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HEZEKIAH COMPLETES THE REFORMATION.
In anticipation of the service in the temple which Solomon was about to erect, David formed the Levites into several divisions, and assigned to each division its distinct duties. He appointed twenty-four thousand to assist in the sacrifices, keep the temple and its courts free from whatever might pollute or be offensive, and perform other duties of a similar kind. He appointed four thousand of the same tribe to sing and praise God with musical instruments, day and night, in the temple. Each of these divisions was subdivided into twenty-four courses, which served in rotation, and were changed weekly. The priests, the descendants of Aaron, were also divided into twenty-four courses, which served a week each in rotation. This arrangement, which seems to have been disturbed by the neglect of worship in the temple, Hezekiah now set himself to restore. He appointed “the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace-offerings, to minister and give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the Lord." The buildings surrounding the. temple, in which the priests and Levites were stationed, are here called “tents of the Lord,” from their resemblance to an encampment.
The public daily sacrifices, as well as those for the sabbaths, the new moons, and other set feasts, were provided by the voluntary contributions of the people, or were furnished by the priests from the endowments to which they were entitled by the law. But Hezekiah did not choose to impose such a burden on them at present. They had been unaccustomed to contribute for this object during the prevalence of idolatry, and could not be relied on at once to bring enough into the treasury to meet the demand. He therefore chose to provide for the public sacrifices out of his own stated revenues. He knew that the best way to make the people liberal in their offerings, was to set them an example himself. This, too, would prove his sincerity, and render his motives less liable to impeachment. More than all, he loved the service of Jehovah, and delighted to lay on the altar a daily expression of his gratitude and faith. He did not wish to worship at other people's expense.
This liberality of Hezekiah should rebuke those in Christian lands who refuse to furnish, or furnish grudgingly, their share of what is needed for the enjoyment of religious institutions.
" Will a man rob God ?” Yet some men attempt to rob him, and, as they think, with success. But they would do well to remember what he has revealed for our admonition in reference to this point: “ Let him that is taught in the word communicate to him
that teacheth, in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked : whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” In attempting to rob God, men often rob their own souls and their families of the healthful influences of religion in this life, and of its unspeakable rewards in the life to come. Alas, that any who enroll themselves among the followers of Christ should refuse to contribute of their abundance for the support of his institutions, or should contribute so sparingly as to excite the contempt even of the world.
As the Levites were set apart by the law for public employments, civil, literary, and religious, and had but a small share in the territory divided among the tribes, the law provided for them a support from the first-fruits and tithes. The amount of the former was left to the liberality of each individual; though it is said that one-sixtieth part of the product was the least which any one thought of offering. A tenth part of the remainder of the fruits and grains and cattle, each year, was reserved for the Levites, and was carried to the temple at Jerusalem. The tithe of the fruits of the earth could be redeemed with money, adding a fifth part of the estimated value to the whole amount, in consideration of saving the expense of transportation; but the tithe of sheep, goats, and cattle, must be paid in kind. The tenth of the grain and fruits could be estimated easily by measuring. The ani
mals were made to pass one by one before a servant, who designated every tenth one by a rod which he held in his hand. The Levites separated a tenth of the tithes for the priests.
This regulation of the law had fallen into disuse, and many of the people, no doubt, in an ordinary state of feeling, would have strenuously opposed its renewal. But if there were any such now, the number was small; for as soon as Hezekiah commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and Levites, for the sake of encouraging them in the law of the Lord, instead of complaining of it as a heavy burden, or attempting to palliate their own covetousness by accusing those who served at the altar of seeking “filthy lucre,” they “ brought in abundance of the firstfruits of corn, wine, oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly." Nor was this evidence of genuine attachment to their religion confined to Jerusalem; for they who“ dwelt in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord their God, and laid them by heaps.” This was done for several months in succession ; and such a stock was accumulated, that when Hezekiah and his princes saw it, thėy offered thanks to the Lord, and commended the people for their earnestness, liberality, and perseverance in his service.
The reason for the ability to contribute in such abundance is explained by the history: “The Lord hath blessed his people.” None are poorer for doing what God requires. Does some one say that the laws of nature are fixed, and will not be altered to reward liberality or punish covetousness in the support of his worship.? So were the laws of nature just as much fixed when God said to the Israelites, “ Bring ye all the tithes into my storehouse, that there may be meat in my house ; and prove me now herewith, if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground.” If God was able to fulfil this promise without infringing on the laws of nature at that time, he is just as able to fulfil it now. And if he could send the locust and canker-worm to destroy the fruits of the ground then, without disturbing the laws of nature, he can do it with equal ease now. And though his judgments should not come in the shape of visible agents, they often come in the shape of wasting vices, to scourge those who profane his sabbaths and neglect hi sanctuary. Even in external appearance, the desolation, though more gradual in its approach, is sometimes as marked as if caused by the whirlwinds and lightnings of heaven.
Hezekiah now completed the reform by a system