Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PECULIAR PERIL OF THE HOUR. There is no hour of greater moral danger - such is our human nature - than that immediately following great religious excitement. The leaders of revivals are well aware that this is so. There comes a certain reaction of the soul, a readiness to give way to other and to unworthy impulses; the highly strung system seeks relaxation, and becomes relaxed, and that is often found to be the enemy's opportunity; then he can sometimes find a footing, and do his deadly work. Hence the need for wisdom, and hence -
II. THE NECESSITY FOR ACTION. When "all this was finished," when there was the danger of some kind of reaction and wrong-doing, all Israel went out "and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves," etc. This was something done in accordance with their religious convictions; it was action along the line of their new devotedness to Jehovah. It was rightful action, and, as such, it was timely, and it was serviceable. Whenever there is any kind of danger, do something that is right; get to some useful work. It may not be of the highest kind; it may not be particularly meritorious or eminently useful; but so that it is rightful action of some kind, it is well. Peril passes off in labour, in wholesome exertion. If a man is doing anything which can be honestly considered by him to be done unto the Lord, he is in the way of safety and of wisdom.
III. THE PIETY OF REMOVAL. Ordinarily we can show our spirit of obedience by shunning the evil thing; by avoiding it; by "turning from it and passing away" (Proverbs 4:15), or simply by declining to touch it. But there are times and cases when this does not suffice; when our wisdom is not merely to shut the eye or to tighten the hand, but to bring the axe and to smite to the ground, and to break in pieces. Such was the wisdom of Israel in regard to all images, altars, groves, "high places." Their existence was too strong a temptation for those times; true piety was shown in their abolition, in sweeping them from sight, in clearing the temptation wholly from the view. Such is often our wisdom, our piety now. The wine-cup must be banished from the table, and even from the house. The cards must be thrown into the fire; the favourite amusement must be kept well out of reach. There are those - perhaps they are more numerous than is supposed - whose devotion to their Master is most wisely shown by an act of abolition; by placing beyond access the temptation that has again and again proved to be too strong for them. The idol must not even be kept in the cabinet; it must be broken in pieces.
IV. THE WISDOM OF THOROUGHNESS IN ALL DESTRUCTIVE SERVICE. They went on their way with their work of destruction, "until they had utterly destroyed them all." To leave any of those objects at all would have been like leaving weeds in the soil; they needed to be thoroughly uprooted. For the act of destruction to be of any lasting virtue, it was essential that it should be complete. If we are bent on destroying any vice in our nature, or ridding ourselves of any harmful habit in our life, the only thing we can do is to extirpate utterly that which is wrong; to sweep it away without reserve; to lay the axe to the root of the "evil tree." It is useless to cut weeds; they must be torn out of the soil.
V. THE HOUR FOR SACRIFICE IN CHRISTIAN SERVICE. There no doubt went to the creation of these images and altars much that was valuable in its way. There had been expended on them labour, skill, affection, piety (after its kind). There were connected with them some old and, probably, some tender domestic associations. But while they were thus costly, they must go down and disappear in the interest of truth and pure religion. Their costliness must not save them when they stood in the way of the nation's true piety and real prosperity. Nor may the costliness of any treasure we possess save it from removal from before our eyes, if it stand
(1) between us and our Master;
(2) between us and our moral and spiritual integrity;
(3) between us and our usefulness;
(4) between us and eternal life. If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee, etc. - C.
I. A POPULAR CRUSADE AGAINST IDOLATRY. (Ver. 1.)
1. When begun. "When all this was finished," i.e. after the temple had been purified and rededicated (ch. 29.), and the Passover celebrated (ch. 30.). Everything in its order. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven;" "a time to pluck up that which is planted;" "a time to break down;" "a time to rend" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, 3, 7). This time had arrived in Judah, and partially also in Israel, in the days of Hezekiah.
