A Return to Redemption

“Then the Levites arose, Mahath the son of Amasai, and Joel the son of Azariah, of the sons of the Kohathites: and of the sons of Merari, Kish the son of Abdi, and Azariah the son of Jehalelel: and of the Gershonites; Joah the son of Zimmah, and Eden the son of Joah: 13 And of the sons of Elizaphan; Shimri, and Jeiel: and of the sons of Asaph; Zechariah, and Mattaniah: 14 And of the sons of Heman; Jehiel, and Shimei: and of the sons of Jeduthun; Shemaiah, and Uzziel. 15 And they gathered their brethren, and sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. 16 And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron. 17 Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify, and on the eighth day of the month came they to the porch of the LORD: so they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days; and in the sixteenth day of the first month they made an end. 18 Then they went in to Hezekiah the king, and said, We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, and the altar of burnt offering, with all the vessels thereof, and the shewbread table, with all the vessels thereof. 19 Moreover all the vessels, which king Ahaz in his reign did cast away in his transgression, have we prepared and sanctified, and, behold, they are before the altar of the LORD” (2 Chron. 29:12-19).

Having called the Church to repentance and renewal of their covenant with the Lord, Hezekiah, king of Judah, waited for the response. It was immediate and dramatic. The first to feel spiritual conviction of sin were the priests and the Levites. They should have been ashamed for they were the ones who were responsible for the Temple. They should have kept the Temple clean morally, spiritually, and physically. Not having done that, the least they could do is to make it clean again. That would be the right thing to do. What a blessed day it is when the spiritual leadership of the Church takes seriously its holy responsibility.

What a shameful day it is when the sins of the saints become an open scandal as they did in the church of Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1-6).  One of the driving forces for the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was that the spiritual leaders of the Church were challenged to change. In his book, A World Lit By Fire, William Manchester notes that, “During the sixteenth century lust, and particularly noble lust, seethed throughout Europe.”

The Church was not immune to licentiousness illustrated in the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI (1431-1503). Under Alexander VI, Vatican parties, already wild, grew wilder. One, known to Romans as the Ballet of the Chestnuts, was held on October 30, 1501. After the costly banquet dishes had been cleared away, unspeakable sensual activity took place with the encouragement of the Vicar of Christ. A few years later, when Martin Luther visited the Holy City, he was forced to observe, “If there is a hell, Rome is built over the mouth of it.”

The challenge of the Church in each generation is not to turn the grace and goodness of God into personal corruption. That it happens is only a tragic truth.  During the days of Hezekiah, the priests and the Levites were called upon to repent of the sin of allowing the sanctuary of God to become filthy both spiritually and physically and they did repent. Members from the leading families stepped forward to accept responsibility and take steps to change the situation.

The sons of Kohath, the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari united with the singing sons of Asaph, the sons of Heman and the sons of Jeduthan to lead the cleanup effort. They not only renewed their own heart to the labor but they encouraged others to work as well. They gathered their brethren and challenged them according to the commandment of the king (2 Chron. 29:15).

The most important phrase in the passage is that the work was commissioned by the words of the Lord. The king commanded but only what God had already said to do. Here is a vital point. The things we do in time are to be rooted in the revealed will of God. In the matter of cleansing the Temple, as in the matter of all things, the ultimate question is this: “What does the Lord want done?” It is not presumptuous to ask that question nor to believe that it can be answered. That

God reveals His will is a matter of faith and fact. It is a fact that we have the Bible to work with. It is faith that believes the Bible to be inspired. The uniting of fact and faith forms a basis on which to function.

In context, the function was the cleansing of the house of God. The common dirt and debris had to be carried out. Dust and cobwebs had gathered in every corner and settled in every square inch. It had to be removed. The holy vessels had been damaged and turned dulled. They needed to be repaired and washed. In addition, the idols and idolatrous altars that were set up in the Temple had to be torn down and deliberately discarded. Everyone had something to do and it was all done with enthusiasm while holy songs were sung.

Those who could wash, washed. Those who could clean, did so. Those who were craftsmen did repairs. The priests went into the inner part of the Temple called the Holy Place.

And the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies. In this way, God’s people did the spiritual work of common cleaning. And all of the debris was carried to the Brook Kidron.

The Brook Kidron is located in the Valley of Kidron which runs along the East side of Jerusalem. The Brook Kidron is dry much of the year but it does have a rich history.

David crossed the Kidron while fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom (2 Sam. 15:23).

When Solomon spared the life of Shimei, he warned him not to cross the Kidron upon penalty of death. (1 Kin 2:37)

Asa, the third king of Judah, burned idols at the Brook Kidron (1 Kin 15:13; 2 Chron. 15:16) as did Josiah (2 Kin 23:4, 6, 12) and Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:16; 30:14).

When Hezekiah fought the Assyrian forces, he stopped by the Brook Kidron in order to deny his enemy a water supply (2 Chron. 32:4).

Nehemiah went by the Brook Kidron to view the state of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:15).

Jeremiah referred to the Brook Kidron when he prophesied the permanent rebuilding of Jerusalem (Jer. 31:38-40).

