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Ezra - Chapter 3
Altar Erected, verses 1-7
It was the seventh month of the year in which the returning exiles arrived back in Jerusalem that they met as one in Jerusalem to commence the building of the temple, according to the command of Cyrus. Not many of the people lived in Jerusalem itself, for it was without walls and desolate. They had moved in the more populated towns and villages in outlying areas. Besides Zerubbabel, their prince and governor, they also had the high priest, Jeshua (called Joshua elsewhere), to lead and direct them in what they should do. Their first venture was to erect the altar of burnt offering, before they had even laid the foundation of the temple. The altar was the place of sacrifice, where the Israelite approached the Lord in worship. In the earlier times, before Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the old temple, there was a continual burnt offering on the altar.
There is a good lesson in this. One cannot approach God’s worship except by the sin offering and the whole burnt offering of Christ in atonement for his sins. Not only does salvation come by His offering, but the life is saved by keeping Him in remembrance in daily worship (1 Peter 1:18-21).
So the bases of the altar were set and the altar erected on it. This was partly motivated by a fear of the pagan people living around them. The Jews were in a definite minority in their own land, and they felt a need for the Lord’s protection. Not only did they make their daily burnt offerings, but they also kept the feast of the tabernacles, one of their major feasts, which came in the seventh month of their year. It was given originally in commemoration of their wilderness wandering when they dwelt in tents. See Leviticus 23:33-44. These early returnees from captivity tried to keep the laws of God as given to Moses much more scrupulously than had their fathers, or their children after them.
The people seemed very sincere in their attempts to serve the Lord at the time. The more pious brought freewill offerings to offer on the altar. This great religious revival had its beginning on the first day of the seventh month, called the sabbath of trumpet blowing in the law (Leviticus 23:23-25). As the work of temple building began money was given to the carpenters and masons, but the cedar-cutters of Tyre and Zidon were paid in foodstuff, oil, and wine. As in the days of Solomon, when the first temple was built, the timber was taken from Lebanon and conveyed to the seaport of Joppa and conveyed overland to Jerusalem. All of these things were in accord with the grant given the Jews by King Cyrus.
Foundation Laid, Verses 8-13
Work on the temple proper began in the second month of the second year after the Jews returned from exile to Jerusalem. This was about seven months after the initiation of the sacrifices on the re-erected altar. No reason for this considerable delay is given, but part of the reason is apparent by an understanding of weather conditions of the land. The rainy season ordinarily occurs in the tenth month, or December, by the modern calendar. The Jews’ seventh month corresponds to late September and October. Had the work begun then there would not have been sufficient time for significant progress before the interruption by the rains. It would seem a logical thing for the Jews to do, then, to wait until spring, late April, to begin the foundation.
Another possible reason for delay may be found in the fact that the timber had to be brought a considerable distance, from the mountains of Lebanon, for the work. The builders may have been forced to wait until it could be ordered, cut, and conveyed by sea to Joppa, then overland to the temple site.
In the second month, however, they were ready to begin. Zerubbabel and Jeshua assembled all the adult men to Jerusalem to appoint them to their work about the building of the house of the Lord. Quite properly the high priest, Jeshua, and his sons took the first assignment. Of the tribe of Judah, Kadmiel and his sons took the lead. Though he was a leader Kadmiel is not further known in the Scriptures. Among the Levites the leader was Henadad with his sons. Two of these sons are mentioned as prominent in the later generation of Ezra and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:18; Nehemiah 3:24; Nehemiah 10:9).
The foundation was laid with a great deal of fanfare and celebration. It was a day long waited with great anticipation by the Jews, and they intended it to be a memorable one. The trumpeters among the priests were arrayed in their robes and stationed with their instruments. The sons of Asaph were present to sound the cymbals as their forefathers had been appointed in the days of David. Along with the music the singers praised and gave thanks to God in song, according to their courses. Their refrain was, "He is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel."
The assembly of the people at the event shouted with joy and praised the Lord because their temple foundation was laid. But not everyone shouted for joy. Among the people were a number of the oldsters, priests, Levites, and elders, who as very young men could remember the splendor of the temple of Solomon, which Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. When they realized how small and insignificant this new temple would be in comparison they wept loudly. They understood more fully just how far Israel’s sin and disobedience had brought them. They wept for shame, sorrow, and regret. The joyous shouting was so mingled with the vociferous weeping that those listening afar off could not tell whether they were sorrowing or rejoicing.
There are lessons to be learned from this event First of all the Lord’s people should not give forth an uncertain sound (1 Corinthians 14:8). However, the disciplinary experiences of the elders, from the Lord, should temper the naive enthusiasm of the youth (1 Timothy 5:17). Still, again, the zeal and enthusiasm of youth should not be squelched by the despondency of the elders (1 Timothy 4:12). When both young and old put God’s will first in their lives there will be compatibility, and His cause will grow and prosper.
These lessons may be learned from this chapter. 1) To worship the Lord one must begin with the sin sacrifice; 2) God’s people are still a minority in the world and need His protection; 3) there should be careful planning before beginning the Lord’s work; 4) there is a place for all in building for God; 5) progress in God’s work should bring rejoicing and praise; 6) the cautious concern of the older Christian should temper the innocent zeal of the youth.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Ezra 3". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany