God his hand and then he notices that God uses His hand. Here we see what we so often encounter in Scripture, the combination of man’s responsibility and God’s actions. We should not try to combine the two sides, because we cannot. God can do that. He is God for that.