Old Testament Restorations

by Glenn Conjurske

A restoration is a return to the truth, and to the practice of it. It is a restoration of something which has been lost, or given up. Whenever there has been a departure of the people of God from the ways or the truth of God, a restoration is called for. The Old Testament contains the record of many such departures, and many such restorations. As there is a continual tendency to decline and apostasy in the people of God, so there has been a continual endeavor on the part of God to call the people back to his word. As often as the people departed from his ways, so often he raised up a man to call them back. Such were the judges. Such were the prophets. Such were some of the good kings of Judah.

The same round of departures and restorations may be seen in the history of the church, and it is my settled conviction, and has been for a quarter of a century, that we live in a time of deep departure from the word of God—-that even the best of modern Christianity is but a poor picture of Bible Christianity, while the generality of modern Christianity is but a miserable caricature of it. We stand in desperate need of a restoration—-a return of the people of God to the word of God. But when we see the word of God constantly discounted from its true face value by the leaders of the modern church, when we see the many subtle rationalizations by which worldliness, lukewarmness, and false doctrine are maintained—-when we see on the one hand the mindless (but very zealous) superstition which embraces the most demonstrably false vagaries, and sets both the truth of Scripture and the facts of history at defiance to maintain them, and on the other hand the heartless (and very shallow) intellectualism, which reminds us of one admiring the sword of the Lord in a museum rather than using it on the field of battle—-and above all, when we see the overweening pride which reigns supreme everywhere in the modern church, with every man thinking he knows better than his superiors and his fellows, and those who know the least sure that they know the most—-when we see all of this, we are inclined to despair of ever seeing the restoration which the modern church so desperately needs.

Yet when we look at the Old Testament history, we find a pattern which presents some encouragement. We see a continual round of apostasy and restoration, but this does not mean that the people of God continued to move back and forth like a pendulum between the same two points. No—-for though there were frequent returns to the true God, those returns did not prevent the ever-deepening apostasy of the nation. The restoration of the people under one man of God did not prevent their deeper apostasy after he was dead. This, of course, does not look very encouraging, but neither is this the whole of the history. For while we watch the ever-deepening apostasy of the people as a whole, we see ever brighter restorations under the men of God who labored to restore them. In the midst of the deepening departure from the word of God, we see several restorations which brought the people nearer to the word of God than they had been for many generations.

The first of those restorations we see under king Hezekiah. The nation was almost gone in his days. The ten northern tribes had been given up to apostasy for generations. Only two tribes remained which maintained even the form of the worship of the Lord, and they were fast approaching the judgement of God. Yet in this day of weakness and division it entered the heart of Hezekiah that all Israel should keep the passover. “And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel. … So they established a decree to make proclamation throughout all Israel, from Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the passover unto the Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem, for they had not done it of a long time in such sort as it was written.” (II Chron. 30:1 & 5). The divided state of the people had for a long time made it apparently impossible to keep the passover as it was written, and since the division of the kingdom, no one had attempted it. But in Hezekiah we see an energy of faith which overcame all obstacles to keep the word of the Lord. He met, of course, with opposition. He sent his messengers to preach repentance and conversion throughout the northern ten tribes of Israel, “but they laughed them to scorn, and mocked them.” (Verse 10). What a presumptuous thing it must have appeared for a king of Judah to send such messengers throughout the kingdom of Israel, yet it was of the Lord. And in spite of opposition, “Nevertheless divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulon humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.” (Verse 11).

There was weakness enough in the whole endeavor. They kept the passover in the second month, for the priests had not sanctified themselves as they ought in the first month. Moreover, “a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulon, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary. And the Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people.” (Verses 18-20). That is, the Lord did not demand perfection of the people, but accepted their feeble attempt to restore the true observance of the passover, though it was done in the wrong month of the year, and “otherwise than it was written.” “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for SINCE THE TIME OF SOLOMON THE SON OF DAVID king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem.” (Verse 26). That is, no such passover had been kept since the division of the kingdom.

Further on in the history of Judah, and nearing the eve of their dispersion, Josiah led the people in one of the soundest restorations upon record. It was throughout nothing other than a return to the word of God, which had been long neglected by the people. Of the passover which he kept we are told, “And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel FROM THE DAYS OF SAMUEL THE PROPHET; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept.” (II Chron. 35:18). We may not be clear of all the details, but it is clear that there was something in Josiah’s keeping of the passover which had never been observed since the days of Samuel. Whatever it was which distinguished Josiah’s passover, we may be sure of two things: 1.It was something which was plainly written in the word of God, which was Josiah’s handbook in all of the work of restoration which he carried out; and 2.It was something which had been neglected by the whole people of God since the days of Samuel. Not David in all of his righteousness had kept it. Not Solomon in all of his glory. Not godly Amaziah, nor Uzziah, nor Hezekiah. Whatever it was that distinguished Josiah’s passover above the others had been ignored, or neglected, or set aside, by all of these men of God—-by every man of God who had lived since the days of Samuel the prophet—-and it was left to Josiah to restore it in the days of deep apostasy, not long ere Judah was finally judged by the Lord, and carried away captive. Yet this was something which could have been known by any and every one of them, as well as by Josiah, for he learned it from the same Scriptures which they all had in their hands before him.