2. By whom undertaken. "All Israel that were present," i.e. all the members of the two kingdoms (Judah and Israel proper) that were in the metropolis observing the Passover. That they felt themselves stirred to such a vigorous assault upon the instruments and institutions of idolatry was an indication of the depth to which they had been moved by the high ceremonial in which they had borne a part. A pity was it that the nation's zeal for the true religion was so evanescent, not in Judah alone (2 Chronicles 33:2, 9), but also in Ephraim (Hosea 6:4). It is no contradiction to this that the Book of Kings ascribes this destruction of the altars, etc., to the king (2 Kings 18:4).
3. To what extent carried.
(1) Geographically, the wave of reformation swept over all Judah and Benjamin, i.e. all the southern kingdom, and over Ephraim and Manasseh, i.e. a considerable portion of the northern kingdom - that portion which had furnished feast-pilgrims to Jerusalem.
(2) Religiously, it paused not until within those territories it had swept away every vestige of idol-worship. The iconoclastic zeal of the people "brake in pieces the pillars or obelisks, hewed down the Asherim, and brake down the high places and the altars, until it had destroyed them all." A similar outbreak against the symbols of idolatry, only on a smaller scale, had taken place in the days of Jehoiada, immediately after the fall of Athaliah and the coronation of Joash (2 Chronicles 23:17, which see); never before had the land experienced such a purgation of idolatrous institutions and instruments. So thorough-going was it that even the brazen serpent made by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9), and in Hezekiah's day become an object of idolatrous veneration, was called Nehushtan, "a piece of brass," and ground to pieces (2 Kings 18:4).
II. A KINGLY ESTABLISHMENT OF THE TRUE RELIGION. (Vers. 2-4.)
1. The public ordinances of religion arranged.
(1) The priests and the Levites were divided into courses according to the plan of David (1 Chronicles 24:3, etc.), as in the reformation under Jehoiada.
(2) Each man was appointed to the special service for which he was designed - each had his own work to attend to and perform. In the New Testament Church Christ gives "to every man his work" (Mark 13:34).
(3) The works distributed amongst them were such as pertained to the temple-worship, viz. the offering of sacrifice, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, and the ministering, i.e. giving thanks and praising by means of vocal and instrumental music, "in the gates of the camp of the Lord" - a remarkable expression (see next homily).
2. The state service of religion provided for. The expense of keeping up that part of the temple-worship which was, properly speaking, national, i.e. the morning and evening burnt offerings, with the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, the new moons, and the set feasts prescribed in the Law of Jehovah (Numbers 28., 29.), the king took upon himself and discharged out of his own possessions (2 Chronicles 32:27-29). As the crown wealth was, to all intents and purposes, the nation's property, the act of the king was right; still, in. so far as the national wealth was under his control, his act was a deed of liberality. Whether Mugs or parliaments under the Christian dispensation are required or permitted to allocate national wealth to the support of religion may be open to debate; there is no room for doubting that neither kings nor statesmen are hindered from devoting portions of their own wealth to the cause of Christ, i.e. to the up-keep and propagation of the true religion.
3. A maintenance assigned to the ministers of religion. The portion which belonged to the priests and Levites by the Law of Jehovah, i.e. the firstfruits (Exodus 23:19; Numbers 18:12, 13; Deuteronomy 26:2-4), and the tithes of land and beast (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24) - the firstfruits being assigned specially to the priests, and the tithes to the whole tribe of Levi - the king commanded the people residing in Jerusalem to render. Under the Christian dispensation the support of the ministers of religion devolves exclusively upon believers (1 Corinthians 9:7-14; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12; Galatians 6:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:6). Kings and parliaments in their official capacities have not been charged with the duty of supporting ministers of religion out of public revenues.
1. It is good to be zealously affected in a good thing, such as the suppression of idolatry.
2. It is not permissible under the gospel to suppress idolatry by violence, but only by argument and the force of truth.
3. The lawfulness of state establishments of religion in Christian times cannot be inferred from the existence of such an institution among the Hebrews.
