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Chapter VIII. Hezekiah: The Religious Value Of Music. 2 Chron. xxix.-xxxii.

The bent of the chroniclers mind is well illustrated by the proportion of space assigned to ritual by him and by the book of Kings respectively. In the latter a few lines only are devoted to ritual, and the bulk of the space is given to the invasion of Sennacherib, the embassy from Babylon, etc., while in Chronicles ritual occupies about three times as many verses as personal and public affairs.

Hezekiah, though not blameless, was all but perfect in his loyalty to Jehovah. The chronicler reproduces the customary formula for a good king: “He did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that David his father had done”; but his cautious judgment rejects the somewhat rhetorical statement in Kings that “after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.”

Hezekiah's policy was made clear immediately after his accession. His zeal for reformation could tolerate no delay; the first month415415   This is usually understood as Nisan, the first month of the ecclesiastical year. of the first year of his reign 428 saw him actively engaged in the good work.416416   xxix. 3-xxxi. 21 (the cleansing of the Temple and accompanying feast, Passover, organisation of the priests and Levites) are substantially peculiar to Chronicles, though in a sense they expand 2 Kings xviii. 4-7, because they fulfil the commandments which Jehovah commanded Moses. It was no light task that lay before him. Not only were there altars in every corner of Jerusalem and idolatrous high places in every city of Judah, but the Temple services had ceased, the lamps were put out, the sacred vessels cut in pieces, the Temple had been polluted and then closed, and the priests and Levites were scattered. Sixteen years of licensed idolatry must have fostered all that was vile in the country, have put wicked men in authority, and created numerous vested interests connected by close ties with idolatry, notably the priests of all the altars and high places. On the other hand, the reign of Ahaz had been an unbroken series of disasters; the people had repeatedly endured the horrors of invasion. His government as time went on must have become more and more unpopular, for when he died he was not buried in the sepulchres of the kings. As idolatry was a prominent feature of his policy, there would be a reaction in favour of the worship of Jehovah, and there would not be wanting true believers to tell the people that their sufferings were a consequence of idolatry. To a large party in Judah Hezekiah's reversal of his father's religious policy would be as welcome as Elizabeth's declaration against Rome was to most Englishmen.

Hezekiah began by opening and repairing the doors of the Temple. Its closed doors had been a symbol of the national repudiation of Jehovah; to reopen them 429 was necessarily the first step in the reconciliation of Judah to its God, but only the first step. The doors were open as a sign that Jehovah was invited to return to His people and again to manifest His presence in the Holy of holies, so that through those open doors Israel might have access to Him by means of the priests. But the Temple was as yet no fit place for the presence of Jehovah. With its lamps extinguished, its sacred vessels destroyed, its floors and walls thick with dust and full of all filthiness, it was rather a symbol of the apostacy of Judah. Accordingly Hezekiah sought the help of the Levites. It is true that he is first said to have collected together priests and Levites, but from that point onward the priests are almost entirely ignored.

Hezekiah reminded the Levites of the misdoings of Ahaz and his adherents and the wrath which they had brought upon Judah and Jerusalem; he told them it was his purpose to conciliate Jehovah by making a covenant with Him; he appealed to them as the chosen ministers of Jehovah and His temple to co-operate heartily in this good work.

The Levites responded to his appeal apparently rather in acts than words. No spokesman replies to the king's speech, but with prompt obedience they set about their work forthwith; they arose, Kohathites, sons of Merari, Gershonites, sons of Elizaphan, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun—the chronicler has a Homeric fondness for catalogues of high-sounding names—the leaders of all these divisions are duly mentioned. Kohath, Gershon, and Merari are well known as the three great clans of the house of Levi; and here we find the three guilds of singers—Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun—placed on a level with the older clans. Elizaphan 430 was apparently a division of the clan Kohath,417417   Exod. vi. 18, 22; Num. iii. 30, mention Elizaphan as a descendant of Kohath. which, like the guilds of singers, had obtained an independent status. The result is to recognise seven divisions of the tribe.

The chiefs of the Levites gathered their brethren together, and having performed the necessary rites of ceremonial cleansing for themselves, went in to cleanse the Temple; that is to say, the priests went into the holy place and the Holy of holies and brought out “all the uncleanness” into the court, and the Levites carried it away to the brook Kidron: but before the building itself could be reached eight days were spent in cleansing the courts, and then the priests went into the Temple itself and spent eight days in cleansing it, in the manner described above. Then they reported to the king that the cleansing was finished, and especially that “all the vessels which King Ahaz cast away” had been recovered and reconsecrated with due ceremony. We were told in the previous chapter that Ahaz had cut to pieces the vessels of the Temple, but these may have been other vessels.

