No such Passover had been observed from the days of the judges who had governed Israel through all the days of the kings of Israel and Judah.
We have in these verses -
I. THE GREAT PASSOVER.
1. A seal of the covenant. This great year of reformation began with a covenant, and ended with a Passover. The ceremonies of the occasion are fully described in 2 Chronicles 35. The Passover in the Old Testament was in some respects very much what the Lord's Supper is in the New, It took the people back to the origin of their history, revived vivid memories of the deliverance from Egypt, and ratified their engagement to be the Lord's. It reminded of the past, set a seal upon the present, and gave a pledge for the future. The Christian sacrament seals God's promises to the believer, and, at the same time, seals the believer's covenant with God. It establishes, nourishes, and strengthens the life received in the new birth.
2. An historic celebration. "Surely there was not holden such a Passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel," etc. A true religious awakening shows itself
(1) in increased interest in God's ordinances;
(2) in stricter fidelity in observing them; and
(3) in joyful alacrity in taking advantage of them.
II. FIDELITY TO MOSES.
1. Cleansing away the concomitants of idolatry. Together with the idols, Josiah cleansed out of the land the tribes of wizards, necromancers, soothsayers, etc., who found their profit in the ignorance and superstition of the people. Where Bible religion returns, Sanity returns. The hideous specters begotten of fear and superstition vanish. Josiah further carefully eradicated any remaining traces of idol-worship that could be "spied."
2. Pre-eminent fidelity. In these deeds, and by his whole course as a reformer, Josiah earned for himself the distinction of being the most faithful king that had yet reigned. He and Hezekiah stand out pre-eminent the one for trust in God (2 Kings 18:5), the other for fidelity to the Law of Moses. "Like unto him was there no king before him," etc. Like gems, each of which has its special beauty and excels in its own kind, these two kings shine above all the rest. Only one character exhibits all spiritual excellences in perfection.
III. ISRAEL'S SIN YET UNPARDONED.
1. God's unappeased anger. "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath," etc. The sole reason of this was that, notwithstanding the zealous Josiah's reforms, the people had not in heart turned from their great sins. The spirit of Manasseh still lived in them. They were unchanged in heart, and, with favoring circumstances, were as ready to break out into idolatry as ever. The outward face of things was improved as regards religion, but social injustice and private morals were as bad as ever. Hence the Lord could not, and would not, turn from his wrath. It is real, not lip, repentance that God requires to turn away his auger from us. We see:
(1) The posthumous influence of evil. "One sinner destroyeth much good" (Ecclesiastes 9:18). Manasseh's deeds lived after him. His repentance could not recall the mischief they had done to the nation. They went working on after his decease, propagating and multiplying their influence, till the nation was destroyed.
(2) The righteousness of individuals cannot save an unrighteous people. Not even though these righteous persons are high in rank, are deeply concerned for the revival of religion, and labor with all their hearts to stem the tide of corruption. Their piety and prayers may delay judgment, but if impenitence is persisted in, they cannot finally avert it (cf. Jeremiah 15:1, "Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people").
2. God's unshaken purpose. "I will remove Judah also out of my sight," etc. Terrible is the severity of God when his forbearance is exhausted. Moral laws are inexorable. If the spiritual conditions, by which only a change could be effected, are wanting, they work on till the sinner is utterly destroyed. - J.O.
Surely there was not holden such a Passover.