4. Compulsory payments in support of Christ's religion are indefensible.
5. It is open to all to practise Christian liberality. - W.
I. THE SERVICE OF THE CONSECRATED LIFE; that, namely, of the priests and the Levites (ver. 2). This service was threefold:
1. Discharging sacred functions at the altar; doing for the people that which only consecrated men could do - presenting their sacrifices to Jehovah, thus standing between their fellows and their God, and constituting a medium of communion between them and him.
3. Conducting the service of song (ver. 2), and teaching the people the Law which they had themselves learned. There are many in the Christian Church who have undertaken to offer to their Divine Lord a consecrated life; and it devolves on them to yield to him their strength in these three ways.
(1) Ministration in his house or elsewhere; the special service which the minister of Christ, as such, can render; praying to God for his people, or helping them to draw nigh to God - a very valuable, indeed inestimable, service.
(2) Earnest thought and inquiry; becoming more and more fully acquainted with the mind of Christ as that is revealed in his Word or in his providence, or through the experience or research of other servants of his.
(3) Utterance of the truth thus acquired; by teaching or preaching, in the sanctuary, or the school, or the house, personally or instrumentally. For the advancement of the kingdom of Christ it is needful that there should be a large number of men, answering to the priests and Levites, who shall regularly give a consecrated life to the service of the Lord.
II. THE SERVICE OF THE SUBSTANCE. We have a very interesting instance here recorded of the full and cheerful dedication of the substance to the cause of God. Led as well as taught by Hezekiah, the people responded with tithes and firstfruits, so that there were "heaps "in the temple courts, even when everything had been taken that was required (Ver. 10). Even the remainder was "this great store." The scene suggests the truths:
1. That the offer of our substance is a most appropriate method of sacred service. How can we better express our gratitude to the great Giver of every good thing of every kind than by dedicating to him and to his service some serious proportion of the produce of our strength and skill?
2. That those who urge others to show this grace should be forward to illustrate it themselves (ver. 3).
3. That from those who have the greater privileges may be expected a very clear encouragement by example (ver. 4).
4. That, if rightly addressed, the people of God may be trusted to make a lair and even a liberal response (vers. 5, 6).
5. That such service, rendered in a religious spirit, will draw down the Divine blessing in abundance (ver. 10; and see Malachi 3:10). - C.
I. To WHAT THIS DESIGNATION BELONGED?
1. TO the tabernacle. (1 Chronicles 9:19.) The religious centre in Israel from the days of the conquest till the times of David and Solomon.
2. To the temple. (Ver. 2.) On Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, which Ahaz had closed during the latter years of his reign (2 Chronicles 28:24), but Hezekiah had now opened, cleansed, and rededicated to the worship of Jehovah (ch. 29., 30.).
3. To the Church of God.
(2) under the New Testament dispensation (Revelation 20:9).
II. WHAT THIS DESIGNATION MEANT.
1. That the Lord had pitched his tent there. This was true
(3) of the Old Testament Church as distinguished from its institutions (Psalm 132:13, 14); and
2. That those amongst whom the Lord dwelt were warriors. This, again, was true
(1) of Israel, in the wilderness and in Canaan, her principal occupation in the latter place being fighting, not always with the Lord's enemies, as should have been the case, but frequently with one another; and worshipping, though much oftener idols than Jehovah. So should it be true
(2) of Christian believers, as it is when they in any degree realize the ideal of their vocation - to fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), and to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). - W.
I. THE IMPOSITION OF THE TITHES. Done by the commandment of Hezekiah (ver. 5), not, however, acting in his own name and by his own authority, but merely publishing the Law of Jehovah for the maintenance of those who conducted the temple service. Under the old economy Jehovah was the sole Head of the Church, as Christ is under the new. For the Hebrew Church the exclusive source of legislation was not the sovereigns or prophets of the nation, but Jehovah; as for the Christian Church it is neither kings nor parliaments, neither Church dignitaries nor Church courts, but Jesus Christ. That which gave binding authority to Hezekiah's commandment was not that it was "the word of a king" (Ecclesiastes 8:4), but that it was the ordinance of Jehovah as declared by Moses (Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:12, 13, 21, 24; Deuteronomy 26:2-4). That which lends weight to human legislation in the Christian Church is the circumstance that it accords with the teaching of Christ in the New Testament Scriptures.