Then Hezekiah celebrated a great dedication feast; seven bullocks, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven he-goats were offered as a sin-offering for the dynasty,418418   So Strack-Zockler, i. 1. for the Temple, for Judah, and (by special command of the king) for all Israel, i.e. for the northern tribes as well as for Judah and Benjamin. Apparently this sin-offering was made in silence, but afterwards the king set the Levites and priests in their places with their musical instruments, and when the burnt offering began 431 “the song of Jehovah began with the trumpets together with the instruments of David king of Israel. And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded,” and all this continued till the burnt offering was finished.

When the people had been formally reconciled to Jehovah by this representative national sacrifice, and thus purified from the uncleanness of idolatry and consecrated afresh to their God, they were permitted and invited to make individual sacrifices, thank-offerings and burnt offerings. Each man might enjoy for himself the renewed privilege of access to Jehovah, and obtain the assurance of pardon for his sins, and offer thanksgiving for his own special blessings. And they brought offerings in abundance: seventy bullocks, a hundred rams, and two hundred lambs for a burnt offering; and six hundred oxen and three thousand sheep for thank-offerings. Thus were the Temple services restored and reinaugurated; and Hezekiah and the people rejoiced because they felt that this unpremeditated outburst of enthusiasm was due to the gracious influence of the Spirit of Jehovah.

The chronicler's narrative is somewhat marred by a touch of professional jealousy. According to the ordinary ritual,419419   Lev. i. 6. the offerer flayed the burnt offerings; but for some special reason, perhaps because of the exceptional solemnity of the occasion, this duty now devolved upon the priests. But the burnt offerings were abundant beyond all precedent; the priests were too few for the work, and the Levites were called in to help them, “for the Levites were more upright in heart to purify themselves than the priests.” Apparently even in the 432 second Temple brethren did not always dwell together in unity.

Hezekiah had now provided for the regular services of the Temple, and had given the inhabitants of Jerusalem a full opportunity of returning to Jehovah; but the people of the provinces were chiefly acquainted with the Temple through the great annual festivals. These, too, had long been in abeyance; and special steps had to be taken to secure their future observance. In order to do this, it was necessary to recall the provincials to their allegiance to Jehovah. Under ordinary circumstances the great festival of the Passover would have been observed in the first month, but at the time appointed for the paschal feast the Temple was still unclean, and the priests and Levites were occupied in its purification. But Hezekiah could not endure that the first year of his reign should be marked by the omission of this great feast. He took counsel with the princes and public assembly—nothing is said about the priests—and they decided to hold the Passover in the second month instead of the first. We gather from casual allusions in vv. 6-8 that the kingdom of Samaria had already come to an end; the people had been carried into captivity, and only a remnant were left in the land.420420   According to 2 Kings xviii. 10, Samaria was not taken till the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign. It is not necessary for an expositor of Chronicles to attempt to harmonise the two accounts. From this point the kings of Judah act as religious heads of the whole nation and territory of Israel. Hezekiah sent invitations to all Israel from Dan to Beersheba. He made special efforts to secure a favourable response from the northern tribes, sending letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, i.e., to the ten tribes under their leadership. He reminded them that their brethren had gone 433 into captivity because the northern tribes had deserted the Temple; and held out to them the hope that, if they worshipped at the Temple and served Jehovah, they should themselves escape further calamity, and their brethren and children who had gone into captivity should return to their own land.

“So the posts passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, even unto Zebulun.” Either Zebulun is used in a broad sense for all the Galilean tribes, or the phrase “from Beersheba to Dan” is merely rhetorical, for to the north, between Zebulun and Dan, lay the territories of Asher and Naphtali. It is to be noticed that the tribes beyond Jordan are nowhere referred to; they had already fallen out of the history of Israel, and were scarcely remembered in the time of the chronicler.

Hezekiah's appeal to the surviving communities of the northern kingdom failed: they laughed his messengers to scorn, and mocked them; but individuals responded to his invitation in such numbers that they are spoken of as “a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun.” There were also men of Asher among the northern pilgrims.421421   Cf xxx. 11, 18.

