Read the Passage: Ezra 3
Worship Resumes (3:1–7)
While Cyrus’ decree can be dated to 539 BC, with the returnees likely departing Persia in 538 BC, the exact month of their arrival back in Jerusalem is unknown. Out of necessity, when God’s people first arrived back in Judea, they constructed their own dwellings. This is why Ezra 3:1 notes “the children of Israel were in the cities,” which would have included Jerusalem and its surrounding towns and villages. The returnees apparently set the beginning of the seventh month as a time to gather in Jerusalem in order to rebuild the altar and to resume the daily and yearly offerings of the sacrificial system. Ezra 3:2 notes that the altar was rebuilt by Jeshua, Zerubbabel, and the priests. Note that the seventh month was a logical time to meet, as the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths or Ingathering) all occurred in the seventh month.
Ezra 3:3 foreshadows events that will unfold in the following chapter. This verse reads, “Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.” So, while the returnees began to conduct sacrifices, they did so being afraid of the Samaritans who dwelt in the land. Note that the mentioning of “the people” (Ezra 3:3) refers to individuals who had been settled in Israel over the previous few generations by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. The text notes that the daily and yearly sacrifices began immediately, and that preparations for restoring the temple got underway. While rebuilding the altar may have been relatively simple, restoring the temple was a far more complex matter, as it involved stone-cutting, specialized masonry skills, and obtaining wood and other building supplies.
Restoration Begins (3:8–11)
Preparations for the gathering of materials to rebuild the temple were made when God’s people first assembled to rebuild the altar (cf. Ezra 3:7). Yet, this process took some time to complete, thus it was “the second month of the second year” (Ezra 3:8) after their return, before construction began. This was likely in the spring of 536 BC. Since the first deportation to Babylon began in 605 BC, some scholars view this as the official end of the prophesied 70-year captivity. Other scholars date the captivity length from the final deportation in 586 BC until the completion of the temple in 516 BC. In addition to the skilled masons and carpenters who shaped the stones and the wood (cf. Ezra 3:7), the text notes that the work of rebuilding the temple was engaged in by Zerubbabel, Jeshua and his sons, along with the priests and Levites who were twenty years old and above.
The returnees knew the narrative about the construction of the first temple, as well as the duties of the various classes of Levites that are specified in the Pentateuch. Furthermore, the people surely were aware of David’s breach of God’s law when attempting to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, which resulted in the death of Uzzah (cf. 2 Sam. 6:1–8). Therefore, in constructing this second temple, Zerubbabel and Jeshua did so in accord with God’s law. It was recorded in 1 Chron. 15:16, “Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy” (cf. 1 Chron. 16:4–6; 25:1). Thus, when the foundation of the second temple was set, the Levites celebrated with cymbals and trumpets, as they responsively sang Psalm 136.
Weeping Ensues (3:12–13)
Ezra 3:12 notes that “many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes.” Given that those who wept are contrasted with those “who shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3:12b), it is likely that these tears were not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow. In all likelihood, these old men were weeping, for in their minds they contrasted Solomon’s extravagant first temple, with Zerubbabel’s humble second temple. Yet, as the prophet Zechariah would soon teach, these elders likely erred with their tears, in that they pridefully despised the day of small things (cf. Zech. 4:10). In contrast, those who had grown up without ever having access to a temple rejoiced greatly when the foundation stones were set. Ezra notes that the sound of weeping and rejoicing was mixed into a great sound that was heard afar off.
- In what ways has God worked in surprising or unexpected ways in your life? What has challenged you the most in following Jesus?
- Are you ever been challenged by anxiety? What are some passages that can help overcome worry (cf. Ps. 94:19; Prov. 3:21–26; 12:25; Matt. 6:25–34; Phil. 4:6)?
- Why would it have been important for the work of the temple to be done by Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the priests and Levites?
- Why does God demand that mankind approach Him on His own terms? Is God concerned with a certain type or form of external worship?
- Have you ever become discouraged by the lack of visible ministry success, thereby despising the day of small things?