The Reign of Ahaz
28 1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king and reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. He didn't live right in the eyes of God; he wasn't at all like his ancestor David. 2 Instead he followed in the track of Israel in the north, even casting metal figurines for worshiping the pagan Baal gods. 3 He participated in the outlawed burning of incense in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and - incredibly! - indulged in the outrageous practice of "passing his sons through the fire," a truly abominable thing he picked up from the pagans God had earlier thrown out of the country. 4 He also joined in the activities of the neighborhood sex-and-religion shrines that flourished all over the place. 5 God, fed up, handed him over to the king of Aram, who beat him badly and took many prisoners to Damascus. God also let the king of Israel loose on him and that resulted in a terrible slaughter:
6 Pekah son of Remaliah killed 120,000 in one day, all of them first-class soldiers, and all because they had deserted God, the God of their ancestors. 7 Furthermore, Zicri, an Ephraimite hero, killed the king's son Maaseiah, Azrikam the palace steward, and Elkanah, second in command to the king. 8 And that wasn't the end of it - the Israelites captured 200,000 men, women, and children, besides huge cartloads of plunder that they took to Samaria. 9 God's prophet Oded was in the neighborhood. He met the army when it entered Samaria and said, "Stop right where you are and listen! God, the God of your ancestors, was angry with Judah and used you to punish them; but you took things into your own hands and used your anger, uncalled for and irrational, 10 to turn your brothers and sisters from Judah and Jerusalem into slaves. Don't you see that this is a terrible sin against your God? 11 Careful now; do exactly what I say - return these captives, every last one of them. If you don't, you'll find out how real anger, God's anger, works." 12 Some of their Ephraimite leaders - Azariah son of Jehohanan, Berekiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai - stood up against the returning army 13 and said, "Don't bring the captives here! We've already sinned against God; and now you are about to compound our sin and guilt. We're guilty enough as it is, enough to set off an explosion of divine anger." 14 So the soldiers turned over both the captives and the plunder to the leaders and the people. 15 Personally designated men gathered the captives together, dressed the ones who were naked using clothing from the stores of plunder, put shoes on their feet, gave them all a square meal, provided first aid to the injured, put the weak ones on donkeys, and then escorted them to Jericho, the City of Palms, restoring them to their families. Then they went back to Samaria.
16 At about that time King Ahaz sent to the king of Assyria asking for personal help. 17 The Edomites had come back and given Judah a bad beating, taking off a bunch of captives. 18 Adding insult to injury the Philistines raided the cities in the foothills to the west and the southern desert and captured Beth Shemesh, Aijalon, and Gederoth, along with Soco, Timnah, and Gimzo, with their surrounding villages, and moved in, making themselves at home. 19 Arrogant King Ahaz, acting as if he could do without God's help, had unleashed an epidemic of depravity. Judah, brought to its knees by God, was now reduced to begging for a handout. 20 But the king of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser, wouldn't help - he came instead and humiliated Ahaz even more by attacking and bullying him. 21 Desperate, Ahaz ransacked The Temple of God, the royal palace, and every other place he could think of, scraping together everything he could, and gave it to the king of Assyria - and got nothing in return, not a bit of help. 22 But King Ahaz didn't learn his lesson - at the very time that everyone was turning against him, he continued to be against God! 23 He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus. He had just been defeated by Damascus; he thought, "If I worship the gods who helped Damascus, those gods just might help me too." But things only went from bad to worse: first Ahaz in ruins and then the country. 24 He cleaned out The Temple of God of everything useful and valuable, boarded up the doors of The Temple, and then went out and set up pagan shrines for his own use all over Jerusalem. 25 And not only in Jerusalem, but all over Judah - neighborhood shrines for worshiping any and every god on sale. And was God ever angry! 26 The rest of Ahaz's infamous life, all that he did from start to finish, is written in the Royal Annals of the Kings of Judah and Israel. 27 When Ahaz died, they buried him in Jerusalem, but he was not honored with a burial in the cemetery of the kings. His son Hezekiah was the next king.
