In arenas of modern excitement about famous achievements, it is commonplace that people attribute majestic titles or descriptions to what is highly valued. For example, one might say, “That was the most awesome football game ever played!" People even produce statistical research and polls of popular opinion to assign lists of perceived greatness: "the top 100 pass plays in the history of football," etc. Maybe a dramatic allusion to a time factor would be reported to augment the impression of importance: "That was the greatest athletic performance of this sort since 1932!" As you know, such superlative vocabulary in our times popularly highlights facts or opinions about world records, music, books, buildings, fame, movies, television shows, sports, wars, technology, disasters, weather events, and many other facets of human interests or accomplishments.
What if Yahweh Himself were to use similar expressions of magnitude in order to emphasize what is highly esteemed to Him? Furthermore, what if He were to do this, not in the context of flukes or the highly specialized talents and feats of a few, but regarding moments in which all people present could participate? What if He has already proclaimed such things about certain past occasions that meant a lot to Him? When He has ascribed such excellent value to an event, it must be far more significant than the human tendency to exalt futility with hollow claims or make hyperbolic statements.
Though the basic enjoyment of daily meals is something most people take for granted, it is much more for true believers. Since ancient times, for God's people meals have been a motive for great thanksgiving with unified, loving humility. Though Christians do not participate in feasts as legal requirements, any meal or any feast on any day may be such an opportune time for heartfelt, joyful fellowship. Of course, certain planned "feasts" may take on added significance because of special preparations, distances travelled by loved ones, and the particular occasions being celebrated. Nevertheless, even the simplest, smallest meal may be a glorious time to be in awe of Yahweh while expressing deep gratitude for Jesus' accomplishments.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostle's teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2: 42 (NASB)
Years after the resurrection, Peter had keen memories of the privilege of being one of the witnesses who "ate and drank with Him [Jesus] after He arose from the dead." (Acts 10: 41b)
According to certain translations of old manuscripts, the day of the ascension itself might have been such a memorable occasion, "And as he ate bread with them, he commanded them that they should not leave Urishlem [Jerusalem]..." (Acts 1: 4a - Aramaic Peshitta N. T. - Messianic Version). Of course, as we await the Lord's victorious return, any meals, and not only designated "communion services," can and should be times to soberly and reverentially "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11: 26b). Far from being mundane routines, regular meals are open doors to be joyful, thankful, and truly unselfish as a family of devoted believers.
The Old Testament includes a great deal about the inclusion of God-mandated feasts at particularly appointed times on the calendar established by Yahweh. These feasts accompanied the weekly Sabbath laws and many other requirements commanded under the Mosaic covenant, things that for Christians "are a mere shadow of what is to come" (Colossians 2:17a). Among other scriptural references, one can view the details of these annual feasts and their meanings in Leviticus, chapter 23 and Deuteronomy 16: 1-17. The first month Passover Feast (along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread) was to commemorate Yahweh's having delivered Israel from Egypt: Deuteronomy 16: 1-3. The seventh month Feast of Booths celebrated that Yahweh had the sons of Israel live in booths when He brought them out of Egypt: Leviticus 23:43. (Also, there was a one day Feast of Weeks between these two feasts.)
There are three noteworthy, historical narratives: twice with Passover celebrations and once with the commemoration of the Feast of Booths, in which Yahweh highlighted such moments with vivid, superlative descriptions! We will briefly consider these three astounding events in chronological order.
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. (2 Chronicles 30: 26 - NASB)
Clearly, this record of the Passover (in 2 Chronicles, chapter 30), celebrated in the dangerous times of young King Hezekiah, invites one to look back at the magnificent dedication of the Temple and the Feast of Booths celebrated in the prosperous times of Solomon (2 Chronicles, chapters 5, 6, and 7). Built on successful breakthroughs in the times of David, the early years of Solomon had been, in certain ways, the height of unified, national Israel’s strength as blessed by Yahweh. In what ways did Hezekiah's Passover in far different circumstances over 250 years later compare in grandeur to the mighty, joyous early part of Solomon's reign, when fervent celebrations to honor Yahweh were at a peak?
Hezekiah rose up to reign, restoring worship to Yahweh in Judah after some devastating years of idolatry and corruption in his own kingdom; all this was over 250 years after the hostile division between Judah and Israel. In fact, in Hezekiah's time the northern kingdom of Israel was on the verge of being destroyed by the Assyrians as a consequence of their idolatrous ways ever since Jeroboam the First's construction of two golden calves in Bethel and Dan. Despite their nationally entrenched idolatry for nearly three centuries, Hezekiah kindly sent messengers to this defiant neighboring nation of Israel, since they were to be given a chance to return to Yahweh. Though most mocked the messengers, a minority group from Israel, relatively few in number, accepted the invitation to go to Jerusalem. That year, the long neglected Passover Feast had to be done during the second month, since required purification rites and time to be gathered in Jerusalem were not possible according to the ideal timing of the first month.
Nevertheless, in spite of many drawbacks due to conditions so difficult as compared to Solomon's early reign, and despite many visitors arriving from Israel without having purified themselves properly, "Hezekiah prayed for them saying, 'May the good LORD [Yahweh] pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD [Yahweh] God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.' So the LORD [Yahweh] heard Hezekiah and healed the people" (2 Chronicles 30:18b, 19, 20). After seven joyful days of celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread, they voluntarily continued enthusiastically celebrating for another seven days! Far from merely "going through the motions," these people were pouring their whole hearts into jointly honoring the ever-Living God. Songs of praise and prayers from the heart were fervent throughout this time, and there was God-focused unity between those who dwelled in Judah and the foreign visitors from Israel.
One could not say that convenient circumstances and attention to detailed, required procedures in Hezekiah's time compared to the Temple dedication of Solomon's time, and the size of the crowds present was certainly far less than in the former times of a strong, unified nation. Yahweh, however, looks on the heart! The ardent, overflowing love for God and for one another, reaching out to overcome a long-standing nationalistic separation, was something that obviously touched Yahweh's heart. He answered Hezekiah's prayer and healed people. This joyful occasion of genuine faith and love elicited His evaluation that, "There was nothing like this since the days of Solomon...!" The logistical problems and the instability of the times did not diminish the splendor of the event before Yahweh!
Fruitfulness continued to flow and abound in Judah after this momentous Passover Feast, as the land was cleaned up from idols and greater heartfelt attention was given to worshiping Yahweh according to the Scriptures. Yahweh then miraculously rescued Jerusalem from the overwhelming Assyrian siege as well as powerfully healed Hezekiah himself from certain death.
Amazingly, maybe about 90 years after this magnificent feast, in times every bit as perilous as the reign of Hezekiah, when the nation of Israel had already been destroyed, another young king of Judah called people back to the worship of Yahweh. They celebrated a Passover that God also commended with breathtakingly comparative words. Part Two of this study will touch on this second "superlative feast" as well as a third remarkable record from the Old Testament.