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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Ezra 3

Verse 1

THE ALTAR ERECTED;

THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE LAID; AND THE PEOPLE'S RESPONSE;

THE ALTAR ERECTED AT ITS OLD PLACE

"And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man in Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon its base; for fear was upon them because of the peoples of the countries: and they offered burnt-offerings thereon unto Jehovah, even burnt-offerings morning and evening. And they kept the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt-offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required; and afterward the continual burnt-offering, and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Jehovah that were consecrated, and of every one that offered a freewill-offering unto Jehovah."

"And when the seventh month was come" (Ezra 3:1). "This was the month Tishri, corresponding to our September-October."[1] "This was the first day of the month (Ezra 3:6), The Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1-6), a foreshadowing of Israel's final regathering. Assuming a two-year delay in the beginning of the journey from Babylon after Cyrus' decree, this would have been September 25,536 B.C. The laying of the temple foundation the following spring would thus have brought to an official close the seventy-year captivity prophesied by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:1-12), from 605 to 535 B.C.[2]

"And builded the altar of God" (Ezra 3:2). "This altar was hastily constructed in less than a day (Ezra 3:6) of field stones in accordance with the earliest prescriptions for altars in the law of Moses (Exodus 2:25)."[3]

Scholars are in disagreement over the date of the foundation's being laid because "Both Haggai and Zechariah date the beginning of the building activity of Zerubbabel in the second year of Darius I (520 B.C.)." The writings of Josephus, however, are ambiguous on this point, for he placed the laying of the foundation in the period prior to the hostility of the Samaritans, or at least, at the very beginning of it, but went on to mention it later as taking place in the reign of Darius I.[4] Since the "foundation" of any building may be: (1) the excavated earth where it will be constructed; (2) the basic masonry; or (3) the support of the whole structure on top of the masonry, there can be no criticism of the two mentions of the foundation as being laid in the second year of Israel's return while Cyrus was still living, and again in the reign of Darius Hystaspes (Darius I), who was the second ruler after Cyrus' death. Critics will have to come up with something harder to explain than this in order to establish what some of them call the "unhistorical" statements in Ezra.

<MONO>

The Persian Rulers from 559-358 B.C.[5]

559-530 Cyrus

530-522 Cambyses

522-486 Darius I (Hystaspes)

486-465 Xerxes I (Ahashuerus)

465-424 Artaxerxes (Longimanus)

424-423 Xerxes II

423-404 Darius II (Nothus)

404-358 Artaxerxes (Mnemon)SIZE>MONO>

"And they kept the feast of tabernacles, as it is written" (Ezra 3:4). This feast was kept on the fifteenth of Tishri (See Leviticus 23:34-42 and related passages of the law of Moses). "The Hebrew name of it was Sukkoth (Booths), a reference to the way in which the Israelites dwelt in booths during their journey through the wilderness."[6] The day of Atonement was also held on the tenth day of this month; but no mention of it is made here. The observance of that solemn occasion would have to wait upon the building of the second temple.

"As it is written" (Ezra 3:4). The inspired author is making it clear that Israel, upon their return to Palestine, were determined to do everything exactly according to the instructions in the law of Moses.

"They kept ... all the set feasts of Jehovah" (Ezra 3:5). These were the Passover, the Pentecost (Feast of Weeks) and Tabernacles.


Verse 6
THE TRUE WORSHIP RESTORED; THEY PLANNED TO REBUILD THE TEMPLE

"From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt-offerings unto Jehovah: but the foundation of the temple of Jehovah was not yet laid. They gave money also unto the masons and to the carpenters; and food, and drink, and oil unto them of Sidon, and unto them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, unto Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia."

There was never any doubt that the returnees would rebuild the temple, which they would do as soon as possible. They wasted no time in raising money for that purpose.

"The grant they had of Cyrus" (Ezra 3:7). "The full terms of this grant are found in Ezra 6:3-5."[7] "The Lebanon range of mountains where those wonderful cedar trees grew belonged, at this point in history, to the kings of Persia."[8]

A number of dependable scholars have mentioned "corruptions" in the text of this chapter. Keil stated that, "This text cannot be regarded as authoritative";[9] and Oesterley stated, with regard to both Ezra 3:8 and Ezra 3:9 that, "The text here is corrupt."[10] In spite of this, the basic truth of what is here proclaimed is unimpeachable; and the alleged "corruptions" do not change that. Furthermore, we believe that the allegations regarding a corrupt text are related to the false assumption of scholars that "laying the foundation" occurred only one time. We reject that as unreasonable. How do men know that it was not done twice, once at the very beginning, during the reign of Cyrus, and many years later under Darius I?


Verse 8
THE FIRST LAYING OF THE FOUNDATION

"Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God in Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity into Jerusalem, and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of Jehovah. Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to have the oversight of the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jehovah, after the order of David the king of Israel."

All of the ceremonies mentioned here would seem to have been something like what is known today as "Ground breaking." It is a major misassumption to suppose that the structural foundations of the Second Temple were at this time completed. Years would pass before that could occur, during which the opposition of the "peoples of the land" would be vented against Israel in their full hostility.

Bowman, of course, insisted that what took place here occurred during the reign of Darius I, Sept. 21,520 B.C.[11] This writer, however, believes that there were two occasions when the foundation "was laid," and that the one in 520 B.C. was the second. This chapter plainly states that the first time was during the reign of Cyrus, or at least leaves that impression.

"The Levites twenty years old and upward" (Ezra 3:8). Various ages are given in Scripture when the Levites were accounted able to do service in the temple. Those ages vary from the age of 20, as here, up to 25,30, or 35. The reasons for the differences are not given; but one possible explanation is that suggested by Simmons' statement that, "There were 24,000 Levites to see after the work of Solomon's temple (1 Chronicles 29:4); and only 341Levites returned from Babylon."[12] It hardly takes a genius to figure out why they lowered the required age: they needed more men!


Verse 11
CELEBRATING THE OCCASION

"And they sang one to another in praising and giving thanks unto Jehovah, saying, For he is good; for his lovingkindness endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, the old men that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off."

"They sang one to another" (Ezra 3:11). This means that the musical renditions were done antiphonally, from one choir answering another, or from a priestly soloist answered by the singers, or by some other antiphonal arrangement. "The Psalm they sang on that occasion was Psalms 136, which shows that they were thinking in terms of Jeremiah's great prophecy (Jeremiah 33:11)."[13] The overwhelming joy of the occasion came from the fact that nearly three quarters of a century of hopes and fears, sorrows and frustrations, had reached a happy climax; God had forgiven and restored his Chosen People to their homeland.

However, there were those whose weeping rivaled the shouts of joy! Why? The relative insignificance and poverty of that projected New Temple was in no way comparable to that magnificent and glorious Wonder of the World that was the Temple of Solomon. There is no wonder that the old men who could remember the former Temple in its glory could find only tears as they saw the projection of the structure that would take its place. And yet, the glory of the Second Temple would far surpass that of Solomon, because the Christ himself would appear in the Second!

"The people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping" (Ezra 3:13). This does not mean that the shout of joy was drowned out by the weeping; but that those who heard could not discern between them.[14] "Among Eastern people expressions of sorrow are by loud wailing, the howl of which is sometimes not easily distinguished from joyful acclamations."[15]


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ezra 3:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=ezr&chapter=003". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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