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M'lachim Bet/2 Kings 23:21 And the king commanded all the people, saying, "Make Pesach to the L-rd your G-d as it is written according to this scroll of the covenant."
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As we draw towards the end of Pesach this week and have started counting the days of the Omer towards Shavuot, we need to consider these words that form part of the Haftarah reading for the second day of Pesach. The 'king' referred to is King Josiah, who became king at the age of eight after his father, Amon, was assassinated. He was one of the last of the line of Davidic kings of Judah, ruling the southern kingdom for thirty one years from the middle to the end of the seventh century BCE. That said, he was a reforming king, who - prior to our text - cleansed the Temple, broken down many high places, purged idolatrous priests and set things on a much more godly footing in his area of influence. It was in the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign, around 623-622 BCE, that Hilkiah the High Priest found "a scroll of the Teaching" (2 Kings 22:8, NJPS) in the Temple and had it read to the king by Shaphan the scribe. Many scholars believe that this scroll was at least a significant part of the fifth book of the Torah, D'varim or Deuteronomy and formed the basis for much of they refer to as "the Deuteronomistic Reform" carried out by the king.
Notice the king's words: , the Qal passive particle of the root , to write, engrave, ordain, decree (Davidson); so here, "as it is written". Josiah is calling the people to observe the feast according to the instructions written in the scroll. The historical record goes on, "Now the passover sacrifice had not been offered in that manner in the days of the chieftains who ruled Israel, or during the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah. Only in the eighteenth year of King Josiah was such a passover sacrifice offered in that manner to the L-RD in Jerusalem" (23:22-23, NJPS). I think the wording "in that matter" are intended to match "as it is written" and tell us something important. It is not that Pesach hadn't been kept or remembered at all in the intervening years, but that Pesach hadn't keep observed strictly according to the book.
Artscroll's Tanakh gives one possible reason: "There was an unprecedented magnitude of participation by the people, partly because it was the first time in centuries that the Israelites of the northern tribes participated in the observance of Passover at Jerusalem." Josiah's reign was in the period between the fall of the northern kingdom, Israel, with its capital in Samaria, and the fall of Judah, the southern kingdom. Although the Assyrians did deport many of the tribes who lived in the northern kingdom, scattering them throughout the Assyrian empire, there would have been many refugees who would have fled south to Judah. This is confirmed by "Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher" (Luke2:36), present in the Temple at Yeshua's dedication. The presence of members of many tribes in Judah, who could celebrate the festival together in Jerusalem fulfills the Deuteronomic command - "You are not permitted to slaughter the passover sacrifice in any of the settlements that the L-RD your G-d is giving you; but at the place where the L-RD your G-d will choose to establish His name, there alone shall you slaughter the passover sacrifice, in the evening, at sundown, the time of day when you departed from Egypt" (D'varim 16:5-6, NJPS) - in a way not done for many generations.
On a slightly different tack, Ziony Zevit suggests that "the celebration of Passover in Jerusalem exclusively in accord with Deuteronomy 16:5 as understood by the author is possible only because no legitimate clergy and no purified shrine exist anywhere between the cities of Samaria and Beer-sheba except at Jerusalem."1 Josiah's centralising reforms, destroying the high places, "suppressing the idolatrous priests" (2 Kings 23:5, NJPS), bringing the priests to Jerusalem and "defiling the shrines where the priests had been making offerings" (v. 8, NJPS), had brought a very sharp focus on Jerusalem as the centre of worship to YHVH, just as the Torah requires.
Lastly, Robert Alter notes that "Passover was the great rite that affirmed national purpose and belonging to the nation," and adds that "Josiah suggests that the exacting stipulations for observing Passover are made fully clear only in the book found in the temple." That is, Josiah draws everyone back to the text to get it right. Even though it was a part of Israelite cultural memory - how the L-rd brought the people up from Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm - perhaps the exact details of the ritual had become blurred and the people's observance had become not so much lax, implying that they didn't care, but muddied and confused, lacking in detail. As Josiah tried to rally the people around his reforms in an effort both to pleaseHaShem and to stave off the judgement that HaShem had spoken against the people of Judah, he was trying to gain traction and vision of the unity and purpose for the nation. Identity is formed and shaped by what we do; Josiah was trying to create identity and unity by commanding all the people to observe Pesach in the same way and emphasising that this is way it always used to be done: we are the same people living the same story because we do the same things.
The D'varim passage (16:1-8) makes a number of specific
points for observing Pesach:
Yeshua was particular about these criteria when he kept the festival with His disciples: the date and time were right from a clear sighting of the New Moon in the Jordan valley as they came up to Jerusalem; they were in Jerusalem; the meal was prepared by the disciples in person, no reliance on outside caterers; from the time of the Last Supper to His burial was less than twenty-four hours and was complete; the resurrection was just three complete days later, a fresh revelation of who Yeshua was; the disciples stayed in Jerusalem for the festival, together, so that He could meet with them over the course of several days and they could appreciate what had happened.
We too can learn from the process in our journey of faith. Celebrating Pesach is a wonderful thing for all believers to be able to do, whether Jew and Gentile; it is a way that we can reconnect with our past and the very words and actions of Yeshua. Pesach should be kept at the right time; trying to do Pesach in September is just wrong by all accounts - so it is with many things in the kingdom: G-d's timing is perfect and we need to move in line with His rhythm and promptings. Leaven is a well-known biblical symbol for sin; when we are active in the kingdom, we cannot also participate in sin - we must purge sin from both our actions and our thoughts. Holding on to left-overs and not completing our instructions will impair or invalidate what we do; we have to be intentional and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done and not try to spread it out to finish off tomorrow or the day after. We have to pick up and run with moments of faith; like the blacksmiths of old, we must strike while the iron is hot - hesitation or prevarication loses the opportunity and spoils the result. Lastly, we need time to celebrate, to take time away from work and busy-ness, to allow our minds to relax and register the things of G-d without the enemy snatching them away or scuffing sand over them.
So as we draw towards the close of the week of Matzah for this year, celebrate the Shabbat that we have been given and give praise to G-d for what He has done for us in Messiah Yeshua. Count the days of the Omer with joy, knowing that Shavuot will come, just as the days are drawing near for Yeshua Himself to return for His bride. Celebrate and sing to the King!
Chag Matzah Sameach!
1. - Ziony Zevit, "2 Kings" in The Jewish Study Bible edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, OUP 2004.
Further Study: John 12:1; John 13:1; Luke 22:15; Luke 24:25-27
Application: Has Pesach gone flat and cold, just a like a tired soggy matzah this year? Look around you and see again the wonders and miracles of G-d that are made new in Passover every year. Re-engage before the festival is finished and come to a joyous completion in Yeshua!
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© Jonathan Allen, 2018
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