Saturday, May 27th, 2023
Eve of Pentacost
Eve of Pentacost
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ezra-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ezra 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.] This chapter contains—
1. The rebuilding of the altar (Ezra 3:1-3 a).
2. The renewal of the sacrificial worship and of the observance of the religious festivals (Ezra 3:3-6Ezra 3:3-6Ezra 3:3-6a).
3. The preparations for rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 3:6 b, Ezra 3:7).
4. The laying of the foundation-stone of the new Temple, the religious celebration of the occasion, and the mingled feelings of the people (Ezra 3:8-13).
Ezra 3:1. The seventh month] i.e. of the year in which they arrived at Jerusalem. The seventh month was Tisri, “the month of the full streams,” or “floods,” which corresponded with the latter part of our September and the greater part of October. (For further notes of time, see notes on Ezra 3:8). As one man] The expression does not signify every man; but, with great unanimity, “as if inspired by one will.”
Ezra 3:2. As it is written in the law of Moses] (See Leviticus 17:2-6; Deuteronomy 12:5-11).
Ezra 3:3. They set the altar upon his bases] i.e. they built it in its former position and on the old foundations. For fear was upon them] &c. They were afraid of the hostility of the neighbouring nations. The people of those countries] are the surrounding peoples, which are mentioned in chap. Ezra 9:1. Burnt offerings morning-and evening] as commanded in Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8.
Ezra 3:4. The feast of Tabernacles, as it is written] (See Leviticus 23:33-43). And offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required] The last clause is in the margin: “The matter of the day in his day.” Vulg.: “Opus dies in die suo.” The offerings for each day of the feast of Tabernacles are carefully prescribed in detail in Numbers 29:12-38. “The offerings required at this feast were the largest of all. They amounted to fourteen rams, ninety-eight lambs, and no less than seventy bullocks, being twice as many lambs and four times as many bullocks as were enjoined for the Passover. The feast of Tabernacles was especially one of thankfulness to God for the gifts of the fruit of the earth, and the quantity and nature of the offerings were determined accordingly.”—Speaker’s Com.
Ezra 3:5. After the feast of tabernacles the prescribed order of sacrifices was regularly observed, viz. The continual burnt offering] i.e. the daily morning and evening sacrifice (Numbers 28:3-8). Both of the new moons] Rather, “And (the offerings) of the new moons” (Numbers 28:11-15). And of every one that willingly offered] &c. (Leviticus 7:11-17; Numbers 29:39; Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:16-17).
Ezra 3:6. From the first day of the seventh month] &c. “The altar service, with the daily morning and evening sacrifice, began on the first day of the seventh month; this daily sacrifice was regularly offered, according to the law, from then till the fifteenth day of the seventh month, i.e. till the beginning of the feast of Tabernacles. All the offerings commanded in the law for the separate days of this feast were then offered according to the numbers prescribed; and after this festival the sacrifices ordered at the new moon and other holydays of the year were offered, as well as the daily burnt offerings,—none but these, neither the sacrifice on the new moon (the first day of the seventh month), nor the sin-offering on the tenth day of the same month, i.e. the day of atonement, having been offered before this feast of Tabernacles.”—Keil. This interpretation is, however, opposed by Schultz, who says: “It is merely said (Ezra 3:5) that after the sacrifices of the feast of Tabernacles the usual order of offerings was again continued, which included the daily offerings, and then also those of the new moon and other feasts.”
Ezra 3:7. Meat and drink] i.e. corn and wine. Unto them of Zidon] &c. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 22:4; 1 Kings 5:6-18; 2 Chronicles 2:3-18.) According to the grant] &c. This probably refers to the permission to rebuild the Temple, which would involve permission to negotiate with the Phœnicians for such assistance as they needed; for we do not read anywhere that Cyrus made them a grant of Phœnician timber.
