It is a deep shame that so few people pay attention to the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, because they provide a very worthwhile comparison with 1st and 2nd Kings. While 1st and 2nd Kings focus mainly on kings and prophets, 1st and 2nd Chronicles focus on the priests and Levites and the spiritual state of Israel and particularly Judah. This information is not only useful in understanding that the Levites were more than just musicians and temple laborers but were also holy warriors defending the Davidic throne as part of their duties, but the information is also useful in examining the behavior of Israel and its civil and religious leadership during the brief periods of revival, and in the similarities of that behavior, and the pattern it forms.
Let us therefore take a look at this pattern. The religious orthodoxy of rulers and the people of Israel in the book of 2 Chronicles (as well as Ezra-Nehemiah) is viewed through a very small number of factors. 1 and 2 Kings, for example, focus on the high places and the fact that every king of Israel after Jeroboam followed in his sins. Likewise, marrying heathen peoples, oppressing the common folk (by charging interest on loans or not forgiving debts or freeing slaves) or forcing them to work on the Sabbath, failing to support the Levites through tithes, and so on are all characteristics of unjust people. On the positive side, 1st and 2nd Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah shows a consistent pattern of connecting national Holy Day worship with periods of religious revival.
It is worthwhile to examine this pattern more closely. We see several Holy Days of God used to show a pattern of religious obedience. The Temple of Solomon was dedicated on the Feast of Tabernacles, for example (2 Chronicles 5:4). Likewise, Ezra read the law to the people during the period of Nehemiah’s revival on the Feast of Trumpets (Nehemiah 8:2). The most common Feast discussed during these periods of revival, though, is the Passover, and so therefore let us examine what role Passover plays as part of the biblical portrayal of the periodic revivals under righteous kings in 2 Chronicles. We will endeavor to be brief.
In particular, let us focus our attention on two revivals, that of Hezekiah and Josiah. The revival of Hezekiah is talked about in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30. In the first year of his reign, on the first day of the first month, Hezekiah ordered the temple to be cleansed (2 Chronicles 29:17), and it took eight days for the temple to be cleansed. After this he sent messengers throughout Israel for the Second Passover to be kept, because the temple and its priests had not been cleansed in time to keep the Passover (2 Chronicles 30:3). After having kept the Second Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days, they agreed to keep it another seven days (2 Chronicles 30:23) with gladness, and King Hezekiah gave them bulls and sheep to sacrifice.
This must have been an exceedingly rare occurrence. The fact that the Bible records specific feasts as drawing the attention and receiving attendance from all Israel would seem to indicate that such godly religious practice was rare. The fact that Hezekiah could not find enough sanctified priests to keep the Passover at its appointed time would also suggest that the purity of the religious elites was fairly fragile and that despite the fact that priests loved power and influence that they could not often be bothered to maintain their standards of godly practice and behavior without godly leaders to encourage them. Likewise, it is only during the reigns of a few godly kings where we see godly leadership being strongly urged of any kind, and such leaders do not appear common in the chronicles of the kings of Judah. There were no righteous kings of Israel after the split.
It is not a surprise, though, that the next religious revival we hear about, that of Josiah, also involves keeping the Passover. After another restoration of the temple, Josiah keeps a Passover on the 14th day of the first month (2 Chronicles 35:1), such a Passover as had not been kept since the time of Samuel (2 Chronicles 2 Chronicles 35:18). Again, this reference only goes to show how rare godly festival keeping was in the time of Israel.
This ought to give us some pause about our own keeping of the holy days. We know that the holy days were observed during times when religious righteousness was not common (see, for example, the times of Christ and long afterward). So why are only a few holy days mentioned, and those invariably during the reigns of righteous kings? It would appear as if part of the point is that keeping the holy days correctly requires a lot of factors to coincide. For one, righteous leadership appears necessary. For another, the priesthood and temple has to be sanctified. When leaders don’t take their faith seriously, they cannot teach others about God’s views on justice and purity effectively. Likewise, it needs a people united in obedience to God’s way and enjoying God’s festivals. These factors are not always present either in our own times.
Therefore, if we wish to learn the proper lessons from the Bible, let us note that correct keeping of the Holy Days requires a top down religious revival. Such times are rare in our times, just as they were exceedingly rare in ancient Israel. Knowing how deeply corrupted our societies are, let those of us who truly believe in God’s ways seek to purify our hearts and ways, from the top down, so that we may be a fit and godly community able to worship God in spirit and in truth, and not merely go through the motions.