Sometimes in real life, we cannot get everything right, no matter how hard we try. We want to do things perfectly, but, if we are honest, we will find that we sometimes just are not getting there. This, of course, is a problem for those of us who are deeply committed to doing things in a biblical way, submitting to Scripture from start to finish.
King Hezekiah ran into a conflict in 2 Chronicles 30 that I think shines some light on some things that I find myself experiencing from time to time. The king wanted to help the people of God to repent of sin and worship the Lord. The people had not participated in the Passover as biblically prescribed for a very long time. Hezekiah was trying to lead the nation to repentance. He had worked to restore the neglected temple and cleanse the nation to the best of his ability.
The problem was, when it came time for Passover, the people were not all ready. Not all the circumstances were perfect. The celebration could not happen in the way it was commanded, at least not perfectly.
What was Hezekiah to do? Was he to wait until next year to obey the command to have the Passover? Or was he to go ahead with the celebration, asking the Lord for grace since the people were not going to be ceremonially clean?
2 Chronicles 30:1-4, 12, 18020 – 1 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 keep the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. 2 For the king and his princes and all the assembly in Jerusalem had taken counsel to keep the Passover in the second month— 3 for they could not keep it at that time because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem— 4 and the plan seemed right to the king and all the assembly.
12 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.
18 For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” 20 And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
What do we see in this passage? Hezekiah invited people to celebrate. People wanted to come and celebrate the Passover, and verse 12 tells us this was from God. But, in verses 18-20, we see that some were not ceremonially ready. In any other year, they should have been forbidden participation. But here, Hezekiah prayed for them and the Lord allowed the intention of their heart to override the letter of the law.
I think we should take from this both a warning and a lesson. First, let’s see the warning, as I think it has to come first as a disclaimer. We must not allow this single event to say to us that, when we do not like biblical commands, we can ignore biblical commands because we claim our hearts are for God. We cannot throw off limitations that God has clearly given in Scripture just because they are hard. We are to strive to obey.
Though God allowed the unclean people to be forgiven and participate in Passover here in the passage, I doubt very seriously that God would have allowed them to do so next year. The people were doing their best to get things right and they were not able to repent to a level of cleanness during this celebration. But, it would be a different story if, next year, knowing the Passover was coming, the people presumed on the Lord and still not gotten ready to handle the event rightly. God was gracious because of their heart and situation at that moment, but he was not going to say that his word did not matter in the future.
So, we will not intentionally violate the word of God for the sake of people’s feelings. We will not say that, if this command is hard to obey, you are not required. We will strive with all our might to be fully biblical.
At the same time, there is a lesson to learn that we dare not overlook. God did show mercy to those who participated in the Passover though they should not technically have been allowed to do so. God saw the repenting heart of the people, heard the gracious prayer of Hezekiah, and allowed people to participate in Passover though they were not clean. God let the intent and heart of the law outweigh the letter of the law in this circumstance.
Sometimes, if we are honest, we will realize that somebody is in an untenable position. Sometimes somebody wants to obey and there is just no clean way for them to do so. In that situation, we need to be wise and prayerful, gracious and kind, biblical but not legalistic. We may find that we cannot produce circumstances that we love in every situation. We may have to seek the merciful Spirit of God to help guide us through when we are in a situation that does not offer us a clearly attainable, biblical alternative.