Saturday, May 2, 2015

II Chronicles 31

In II Chronicles 31, the righteous King Hezekiah of Judah arranges for the support of the priests and the Levites.  He commands the people of Jerusalem to give the portion to the priests and the Levite—-probably the firstfruits of grain, wine, and oil for the priests (Numbers 18:12-13), and the tithe to the Levites (Numbers 18:21)—-and the children of Israel and Judah living in the cities of Judah then bring firstfruits and tithes.  Hezekiah says that this is so that the priests and the Levites could be strong in the Torah of the LORD.  Having a lot in the Temple, priests and Levites distribute portions and freewill offerings to priests and Levites in Judah, while the priests on Temple duty, along with their sons at or above the age of three, eat what is in the Temple.

Here are some items:

1.  Why does Hezekiah only command the people of Jerusalem to give portions and tithes to the religious leaders of Judah, when the Torah commanded all Israelites to tithe and to give portions, not only Israelites in one city?  Perhaps Hezekiah felt that he could only exercise authority over the people of Jerusalem, that Israelites outside of Jerusalem would not listen to him.  He was wrong, though.

2.  Hezekiah said that the priestly portion and the tithes were to make the priests and Levites strong in the Torah of the LORD.  What does this mean?

Raymond Dillard lists two possibilities, which have also been mentioned by other commentaries I have read.  The first is that the priests and Levites are strong in the Torah when they perform their duties as priests and Levites, as mandated in the Torah: the priests offer sacrifices, and the Levites assist in that.  The second is that the priests and Levites study the Torah, and the Levites teach the people, which II Chronicles 35:3 says that the Levites do.

Both are probably important, in the mind of the Chronicler, for sacrifices are needed for the worship of God, and the Levites need to learn and teach Torah so that Israel obeys God, all of which are crucial for Israel’s prosperity and fulfillment of her role as a holy people.  Hezekiah wants for the priests and Levites to focus on the Torah rather than being preoccupied with trying to survive by growing their own food.

I think of two New Testament texts.  In Acts 6, when the Hellenists and the Palestinian Jewish Christians are in conflict over the distribution of church charity, the apostles appoint deacons to handle the distribution fairly, and the apostles say that it is not fitting for them (the apostles) to neglect the word of God to serve tables.  The apostles have a responsibility to proclaim the word of God, and they cannot be preoccupied with other matters, as important as those matters may be, so they appoint other people to handle those matters.

There is also I Corinthians 9, where Paul says that he deserves to be supported by the Corinthian Christians because he has brought them the word of God.  Paul does something beneficial for the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian Christians, as the priests and Levites during Hezekiah’s reign performed important roles that were for the benefit of the Israelite people.  Giving to those spiritual leaders was a way to say “thank you” and to enable the leaders to continue their work of ministry.
Personally, I do not think that a spiritual leader should just study.  I like spiritual leaders who are out there doing things for people in the congregation, hearing their needs and offering care and compassion.  Still, they do need time to study so that they can encourage and challenge the people of God.

3.  II Chronicles 31:14-16 are difficult verses for me to understand, for they seem to suggest that freewill offerings were distributed to priests outside of Jerusalem, except for the ones that were left in the Jerusalem Temple for the priests serving there.  Keil-Delitzsch say that these freewill offerings were offerings that the priests ate in the holy place, so why would they be taken to priests outside of Jerusalem?  Why couldn’t they be kept in the Temple?  Or am I interpreting these verses incorrectly?

4.  II Chronicles 31:16 says that priestly males at and above three years old entered the Temple.  Three years old?  Dillard says that there are ancient versions that have “thirty” years old (cp. I Chronicles 23:3).  But two Jewish interpreters, Malbim and Mikra U Massores, say that priests began to be trained at age three.  Christian commentator John MacArthur notes that, at age three, the child ceased relying on his mother for food, and thus was ready to eat from the priestly portion.

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