If we can find men like Mahath, Joel and Kish etc!
“Hezekiah began to reign when he was five and twenty years old, and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them. And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street, and said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place,” 2 Chronicles 29:1-5.
I read this chapter on the morning of December 24th. As I read it I thought that the way Hezekiah started his reign provides us with a wonderful example of how we should start 2024!
Of course, what King Hezekiah desired would never have been accomplished were it not for the faithful labours of the Levites who are named by the Lord in the verses 12-14. Surely the listing of their names and those of their fathers is a wonderful example of how God honours those who serve Him and the fathers responsible for the instilling of a spirit of concern for the testimony of God and the purity of His House in their sons!
I. THE LEVITES WHO TOOK ON THE TASK OF CLEANSING THE HOUSE OF THE LORD ACTED IN RESPONSE TO THE CALL OF THE KING.
“He in the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them. And he brought in the priests and the Levites, and gathered them together into the east street, And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place,” 2 Chronicles 29:3-5.
The state of God’s house and the conducting of the services within it are of great concern to our King, even the Lord Jesus Christ. We surely recall how it was He started and concluded His three year earthly ministry.
“And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” John 2:13-17.
“And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves, Mark 11:15-17.
The ‘zeal’ the Saviour had for His Father’s house at the beginning of His ministry was undimmed as His final days before His crucifixion dawned.
Likewise, it should be with all who claim to be Christians. The misuse and abuse of God’s house and the dishonour to Him and His name such wrong-doing brings, should be a source of great distress to us all. Furthermore, as it was with Hezekiah and the Levites of his day, we should be burdened to rectify this great sin!
1. The Levites began their task by ‘sanctifying themselves!“And said unto them, Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place. . . . . Then the Levites arose . . . . And they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD,” 2 Chronicles 29:5, 12, 15. This was the king’s directive on how this work was to be carried out.
Any reform of God’s work must begin there – a cleansing of those anxious to engage in this holy task. Soiled and backslidden believers cannot hope to carry out such a holy task. The verse, so familiar to earlier generations of Free Presbyterians, helps us here: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land,” 2 Chronicles 7:14. A wider cleansing must begin with individual and personal repentance and purging.
That is what the Levites of Hezekiah’s day would teach us. That is still the will of OUR KING!
2. The Levites acted in the understanding of the sinful rebellion of their fathers.“For our fathers have trespassed, and done that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD our God, and have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD, and turned their backs. Also they have shut up the doors of the porch, and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense nor offered burnt offerings in the holy place unto the God of Israel,” 2 Chronicles 29:6-7.
Sin can surreptitiously invade the work of God and be undetected by a slumbering people. Remember the words of Jude. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ,” Jude 1:4.
Many have found themselves seriously ill with a disease which took hold upon their body and was undetected for a long time before it broke forth and was diagnosed! So it has ever been with sin and worldliness in the history of the work of God! Remember the warning of James. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren,” James 1:14-16. The ‘luring’ forth, the drawing away of the fish after the fisherman’s bait ends in its death!
3. The Levites were made to understand just why the kingdom was in such a dire state!We are told of Judah’s state in the previous chapter. “For the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the LORD,” 2 Chronicles 28:19. It is to the great credit and honour of Hezekiah that he honoured the Lord rather than his father, king Ahaz, and publicly acknowledged the errors of his father.
Some today will find that hard to do. Owning the sins of our forebears is never easy. But if they have done wrong and left off following the Lord as they should, it is our duty to put the Lord first. Such times of conflicting loyalties arise in the work of God.
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it,” Matthew 10:34-39.
That was the spirit that filled Hezekiah and his servants. They put the honour of the Lord before the honour of their fathers!
Ulster today is in a dire state! We are overrun by the enemies of the gospel of Christ. The Province that was once known as a place where Christ and His Word were honoured is no longer such a place. Abortion is honoured; sodomy is honoured; terrorism and murder are honoured, and it has come about through the disobedience and backsliding of Christians!
I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (Amos 7:14), but I believe that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, that which our forefathers were prepared to fight and die to maintain, is about to be sold out, and that by those who profess faith in Christ! This is where sin and backsliding amongst God’s people have brought us!
I don’t believe that any effort to do right, as did the Levites back in Hezekiah’s day, will take place until there is an understanding of why we are in the state we are and a full acknowledging of the sin that has brought us here! No one will rise to try and put right what is wrong until they see that their sinful actions have helped to create this terrible situation.
That is the very essence of the work of grace! “The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins . . . And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?” Luke 3:2-3, 10. An awareness of sin instigated a desire to do right and obey God.
So it was in Hezekiah’s day and so it MUST BE in ours!
II. THE TEMPLE WAS WONDERFULLY CLEANSED
1. We must understand that it was horribly defiled!
“And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the LORD: this is that king Ahaz. For he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel. And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God, and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem. And in every several city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the LORD God of his fathers. Now the rest of his acts and of all his ways, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel,” 2 Chronicles 28:22-26.
2. Yet, despite this defilement, under God’s blessing the Levites put things right.“And they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron. Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of the LORD: so they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days; and in the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end.” 2 Chronicles 29:15-17.
The years of degradation were rectified in sixteen days by zealous godly men! What great things can be achieved when God is with us in our labours! The apostles showed us that.
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen,” Mark 16:15-20.
So it was in Hezekiah’s day. “And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly,” 2 Chronicles 29:36.
