The Strength of YHWH
The name Hezekiah comes from the root chazak which means “YHWH strengthens” or “The strength of YHWH.” You are probably familiar with this term if you follow the weekly Torah Portions. At the end of each book of Torah, there is a traditional chant that is recited. It is: “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek,” which means, “Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened.” In this post, we will consider how King Hezekiah demonstrates YHWH’s chazak or strength in the Passover.
King Hezekiah was one of the few righteous kings to reign in the southern kingdom of Judah. You can read about this fascinating man in 2 Kings 18-20, Isaiah 36-39, and 2 Chronicles 29-32. Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah all prophesied during his reign. Hezekiah tore down the high places, destroyed the bronze serpent, rebelled against the king of Assyria, was miraculously restored to health, cleansed the Temple, and restored the observance of Passover. I’d love to explore all these aspects, but for the sake of space and time, we will focus on his restoration of Pesach (Passover).
Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. (2 Kings 18:1-2)
King Hezekiah was the son of wicked King Ahaz. (2 Kings 16) But, he is also known by his mother, Abi or Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. The Word of Adonai usually traces people through their paternal lineage; maternal lines are rarely given. Interestingly, several of the kings of Judah and Israel are identified by both their father and mother. King Hezekiah is one of them as you can see in the verses above.
Avi (Abi) means “my father” or “fatherly.” She is called Aviyah (Abijah) in 2 Chronicles 29:1, which has the similar meaning of “YHWH is my Father.” I find this fascinating since Hezekiah’s earthly father was wicked. It’s as if the text (in Hebrew) is hinting at his strong motherly role model, Avi. She was “like a father” to Hezekiah because she pointed him to our true heavenly Father, YHWH.
While Hezekiah was far from perfect (as we all are), he was a restorer and nurturer to all Israel. His invitation to Passover revealed a tender heart not just toward Adonai, but also toward his brothers and sisters. Instead of giving the wayward people a strict or harsh “fatherly” correction or direction, he opened his arms wide in gentleness and mercy, which are “motherly” traits. We can learn a thing or two from King Hezekiah about proper (Spirit-led) Passover observance.
If you’ve ever wondered or even speculated about the proper protocol in keeping Adonai’s Passover, King Hezekiah’s example must not be overlooked. I have witnessed too many people deny others the opportunity to participate in the Seder simply because the person in question fails to meet some perceived standard or expectation. While said “standard” might be based on Scripture, it is more often than not based on private interpretation, tradition, or the preference of man — rather than on Spirit and Truth.
The following is a rather long quote, but its context sets the stage for Hezekiah’s Passover. I encourage you to read the entire passage.
Now Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel. For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month, since they could not celebrate it at that time, because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient numbers, nor had the people been gathered to Jerusalem. Thus the thing was right in the sight of the king and all the assembly.
So they established a decree to circulate a proclamation throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to celebrate the Passover to the LORD God of Israel at Jerusalem. For they had not celebrated it in great numbers as it was prescribed. The couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with the letters from the hand of the king and his princes, even according to the command of the king, saying, “O sons of Israel, return to the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that He may return to those of you who escaped and are left from the hand of the kings of Assyria.
“Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD God of their fathers, so that He made them a horror, as you see. “Now do not stiffen your neck like your fathers, but yield to the LORD and enter His sanctuary, which He has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that His burning anger may turn away from you. “For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your sons will find compassion before those who led them captive and will return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate, and will not turn His face away from you if you return to Him.” (2 Chron. 30:1-9 NASB)
King Hezekiah tried to unify the people by inviting ALL of the tribes to Passover in the second month in Jerusalem. In his letter to the people, Hezekiah urges Judah and Israel to return to Adonai and His true sanctuary. He reminds them of the great compassion and grace of YHWH. Oh, that we would have a heart like this for our brothers and sisters! Hezekiah knew that the people were nowhere near where they should be in regards to obedience; and yet, he still invited his brethren to this monumental meal of the covenant. You see, it was more important, a weightier matter if you will, that the people simply COME at his invitation. (Does this remind you of Yeshua?)
