Doing the Right Thing in the Wrong Way

” But Hezekiah had interceded for them, saying, “May the good Lord provide atonement on behalf of whoever sets his whole heart on seeking God, the Lord, the God of his ancestors, even though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.” So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” – 2Chronicles 30:18-20

One of the great blessings of being retired is being able, like the wish of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, to spend time not only reading but meditating on the Bible each day. I follow an established reading schedule that’s taking me through familiar territory but at a much slower, more contemplative pace. It allows me to see things I’ve missed for years, or at least never spent the time to examine more fully.

Second Chronicles and its companion volume Second Kings has been like that. I’ve read them several times and have a general knowledge about the various kings listed there. But to my embarrassment, I admit I never got much more than that from the books. Now that Second Chronicles is part of my daily readings it allows me to dig a little deeper and spend more time in meditating on what it means for us today.

There are two kings that captivate my attention. One is Josiah, who I hope to discuss in a later blog post. The other is Hezekiah. What makes Hezekiah stand out in my mind is his comprehensive approach to obedience to the Lord. He commissions the priests and Levites to restore the temple worship according to the Law. In his commissioning speech, Hezekiah recalls Israel’s rebellion and demonstrates a spirit of contrition and repentance, and he calls the priests and Levites to have that same spirit.

The thing that sets Hezekiah apart from previous kings is his desire to re-establish observance of the Passover as outlined in 2 Chronicles 30. The time had passed for it to be properly observed, the reason being that the priests had not consecrated themselves and the people were not gathered. Hezekiah and his officials send letters throughout the land, even to the tribes of Israel that had been in rebellion to God for years, inviting them to come to Jerusalem and celebrate Passover according to the Law’s instructions.

Although many of the people mocked and scorned the invitation, others did come. In verse 12 it says that the power of God was working in Judah to unite them to carry out the commands of the king. The people tore down the altars of the idols and destroyed them. The priests and Levites were shamed into consecrating themselves as they should have, and the Passover was observed a month late even though many of the tribes were ritually unclean.

This is where it gets interesting. In the verse quoted above, Hezekiah intervenes in prayer for the people, reminding God that the hearts of the people were set on obeying and serving God even though it wasn’t according to the purification rules. The next verse is like a thunderclap: “So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” In other words, God accepted their worship even though it didn’t comply exactly with the procedure given in the Law.

Now, this is where things get tricky and there are lots of possibilities for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. There’s a danger here of using this as justification for worshiping in any way that we deem acceptable if it appeals to us. If our greatest concern is whether worship is satisfying our own needs then we’ve missed the point completely. And that’s not what this is about.

Remember that Hezekiah is attempting to re-establish worship practices according to the Law. He recognized what they were doing didn’t exactly conform to the letter of the Law- the month was wrong, the people had had not gathered and failed to prepare themselves according to the purification commands, and even the priests and Levites had neglected to consecrate themselves. But Hezekiah also recognized Passover as important enough to observe even if done in a partially incorrect manner. The desire was to honor and obey God even if it couldn’t be done perfectly. Thus, he prayed that the Lord would forgive those who were seeking to worship God wholeheartedly in the best way they could.

Jesus tells us in John 4:23, “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.” God wants us to worship Him in the way He desires, but He has no use for empty words and practices offered from rote while our hearts are focused elsewhere. Hezekiah’s prayer was honored because the people’s worship came from a heart whose intention was to be devoted to God. They found such joy in their worship they chose to observe the feast for another seven days.

I find this account in Chronicles very encouraging. It helps me to realize that having my heart right while I worship is as important as observing all the correct procedures. If I mess up the form, which I will from time to time simply because I’m imperfect, God will still provide grace if my heart and intent is on honoring him. But it doesn’t excuse me from deliberately deviating from God’s design for worship just because I don’t like it or choose to do it my own way. Deliberate willfulness and disobedience shows a heart that doesn’t belong to God.

If I haven’t completely surrendered my life and will to Christ, if I don’t experience a profound sense of awe when I approach God, I’ll be prone to worship him in a way designed to satisfy my own selfish desires than in a way that honors and glorifies the Creator. I must first seek the right relationship with God before I can properly approach Him in worship. If we don’t recognize His right to expect that of us because of what Christ accomplished on the Cross, then our worship is in vain.