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King Hezekiah (2): Cleansing the House (2 Chr 29.3-26)

J Gibson, Derby

It was Hezekiah’s theo-centric outlook which drove his religious reforms. Utterly devoted to Jehovah, he wasted no time in setting about the cleansing of the temple. 2 Chronicles 29 revolves around God’s house, as seen in the fourteen references to it: "the house of the Lord" (vv.3,15,16 (x2),17,18,20,25,31,35), "the house of the Lord God of your fathers" (v.5), "the habitation of the Lord" (v.6), "the temple of the Lord" (v.16), and "the porch of the Lord" (v.17). The New Testament teaches that each local assembly (the people, not the bricks and mortar) is "the house of God" (1 Tim 3.15). Just as Hezekiah’s prodigious zeal for God focused his attention on God’s house, our view of the local church is an accurate gauge of our commitment to God. If we want the same level of spiritual vitality exhibited by Hezekiah we must make the local assembly number one priority in our lives. This includes our work responsibilities, our weekend commitments, and (if there is ever time) our leisure pursuits. Neither must we be disheartened if we detect gradual declension and spiritual slippage in our lives. The speed with which the Levites cleansed the house (in only sixteen days, v.17) gives hope that where there is a willing heart there can be rapid recovery.

It is sad to notice that Hezekiah’s revival had to begin by reversing the defilement of, and damage to, God’s house that resulted from the previous generation’s neglect. His predecessors, including his father, had "done that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord our God, and…forsaken him, and…turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs" (v.6). The doors, which were designed for security, had been broken, giving potential access to thieves and robbers (v.3). At the same time they were shut, barring access for genuine worshippers (v.7). The holy place had become contaminated by "filthiness" (v.5) and "uncleanness" (v.16), probably denoting the trappings of idolatry as well as straightforward physical dirt. The lamps had been snuffed, the incense no longer burned, and the burnt offerings ceased to be offered (v.7). Pieces of temple furniture and their utensils – speaking of priestly service – lay unused (vv.18-19), while musical instruments – representing joyful worship – remained silent (v.27). This failure that took place under Ahaz’s rule resulted in God’s wrath being poured out on that generation (vv.8-9; 2 Chr 28.5, 7-21). It also pictures the awful state of disrepair into which a local assembly can fall. The broken doors and the filthiness in the holy place both answer to a careless attitude which permits immorality (1 Cor 5.6) and doctrinal error (Gal 5.9) to enter a local church. The shut temple doors may equate to "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" (Heb 10.25). Burning incense speaks eloquently of the prayers of saints rising as a sweet fragrance to God (Rev 8.3).

The New Testament exhorts believers to "shine as lights in the world" (Phil 2.15), and views local churches as golden lampstands burning brightly in a world of spiritual darkness (Rev 1.20). Any local church which fails to witness for Christ or abandons prayer has become as guilty as those who put out the lamps and stopped the incense from burning in the Lord’s house. The rich variety of animal sacrifices, which were no longer offered, and the silent musical instruments all speak of an inadequate appreciation of Calvary and an absence of worship. Ahaz left God’s house in a terrible mess. If the Lord Jesus has not returned, in what state will we leave the local assembly for the next generation? Do not forget, God holds us accountable for what we do to His house: "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Cor 3.17).

Biblical restoration always begins in the heart of individuals. Hezekiah determined in his "heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel" (v.10). "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" (2 Chr 31.21). The Levites sanctified themselves before they started on the house (29.5,15). And they moved outwards from "the inner part of the house" to "the porch" (vv.16,17), for true sanctification always starts on the inside and works its way out. It is not compliance to an extra-biblical code of conduct. Everything was also done in obedience to the Word of God. As a Judæan king Hezekiah recognized that Jehovah had "chosen (the Levites) to stand before him, to serve him, and that (they) should minister unto him, and burn incense" (v.11; see Rom 11.29). For this reason Hezekiah would not enter the sanctuary, but restricted his role to that of organisation and exhortation. The Levites cleansed the house "according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the Lord" (v.15); and they played David’s musical instruments in accordance with "the commandment of the Lord by his prophets" (v.25). They too knew their limits. Ministry in the holiest of all and the offering of sacrifices was reserved for the priests (vv.16,21). When the Levites flayed sacrifices they were not infringing these restrictions for even non-Levite worshippers were expected to do this (Lev 1.6). With thoroughness – notice the five uses of the word "all" (vv.16-19) – and energy the Levites completed their task within only sixteen days (v.17), a good example for Christian believers who are expected to serve God with ardour.

But if the Levites, the temple and its furniture and vessels were to be truly "sanctified" (QADASH - ‘to be…clean’; Strong 6942) (vv.5,15,17,19,34), something else was needed: a sacrifice that was accepted by God (vv.20-36). Knowing this, "Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord. And they brought seven bullocks, and seven rams, and seven lambs, and seven he goats, for a sin offering for the kingdom (of twelve tribes), and for the sanctuary, and for Judah" (vv.20-21). In this action Hezekiah epitomized the adage, "Think global, act local". He did what he could where he was, but having a heart for all of God’s people he ensured the sin offerings were to make reconciliation (CHATA) with their blood upon the altar, to make an atonement (KAPHAR - "to cover") for all Israel" (v.24). King and subjects identified themselves with the goats for sin offering by laying "their hands upon them" (v.23). "And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel" (v.27). Animal sacrifices, which looked forward to Calvary, laid the foundation for Israel’s temple worship, of which singing, accompanied by musical instruments, was an integral component. With gladness and reverence the Levites sang "praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer" (v.30). Singing the words of David and of Asaph guaranteed that everything they sang was correct. While there will always be disputes about which hymn book should be used in church gatherings, of this one thing we must make sure - that the words which we sing to God are doctrinally sound. And, of course, Calvary is for ever the basis of all our worship (Rev 5.9).

When the burnt offering was finished "Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated (filled your hand, Newberry margin) yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord. And the congregation brought in sacrifices and thank offerings; and as many as were of a free heart burnt offerings" (v.31). Israel responded eagerly to Hezekiah’s appeal (vv.31-33). The Apostle Peter saw Christians "as lively stones…built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2.5). Such sacrifices include "praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" (Heb 13.15), and even the presentation of their "bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is (their) reasonable service" (Rom 12.1). Every sacrifice which Israel offered was counted (vv.31-33). And nothing that Christians give to the Lord goes unnoticed by Him.

To be continued.

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