Liturgical Repentance

Liturgical Repentance August 7, 2017

The Chronicler’s account of Hezekiah’s Passover (2 Chronicles 30:1–12) is arranged in a neat chiasm:

A. Hezekiah sent letters of invitation to Israel to join in Passover, vv. 1–4

B. Couriers take decree throughout the land, vv. 5–6a

C. Content of the invitation/decree, vv. 6b–9

B’. Couriers pass through cities of Ephraim and Manasseh, v. 10a

A’. Mixed response to invitation, vv. 10b–12

A and A’ both indicate that the invitation comes from “the king and the princes” (vv. 2, 12). B and B’ repeat the noun “couriers.” At the center of the passage, as we’d expect, is the decree or invitation itself.

That too has a general chiastic structure:

A. Turn to Yahweh and He will turn to you, v. 6b

B. Do not be like fathers and brothers, v. 7

B’. Do not be like fathers, but give the hand to Yahweh, v. 8

A’. If you return, you will return to land, v. 9

The invitation turns on varied uses of the verb “turn/return” (Heb. shuv), used twice in 6b, once at the end of verse 8 and three times in verse 9. The decree begins with “turn to Yahweh” (v. 6b) and ends with “if you turn to Him” (v. 9). A synonym (sur) is also used in verse 9, in the phrase “turn the face.” This is an invitation to Passover, but it’s framed as a call to repentance (turn to Yahweh) with attached promises (He will turn to you; His burning nose will turn from you; your captors will return you to the land). 

Israel is commanded to turn from the way of their fathers and brothers. The message is addressed specifically to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the leading tribes of the northern kingdom (v. 1), and so “brothers” are members of other tribes within Israel. Hezekiah wants them to abandon the traditions of their fathers and the ways of their brothers to turn to Yahweh. He calls them to hate their fathers for the sake of Christ.

A final structural note: Verse 9 is itself a tight chiasm, again shaped by different uses of “turn”:

A. In your turning (shuv) to Yahweh

B. your brothers and sons will find compassion (racham) before their captors

C. and return (shuv) to this land.

B’. For Yahweh is compassionate (rachum)

A’. will not remove his face if you turn (shuv) to him.

This is a remarkable passage at many levels. Hezekiah has the temerity to claim authority over Israel; he issues a “command” (v. 12) to the northern tribes. By this time, there is no king in Israel; only the Davidic dynasty is standing. Hezekiah’s invitation itself is evidence that the Davidic kings were always the legitimate rulers of all Israel.

Despite centuries of idolatry, the northern tribes are invited to share in Hezekiah’s Passover. It would have been unfaithful for Hezekiah to share the table of demons in the north; but Judah’s northern brothers are welcome to “enter” Jerusalem. The miqdash—the sanctuary—has been consecrated forever, and the tribes of Israel are welcome to join with Judah in worshiping there. 

The call to repentance is in fact an invitation to a feast and to join in the service (abodah) of the temple. If they come to Passover, they are by that fact turning from the unfaithfulness (ma’al, v. 7) of their fathers and turning to Yahweh. Since their sin is idolatry, repentance will take the form of joining the liturgical service in Jerusalem, the worship of the living God. 

In the event, the invitation isn’t altogether welcome. As in Jesus’s parable of the wedding feast, many of the invitees mock the king’s command (v. 10). But some do come from the north, and the response of Judah is overwhelming: Because the hand of God is on them, they obey the king’s command with one heart (v. 12). The wedding feast is full.

Hezekiah’s invitation is a royal and Eucharistic model of evangelism, or at least a model of what’s involved in re-evangelizing backslidden Israel. His invitation is a royal command and decree. He invites Israel to join in Jerusalem’s festivity, and to become ministers of Yahweh’s house. To translate: Jesus the king issues a royal invitation, which has the force of a command. It’s an invitation to join in the wedding feast of the Lamb, and a command/invitation to be deputized in the liturgy, the work of the people of God. When people hear the command and turn from idols, Jesus promises to turn His face to them, for He is compassionate and gracious.

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