In Part One we briefly viewed how the Passover Feast celebrated in Hezekiah's time of extreme reforms in Judah compared favorably to the previous times of dedicating the temple (and a Feast of Booths) during Solomon's reign over a strongly united Israel, an event that had occurred almost three centuries earlier. What made the feast in Hezekiah's time so outstanding was the faithful heart of love with which it was carried out. This was joyfully achieved in spite of inconveniences, obstacles, and dangers.
The next historical feast to consider, also a Passover Feast, was during another burst of extreme reformation after an age of spiritual darkness in Judah. Josiah was the great-grandson of Hezekiah, every bit as courageous and committed as his ancestor.
Then the king commanded all the people saying, "Celebrate the Passover to the LORD [Yahweh] your God as it is written in this book of the covenant."
Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah.
But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD [Yahweh] in Jerusalem. (2 Kings 23: 21-23 -NASB)
There had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests, the Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 35:18 - NASB)
In essence, this Passover with greater attention to accuracy in the times of Josiah even "broke the record" of the previous celebration described during the times of Hezekiah! It's greatness surpassed any Passover celebrated since the days of the judges who preceded the kings of Israel and Judah. The time period indicated should get our attention; counting from the latter days of the judges, the time of Samuel, results in a time period of over 500 years. Thus God is really emphasizing how extraordinary an event this was!
Great facets of the celebration are described in 2 Chronicles 35: 1-19 with a focus on Josiah's contributions, the generosity of others, and the overall, unanimous attention to godly details. One can also infer from the context of surrounding events in 2 Kings 22 and 23: 1-25, that the quality of faithful, loving hearts dedicated to Yahweh must be the real issue. After the devastating effects of the kingdom's plunge into darkness in the long reign of Manasseh and the short reign of Amon, a young King Josiah ordered that the temple be restored. When the lost scrolls of the law were found and read aloud, the king tore his clothes in anguish to realize how badly their ancestors had failed to listen to Yahweh's law. Even though the kingdom of Judah would not be spared an impending destructive judgement, Josiah was commended for having wept with a tender heart before Yahweh; Yahweh heard him. Thus began the last genuine revival in the kingdom of Judah before its fall. The temple was cleaned up, and idolatry was thoroughly purged from the kingdom in an unprecedented way. Among other detailed acts to eliminate false religion, the notable prophecy of the unnamed man of God (1 Kings 13: 1-3) who prophesied about Josiah (by name!) over 350 years earlier was fulfilled when Josiah demolished the altar at Bethel: 2 Kings 23: 15-18.
Within the events of such a perilous age, Yahweh praised the zealous, loving heart behind this Passover celebration, when people were so devoted to emerging from pervasive evil practices in order to embrace the pure worship of the true, living God. Though God had also previously commended Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18: 5, 6, with similar vocabulary, His praise of Josiah's unique integrity in this context is also quite significant.
Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD [Yahweh] with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23: 25 - NASB)
Though both Hezekiah and Josiah enjoyed short windows of opportunity to make godly inroads, their efforts were bright spots in a world of increasing darkness. Yahweh expressed effusive praise for the two Passovers highlighted during their reigns.
After the demise of the nation of Judah, the destruction of the temple, and the seventy years of exile and captivity in Babylon; Cyrus, king of Persia, decreed that God's people could go back to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild the temple, according to 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Ezra 1:2-4. This fulfilled what Isaiah had prophesied some 200 years earlier (Isaiah: 44: 24-28), even calling Cyrus by name! A remnant, a very small number of Judeans, responded to the invitation. In spite of years of political disruptions, hostile oppositions, and other delays; persistent prayers coupled with diligent efforts were eventually successful. The city wall was finally constructed under Nehemiah's supervision and with Yahweh's miraculous help. A momentous Feast of Booths was held by this relatively tiny group who had so struggled!
The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. (Nehemiah 8: 17 - NASB)
Obviously, we once again see the vocabulary of a record breaking event! As a Feast of Booths the degree of grandeur extends back in time to centuries before the notable celebration of Booths in the early days of Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:8), back even to the time of Joshua. In total, this "record" alludes to a time period of approximately one thousand years! Once again, the context (Nehemiah, chapters 8 & 9) magnificently displays the deep loving realities that are so important to the heart of Yahweh.
Ezra read the law out loud from daybreak until noon. In an atmosphere of deep reverence toward Yahweh, accurate explanations enabled people to understand the Scriptures as never before. People wept upon hearing and understanding such truth for the first time. A time of weeping was soon replaced by joyful celebration of the Feast of Booths, something they had just discovered in their hunger to "gain insight into the words of the law." Daily reading of Scriptures accompanied the joyful, loving feast. The event was shortly followed by a time of deeply humble, mutual confession of sins with fasting (Nehemiah, chapter 9) in order to worship Yahweh.
It seems that each of these three historical narratives are set in epochs in which spiritual darkness and impending danger were prevalent. In each case, the numbers of unanimously faithful believers seems to have been dramatically reduced from former times. Nevertheless, the loving quality of heart to celebrate these occasions was not in the least diminished. In fact, the superlative vocabulary with which Yahweh applauds these feasts seem to be enhanced from one event to the next!
At present, we joyfully await the ultimate, most fabulous banquet, "the marriage supper of the lamb" according to Revelation 19: 9, an approaching future reality when all will have been made right! Pain, tears, stress, perils, and death itself will have been altogether abolished. Nowadays, when dark times are on the rise, when the love of many grows cold, and when falsity and lawlessness abound in this world; we should not be discouraged at all. Whether our actions to speak the truth in love yield apparent results or not, they are never in vain. Our ability to shine as lights is ever present; we should always take heart! As was true with every participant in those ancient feasts, our efforts now are of inestimable value before Him! When we exemplify kind generosity or sincere forgiveness, like Jesus did, it honors Yahweh. When we give thanks for the simplest meal with fellow believers, or while extending hospitality to those who might change and believe, we should not underestimate how God views and rewards genuine love practiced from the heart!