Sadly, many mocked the king and his messengers.
So the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The hand of God was also on Judah to give them one heart to do what the king and the princes commanded by the word of the LORD. (2 Chron. 30:10-12)
Many from the northern kingdom of Israel could not imagine joining themselves with the southern kingdom of Judah. After all, they had their own places of worship, priesthood, and calendar. Why would they heed to the call of brother Judah? Thankfully, the hearts of some were pricked and they “humbled themselves” and went to Jerusalem. Can this be compared to anything we see happening in our “movement” today? I believe so.
While it’s true that many (in the church) mock those of us that desire to return to the Old Ways, there are also those in OUR midst that scorn the House of Judah and their traditions. Many follow the way of the northern kingdom of Israel and set up on their own houses of worship in (a figurative) Dan and Bethel. They also create their own calendars and make priests from those that they find fit in their own eyes. (1 Kings 12:25-33) The pride that comes from this type of self-righteousness creates huge rifts between them and the Church and also between them and the Jewish people. Thus, you will hear them mocking either or both of these groups to scorn. Instead of mirroring the prideful hearts of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Zebulun in the above verses, let’s HUMBLE ourselves and come to the Passover with Judah.
Now many people were gathered at Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the second month, a very large assembly. They arose and removed the altars which were in Jerusalem; they also removed all the incense altars and cast them into the brook Kidron. Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the LORD. They stood at their stations after their custom, according to the law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood which they received from the hand of the Levites. (2 Chron. 30:13-16)
Those that heeded the call of Hezekiah removed all of the false altars (high places –especially in their minds/hearts) from Jerusalem before sacrificing the Pesach lambs. They did this in the second month because the people had not gathered in the first month, nor had a sufficient number of priests consecrated themselves to serve in the House of Adonai. The following verses explain the Torah regulations about observing Passover in the second month (Passover is so imperative that there is a “second chance” to celebrate it):
Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the LORD. In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin.” (Num. 9:10-13)
Reasons for celebrating Pesach in the second month:
- Person is unclean because of a corpse.
- Person is on a long or distant journey.
Adding to Torah? Compromisers?
In Hezekiah’s day, neither of the above reasons for celebrating Passover in the second month are explicitly stated. Instead, it says that even in the second month, many in the assembly were ritually unclean and had not consecrated themselves. And yet, they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed.
For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves; therefore, the Levites were over the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was unclean, in order to consecrate them to the LORD. For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed.
For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.” (2 Chron. 30:17-19)
What was the remedy for those that “ate the Passover otherwise than (Torah) prescribed”? Our tenderhearted King PRAYED for the people. One will have difficulty finding a literal or (by the letter) precedent for this in the Torah. But, a careful eye or one that seeks the heart or spirit of the commandment in light of the great compassion of the LORD, will rejoice in His mercies.
Hezekiah was far more concerned that the people return to YHWH and keep the covenantal Passover meal than he was for strict observance. I don’t believe that Hezekiah was snubbing his nose at YHWH’s Word, nor do I believe that he was a compromiser. I also don’t believe that his actions were “adding to” the Torah. Yet sadly, many in our midst today would have accused Hezekiah of all of these things and more. What we should concern ourselves with is YHWH’s response to Hezekiah’s prayer:
So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chron. 30:20)
Instead of acting by the strictest judgment of His Torah, YHWH extended mercy to the people. Hallelujah! In other words, according to the Torah, the people deserved to be “cut off” from Israel and to bear the full weight of their sins. The wages of sin is death; and thus, the holy Torah would judge them as guilty. But YHWH heard Hezekiah’s heartfelt prayer and HEALED the people. He CHOSE to exercise mercy and compassion toward the people even while they reeked of death. This is the SPIRIT of the Torah.
In light of the Torah commandments of Passover and this very real example of a Passover restoration, how do you suppose that Adonai expects us to deal with those that desire to eat of the Passover “other than what is prescribed?” Do we judge them based on the strictest sense of the Law? Or, do we extend mercy and compassion unto them and pray for healing and complete restoration? While it is clear what the Torah says, we also have a very real example of what Adonai did for Hezekiah. I believe cases like this are written so that our sword of Spirit and Truth remains balanced. It is vital that we understand righteous judgment AND divine mercy. For our Elohim is both!