The Reign of Hezekiah
29 1 Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old and was king in Jerusalem for twenty-nine years. His mother was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. 2 In God's opinion he was a good king; he kept to the standards of his ancestor David.
Hezekiah Restores the Temple Worship
3 In the first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah, having first repaired the doors of The Temple of God, threw them open to the public. 4 He assembled the priests and Levites in the court on the east side 5 and said, "Levites, listen! Consecrate yourselves and consecrate The Temple of God - give this much-defiled place a good housecleaning. 6 Our ancestors went wrong and lived badly before God - they discarded him, turned away from this house where we meet with God, and walked off. 7 They boarded up the doors, turned out the lights, and canceled all the acts of worship of the God of Israel in the holy Temple. 8 And because of that, God's anger flared up and he turned those people into a public exhibit of disaster, a moral history lesson - look and read! 9 This is why our ancestors were killed, and this is why our wives and sons and daughters were taken prisoner and made slaves. 10 "I have decided to make a covenant with the God of Israel and turn history around so that God will no longer be angry with us. 11 Children, don't drag your feet in this! God has chosen you to take your place before him to serve in conducting and leading worship - this is your life work; make sure you do it and do it well."
12 The Levites stood at attention: Mahath son of Amasai and Joel son of Azariah from the Kohathites; Kish son of Abdi and Azariah son of Jehallelel from the Merarites; Joah son of Zimmah and Eden son of Joah from the Gershonites; 13 Shimri and Jeiel sons of Elizaphan; Zechariah and Mattaniah sons of Asaph; 14 Jehiel and Shimei of the family of Heman; Shemaiah and Uzziel of the family of Jeduthun. 15 They presented themselves and their brothers, consecrated themselves, and set to work cleaning up The Temple of God as the king had directed - as God directed! 16 The priests started from the inside and worked out; they emptied the place of the accumulation of defiling junk - pagan rubbish that had no business in that holy place - and the Levites hauled it off to the Kidron Valley. 17 They began the Temple cleaning on the first day of the first month and by the eighth day they had worked their way out to the porch - eight days it took them to clean and consecrate The Temple itself, and in eight more days they had finished with the entire Temple complex. 18 Then they reported to Hezekiah the king, "We have cleaned up the entire Temple of God, including the Altar of Whole-Burnt-Offering and the Table of the Bread of the Presence with their furnishings. 19 We have also cleaned up and consecrated all the vessels which King Ahaz had gotten rid of during his misrule. Take a look; we have repaired them. They're all there in front of the Altar of God."
20 Then Hezekiah the king went to work: He got all the leaders of the city together and marched to The Temple of God. 21 They brought with them seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven he-goats to sacrifice as an Absolution-Offering for the royal family, for the Sanctuary, and for Judah as a whole; he directed the Aaronite priests to sacrifice them on the Altar of God. 22 The priests butchered the bulls and then took the blood and sprinkled it on the Altar, and then the same with the rams and lambs. 23 Finally they brought the goats up; the king and congregation laid their hands upon them. 24 The priests butchered them and made an Absolution-Offering with their blood at the Altar to atone for the sin of all Israel - the king had ordered that the Whole-Burnt-Offering and the Absolution-Offering be for all Israel. 25 The king ordered the Levites to take their places in The Temple of God with their musical instruments - cymbals, harps, zithers - following the original instructions of David, Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet; this was God's command conveyed by his prophets. 26 The Levites formed the orchestra of David, while the priests took up the trumpets. 27 Then Hezekiah gave the signal to begin: The Whole-Burnt-Offering was offered on the Altar; at the same time the sacred choir began singing, backed up by the trumpets and the David orchestra 28 while the entire congregation worshiped. The singers sang and the trumpeters played all during the sacrifice of the Whole-Burnt-Offering. 29 When the offering of the sacrifice was completed, the king and everyone there knelt to the ground and worshiped. 30 Then Hezekiah the king and the leaders told the Levites to finish things off with anthems of praise to God using lyrics by David and Asaph the seer. They sang their praises with joy and reverence, kneeling in worship. 31 Hezekiah then made this response: "The dedication is complete - you're consecrated to God. Now you're ready: Come forward and bring your sacrifices and Thank-Offerings to The Temple of God." 32 a generosity expressed in seventy bulls, a hundred rams, and two hundred lambs - all for Whole-Burnt-Offerings for God! 33 The total number of animals consecrated for sacrifice that day amounted to 600 bulls and 3,000 sheep. 34 They ran out of priests qualified to slaughter all the Whole-Burnt-Offerings so their brother Levites stepped in and helped out while other priests consecrated themselves for the work. It turned out that the Levites had been more responsible in making sure they were properly consecrated than the priests had been. 35 Besides the overflow of Whole-Burnt-Offerings there were also choice pieces for the Peace-Offerings and lavish libations that went with the Whole-Burnt-Offerings. The worship in The Temple of God was on a firm footing again! 36 Hezekiah and the congregation celebrated: God had established a firm foundation for the lives of the people - and so quickly!