II. THE PAYING OF THE TITHES, ETC.
1. Promptly. "As soon as the commandment came abroad," the children of Israel began to pour in their contributions (ver. 5). The absence of delay, showed their zeal was not fanatical, but religious, and not seeming, but real - the last thing to be affected by a man's religion being his purse; perhaps also it proved that the king's liberality had been not without its influence (2 Chronicles 30:24), as certainly it imparted additional value to their gifts. Qui cito dat bis dat.
2. Faithfully. Nothing was omitted or evaded that the Law enjoined. The people presented "the firstfruits of corn, and wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field;" paid in the tithes or tenth parts Jehovah had assigned as a portion for the whole tribe of Levi (ver. 5), as well as the tenth parts of such things as were dedicated to the Lord (ver. 6); and rendered free-will offerings to Jehovah over and above what had been directly commanded (ver. 14).
3. Unweariedly. It was no sudden fit of liberality which had overtaken them and quickly expended itself. The firstfruits presenting, tithe-paying, and free-will offering went on for four months (ver. 7). Many can do a generous deed when seized by a momentary impulse, but are wholly unable to bear the strain of continuous giving. That these ancient givers grew not tired of their liberality was a proof that it proceeded from principle rather than from impulse - showed they were acting more from respect to the Divine Law than from a desire to gratify their own feelings.
4. Abundantly. So extraordinary was the outburst of liberality, that not only had the priests and Levites obtained the most ample maintenance, having had enough to eat and plenty over (ver. 10), but so fast came the people's offerings in that they were obliged to be piled up in heaps (ver. 6), while so liberal had they been that, when the tithe season ended, so great a store remained (ver. 10), that the priests and Levites were guaranteed against want throughout the rest of the year. The Christian Church might herein find an example. It is poor policy, besides being unscriptural (Luke 10:7; 1 Corinthians 9:14), for Churches or congregations to starve or underpay their ministers.
5. Generally. Most likely there were those who refused to comply with the king's commandment, acting from a spirit of avarice which could not bear to part with their goods, or a spirit of unbelief which secretly hankered after the false gods they had formerly worshipped, or from a spirit of indifference, because they had no real interest in religion; and doubtless there were those who gave grudgingly and of necessity, adhering strictly to the letter of the Law, never going beyond the bond if they could help it, and certainly never throwing in any free-will offerings; but manifestly also the main body of the people, in the northern kingdom (ver. 5) no less than in the southern (ver. 6), yielded obedience to the king's commandment, and fell in with the order of the day.
III. THE STORING OF THE TITHES.
1. The chambers for their reception. These were prepared in the house of the Lord (ver. 11), in accordance with instructions from Hezekiah, but whether they were old cells or new cannot be determined.
2. The officers for their supervision.
(1) Two superior - Cononiah the Levite, and Shimei his brother (ver. 12).
(2) Ten inferior-Jehiel and Azaziah, Nahath and Asahel, Jeri-moth and Jozabad, Eliel and Ismachiah, Mahath and Benaiah - who acted as subordinates and assistants to the two chiefs, who derived their authority from Hezekiah the king, the chief magistrate in the state, and Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok (ver. 10), and ruler of the house of God (ver. 12).
IV. THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE TITHES, ETC.
1. The distributors.
(1) The chief - Kore, signifying "Partridge" (Gesenius), a name borne by the son of Ebiasaph (1 Chronicles 9:18), and here by the son of Imnah. By descent a Levite, he was by occupation "a porter towards the east," i.e. keeper of the king's gate on the east side of the temple.
(2) The assistants, six in number, named Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, resided in the cities of the priests in different parts of the country.
