Rebuilding the Temple

Rebuilding the Temple August 3, 2017

Ahaz of Judah didn’t dismantle the temple, but he might as well have done. He cut up the utensils of temple worship, perhaps including the musical instruments used by the Levites (2 Chronicles 28:24). He closed the doors (28:24), which meant that the various rites of the temple ceased—lamps went out, incense wasn’t offered, showbread wasn’t replaced, offerings did not ascend in smoke from the altar (29:7). 

When Ahaz’s son Hezekiah comes to the throne, the whole temple system needs a reboot. Hezekiah has to be a David and a Solomon, re-organizing Levites and priests, gathering materials for repair, dedicating the house all over again. Fortunately, he is David and Solomon. He’s one of the few kings of Judah compared favorably to David: “He did right in the sight of Yahweh, according to all that his father David had done” (29:2). His name—the first, emphatic word in the Chronicler’s account of his reign (see Johnstone, 1 & 2 Chronicles, 2.189)—expresses his aims: “May Yahweh establish.”

Throughout the account, the Chronicler alludes back to the latter chapters of 1 Chronicles, where David prepares for the temple construction, and to the early chapters of 2 Chronicles, where Solomon builds and dedicates the temple. Hezekiah gathers Levites by clan (29:12–14) as David had. Worshipers “fill the hand” with offerings (29:31), as they “filled their hand” with silver and gold as votive offerings (1 Chronicles 29:5). The worship of the Levites follows the instructions of David—their instruments (2 Chronicles 29:25, 27) come from David, as do the very words of the Psalms they sing (29:30).

In details, the description of Hezekiah’s rededication echoes with the original Solomonic ceremony. “Sacrifice” (Heb. zevach) is used twice in 1 Chronicles 29:21 (David’s preparation for the temple), and five times in the description of the temple dedication (2 Chronicles 7:1, 4, 5, 12; 29:31 [2x]). David calls on the qahal to prostrate itself (1 Chronicles 29:20), Solomon’s dedication ceremony includes several prostrations (2 Chronicles 7:3, 19, 22), and so does Hezekiah’s ceremony (2 Chronicles 29:28–30).

In fact, we have more detail about the actual operation of the sacrificial system in 2 Chronicles 29 than we do anywhere else in 1–2 Chronicles. There is no reference to blood at the Solomonic dedication, but 2 Chronicles 29:22 says three times that “they slaughtered . . and took the blood . . . and sprinkled it.” Only in 2 Chronicles 29 do we see anyone lean a hand on a sacrificial victim (29:23), and only here does anyone offer a purification offering (chatta’t, 29:21).

A few specific details of the Chronicler’s description are worth noting. Hezekiah says that the priests and Levites must remove the “impurity” of Ahaz that contaminated the house (29:5). The specific Hebrew term, niddah, is typically used in the Torah to designate menstrual impurity (Leviticus 12:2, 5, ; 15:19, 20, 24, 25, 26, 33; 18:19) or corpse defilement (Numbers 19:9, 13, 20, 21). Literally, Ahaz’s ma’al, his unfaithfulness, consisted of idolatry (2 Chronicles 28:25) and neglect of the temple. If we take niddah in its original sense, it implies that Hezekiah sees Ahaz’s sin as one of spiritual whoredom or as intercourse with dead idols. Perhaps this is also a hint of what is implied elsewhere: The temple is a feminine structure, an “Eve,” and so the defilements of temple are described in terms of female impurities.

The phrase “fill the hand,” mentioned above, is also significant. In the Torah, it’s a technical phrase for the ordination of priests (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8). The Chronicler uses it only once in this technical sense (2 Chronicles 13:9). The two other uses in Chronicles (1 Chronicles 29:5; 2 Chronicles 29:31) both refer to the commissioning of the qahal, the assembly, rather than to the specific commissioning of priests. Judah is a priestly people, and Yahweh fills the hand of the whole congregation to provide for the temple and to carry on its worship.

Johnstone (2.196) sees an anomaly in the offering of purification offerings: Using 

…the law of the sin offering to deliberate offences covering the life of the people as a whole thus represents a radical extension by C of the legislation of the Pentateuch (it is similar to the way in which he applies the law for the individual guilty of ma’al in Lev. 5.14–6.7 to the life of Israel as a whole, 1 Chron. 10.13–14). Its application to a situation unimagined by the legislation represents an equally radical extension of the understanding of divine grace.

Johnstone misses an important detail. Four types of animals are brought as “sin offerings”: Bulls, rams, lambs, and male goats. As Leviticus 4 prescribes, the leaders offer the male goats (2 Chronicles 29:23) in a separate rite. Two of the other animals—bulls and lambs—are required for certain kinds of chatta’t offerings, but the ram is not. Instead, the ram is the prescribed animal for the trespass offering, which can be offered for deliberate, high-handed sins (Leviticus 5:14–6:7). The ram is precisely the animal the law demands for ma’al, for trespasses. Here as everywhere, Hezekiah does everything according to the words of Yahweh (2 Chronicles 29:15).

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