The pious enthusiasm of Judah stood out in vivid contrast to the stubborn impenitence of the majority of the ten tribes. By the grace of God, Judah was of one heart to observe the feast appointed by Jehovah through the king and princes, so that there was gathered in Jerusalem a very great assembly of worshippers, surpassing even the great gatherings which the chronicler had witnessed at the annual feasts.

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But though the Temple had been cleansed, the Holy City was not yet free from the taint of idolatry. The character of the Passover demanded that not only the Temple, but the whole city, should be pure. The paschal lamb was eaten at home, and the doorposts of the house were sprinkled with its blood. But Ahaz had set up altars at every corner of the city; no devout Israelite could tolerate the symbols of idolatrous worship close to the house in which he celebrated the solemn rites of the Passover. Accordingly before the Passover was killed these altars were removed.422422   xxx. 14; cf. 2 Kings xviii. 4. The chronicler omits the statement that Hezekiah destroyed Moses's brazen serpent, which the people had hitherto worshipped. His readers would not have understood how this corrupt worship survived the reforms of pious kings and priests who observed the law of Moses.

Then the great feast began; but after long years of idolatry neither the people nor the priests and Levites were sufficiently familiar with the rites of the festival to be able to perform them without some difficulty and confusion. As a rule each head of a household killed his own lamb; but many of the worshippers, especially those from the north, were not ceremonially clean: and this task devolved upon the Levites. The immense concourse of worshippers and the additional work thrown upon the Temple ministry must have made extraordinary demands on their zeal and energy.423423   Cf. xxix. 34, xxx. 3. At first apparently they hesitated, and were inclined to abstain from discharging their usual duties. A passover in a month not appointed by Moses, but decided on by the civil authorities without consulting the priesthood, might seem a doubtful and dangerous innovation. Recollecting Azariah's successful assertion of hierarchical 435 prerogative against Uzziah, they might be inclined to attempt a similar resistance to Hezekiah. But the pious enthusiasm of the people clearly showed that the Spirit of Jehovah inspired their somewhat irregular zeal; so that the ecclesiastical officials were shamed out of their unsympathetic attitude, and came forward to take their full share and even more than their full share in this glorious rededication of Israel to Jehovah.

But a further difficulty remained: uncleanness not only disqualified from killing the paschal lambs, but from taking any part in the Passover; and a multitude of the people were unclean. Yet it would have been ungracious and even dangerous to discourage their newborn zeal by excluding them from the festival; moreover, many of them were worshippers from among the ten tribes, who had come in response to a special invitation, which most of their fellow-countrymen had rejected with scorn and contempt. If they had been sent back because they had failed to cleanse themselves according to a ritual of which they were ignorant, and of which Hezekiah might have known they would be ignorant, both the king and his guests would have incurred measureless ridicule from the impious northerners. Accordingly they were allowed to take part in the Passover despite their uncleanness. But this permission could only be granted with serious apprehensions as to its consequences. The Law threatened with death any one who attended the services of the sanctuary in a state of uncleanness.424424   Lev. xv. 31. Possibly there were already signs of an outbreak of pestilence; at any rate, the dread of Divine punishment for sacrilegious presumption would distress the whole assembly and 436 mar their enjoyment of Divine fellowship. Again it is no priest or prophet, but the king, the Messiah, who comes forward as the mediator between God and man. Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “Jehovah, in His grace and mercy,425425   So Bertheau, i. 1, slightly paraphrasing. pardon every one that setteth his heart to seek Elohim Jehovah, the God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the ritual of the Temple. And Jehovah hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people,” i.e., either healed them from actual disease or relieved them from the fear of pestilence.

And so the feast went on happily and prosperously, and was prolonged by acclamation for an additional seven days. During fourteen days king and princes, priests and Levites, Jews and Israelites, rejoiced before Jehovah; thousands of bullocks and sheep smoked upon the altar; and now the priests were not backward: great numbers purified themselves to serve the popular devotion. The priests and Levites sang and made melody to Jehovah, so that the Levites earned the king's special commendation. The great festival ended with a solemn benediction: “The priests426426   A.R.V., with Masoretic text, “the priests the Levites”; LXX., Vulg. Syr., “the priests and the Levites.” The former is more likely to be correct. The verse is partly an echo of Deut. xxvi. 15, so that the chronicler naturally uses the Deuteronomic phrase “the priests the Levites”; but he probably does so unconsciously, without intending to make any special claim for the Levites: hence I have omitted the word in the text. arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to His holy habitation, even unto heaven.” The priests, and through them the people, received the assurance that their solemn and prolonged worship had met with gracious acceptance.