Ezra 3:8. Now in the second year of their coming] &c. “Whether this second year of the return coincides with the second year of the rule of Cyrus” (over Babylon), “so that the foundations of the Temple were laid, as Theophil. Antioch. ad Antolic., lib. 3, according to Berosus, relates, in the second year of Cyrus, cannot be determined; for nothing more is said in this book than that Cyrus, in the first year of his reign, issued the decree concerning the return of the Jews from Babylon, whereupon those named in the list (chap. 2) set out and returned, without any further notice as to whether this also took place in the first year of Cyrus, or whether the many necessary preparations delayed the departure of the first band till the following year. The former view is certainly a possible though not a probable one, since it is obvious from iii.], that they arrived at Jerusalem and betook themselves to their cities as early as the seventh month of the year. Now the period between the beginning of the year and the seventh month, i.e. at most six months, seems too short for the publication of the edict, the departure, and the arrival at Jerusalem, even supposing that the first year of Cyrus entirely coincided with a year of the Jewish calendar. The second view, however, would not make the difference between the year of the rule of Cyrus and the year of the return to Jerusalem a great one, since it would scarcely amount to half a year.”—Keil. In the second month] i.e. Zif (1 Kings 6:1), “the month of ‘blossom;’ or, more fully, ‘the bloom of flowers,’ ” corresponding to our May. Appointed the Levites … to set forward the work] i.e. to preside over or superintend the rebuilding of the Temple.
Ezra 3:9. Jeshua] not the high priest, but the head of an order of Levites (chap. Ezra 2:40). Judah] is an error of a copyist. It should be Hodaviah, as in the margin, and chap. Ezra 2:40. In Nehemiah 7:43, it is written Hodevah. Together] Margin: “Heb. as one,” i.e. “all, without exception.” The sons of Henadad] &c. Keil suggests, as an explanation of the striking position of the record of “the sons of Henadad,” “that the two classes Jeshua with his sons and brethren, and Kadmiel with his sons, were more closely connected with each other than with the sons of Henadad, who formed a third class.” The authority of the clause, however, is doubtful.
Ezra 3:10. They (Zerubbabel and Jeshua) set the priests in their apparel] i.e. in their robes of office (Exodus 28:40; Exodus 39:27-29; Exodus 39:41, and chap. Ezra 2:69). With trumpets] (Numbers 10:8; Numbers 31:6; 1 Chronicles 15:24; 1 Chronicles 16:6; 2 Chronicles 5:12). After the ordinance] &c. (1 Chronicles 15:16; 1 Chronicles 25:1).
Ezra 3:11. And they sang together by course] Or, “And they sang antiphonally.” Fuerst gives the meaning: “to sing an alternate song, or in alternate choir (1 Samuel 18:7; Ezra 3:11), … but always to sing in reply, not to sing merely.” The singing was responsive. One choir sang, “Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good;” and the other responded, “For His mercy endureth for ever.” Shouted with a great shout] for joy that the foundation of the Temple was laid.
Ezra 3:12. But many of the priests and Levites] &c. “Solomon’s Temple was destroyed B.C. 588, and the foundation of the subsequent Temple laid B.C. 535 or 534; hence the older men among those present at the latter event might possibly have seen the former house; indeed, some (according to Haggai 2:3) were still living in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, who had beheld the glory of the earlier building. Upon these aged men, the miserable circumstances under which the foundations of the new Temple were laid produced so overwhelming an impression, that they broke into loud weeping.”—Keil.
THE REBUILDING OF THE ALTAR: EXEMPLARY FEATURES OF DIVINE WORSHIP
We discover here—
I. Unanimity and zeal in Divine worship.
1. The evidences of unanimity in worship. “The people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua,” &c. The movement seems to have been a spontaneous one on the part of the people. They were not summoned to Jerusalem either by Zerubbabel the prince or by Jeshua the high priest, but went there of their own accord, urged by the religious impulses of their own souls. And they assembled “as one man,” i.e. as with one heart and will. And the authorities were not tardy in taking up the matter and leading it onward. “Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak,” &c. Jeshua with the priests, and Zerubbabel with the princes, entered heartily into the movement. Priests and Levites, prince and people, high and low, cordially united in the preparation for the restoration of their national worship.