Jesus crossed the Brook Kidron when He went out of the city after the Last Supper to enter the Garden of Olives (John 18:1).  

During His ministry Jesus must have looked often across the Kidron Valley “as He sat on the Mount of Olives” (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3) and crossed it on His triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Matt. 2:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19). 

So, the Brook Kidron was a known place to bury the debris from the Holy Temple. And the work went well. The people began on the first day of the first month of the New Year. In only eight days they cleared and cleansed the Temple, of all the defilement that had obscured the glory of the House of God. In eight more days, they cleared the courts of the Temple as well. There was a sense of urgency in the endeavor that was not suppressed. It was respected and encouraged for spiritual work must be thorough and it must be done in earnest. The king’s business requires haste. Charles Wesley who was a captive of the grace of Christ sang,

“My heart is full of Christ, and longs
Its glorious matter to declare!
Of Him I make my loftier psalms,
I cannot from His praise forbear;
My ready tongue makes haste to sing
The glories of my heavenly King.”

There is to be no delay in holy work. Many years ago, evangelist Leighton Ford made this point in one of his books, The Christian Persuader. He realized that unbelief and indifference can create a field of resistance. The work of God demands conviction, consecration, dedication, and demonstration of personal involvement.

When these forces come together a good report will soon be able to be given as Hezekiah received after 16 days of labor. Observe in the report the spirit of unity that was displayed. “We have cleansed all the house of the Lord.” The priests did not try to overshadow the Levites nor did the Levites dismiss the singers who had labored. There was work enough and honor enough for all. As the report stressed the unity of the workers, it also emphasized the particular attention paid to the area of worship.

We have cleaned the altar of burnt offering, with all the vessels thereof and the shewbread table, with all the vessels thereof. It was no small feat to accomplish this for everything about the Temple was massive. The building itself was 90 feet long 45 feet wide, and 3 stories high. The innermost room was the Holy of Holies. Here, the Ark of the Covenant resided, the symbol of God’s very presence. The dimensions of the Ark formed a perfect cube.  The Ark was the most holy object in Israel. It was an ornate box made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark spoke of Christ who was true humanity and true deity. On top of the Ark was a mercy seat overlaid with gold. Two winged cherubs looked down upon the place of mercy with their wings outstretched. 1 Peter 1:12 tells us that the angels desire to look into the things of the gospel of redeeming grace. Inside the Ark were three items: the two Tablets of the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod. These items spoke of God’s Law, God’s Love and God’s Leadership.

Moving from the Most Holy Place outward was the Holy Place. This area contained a table on which twelve loaves of bread were placed each day. They spoke of fellowship with the Lord. Jesus said in John 6:48, “I am the Bread of Life”.

And in John 6:51, “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 

The area was made visible by a seven-branch lampstand called a menorah. It was a huge freestanding structure. The Talmud prohibited the making of any seven-branch menorah outside the Temple. From the Holy Place the people who worshipped would return to the Outer Court where sacrifices had been given on the altar of burnt offerings.

In every area of the Temple much gold was used. The interior faces of the stonewalls were covered with fine wood and then overlaid with gold. Such lavishness could be expended because the weight of gold that poured in annually during Solomon’s reign was 666 talents. (1 Kin 10:14) That would be about $2.5 billion today. Gold was so abundant during Solomon’s reign that silver was considered almost worthless.

As gold was used lavishly so was polished bronze. On the outside entrance of the Temple there were two tall bronze pillars Both had decorated bowls on top. The pillars which stood 30 feet high were named Jachin meaning “[God] will establish” and Boaz meaning “in Him [God] is strength.” Worship at the Temple was often gory. There was much killing and cutting of the sacrificial animals including bulls, oxen, goats, sheep, and birds. On the day that Solomon dedicated the Temple, 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep were sacrificed. (1 Kin 8:63) Sacrificial altars had special channels on the sides for carrying away all the blood.

By visualizing these things, the understanding is enhanced of just how large the effort was to cleanse all the house of the Lord, and the altar of burnt offering, with all the vessels thereof, and the shewbread table, with all the vessels thereof (2 Chron. 29:18). Despite the labor, the effort was worth it all for two reasons.

The defiled can become sacred by the grace of God. Matthew Henry notes, “Though the vessels of the sanctuary may be profaned for a while, God will find a time and a way to sanctify them.” Every person can find hope in this truth for there is no sin too great for the grace of God. There is no level to which a person can fall that God will not reach down to lift the soul up from. God will cleanse and restore anyone upon gospel repentance. In the end sin shall not triumph. “Neither God’s ordinances nor His people shall be allowed to fail forever” (M. Henry). The final victory belongs to the Lord.

Individuals may turn to false idols, the Temple may become polluted, true worship may be replaced by false, all that is decent and holy may be turned out of the very place that was designed to support it, but it will not last forever. God will reveal Himself afresh to His people, proper worship based upon the historic faith will be re-established, and purity of life and holiness of heart will prevail. The glorious institution of the church will not die for the church militant is the church triumphant. Individuals will return to the place of their redemption.

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