There is something very striking and melancholy in these words. The children of Israel celebrated their last Passover, all being together, and in such a manner as had not been known since the earlier and better days of their possession of the promised land. It was, in fact, the last repentance of God's people, and a lively repentance it seems to have been, to judge from outward tokens. But, alas! it did not continue. Three times already before this, God's people had publicly repented, under the direction of pious princes, which were Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, Hezekiah. But now the appointed punisher of their sins was openly manifested to their sight in the terrible King of Babylon. And like the sick man with death before his eyes, they made earnest protestations of repentance and amendment if God would spare them, and sealed them with the celebration of the Sacrament of the Paschal Supper. Here, then, is before us the example of a fourth publicly professed repentance, and as ineffectual as the three that went before. Should it not lead us to take very close and scrutinising views of repentance, and to conclude that there must be something in it besides the present feeling of shame and sorrow, however sharp and lively that may be? There must be some abiding feeling in it, which shame and sorrow naturally are not. For the very sense of them drives us to rid ourselves of them by all means. What then can that be? What does God demand beyond the broken heart? Nothing, if it be indeed broken in His name. But here lies the question. Which does the man think most of, his own personal danger, or God's damaged glory? Which does he lament most, his own loss, or God's rejected love? Has he renounced the sinful selfishness of his nature? A man may keep this, and yet be overwhelmed with shame and sorrow; he may retain this, and yet manifest the most lively outward marks of repentance. So did Israel; and was led by it into his sins again, and they led him to the final judgment which came upon his head. Here is the cause of so many apparent repentances in the course of a man's life. Selfish sorrow, selfish shame have wrung his heart, and terrified his conscience. But he has not gone beyond self. He has seen, indeed, the miserable disorder which his sins have wrought in himself in body and in mind. But has he looked out and up to see the miserable disorder which they have also wrought in God's work of love; how they have obscured the brightness of His glory, how they have shaken the faith of His Church, as far as His sphere extends; and who shall tell how far it extends? Here is the principle that is so commonly wanting; here is that which Israel lacked, the heavenly spirit, and not the earthly dregs only. When the heart has thus been lifted out of itself, divested of its earthliness and carnality, and has risen into heaven to see the majesty which it has affronted, the love which it has rejected, the glory which it has blasphemed, and thence also looks down again upon the scenes of its sin and mischief amongst God's works and people, and sees them with a clear and sharp eye, and lively and enlightened conscience, as becomes a look from above — then, and not until then, a real repentance has taken place. Such repentance will abide in its effects. In such the heart of the man is changed, so that he has foregone his old appetites, and, therefore, is out of the way of temptation from his old sins. Even though it should force itself upon his sight, he will not allow it to gain his attention, but turn away from it with a stern watchfulness against its ensnaring deceitfulness. He sees in it the art of the enemy of the God whom he serves, of the Redeemer whom he loves, of the Holy Spirit whose guidance he follows. And such repentance, therefore, is both the first and the last. But Israel, we see, made at least four several professions of repentance; and so have many done since. The more frequent they have been, of course the less sincere they have been. And such repentances are more a proof of the folly and selfishness of the man, than of any right and spiritual feeling. They are but the sorrow for having come in for the penalty of his sin at last. And, as soon as the infliction shall have been removed, he is ready to sin again. And, indeed, after each successive fit, he is but the more ready, because he wishes to drown the voice of conscience, which exclaims against his yielding again to the old temptation; and it is drowned amid his shouts of enjoyment, until the hour of penalty comes round again; then the note is that of lamentation again. Why, what affronting of the majesty of God Almighty is here! So little can the penitent himself depend upon a repentance which does not begin until God's judgment is at hand. How can a heart which he has taught to cheat him continually, and which, at all events, has never been diligently schooled in spiritual discernment; how shall this, at a moment, too, of such confusion, at a time, too, when it is so deeply interested in coming to the more joyful conclusion; how can it, with any certainty, distinguish the sorrow and fear which arose from the love of self, now that he is in Such danger, from the love of God, now that He is resorted to after long forgetfulness? Wilt it not be too glad to mistake the fear for the love? Will not, indeed, the fear most certainly be there? All this tells us, what a broken reed men lean upon who trust in a last sickness to any feeling of repentance which they have not felt and cherished in the time of their health. Then judgment was far off, and God was sought therefore from love rather than from fear. Health is the time of strength, for the spirit no less than for the body. Let health, then, be the season of true repentance, and sickness will be the season of comfort, and the hour of death the season of well-founded hope.
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