3. Wonderfully sudden and all as it was, it was a thorough cleansing.“And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron,” 2 Chronicles 29:16. We want you to see what they did with the ‘uncleanness’ that had been introduced to God’s house. They ‘carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron’. The ‘ brook Kidron’ was a place where the waste of the city of Jerusalem was generally disposed of! We would not be far astray in considering it as a public sewer! It was a place where idols and all linked to such were brought and destroyed as a means of showing just what was thought of them by the pious. (See 1 Kings 15:3; 2 Kings 23:6, 12; 2 Chronicles 30:14.)
I think back to the days of the ’60s and ’70s and the holy zeal there was against the horrible wickedness that was being introduced to the so-called Protestant churches by the activists within the ranks of the ecumenical movement and liberal theology. Protests were mounted aplenty, unorganised by ministers or elders but spontaneously carried out by men and women and young people in the face of the blatant apostasy within churches.
The Saviour said of the church at Ephesus: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars,” Revelation 2:2. They could ‘not bear them which are evil’! So it could be said of many Free Presbyterians in those days of quickening and blessing in the ’60s and ’70s. They could not, as is the case today with many, just look the other way! They had to speak out and publicly, actively voice and show their rejection of the religious trends back then.
Yes, there was thoroughness about the rejection of ecumenical apostasy in former days and it was but a following of the pattern of the reformers in the days of Hezekiah.
III. THERE WAS A RESTORING OF GOD’S ORDER IN THE TEMPLE
“Then they went in to Hezekiah the king, and said, We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, and the altar of burnt offering, with all the vessels thereof, and the shewbread table, with all the vessels thereof. Moreover all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign did cast away in his transgression, have we prepared and sanctified, and, behold, they are before the altar of the LORD,” 2 Chronicles 29:18-19.
There was a ‘cleansing’ and a ‘preparing’ and a ‘sanctifying’ of those holy vessels and furnishings God had ordained for His worship.
1. The disorder man had instigated was replaced by the order God had instituted.There is order to be observed in the worship of God – that order that He has set down in His Word. For us in the New Testament era, we must worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’. That is what the Lord Jesus taught the woman of Samaria.
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth,” John 4:23-24.
Our worship is to be ’spiritual’. That is, it is not to be a worship comprised of ‘physical’ activities. Many depend greatly on gestures, gesticulations, ‘body language’! That is not the worship ordained of God for the New Testament Church!
Furthermore, it is to be worship ‘in truth’! That is, we are to engage in the worship of God with our spiritual being, our soul, our heart. I recall the first twenty years of my life of the worship I was taught to engage in that consisted of bowing at appropriate times, reciting words and phrases in unison with others and other such activities. And all the time I was doing this I was mentally engaged in activities of a very different kind. My mind, my heart, my soul were not engaged in worship! That is the worship that many engage in and believe that by so doing they are TRULY worshipping God!
They are not! It is that worship which mankind has long offered to God and which He has rejected utterly!
The Saviour described man’s notion of worship as He rebuked the scribes and Pharisees. “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” Matthew 15:7-9.
Our worship of God is to be from the heart and completely in accordance with that which is laid down in His Word. We must not, we dare not, introduce to the worship of God that which is of our own invention. We may see all around us such ‘human innovations’ introduced into the house of God on the basis that it is thought that such would be ‘good’ and ‘helpful’ and which would ‘encourage unbelievers to come into church to worship’!
That is but the thinking of the ungodly Ahaz. “And in the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the LORD: this is that king Ahaz. For he sacrificed unto the gods of Damascus, which smote him: and he said, Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me. But they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel,” 2 Chronicles 28:22-23.
2. The cleansing and the restoration pleased the Lord greatly.“Also in Judah the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the LORD,” 2 Chronicles 30:12. The Lord’s hand was upon the worshippers. His ear was open to their prayers. “Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven,” 2 Chronicles 30:27.
The rejection of idolatry deepened and spread.
“And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness. For Hezekiah king of Judah did give to the congregation a thousand bullocks and seven thousand sheep; and the princes gave to the congregation a thousand bullocks and ten thousand sheep: and a great number of priests sanctified themselves. And all the congregation of Judah, with the priests and the Levites, and all the congregation that came out of Israel, and the strangers that came out of the land of Israel, and that dwelt in Judah, rejoiced. So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven. Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities,” 2 Chronicles 30:23-31:1.
Oh for such a rejection of sin and error and a return to the God of the Bible to be seen in our land in these last days, even an awakening like that which I believe the Saviour promised in Matthew chapter 25.
“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. . . . the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut,” Matthew 25:6-7, 10.
3. There was great joy amongst the people.Sin robs us of our joy. This David confirmed in those memorable words in his penitential prayer. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. . . . . Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit,” Psalm 51:7-8, 11-12.
The latter part of 2 Chronicles 29 and the chapter 30 are filled with the joyfulness of the people when once the worship of God was restored in accordance with God’s Word.
I hope I may be forgiven for referring once again to the days of the 1960s and 1970s but they were amongst other things, days of great joy. Any who are alive and who can recall those days in the old Ravenhill church, or in the Lisbellaw hall or in the old band hall in Omagh, where the weekly prayer meetings were first conducted after the formation of the church there, or in any other of the many places where the fledgling congregations, formed in those days first met, will tell you of the heavenly joy that filled those gatherings!
Have we not lost that joy? “The joy of the LORD is your strength,” Nehemiah 8:10. But we have little or no strength today and it is because we have lost the joy of the Lord!
The lesson is plain. There is ‘cleansing’ and ‘restoration’ to be done! There is a need of sanctified ‘Levites’ to step forward and take up this work in the open acknowledgement that we have gone back from the Lord and lost out with Him.
A new year is dawning. May it be like the first year of Hezekiah’s reign!
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
31st December 2023