Life happens suddenly, even when we expect it to happen. Whether it’s the death of a loved one after a long battle with cancer, or the death of a loved one after an unexpected heart attack, or the premature birth of your child, or it’s your own on-going struggles with employment, or a sudden operation or an operation after months or years of delay, or the final break of a friendship, or just another day feeling blue, these things often hit us suddenly. To say it another way, we live in the moment, and moments either feel all too brief, or all too long, but pain and suffering always hit us quickly. Even taking your youngest child away to college feels sudden, though you knew the day would come for at least 18 years!
This suddenness of life is because we are finite creatures. We see with limited vision and limited perspective. Our ability to know the vagaries of life is scant at best. At worst, our world is utter chaos, with neither rhyme nor rhythm to it. Though we can plan for life’s emergencies, they still hit us with unexpected ferocity. Sometimes the emergencies are caused by the actions or decisions of others. Sometimes, particularly in the case of medical problems, they just happen. And sometimes we are the cause of life’s sudden problems. What is remarkable in all these cases is there is one who has never experienced an emergency, never been taken by surprise, and never feels as though he is losing control.
Consider king Ahaz of Judah. He was not a good king. In 2 Chronicles 28:3 we learn that he committed the same sins the Canaanites did, including human sacrifice. These were the people Israel was to push out of the land so that they would not participate in the Canaanites’ sin. Not only did that not happen, but the king of Judah encouraged the people of Judah to participate in these sins.
In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD—this same King Ahaz. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel. And Ahaz gathered together the vessels of the house of God and cut in pieces the vessels of the house of God, and he shut up the doors of the house of the LORD, and he made himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem. In every city of Judah he made high places to make offerings to other gods, provoking to anger the LORD, the God of his father.2 Chronicles 28:22–25 ESV
Things were bad for Judah. They had lost a battle to the Syrians and rather than cause him to repent, Ahaz become more faithless to the Lord. He doubled down on his evil by enabling the people of Judah to worship these false gods, to the exclusion of worshiping the God of Israel. He closed the temple and shut down its operations! Think of this! The people of Judah stopped worshiping the LORD God altogether, at Ahaz’ instigation (see 2 Chronicles 29:7)!
In time Ahaz died and his son began to reign when he was 25 years old. At just 25 Hezekiah demonstrated more wisdom and understanding than his father ever did. He immediately began the process of restoring temple worship, which required that it be cleansed of its filth. The priests were instructed to consecrate themselves and the temple so that the sacrifices could begin again. But there was a problem.
Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the LORD. Come near; bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD.” And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. The number of the burnt offerings that the assembly brought was 70 bulls, 100 rams, and 200 lambs; all these were for a burnt offering to the LORD. And the consecrated offerings were 600 bulls and 3,000 sheep. But the priests were too few and could not flay all the burnt offerings, so until other priests had consecrated themselves, their brothers the Levites helped them, until the work was finished—for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in consecrating themselves.2 Chronicles 29:31–34 ESV
There weren’t enough priests! How could this be? Hundreds of years earlier, when Solomon dedicated that very temple, he offered 22,000 sheep and 120,000 oxen, and there were plenty of priests for this (see 1 Kings 8:63)! Hezekiah offered fewer than 4,000 animals and didn’t have enough priests. It was not a population problem. There were plenty of Levites who had descended from the right family lines to serve as priests. There were not enough of them who were willing to return to the worship of the LORD God of Israel. Notice that the author indicates that the rest of the Levites were more upright than the priests. The people of Judah had sunk so far that they couldn’t find enough priests to perform the work God himself had assigned them, yet God had worked in the hearts of the other Levites, that they could assist the few priests who returned to the Lord. Then we read this remarkable statement:
Besides the great number of burnt offerings, there was the fat of the peace offerings, and there were the drink offerings for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the LORD was restored. And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing came about suddenly.2 Chronicles 29:36 ESV
For hundreds of years the people of Israel and of Judah had been wandering away from God, seeking to worship other gods. Then, under the leadership of King Ahaz, they stopped the temple worship and began worshiping other gods. This went on for years. It is also likely that many of those who had served as priests prior to Ahaz’ wicked action of closing the temple had either retired or died, and it’s likely that many of the young men of the right family line had simply never been trained as priests. Even more than sacrifice, however, God desires faith. God desires that we trust him. Because of the assistance of the non-priestly Levites, the people were able to offer their meager sacrifices to the Lord, and he gladly accepted their sacrifices.
The author tells us “the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing came about suddenly”. Suddenly? Was it all that sudden? Hezekiah was 25 when he began to reign. Surely there were hints that he was faithful to the God of Israel and would not continue walking the path his father Ahaz had paved for him and the people. Surely they knew that things would change when a new king was crowned. Even when you know it’s coming, life happens suddenly. God, however, never experiences suddenness. He had already prepared for the problem of not enough priests by ensuring that enough Levitical men would remain faithful that they could assist the too-few priests in their service to him on behalf of the people.
The truth is that the suddenness of life is always and only from our perspective. What this text tells us is that God was in control the entire time. When Ahaz locked the doors to the temple and stopped the sacrifices, God was preparing many for the return of the temple sacrifices. When Ahaz erected altars to false gods all over Jerusalem, he was ensuring that Hezekiah would remain faithful, though he would grow up in that wicked household. When the priests began worshiping other gods the one true God had already laid the plans for the work he would do when the time came.
It’s not hard to imagine the sense of panic and chaos when the people realized there weren’t enough priests. All these animals. All this blood. All the entrails that had to be disposed of properly. All the flaying of the sacrifices for burning on the altar—the single altar. Perhaps if they had, say, a couple months to prepare, to organize for this! Solomon had years to organize his massive sacrifice. These people had one week, and only after that week did they realize they did not have enough to be faithful to the Lord. It only felt sudden to them. God had already provided for them.
Life comes at us quickly. Whether problems arise because of our own foolish decisions, or they arise because of the foolish decisions of others, or because life simply happens, God is never surprised. We discover that he had been preparing for this day or this hour or this minute. In these moments of sudden pain and heartbreak and distress, we do not have enough to be faithful to God. We do not possess the internal resources to remain faithful, yet God has provided for us. He places people in our lives to encourage us and to exhort us and to comfort us and to guide us and to walk with us and to help us. He places us in the lives of others to step in with help during the unexpected circumstances that trouble us, whether that means providing a meal for a new family or praying for another to be comforted in the midst of grief or dropping a note in the mail or sending a text to a lonely college student or reaching out with a word of encouragement to someone laid up after surgery.
What had God provided for the people? The text says there weren’t enough priests for the sacrifices so the Levites were enlisted to help them. Then the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing had come about suddenly. What had God provided for the people? He provided people. God works in our lives through others, and he works in others’ lives through us. As we saw a few weeks ago when we looked at spiritual gifts, the real gift is the gifted person. We are each intended to be God’s blessing to others. What are you doing today to be God’s answer to someone’s prayer? Does someone need encouragement? Financial assistance? Practical help? Correction? Comfort? Friendship? Remember that God has already provided for his people and a significant way he provides is by giving us as the gift a person needs when the suddenness of life overwhelms. Be someone’s answer to prayer. Be the person God uses to bless.