Grace Trumps Law? In the Old Testament?

2 Chronicles 30 tells the fascinating story of the second-most-famous Passover (after the Exodus, of course) in Israel’s history. There had been three good Kings of Judah, followed by an apostate one who tried to wipe out the worship of Yahweh, Israel’s true God. His son Hezekiah had watched while he wrecked the kingdom that his grandfather had built up into a major power before him.

By the time of his father’s unlamented death, not much greatness was left in Judah. Hezekiah sought to do right by his much-neglected God. He restored the Temple and the Priesthood, and began a religious revival that must have been the envy of Billy Graham. Hard on the heels of recovering true worship, he decides to reinstitute the annual festivals of the Covenant. Since it was past the Passover already, he decides to have the Passover festival in the second month instead of the first month.

People with Worldwide Church of God experience would not have found this idea unusual, because many are aware of a provision in the Covenant for families who were away at Passover to have that meal on the 15th of the following month (Numbers 9:10-11). However, most of us with that background do not realize the incredible liberty Hezekiah is taking by moving the entire 7-day festival to the next month. King Jereboam of Israel greatly displeased God by doing something similar in moving the festivals in the seventh month to the eighth month (1 Kings 12:32).

So great was Hezekiah’s zeal that he persuades even many people from northern Israel (not his jurisdiction) to attend this festival. Most of those, including resident aliens (probably not circumcised), get to partake of the Passover meal and feast despite being ceremonially unclean (1 Chron. 30:17-19). This was the most unimaginably joyful and well-attended passover week since the days of Solomon’s glory (v. 26).

The fascinating thing is that, in spite of all the flaws inherent in the rushed nature of the festival, the wrong timing, the uncleanness of many attendees, and Hezekiah’s insistence that they participate anyway, God hears Hezekiah’s prayer for forgiveness (v.20). The writer even remarks that God even “healed the people.” Even after extending the festival for a further seven days, “the Levites stood up and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; their prayer came to his holy dwelling in heaven” (30:27 NRSV).

Wow! After doing almost everything wrong according to the details of the Law, God still hears and accepts what they were doing. The reason? Hezekiah’s purpose in all of this was pure. His letter of invitation expresses it well. “O people of Israel, return to the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, so that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria” (v. 6). He was asking them all to return to God, to repent and come back to Yahweh. And they did.

All through the Bible we find examples of how God truly looks on the heart in order to judge. Their hearts were right. Grace triumphs over the minutiae of observance when the heart is right before God.

What did not work for Jereboam was his desire to get people away from Israel’s God to gods of gold and wood and stone. Hezekiah’s entire goal was to bring people back to the true God by celebrating and honouring Him, even in a technically flawed manner. At the end of his life, Hezekiah is the only king that ends up being favourably compared to King David (2 Kings 18:3). In fact, he seems to have done one better, because the writer of 2 Kings says, “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was no one like him among all of the kings of Judah after him, or those who were before him.” (That is saying something, because David was king of Judah before becoming king of all of Israel.)

This story illustrates that the Bible is consistent in a very important point. God’s grace always trumps the legalistic observance of His Law. He is looking for something very important from us: a heart that seeks Him. He is looking for a repentant spirit in the people who would approach him. He will accept our flaws and imperfections as we seek to please Him just as a good parent accepts the flaws in obedience in a child with a willing heart. Let us take joy and comfort in such a merciful and caring God.

About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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