2. The distribution.
(1) Kore distributed to those priests and Levites who served in the temple, first of such things as were required for the maintenance of themselves and the male children over three years of age who accompanied their parents (being priests) to Jerusalem when the turn came for these to serve, and secondly of such things as were necessary for any portion of their temple service. The distribution to the priests was according to fathers' houses (ver. 17) - so much for every house, according to its size; that to the Levites was to individuals from twenty years old and upwards, according to a carefully prepared register.
(2) The assistants distributed necessary portions to those priests and Levites who resided in the priests' cities, not being at the time engaged in active duty at the temple, and to the families of these as well as of those who were engaged (vers. 15-19). Both parts of this work were performed with scrupulous fidelity (ver. 18); the distributors "acted in a holy manner with the holy gifts," distributing them "impartially and disinterestedly to all who had any claim to them" (Keil). Learn:
1. The duty of Christ's people to support the ministers of religion.
2. The voluntary character of all acceptable payments towards religion.
3. The necessity of order and system in Church finance.
4. The excellence of Christian liberality. - W.
I. THE DISTINCTLY SACRED CHARACTER OF CHURCH FINANCE. What was given here was placed within the precincts of the temple, for it was given to the Lord while it was appropriated to his ministers. It was a religious act on the part of the donors, and not less so on the part of those whose special duty it was to distribute it. "They brought in the dedicated things faithfully (ver. 12); and according to their fidelity did they show themselves holy in regard to the holy; "i.e. they acted in a holy manner with the holy gifts, distributed them disinterestedly and impartially (Keil). There is no reason why both the giving of money to the cause of God (and included in this is the contribution to the sustenance of the Christian ministry) and also the allocation of all such money should not be a thoroughly devout and pious action. It may be rendered as truly "unto the Lord" as the singing of a hymn or the delivery of a discourse. It should be a sacred service, offered conscientiously, devoutly, holily.
II. SYSTEMATIC COLLECTION OF CHURCH FINANCE. While considerable room was left under the Law for spontaneous liberality and for special offerings under peculiar circumstances, there were certain regulations as to tithes and firstfruits (ver. 5). These latter were not optional, but obligatory; at the same time, they do not seem to have been recoverable by legal process; but they point to systematic contribution not unattended with special and spontaneous bestowments. And this surely is the right principle in the Christian Church.
1. Let every man consider what proportion of his income, considering
(1) the amount of his receipts, and also
(2) the measure of his liabilities, he can possibly devote to the cause of God and man, of religion and philanthropy; and let him set that apart.
2. Let every one of us be prompted to give special help whenever some specially powerful appeal is made to our spiritual convictions or our human sympathies.
III. SYSTEMATIC DISTRIBUTION. This is something which must depend upon the constitution of each particular Church, and must vary according to that constitution. But there are some general principles, partly suggested by these verses.
1. Let every care be taken that all that is contributed be devoted and distributed, none being wasted or perverted. Here is scope for carefulness and for faithfulness.
2. Let the necessities of those on whom God has laid the weightier domestic burdens be generously met.
3. Let those who are engaged in the less prominent places be as much regarded as those who are "serving at Jerusalem" (see vers. 15, 19).
4. Let men of acknowledged probity and capacity have charge of the treasury (see vers. 12-14). - C.
I. ITS ESSENTIALLY SPIRITUAL NATURE. It is not a question of mere temperament; it is a distinctly moral quality. Men may be endowed with a very ardent nature, and they may, as a consequence of their natural disposition, without any praise or blame attaching to them, espouse any and every cause they adopt with the greatest warmth, throwing into it an almost consuming energy. Yet they may be far from being earnest men. Such moral earnestness as Hezekiah had, which was the glory and crown of his character, was more than this, was different from this. It was the consecration and concentration of his powers to the full performance of that which he saw to be right. It was the conscientious and determined keeping to the front, holding in full view of his soul those things which he knew to be of the first importance, which he felt entailed the weightiest obligation. Earnestness was with him, as it should be with us, not a constitutional peculiarity, but a spiritual force.