Those that have been forgiven much, love much. (Luke 7:36-50) Can you even imagine the immense joy that was experienced at Hezekiah’s Passover? Beloved, we CAN have this same zeal!
The sons of Israel present in Jerusalem celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days with great joy, and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day after day with loud instruments to the LORD. Then Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good insight in the things of the LORD. So they ate for the appointed seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the LORD God of their fathers. (2 Chron. 30:21-22)
Adding Even More to the Torah?
The people were so overwhelmed with the joy that comes from forgiveness and unity that they decided to celebrate the feast of Passover (Unleavened Bread) for an additional seven days.
Then the whole assembly decided to celebrate the feast another seven days, so they celebrated the seven days with joy. For Hezekiah king of Judah had contributed to the assembly 1,000 bulls and 7,000 sheep, and the princes had contributed to the assembly 1,000 bulls and 10,000 sheep; and a large number of priests consecrated themselves. All the assembly of Judah rejoiced, with the priests and the Levites and all the assembly that came from Israel, both the sojourners who came from the land of Israel and those living in Judah. (2 Chron. 30:23-25)
It is as though this story is designed to challenge one’s perceptions of strict justice and mercy. Which is more favorable: rigid adherence to the letter of the Torah or seeking the Spirit behind the letter? In reality, is there a difference or are they ONE thing?
The decision of the assembly to add an additional seven days to the feast of Unleavened Bread wasn’t frowned upon by the Almighty, the king, the priests, or the people. Instead, the passage emphasizes intimate communion between Adonai and His people.
So there was great joy in Jerusalem, because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel. Then the Levitical priests arose and blessed the people; and their voice was heard and their prayer came to His holy dwelling place, to heaven. (2 Chron. 30:26-27)
Perfect Before Pesach?
It is obvious that the priests and the people did not come to the Passover table perfect. They had sin that had to be dealt with and many other areas where improvement was needed. But, if we think back to the original Exodus, this shouldn’t be surprising. The children of Israel were in the same boat before Adonai brought them out of Egypt. This is true for you and I as well. If we lose sight of what the Pesach meal really represents and begin demanding that others be “perfect” in order to celebrate this memorial, we become the ones that are “adding to the Torah.”
While the false altars were removed from Jerusalem before Hezekiah’s Passover, the rest of the cities in the kingdom (where most of them lived) were still inundated with idols. And even still, YHWH received the people. It wasn’t until AFTER they had celebrated Unleavened Bread for two weeks that the rest of the kingdom was cleaned up. (2 Chron. 31:1)
Passover is the gateway, the bloody door of the covenant. It is the beginning of “our beginning” with Adonai through Yeshua. We are immature at our first Passover. We still carry baggage and junk and possibly a lot of leavened crumbs that we must LEARN to identify and remove. This is a process and a practice. We don’t say the old adage “practice makes perfect” for no reason. We say it because it is TRUE.
Can you imagine demanding that a very beginner piano student play a perfect concerto? That would be ridiculous. Well, so is demanding others to meet an expectation that they have no training for. There must be a starting point. On our Abba’s calendar, that place is Passover. He wants all the whosoever’s at His Table — even the immature little children (spiritual babies included).
This requires a great deal of humility and even more mercy and compassion from those that are older (spiritually). The stricter things can be learned as one matures in the Torah. For now, go and make disciples of all nations. Be patient with those that want to sit at the feet of the Master. Give them a safe place to study, grow, and wrestle with the Word. If they fall down as they are learning to walk (Torah), don’t write them off, pick them up and offer a helping hand!
This is real godly “chazak” or strength. This is where Hezekiah excelled in the Spirit of Adonai. He strengthened his brothers and their unity. He reverted Jerusalem back into a safe womb where life could grow and mature.
The entire purpose of the Passover is to TEACH the CHILDREN, so go and do so!
Chag Sameach Passover!
Find more on Pesach here.