Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 9:18-27; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Psalm 143; 2 Chronicles 29-30
Hezekiah has been praised as a godly king, second only to David. He led the reformation of Israel recorded in these passages of 2 Chronicles. The book in general has been described as one that emphasises the importance of ritual and worship. Yet in the midst of reinstituting the Passover, an important balancing perspective is presented. The Passover was to be celebrated by those who were ceremonially clean (Numbers 9:6). Hezekiah was aware that some of those celebrating the Passover with him were unclean, and that this violated the Law (2 Chronicles 30:18).
Ethical dilemmas often arise because we are unable to obey two rules or follow two principles at the same time. Is stealing food acceptable to feed a starving child? Is lying to authorities acceptable to bring much-needed help to someone? Is breaking the rules about being clean okay in obeying the rule to celebrate the Passover? Hezekiah provides some important guidance, and the passage records that God was satisfied with his approach (v. 20). He accepts that those who are unclean are breaking the rules and need forgiveness. But he is also confident that God will forgive them, and prays to this effect.
This is not an isolated exemption. When giving Moses the Passover rules, God noted two exemptions (Numbers 9:6-12). When people were unclean because of a dead body, or were on a journey, they could still celebrate the Passover. As a general principle, God is more concerned about mercy than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). He is less concerned about burnt offerings than he is about people’s hearts (Psalm 51:16-17).
Jesus confirmed this prioritisation of people over procedures. When the Pharisees complained about Jesus’ disciples picking food on the Sabbath, he reminded them of some other Old Testament exemptions (Matthew 12:1-8). While fleeing from King Saul, David and his companions ate the consecrated bread in the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21-22), which only priests were allowed to do (Leviticus 24:5-9). In addition, priests were required to work on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10), even though this in itself violated the Sabbath.
These passages reveal a degree of flexibility and humane understanding in God’s mercy and love. While rules and regulations have their place, they should not keep people from God. As Jesus goes on to say, doing good to save a sheep on the Sabbath is not wrong, even if technically it might violate the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11-12). Likewise, Hezekiah recognised that people seeking the Lord with their hearts should not be denied just because they violate some procedural rules. True violations require forgiveness, which God is willing to provide.
As we grapple with true moral dilemmas, we may have to choose between the lesser of two evils. We may not have an ethically neutral option, as even doing nothing may be morally tainted. The lesser evil will remain wrong, but may be the best option available. Such is life in a fallen world where an ideal option may not be available. Thankfully, God is merciful and forgiving. We should likewise show mercy and empathy after others have done their best in a bad situation. If they grapple with guilt and remorse, we should contribute to their healing and restoration, not pile on additional burdens.