2. The evidences of zeal in worship. This great gathering at Jerusalem took place “when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities.” They had only recently returned from Babylon; their country was to a great extent desolate, and would need much cleansing and cultivation; their houses would need renovation, or new ones would have to be built by them; many private interests urgently claimed their attention; but all these were freely and resolutely set aside until they had rebuilt the altar of Jehovah, and restored His worship, and made ready to celebrate the sacred festivals of this seventh month. Such unanimity and zeal for the worship of God are worthy of imitation by both individuals and communities in this age.
II. Sacrifice in Divine worship. “And builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon.” The altar and the burnt offerings suggest—
1. Man’s need of atonement with God. The consciousness of guilt, and the desire to propitiate God, or the craving of the heart for fellowship with Him, are the experiences which give rise to sacrificial offerings. The altar is an answer to the deep cry of man, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?” Burnt offerings were intended, in some cases at least, to express the idea of expiation, as well as that of self-consecration; hence they are said “to make atonement for him” who offered them (Leviticus 1:4; Leviticus 14:20; Leviticus 14:31). The tendency of sin is to estrange man from God; the tendency of the love of God in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is to destroy the power of sin in man, and to bind him to God in loving loyalty. We do not now need the altar and the expiatory victim; but we do need the Cross and the influence of the great Sacrifice, which once for all was offered thereon to put away sin. (a).
2. Man’s duty of self-consecration to God. The chief significance of the burnt offering was that it expressed the self-consecration of the offerer to God. Without this, such offerings were worthless in the sight of Heaven. The moral or spiritual element was the essential thing in all the sacrifices. Without penitence the sin offering was offensive to God. Without gratitude the peace or thank offerings were rejected by Him. And without the self-dedication of the worshipper the burnt offerings were an abomination unto Him (comp. Psalms 50:8-15; Isaiah 1:11-15). Our richest gifts are accepted by God only as they express our self-devotion to Him. “And He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” (b).
III. Respect for precedent in Divine worship. This was manifested by the Jews at this time in two particulars—
(1.) In assembling at the old place. “The people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.” They congregated at the place where the Temple had once stood, and where their fathers were wont to worship.
(2.) In erecting the altar upon the old foundation, and thus, as it were, associating it with its distinguished predecessor. There is much that is commendable in the feelings which led them to act thus. It is well to be willing to adopt changes in our modes and accessories of worship, when really enlightened judgment, and cultured taste, and sincere religious feeling unite in recommending them. It is also well to cling tenaciously to what is suitable and seemly in existing methods and arrangements of religious worship. The site of the former Temple and the bases of the ancient altar possessed for the Jews a sanctity and an inspiration to which no other spots in this wide world could lay claim. There are memories and associations clinging around certain ancient forms and places hallowed by holy uses which greatly stimulate and enrich the worship of the devout heart.
IV. Conformity to Scripture in Divine worship. In building the altar and in offering their sacrifices, the Jews did “as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.” We must take heed that in our worship, whether clinging to precedent, or accepting suggestions of change, we do not depart from the principles and spirit of worship, as revealed in or fairly deduced from the holy Book. There are certain directions which are unmistakable and imperative: e.g., “God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit,” &c.
V. Fear of enemies in Divine worship. “Fear was upon them because of the people of those countries.”
1. The fear of enemies should not intimidate us from the worship of God. The Jews built the altar notwithstanding their dread of their enemies. The history of religious persecutions supplies many splendid examples of perseverance in worship despite the threats and cruelties of foes. (c).
2. The fear of enemies should impel us to worship God. The Jews were the more eager to build the altar because of the hostility of neighbouring peoples. The opposition of man led them the more earnestly to seek the protection of God. They were not in a position to join battle with their enemies, if they had been attacked by them; but in placing themselves under the guardianship of the Lord God they did that which was far wiser and better. The persecutions of men should cause us to be more earnest in prayer to God.
VI. Regularity in Divine worship. “And they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening.” The offering of the daily sacrifice suggests—
1. Our daily need of atonement with God. There are daily temptations, omissions, and transgressions, which tend to alienate the heart from God; hence we need daily to realise the reconciling influences of the Cross of Christ. (d).