We have already more than once had occasion to 437 consider the chronicler's main theme: the importance of the Temple, its ritual, and its ministers. Incidentally and perhaps unconsciously, he here suggests another lesson, which is specially significant as coming from an ardent ritualist, namely the necessary limitations of uniformity in ritual. Hezekiah's celebration of the Passover is full of irregularities: it is held in the wrong month; it is prolonged to twice the usual period; there are amongst the worshippers multitudes of unclean persons, whose presence at these services ought to have been visited with terrible punishment. All is condoned on the ground of emergency, and the ritual laws are set aside without consulting the ecclesiastical officials. Everything serves to emphasise the lesson we touched on in connection with David's sacrifices at the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite: ritual is made for man, and not man for ritual. Complete uniformity may be insisted on in ordinary times, but can be dispensed with in any pressing emergency; necessity knows no law, not even the Torah of the Pentateuch. Moreover, in such emergencies it is not necessary to wait for the initiative or even the sanction of ecclesiastical officials; the supreme authority in the Church in all its great crises resides in the whole body of believers. No one is entitled to speak with greater authority on the limitations of ritual than a strong advocate of the sanctity of ritual like the chronicler; and we may well note, as one of the most conspicuous marks of his inspiration, the sanctified common sense shown by his frank and sympathetic record of the irregularities of Hezekiah's passover. Doubtless emergencies had arisen even in his own experience of the great feasts of the Temple that had taught him this lesson; and it says much for the healthy tone of the Temple community in his day that 438 he does not attempt to reconcile the practice of Hezekiah with the law of Moses by any harmonistic quibbles.

The work of purification and restoration, however, was still incomplete: the Temple had been cleansed from the pollutions of idolatry, the heathen altars had been removed from Jerusalem, but the high places remained in all the cities of Judah. When the Passover was at last finished, the assembled multitude, “all Israel that were present,” set out, like the English or Scotch Puritans, on a great iconoclastic expedition. Throughout the length and breadth of the Land of Promise, throughout Judah and Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh, they brake in pieces the sacred pillars, and hewed down the Asherim, and brake down the high places and altars; then they went home.

Meanwhile Hezekiah was engaged in reorganising the priests and Levites and arranging for the payment and distribution of the sacred dues. The king set an example of liberality by making provision for the daily, weekly, monthly, and festival offerings. The people were not slow to imitate him; they brought first-fruits and tithes in such abundance that four months were spent in piling up heaps of offerings.

“Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah; and he wrought that which was good, and right, and faithful before Jehovah his God; and in every work that he began in the service of the Temple, and in the Law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and brought it to a successful issue.”

Then follow an account of the deliverance from Sennacherib and of Hezekiah's recovery from sickness, a reference to his undue pride in the matter of the embassy from Babylon, and a description of the prosperity of his reign, all for the most part abridged 439 from the book of Kings. The prophet Isaiah, however, is almost ignored. A few of the more important modifications deserve some little attention. We are told that the Assyrian invasion was “after these things and this faithfulness,” in order that we may not forget that the Divine deliverance was a recompense for Hezekiah's loyalty to Jehovah. While the book of Kings tells us that Sennacherib took all the fenced cities of Judah, the chronicler feels that even this measure of misfortune would not have been allowed to befall a king who had just reconciled Israel to Jehovah, and merely says that Sennacherib purposed to break these cities up.

The chronicler427427   xxxii. 2-8, peculiar to Chronicles. has preserved an account of the measures taken by Hezekiah for the defence of his capital: how he stopped up the fountains and watercourses outside the city, so that a besieging army might not find water, and repaired and strengthened the walls, and encouraged his people to trust in Jehovah.

Probably the stopping of the water supply outside the walls was connected with an operation mentioned at the close of the narrative of Hezekiah's reign: “Hezekiah also stopped the upper spring of the waters of Gihon, and brought them straight down on the west side of the city of David.”428428   xxxii. 30. Moreover, the chronicler's statements are based upon 2 Kings xx. 20, where it is said that “Hezekiah made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city.” The chronicler was of course intimately acquainted with the topography of Jerusalem in his own days, and uses his knowledge to interpret and expand the statement in the book of Kings. He was possibly guided in part by Isa. xxii. 440 9, 11, where the “gathering together the waters of the lower pool” and the “making a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool” are mentioned as precautions taken in view of a probable Assyrian siege. The recent investigations of the Palestine Exploration Fund have led to the discovery of aqueducts, and stoppages, and diversions of watercourses which are said to correspond to the operations mentioned by the chronicler. If this be the case, they show a very accurate knowledge on his part of the topography of Jerusalem in his own day, and also illustrate his care to utilise all existing evidence in order to obtain a clear and accurate interpretation of the statements of his authority.