The Celebration of the Passover
30 1 Then Hezekiah invited all of Israel and Judah, with personal letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, to come to The Temple of God in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to Israel's God. 2 The king and his officials and the congregation in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate Passover in the second month. 3 They hadn't been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough of the priests were yet personally prepared and the people hadn't had time to gather in Jerusalem. 4 Under these circumstances, the revised date was approved by both king and people 5 and they sent out the invitation from one end of the country to the other, from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north: "Come and celebrate the Passover to Israel's God in Jerusalem." No one living had ever celebrated it properly. 6 The king gave the orders, and the couriers delivered the invitations from the king and his leaders throughout Israel and Judah. The invitation read: "O Israelites! Come back to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he can return to you who have survived the predations of the kings of Assyria. 7 Don't repeat the sins of your ancestors who turned their backs on God, the God of their ancestors who then brought them to ruin - you can see the ruins all around you. 8 Don't be pigheaded as your ancestors were. Clasp God's outstretched hand. Come to his Temple of holy worship, consecrated for all time. Serve God, your God. You'll no longer be in danger of his hot anger. 9 If you come back to God, your captive relatives and children will be treated compassionately and allowed to come home. Your God is gracious and kind and won't snub you - come back and he'll welcome you with open arms." 10 So the couriers set out, going from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far north as Zebulun. But the people poked fun at them, treated them as a joke. 11 But not all; some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun weren't too proud to accept the invitation and come to Jerusalem. 12 It was better in Judah - God worked powerfully among them to make it unanimous, responding to the orders sent out by the king and his officials, orders backed up by the word of God.
13 It turned out that there was a tremendous crowd of people when the time came in the second month to celebrate the Passover (sometimes called the Feast of Unraised Bread). 14 First they went to work and got rid of all the pagan altars that were in Jerusalem - hauled them off and dumped them in the Kidron Valley. 15 Then, on the fourteenth day of the second month, they slaughtered the Passover lambs. The priests and Levites weren't ready; but now, embarrassed in their laziness, they consecrated themselves and brought Whole-Burnt-Offerings to The Temple of God. 16 Ready now, they stood at their posts as designated by The Revelation of Moses the holy man; the priests sprinkled the blood the Levites handed to them. 17 Because so many in the congregation had not properly prepared themselves by consecration and so were not qualified, the Levites took charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs so that they would be properly consecrated to God. 18 There were a lot of people, especially those from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, who did not eat the Passover meal because they had not prepared themselves adequately. Hezekiah prayed for these as follows: "May God who is all good, pardon and forgive 19 everyone who sincerely desires God, the God of our ancestors. Even - especially! - these who do not meet the literal conditions stated for access to The Temple." 20 God responded to Hezekiah's prayer and healed the people.