II. THE DIRECTIONS IT SHOULD TAKE. Just those which it took with the wise King of Judah; he sought and wrought the good and the right and the true thing.
1. The pursuit of truth. The first thing for a man to know is - What is the truth? Who is right? What is our life? Who and what are we ourselves? What can we accomplish on the earth? What is the range and what are the limits of our powers? To whom are we accountable for all we are and do? When we die, shall we live again? Has God spoken to us now in the Person of Jesus Christ? It becomes every man patiently, diligently, determinately, earnestly, to seek an answer to these questions until he finds it.
2. The acquisition of rectitude of character. To become right with God, to be right at heart, to be governed by fight principles, to be moved and prompted by a right spirit, to have a character that is sound and strong, - this also is a thing to be earnestly endeavoured after until it is attained.
3. The accomplishment of that which is good and useful. It should be our most earnest hope and effort to live a life that will be one of faithful service; and, in particular, to be the servants of God. Here the earnestness of Hezekiah shone forth most brightly. "In every work that he began in the service of the house of God... to seek his God, he did it with all his heart." To promote the cause and kingdom of Jesus Christ, and in this way to contribute toward the elevation and well-being of our kind, - this is a direction in which our earnestness should stand out strong and clear. Let us be unmistakably in earnest in all the work we do for our Divine Saviour - for him who gave himself for us. Let us live and labour "with all our heart," and with all our strength, never flagging nor failing, maintaining our devotedness through the heats of youth, and through the vigour of manhood, past the golden days of prime, still "bringing forth fruit in old age."
III. ITS SUCCESS. Hezekiah "prospered;" he prospered generally because God loved him and smiled upon him, and was "with him." He prospered also in those particular spheres in which he manifested so much earnestness. It is earnestness that does prosper. Indifference does not leave the starting-post. Impulsiveness soon turns back. Halfheartedness is weary long before the course is run. But earnestness clasps the goal and wins the prize. - C.
I. A LOFTY CONCEPTION OF WHAT TRUE PROSPERITY IS.
1. Negatively. It is not personal, material, and temporal aggrandizement, inasmuch as one might gain the whole world, and yet lose his own soul (Matthew 16:26); thus seeming to succeed, but in reality only gaining a disastrous failure.
2. Positively. It is working that which is good, right, and faithful before the Lord as Hezekiah did - constructing a life in harmony with the Divine ideal of what a life should be, viz.
(1) good, such as God can approve, admire, and pronounce excellent (Genesis 1:31);
(2) right, according with the law of duty prescribed for God's intelligent creatures; and
(3) faithful, in the sense of proceeding from a spirit of fidelity towards God. A life fashioned after this model is prosperous, no matter what its external environment may be.
II. A RIGHT IDEA OF HOW TRUE PROSPERITY SHOULD BE SOUGHT.
2. Generally, by seeking God. Only in the knowledge and service, favour and fellowship of God, can the ideal of life above outlined be realized. To designate that career successful which has never proposed for its aim, and consequently never reached as its end, a personal acquaintance with God - which has never occupied itself with either ascertaining or doing God's will - is simply to misapply language.
2. -Particularly, by rendering to God acceptable worship and true obedience. To worship and obey God the chief end of man. No life can be successful which offers its homage and service to another than God, or offers only homage self-devised, and service self-directed. Both in worship and in duty the Law of God, with its specific commandments, must rule.
III. A CORRECT METHOD OF PURSUING AFTER TRUE PROSPERITY. It must be sought after:
1. Always. Hezekiah kept the above aim before him "in every work that he began." Mere occasional efforts after goodness will result in nothing but failure.
2. Earnestly. Hezekiah sought it with all his heart. Half-hearted endeavours can only terminate in feeble achievements. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:10); "This one thing I do" (Philippians 3:13).
3. Religiously. Whatever works Hezekiah engaged in were done "before the Lord his God," as in his sight and for his glory. So should it be with Christians. "Whether therefore ye eat or drink," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:31); and "Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord," etc. (Colossians 3:23). - W.