The reign of Hezekiah appears a suitable opportunity to introduce a few remarks on the importance which the chronicler attaches to the music of the Temple services. Though the music is not more prominent with him than with some earlier kings, yet in the case of David, Solomon, and Jehoshaphat other subjects presented themselves for special treatment; and Hezekiah's reign being the last in which the music of the sanctuary is specially dwelt upon, we are able here to review the various references to this subject. For the most part the chronicler tells his story of the virtuous days of the good kings to a continual accompaniment of Temple music. We hear of the playing and singing when the Ark was brought to the house of Obed-edom; when it was taken into the city of David; at the dedication of the Temple; at the battle between Abijah and Jeroboam; at Asa's reformation; in connection with the overthrow of the Ammonites, Moabites, and Meunim in the reign of Jehoshaphat; at the coronation of Joash; at Hezekiah's feasts; and 441 again, though less emphatically, at Josiah's passover. No doubt the special prominence given to the subject indicates a professional interest on the part of the author. If, however, music occupies an undue proportion of his space, and he has abridged accounts of more important matters to make room for his favourite theme, yet there is no reason to suppose that his actual statements overrate the extent to which music was used in worship or the importance attached to it. The older narratives refer to the music in the case of David and Joash, and assign psalms and songs to David and Solomon. Moreover, Judaism is by no means alone in its fondness for music, but shares this characteristic with almost all religions.

We have spoken of the chronicler so far chiefly as a professional musician, but it should be clearly understood that the term must be taken in its best sense. He was by no means so absorbed in the technique of his art as to forget its sacred significance; he was not less a worshipper himself because he was the minister or agent of the common worship. His accounts of the festivals show a hearty appreciation of the entire ritual; and his references to the music do not give us the technical circumstances of its production, but rather emphasise its general effect. The chronicler's sense of the religious value of music is largely that of a devout worshipper, who is led to set forth for the benefit of others a truth which is the fruit of his own experience. This experience is not confined to trained musicians; indeed, a scientific knowledge of the art may sometimes interfere with its devotional influence. Criticism may take the place of worship; and the hearer, instead of yielding to the sacred suggestions of hymn or anthem, may be distracted by his æsthetic judgment as to the 442 merits of the composition and the skill shown by its rendering. In the same way critical appreciation of voice, elocution, literary style, and intellectual power does not always conduce to edification from a sermon. In the truest culture, however, sensitiveness to these secondary qualities has become habitual and automatic, and blends itself imperceptibly with the religious consciousness of spiritual influence. The latter is thus helped by excellence and only slightly hindered by minor defects in the natural means. But the very absence of any great scientific knowledge of music may leave the spirit open to the spell which sacred music is intended to exercise, so that all cheerful and guileless souls may be “moved with concord of sweet sounds,” and sad and weary hearts find comfort in subdued strains that breathe sympathy of which words are incapable.

Music, as a mode of utterance moving within the restraints of a regular order, naturally attaches itself to ritual. As the earliest literature is poetry, the earliest liturgy is musical. Melody is the simplest and most obvious means by which the utterances of a body of worshippers can be combined into a seemly act of worship. The mere repetition of the same words by a congregation in ordinary speech is apt to be wanting in impressiveness or even in decorum; the use of tune enables a congregation to unite in worship even when many of its members are strangers to each other.

Again, music may be regarded as an expansion of language: not new dialect, but a collection of symbols that can express thought, and more especially emotion, for which mere speech has no vocabulary. This new form of language naturally becomes an auxiliary of 443 religion. Words are clumsy instruments for the expression of the heart, and are least efficient when they undertake to set forth moral and spiritual ideas. Music can transcend mere speech in touching the soul to fine issues, suggesting visions of things ineffable and unseen.

Browning makes Abt Vogler say of the most enduring and supreme hopes that God has granted to men, “'Tis we musicians know”; but the message of music comes home with power to many who have no skill in its art.

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