2. Our daily need of renewed consecration. Every morning we require a renewal of our purpose and endeavour to live to God. The reception of new mercies also summons us to fresh dedication of ourselves to the bounteous Giver of all our mercies.
3. Our daily need of renewed blessings. Forgiveness and grace, guidance and guardianship, are blessings which we need every day, therefore we should seek them in prayer; they are, moreover, blessings which we receive every day, therefore we should acknowledge them in praise to God.
(a) I do not think any one ever knows the preciousness of the blood of Christ till he has had a full sight and sense of his sin, his uncleanliness, and his ill-desert. Is there any such thing as really and truly coming to the cross of Christ until you first of all have seen what your sin really deserves! A little light into that dark cellar, sir; a little light into that hole within the soul; a little light cast into that infernal den of your humanity, and you would soon discern what sin is, and, seeing it, you would discover that there was no hope of being washed from it, except by a sacrifice far greater than you could ever render. Then the atonement of Christ would become fair and lustrous in your eyes, and you would rejoice with joy unspeakable in that boundless love which led the Saviour to give Himself a ransom, the Just for the unjust, that. He might bring us to God. May the Lord teach us, thundering at us, if need be, what sin means. May He teach it to us so that the lesson shall be burned into our souls, and we shall never forget it. I could fain wish that you were all burden-carriers till you grew weary. I could fain wish that you all laboured after eternal life until your strength failed, and that you might then rejoice in Him who has finished the work, and who promises to be to you all in all when you believe in Him and trust in Him with your whole heart.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) It is not the greatness of Christ’s sufferings on the cross which is to move our whole souls, but the greatness of the spirit with which He suffered. There, in death, He proved His entire consecration of Himself to the cause of God and mankind. There, His love flowed forth towards His friends, His enemies, and the human race. It is moral greatness, it is victorious love, it is the energy of principle, which gives such interest to the cross of Christ. We are to look through the darkness which hung over Him, through His wounds and pains, to His unbroken, disinterested, confiding spirit. To approach the cross for the purpose of weeping over a bleeding, dying Friend, is to lose the chief influence of the crucifixion. We are to visit the cross, not to indulge a natural softness, but to acquire firmness of spirit, to fortify our minds for hardship and suffering in the cause of duty and of human happiness. To live as Christ lived, to die as Christ died, to give up ourselves as sacrifices to God, to conscience, to whatever good interest we can advance—these are the lessons written with the blood of Jesus. His cross is to inspire us with a calm courage, resolution, and superiority to all temptation.—W. E. Channing, D.D.
Mercy, love, is more acceptable worship to God, than all sacrifices or outward offerings. The most celestial worship ever paid on earth was rendered by Christ, when He approached man, and the most sinful man, as a child of God, when He toiled and bled to awaken what was Divine in the human soul, to regenerate a fallen world. Be such the worship which you shall carry from this place. Go forth to do good with every power which God bestows, to make every place you enter happier by your presence, to espouse all human interests, to throw your whole weight into the scale of human freedom and improvement, to withstand all wrong, to uphold all right, and especially to give light, life, strength to the immortal soul. He who rears up one child in Christian virtue, or recovers one fellow-creature to God, builds a temple more precious than Solomon’s or St. Peter’s, more enduring than earth or heaven.—Ibid.
(c) Lord Macaulay, writing of the persecutions of the Protestant dissenters in the reign of James II., says:—The number of the rebels whom Jeffreys banged on this (the Western) circuit was three hundred and twenty. Such havoc must have excited disgust even if the sufferers had been generally odious. But they were, for the most part, men of blameless life, and of high religious profession. They were regarded by themselves, and by a large proportion of their neighbours, not as wrong-doers, but as martyrs who sealed with blood the truth of the Protestant religion. Very few of the convicts professed any repentance for what they had done. Many, animated by the old Puritan spirit, met death, not merely with fortitude, but with exultation. It was in vain that the ministers of the Established Church lectured them on the guilt of rebellion and on the importance of priestly absolution. The claim of the king to unbounded authority in things temporal, and the claim of the clergy to the spiritual power of binding and loosing, moved the bitter scorn of the intrepid sectaries. Some of them composed hymns in the dungeon, and chanted them on the fatal sledge. Christ, they sang while they were undressing for the butchery, would soon come to rescue Zion and to make war on Babylon, would set up His standard, would blow His trumpet, and would requite His foes tenfold for all the evil which had been inflicted on His servants. The dying words of these men were noted down; their farewell letters were kept as treasures; and in this way, with the help of some invention and exaggeration, was formed a copious supplement to the Marian Martyrology.