But time ran on, apostasy deepened, and judgement followed. Judah was carried away captive. Yet after long years in captivity, the Lord restored a small and feeble remnant to the land of promise, and it was left to this feeble remnant to bring about the most pure and true restoration of Old Testament times. This little remnant of the once-glorious Israel stood by the hour and the day to hear the word of God, and under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah made it their business to be governed by it. In Nehemiah 8, we read in verses 14-17, “And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month, and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths, for SINCE THE DAYS OF JOSHUA THE SON OF NUN unto that day had not the children of Israel done so.”

This is a very remarkable testimony. The law which the Lord had commanded by Moses concerning the feast of booths was plain enough that a little child could have understood it, and yet for all the generations and centuries from Joshua to Nehemiah, no one had observed it. Never once in all the great revivals under the judges had this scripture been obeyed. Never under the great Samuel. Never in all the glory of Israel under David and Solomon. Never in any of the revivals under the kings in David’s line. Never under the ministry of any of the prophets which God had sent. Never until it was revived by this small and feeble and despised remnant. But observe, this little remnant, small and weak as it was, the mere shadow of Israel in her former glory, still under the yoke of a heathen power, while the great majority of all Israel yet remained scattered abroad among the heathen nations—-this little remnant, in all of its weakness and reproach, had a purer religion than Israel had had through all the days of its glory and strength.

The wonder is not that this little remnant kept the feast of booths. The wonder is that all Israel had neglected to keep it since the days of Joshua the son of Nun. Yet this is the fact, and a fact I wish to drive home, for it is a fact which has been repeated in the history of the church. The great restorations of the history of the church have left much of the word of God unknown and unobserved. The Reformation was but the first step out of the corruptions of the centuries, and yet there are many today who are blind enough to contend for the perpetuation of “Reformation theology.” Have these folks never read the Bible? But we might as well ask, Had Gideon and Samson never read the Bible? Had Samuel and David never read it? Had Solomon and Hezekiah never read it? Had Isaiah and Jeremiah never read it? If they had, why did they not keep the feast of tabernacles? The word of God was perfectly plain on this point. But the fact is, there is a very great inertia in custom, and the greatest and strongest men of God are commonly much more controlled by it than we would suppose possible, did not history afford us so many plain examples of it. It takes a very great energy of faith, a great degree of devotedness and self-denial, to break away from the doctrines and customs of the centuries, and stand against them for the word of God. And even before that, it takes a great deal of spiritual understanding even to see through the errors of common custom and common orthodoxy. Very few are the men, even among the greatest of them, who have the spiritual capacity to break away from custom, and return to the word of God. And among those who can, it is yet another thing to be able to lead the people to do so. When the people of God depart from the word of God, they do so gradually and insensibly. They drift away from it, and none but the most spiritual among them take any notice of it. When a prophet calls them back to the word of God, he calls them to an abrupt change, and the people are likely to regard him as proud and presumptuous, and a trouble-maker.

There were no doubt thousands throughout the generations from Joshua to Nehemiah who had read the Lord’s simple command concerning the feast of tabernacles: “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the Lord seven days in the year. It shall be a statute FOR EVER IN YOUR GENERATIONS. Ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths.” (Lev. 23:40-42). Was not this plain enough? No doubt Samuel and David had read this. No doubt Abiathar the priest had done so. No doubt it had been read by hundreds of the best of men—-kings and prophets, priests and Levites. Why had none of them kept it? No doubt some of them wondered why Israel did so no more, but they all lacked the energy of faith required to restore the feast. Some perhaps affirmed that it was for a different dispensation, or only for the inauguration of the dispensation, in spite of the Lord’s plain words, “for ever in your generations”—-as some today relegate Matthew’s great commission to another part of the dispensation, in spite of the Lord’s plain words, “alway, even unto the end of the world.” Some no doubt held that the keeping of this feast was a matter of no importance, “a little, outward thing,” of no consequence in comparison to the state of the heart. All no doubt had some manner of rationalization to justify their failure to keep the feast of tabernacles, and so exactly does the Fundamental church treat the word of God today. In the days of glory and ease and plenty, perhaps Israel had little inclination for the self-denial required to make them booths, and dwell in them for seven days.

But whatever the reasons were, it remains a fact that the plain word of God was neglected by all Israel through all of its palmiest days, neglected by all of its greatest leaders and most spiritual men, for generations and centuries. The same has been true in the history of the church, and is true today. Another fact is that the small, feeble, and despised remnant of the Jews under Ezra and Nehemiah did actually restore the practice of the word of God which had been neglected by all of those leaders through all of those centuries. And this it is that gives us hope for the church of God today—-not to arrest the deep apostasy which grips all of the old denominations of Christendom, not even to reclaim the evangelical denominations and independent churches from the worldliness and lukewarmness which has sapped their spiritual life, but that a remnant will come forth and stand up and do the will of God, paying the price to walk in the whole truth of the whole word of God. And then, as the little remnant in Nehemiah’s day restored their holy religion to a purity which had been unknown since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, so might we see it in the church of God today.

Glenn Conjurske