King Ahaz reigned with evil. He left his kingdom staggering beneath the debt of a heavy tribute to Assyria, wars at his borders, depleted treasuries, crumbling city defenses, a robbed, desecrated, and shut temple, and refugees that swelled the population of Jerusalem beyond it’s protective walls.
Yet when Hezekiah became king of Judah, the first thing he did was to cleanse the temple and reestablish the Passover Feast. When so much was at stake, why did he choose to first redirect the hearts of his people to God?
Hezekiah sent out invitations to come to the Passover. His messengers were “laughed to scorn,” and he wondered if any would come. But they did.
The people poured into Jerusalem, even from Israel to the north, to come to the Passover. They came like thirsty travelers searching for the waters of life. They came footsore and at risk as they crept beneath the watch of foreign rulers. They came to offer sacrifices again in the Temple of the Lord.
Immediately following the Passover Feast, the Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred for seven days. During this feast the people went daily to the temple where the priests offered sacrifices. These symbolized the sacrifice of their own desires and a willingness to bend to an omnipotent will. And there each day, the Levites taught them from the words of the Law. The people continued to go, drinking as if their thirst could not be quenched, listening to the words they had not heard for so long, some for generations.
As the final days of the feast neared a close, the people seemed almost desperate to hear all they could. The temple courts filled from first light to past the evening sacrifice, while the Levites continued to teach. On the last day, a message was sent to Hezekiah and he went to the temple to see this great gathering. There he found a large congregation eagerly listening for what they feared was the final time.
His heart went out to them, and he asked them, “Would it be your desire to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread for a second week?”
The people, who only understood it meant that they could continue to be taught, did not consider the restricted diet the feast required. “And the whole assembly took counsel to keep other seven days: and they kept other seven days with gladness” (II Chronicles 30:23).
Hezekiah also established a pattern of learning for everyone in his kingdom, so that it was said of his days that men, women and children all knew the Law.
Some amazing things happened after the feast ended. First, when asked to bring their free-will offerings and tithes again to the temple—this request came when the people were already poor from the taxes under Ahaz, from weak harvests, and from undisciplined living—the peoople responded with hearts that had been changed. The outpouring of their offerings amassed in “heaps” and new rooms of storage had to be built to protect them.
Another outcome of this change of heart was that Judah began to prosper and the kingdom became strong. “And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God. 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, and prospered” (II Chronicles 31:20,21). (See also II Chronicles 32:27-30.)