1-5Then Hezekiah invited all of Israel and Judah, with personal letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, to come to The Temple of God in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover to Israel’s God. The king and his officials and the congregation in Jerusalem had decided to celebrate Passover in the second month. They hadn’t been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough of the priests were yet personally prepared and the people hadn’t had time to gather in Jerusalem. Under these circumstances, the revised date was approved by both king and people and they sent out the invitation from one end of the country to the other, from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north: “Come and celebrate the Passover to Israel’s God in Jerusalem.” No one living had ever celebrated it properly.
6-9The king gave the orders, and the couriers delivered the invitations from the king and his leaders throughout Israel and Judah. The invitation read: “O Israelites! Come back to God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he can return to you who have survived the predations of the kings of Assyria. Don’t repeat the sins of your ancestors who turned their backs on God, the God of their ancestors who then brought them to ruin—you can see the ruins all around you. Don’t be pigheaded as your ancestors were. Clasp God’s outstretched hand. Come to his Temple of holy worship, consecrated for all time. Serve God, your God. You’ll no longer be in danger of his hot anger. If you come back to God, your captive relatives and children will be treated compassionately and allowed to come home. Your God is gracious and kind and won’t snub you—come back and he’ll welcome you with open arms.”
10-12So the couriers set out, going from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far north as Zebulun. But the people poked fun at them, treated them as a joke. But not all; some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun weren’t too proud to accept the invitation and come to Jerusalem. It was better in Judah—God worked powerfully among them to make it unanimous, responding to the orders sent out by the king and his officials, orders backed up by the word of God.
13-17It turned out that there was a tremendous crowd of people when the time came in the second month to celebrate the Passover (sometimes called the Feast of Unraised Bread). First they went to work and got rid of all the pagan altars that were in Jerusalem—hauled them off and dumped them in the Kidron Valley. Then, on the fourteenth day of the second month, they slaughtered the Passover lambs. The priests and Levites weren’t ready; but now, embarrassed in their laziness, they consecrated themselves and brought Whole-Burnt-Offerings to The Temple of God. Ready now, they stood at their posts as designated by The Revelation of Moses the holy man; the priests sprinkled the blood the Levites handed to them. Because so many in the congregation had not properly prepared themselves by consecration and so were not qualified, the Levites took charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs so that they would be properly consecrated to God.
18-19There were a lot of people, especially those from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, who did not eat the Passover meal because they had not prepared themselves adequately. Hezekiah prayed for these as follows: “May God who is all good, pardon and forgive everyone who sincerely desires God, the God of our ancestors. Even—especially!—these who do not meet the literal conditions stated for access to The Temple.”
20God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer and healed the people.
21-22All the Israelites present in Jerusalem celebrated the Passover (Feast of Unraised Bread) for seven days, celebrated exuberantly. The Levites and priests praised God day after day, filling the air with praise sounds of percussion and brass. Hezekiah commended the Levites for the superb way in which they had led the people in the worship of God.
22-23When the feast and festival—that glorious seven days of worship, the making of offerings, and the praising of God, the God of their ancestors—were over, the tables cleared and the floors swept, they all decided to keep going for another seven days! So they just kept on celebrating, and as joyfully as they began.
24-26Hezekiah king of Judah gave one thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep for the congregation’s worship; the officials gave an additional one thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep. And there turned out to be plenty of consecrated priests—qualified and well-prepared. The whole congregation of Judah, the priests and Levites, the congregation that came in from Israel, and the resident aliens from both Israel and Judah, were all in on the joyous celebration. Jerusalem was bursting with joy—nothing like this had taken place in Jerusalem since Solomon son of David king of Israel had built and dedicated The Temple.
27The priests and Levites had the last word: they stood and blessed the people. And God listened, listened as the ascending sound of their prayers entered his holy heaven.