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referred to, Isaiah had prophesied, “Within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people.” This prophecy was already in part fulfilled. A great number had been carried captive from the northern tribes by the king of Assyria, and the entire overthrow of the kingdom at no distant day might be expected. The original political motive for a distinct religion among the ten tribes would then cease to exist. Moreover, the same prophet had foretold that some of those left in the land would turn from their idols to the worship of Jehovah.
"In that day shall a man regard his Maker, And toward the Holy One of Israel shall his eyes look : And he shall not regard the altars dedicated to the work
of his own hands; And what his fingers have made he shall not respect; Nor the groves, nor the solar statues.”
The religious sensibility awakened at Jerusalem extended throughout the kingdom of Judah. The attachment to idolatry had not been so obstinate or so long continued under the government of the house of David, as under the shifting dynasties among the ten tribes. From all parts of Judah, the people came up in great numbers to the passover; for “the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the command of the king and the princes." As the temple had been purified for the service of Jehovah, they determined to cleanse the holy city itself from idolatry before they observed the passover.
" And they arose and took away the altars that were in Jerusalem, and all the altars for incense took they away, and cast them into the brook Kedron.” This was an appropriate work to precede the solemn rites of the feast. So the heart should be cleansed of all its idols, every wrong habit and sinful course should be forsaken, in anticipation of special religious services to promote the honor of God and procure his blessing. “Hath the Lord as great delight in burntofferings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
And now the day of preparation for the passover had come.
At the hour of evening sacrifice, crowds might be seen hasting from every street of the city towards the temple, many of them with paschal lambs to be killed by the Levites. Fierce warriors who had stood front to front in deadly conflictfoemen who had encountered each other on the bloody field, animated by one common impulse, pressed together into the sacred gates, and bowed in reverence before one common altar. What scenes compare in beauty with fraternal harmony succeeding discord and strife? Well might Hezekiah, as with mingled feelings of devotion and patriotism he saw the men of Asher, from the foot of Lebanon, after so long alienation, bowing in worship among the thousands of Judah, have exclaimed,
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
Prosperity for evermore." When the evening sacrifice was finished, the paschal lambs were killed, and their blood poured by the priest on the altar, where also their fat was burnt. The flesh was carried home by the owners, to be eaten at evening in the celebration of the passover. As nothing of it might remain until the morning, families that were too few to eat a whole lamb united in the celebration with other families. The multitude of strangers in the city were provided with guest-chambers in which they could eat the
passover; for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as was customary on such occasions, gave them the free use of their houses and furniture. In later times, a million of people gathered at this feast, and tents were often spread for their accommodation not only in the city, but in the valleys and on the surrounding hills.
Many who had come up from the kingdom of Israel on too short notice to purify themselves according to the laws regulating the institution, or who were ignorant of the ceremonies to be previously performed, “ate the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ' The good Lord pardon every one that pre
pareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.' And the Lord hearkened to the prayer of Hezekiah, and healed the people." He accepted their sincere intention to honor him in the service, and overlooked the irregularity which arose not from indifference or carelessness, but from necessity.
If “ the Sacrifice of a broken heart” was cepted under a religion encompassed with forms, even though there were some deviations from the established ritual in the outward act; how much more will it be accepted now, under a system which makes far less account of the place or the mode, than of the spirit in which men worship? We have a High-priest who can “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” and will not break “the bruised reed.” Had Hezekiah thought the form of worship every thing, he would not have suffered these persons to partake of the passover; had he thought it nothing, he would not have prayed for their pardon. With that happy moderation which ever attends true zeal, he combined earnest regard for the glory of God with compassion for the weaknesses of men. Some might censure him as lax and yielding ; but if he was lax, it was in little things, that he might be rigid in greater; and if yielding, it was in comparative trifles, in order to gain what is beyond all price.
How dignified was the conduct of Hezekiah on this occasion! Before princes and people he was not ashamed to stand up and offer supplications to Jehovah in behalf of the returning wanderer. How would others be encouraged to lead the erring back to his service by this example of their king! Rulers of a Christian nation never appear in an attitude more becoming their high station and more respected by the world, than when they invite the people to join them in a thank-offering to God for his mercies, or in deprecating his judgments and acknowledging his righteous government. This is real dignity. “ The good alone are great.”
By its original appointment the passover continued seven days ; but only the first and last were properly considered festival days, in which no employment, further than was necessary to prepare food, was permitted. On this occasion, however, the whole seven days seem to have been devoted to sacred purposes. The Levites, encouraged by the kind words of Hezekiah, “taught the good knowledge of the Lord” to the people by reading and explaining the law; and from day to day the courts of the temple resounded with songs of praise and confession to the Lord God of their fathers. Peaceofferings were also presented in abundance.
At the stated time of the passover, the barley was usually ripe, and after a sheaf of it had been offered at the temple on the second day of the feast, many