21 All the Israelites present in Jerusalem celebrated the Passover (Feast of Unraised Bread) for seven days, celebrated exuberantly. The Levites and priests praised God day after day, filling the air with praise sounds of percussion and brass. 22 Hezekiah commended the Levites for the superb way in which they had led the people in the worship of God. 23 they all decided to keep going for another seven days! So they just kept on celebrating, and as joyfully as they began. 24 Hezekiah king of Judah gave 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep for the congregation's worship; the officials gave an additional 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep. And there turned out to be plenty of consecrated priests - qualified and well-prepared. 25 The whole congregation of Judah, the priests and Levites, the congregation that came in from Israel, and the resident aliens from both Israel and Judah, were all in on the joyous celebration. 26 Jerusalem was bursting with joy - nothing like this had taken place in Jerusalem since Solomon son of David king of Israel had built and dedicated The Temple. 27 The priests and Levites had the last word: they stood and blessed the people. And God listened, listened as the ascending sound of their prayers entered his holy heaven.
31 1 After the Passover celebration, they all took off for the cities of Judah and smashed the phallic stone monuments, chopped down the sacred Asherah groves, and demolished the neighborhood sex-and-religion shrines and local god shops. They didn't stop until they had been all through Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh. Then they all went back home and resumed their everyday lives.
Hezekiah's Provision for the Priests and Levites
2 Hezekiah organized the groups of priests and Levites for their respective tasks, handing out job descriptions for conducting the services of worship: making the various offerings, and making sure that thanks and praise took place wherever and whenever God was worshiped. 3 He also designated his personal contribution for the Whole-Burnt-Offerings for the morning and evening worship, for Sabbaths, for New Moon festivals, and for the special worship days set down in The Revelation of God. 4 In addition, he asked the people who lived in Jerusalem to be responsible for providing for the priests and Levites so they, without distraction or concern, could give themselves totally to The Revelation of God. 5 As soon as Hezekiah's orders had gone out, the Israelites responded generously: firstfruits of the grain harvest, new wine, oil, honey - everything they grew. They didn't hold back, turning over a tithe of everything. 6 They also brought in a tithe of their cattle, sheep, and anything else they owned that had been dedicated to God. Everything was sorted and piled in mounds. 7 They started doing this in the third month and didn't finish until the seventh month. 8 When Hezekiah and his leaders came and saw the extent of the mounds of gifts, they praised God and commended God's people Israel. 9 Hezekiah then consulted the priests and Levites on how to handle the abundance of offerings. 10 Azariah, chief priest of the family of Zadok, answered, "From the moment of this huge outpouring of gifts to The Temple of God, there has been plenty to eat for everyone with food left over. God has blessed his people - just look at the evidence!"
11 Hezekiah then ordered storerooms to be prepared in The Temple of God. When they were ready, 12 they brought in all the offerings of tithes and sacred gifts. They put Conaniah the Levite in charge with his brother Shimei as assistant. 13 Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismakiah, Mahath, and Benaiah were project managers under the direction of Conaniah and Shimei, carrying out the orders of King Hezekiah and Azariah the chief priest of The Temple of God. 14 Kore son of Imnah the Levite, security guard of the East Gate, was in charge of the Freewill-Offerings of God and responsible for distributing the offerings and sacred gifts. 15 Faithful support out in the priestly cities was provided by Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah. They were even-handed in their distributions to their coworkers (all males thirty years and older) in each of their respective divisions 16 as they entered The Temple of God each day to do their assigned work (their work was all organized by divisions). 17 The divisions comprised officially registered priests by family and Levites twenty years and older by job description. 18 The official family tree included everyone in the entire congregation - their small children, wives, sons, and daughters. The ardent dedication they showed in bringing themselves and their gifts to worship was total - no one was left out. 19 The Aaronites, the priests who lived out on the pastures that belonged to the priest-cities, had reputable men on hand to distribute regular rations to every priest - everyone listed in the official family tree of the Levites. 20 Hezekiah carried out this work and kept it up everywhere in Judah. He was the very best - good, right, and true before his God. 21 Everything he took up, whether it had to do with worship in God's Temple or the carrying out of God's Law and Commandments, he did well in a spirit of prayerful worship. He was a great success.