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ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP (6): Contrary to What Was Written

So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the LORD commanded Moses.

But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the LORD’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the LORD commands concerning you.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they may still celebrate the LORD’s Passover. They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight…. But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the LORD’s offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin.’” – Numbers 9:4-14

This was Israel’s first celebration of the Passover Feast after the night they left Egypt in the middle of the night. They had come to Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law, including the law of the Passover. It is now a year later, and time to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt; but some of them had a problem. They were ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. What were they to do? They asked Moses, who in turn asked the LORD.

The LORD said they should wait one month, and then celebrate the Passover as commanded, but in the second month instead of the first. He cautioned them, though, that this exception applied only if they were ceremonially unclean or on a journey at the appointed time. Otherwise, they would be cut off from among the people.

Fast forward now about eight centuries. Hezekiah had just become King of Judah in place of his father, Ahaz. Ahaz had been unfaithful to the LORD, and in a time of trouble, he became even more unfaithful. Even the people of Judah did not respect him. When he died, he was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the tombs of the kings of Judah (2 Chronicles 28:27).

In the first month of his reign as king, Hezekiah charged the Priests and Levites to consecrate themselves and the Temple. They were to remove the impurities from the Temple. This they did, throwing all of the impure things into the Kidron Valley and restoring the worship of the LORD in the Temple as He had commanded. The story of this great restoration is in 2 Chronicles 29. “Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced at what God had brought about for his people, because it was done so quickly” (2 Chronicles 29:36).

As chapter 30 opens, Hezekiah sent an invitation, not only to the people of Judah, but also to the Kingdom of Israel to come for a celebration of the Passover. He, along with his officials, decided to have this Passover in the second month of the year because they had not had enough time to consecrate enough Priests to do it in the first month as prescribed.

Many of the people in the northern kingdom scorned and ridiculed the couriers bearing this invitation (which reminds us of some of our Lord’s parables of invitations given in His name!). Some, though, came from the northern kingdom and “a very large crowd assembled in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast” (v. 13).

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God – the LORD, the God of his fathers – even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. – 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 (Emphasis added, JS)

They were not indifferent to God’s Law, as were Nadab and Abihu (See this post). Nor was this an irreverent violation, such as that by Uzzah (See this post). These people came joyously to celebrate the Passover, but they did not have enough time between receiving the invitation and the time of the celebration to purify themselves from their ceremonial impurities.

According to the Law, they could not eat the Passover since they were unclean, but they ate it anyway. Hezekiah prayed at that time,

May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God… even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (Emphasis mine, JS).

As we have noted repeatedly, God is more interested in the hearts of His people than He is in their perfect obedience to the details of the rituals of the Law.

Hezekiah and the leaders in Jerusalem had already moved the Passover from the first month to the second month. In this, they followed the precedent set in Numbers when those unclean because of a dead body waited until the second month to celebrate. Yet, when some came who got the word too late to purify themselves, but ate the Passover anyway, Hezekiah asked God to accept and pardon them.

Was their worship acceptable? According to the letter of the Law, it was not. In the goodness and mercy of God, it was. Was God arbitrary or unjust in not demanding that they comply with His Law? Of course not! God is more interested in hearts that seek Him than in straining every gnat out of the cup of salvation!

Does this mean we are free to disregard what God has said? No, it does not. It simply shows where God’s heart is. He is more interested in our coming to Him in humble joy than in the minutia of His own Law. After all, He is the Lawgiver; He can set aside the requirements of the rituals of that Law. He never sets aside Law based in His own Holiness, but when occasion demands it, He can set aside the demands of ritual obedience. Thus, He always says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

Jesus appealed to this principle when Pharisees charged His disciples with guilt for plucking grain as they passed through a field on the Sabbath as He answered the Pharisees,

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew 12:7 – Emphasis added, JS)

How many times do we condemn the innocent, not because they have broken a command of God, but because they have violated one of our cherished traditions?

Let’s always remember the principles illustrated in Hezekiah’s Passover celebration. It was not in the “right” month, for they celebrated the second month, not the first. It was not by the “right” people, for many who ate it were unclean. Further, they even extended it beyond the prescribed seven days of unleavened bread!

Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites, who showed good understanding of the service of the LORD. For the seven days they ate their assigned portion and offered fellowship offerings and praised the LORD, the God of their fathers.

The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully…. The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel, including the aliens who had come from Israel and those who lived in Judah. There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place. – 2 Chronicles 30:22-27 (Emphasis added, JS)

Remember this the next time someone wants to go beyond the bare minimum in obeying God. Maybe someone goes to a nursing home to conduct a worship service – and eats the Lord’s Supper twice on a Sunday! Maybe they joyfully burst into applause while the church is in worship together. Maybe they do any of many things that are “over and above” the specific commands of God. Remember Hezekiah’s prayer and that of the priests and Levites: “God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, His holy dwelling place.

When we are more concerned with details of ritual than we are with the God whom we worship, we need to be more like the Levites “who showed good understanding of the service of the LORD.”

NEXT (7) Vain Worship of the Pharisees

PREVIOUS – (5) Irreverent or Undignified?

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