Never, not even under the tyranny of Laud, had the condition of the Puritans been so deplorable as at that time (autumn 1685). Never had spies been so actively employed in detecting congregations. Never had magistrates, grand jurors, rectors, and churchwardens been so much on the alert. Many dissenters were cited before the ecclesiastical courts. Others found it necessary to purchase the connivance of the agents of the government by presents of hogsheads of wine and of gloves stuffed with guineas. It was impossible for the separatists to pray together without precautions, such as are employed by coiners and receivers of stolen goods. The places of meeting were frequently changed. Worship was performed sometimes just before break of day and sometimes at dead of night. Round the building where the little flock was gathered sentinels were posted to give the alarm if a stranger drew near. The minister in disguise was introduced through the garden and the back yard. In some houses there were trap doors through which, in case of danger, he might descend. Where Nonconformists lived next door to each other, the walls were often broken open, and secret passages were made from dwelling to dwelling. No psalm was sung; and many contrivances were used to prevent the voice of the preacher, in his moments of fervour, from being heard beyond the walls.… Dissenting ministers, however blameless in life, however eminent for learning and abilities, could not venture to walk the streets for fear of outrages, which were not only not repressed, but encouraged, by those whose duty it was to preserve the peace. Some divines of great fame were in prison. Among these was Richard Baxter. Others, who had, during a quarter of a century, borne up against oppression, now lost heart, and quitted the kingdom. Among these was John Howe.—History of England, chap. v.
(d) Is it not said in Scripture, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate”? Why is Christ an advocate to-day? Only because we want an advocate every day. Does He not constantly intercede yonder before the eternal throne? Why does He do that? Because we want daily intercession. And it is because we are constantly sinning that He is constantly an advocate—constantly an intercessor. He Himself has beautifully set forth this in the case of Peter: after supper the Lord took a towel and girded Himself, and then, taking His basin and His ewer, He went to Peter, and Peter said, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” But Jesus told him, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in Me.” He had been washed once; Peter was free from sin in the high sense of justification, but he needs the washing of purification. When Peter said, “Lord, wash not my feet only, but also my head and my hands,” then Jesus replied, “He that is washed”—that is, he who is pardoned—“needeth not save to wash his feet, for he is clean every whit.” The feet want constant washing. The daily defilement of our daily walk through an ungodly world brings upon us the daily necessity of being cleansed from fresh sin, and that the mighty Master supplies to us.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE SACRED FESTIVALS RESUMED
(Ezra 3:4-6 a)
In these verses we have the record of the observance of the religious feasts of the nation. “The continual burnt offering,” which we noticed in our exposition of the preceding section, is again mentioned. The feast of Tabernacles, the observance of the new moons, and the presentation of freewill offerings, are also distinctly mentioned. To these, therefore, let us direct our attention. They present to us the following homiletic topics:—
I. The commemoration in Divine worship of national experiences and blessings. Such was the feast of Tabernacles.
1. It was a memorial of the emancipation of Israel from Egypt, teaching us that we should cherish the memory of former mercies. (See Leviticus 23:43.)
2. It was a memorial of their life in the wilderness, reminding us that our present condition is that of strangers and pilgrims. (See Leviticus 23:40-43; Hebrews 13:14.)
3. It was a thanksgiving for rest and a settled abode in the promised land, suggesting the certainty and blessedness of the rest which remains for the people of God. (Comp. Leviticus 23:40 with Revelation 7:9.)
4. It was a thanksgiving for the completed harvest, teaching us to receive the precious fruits of the earth as the kind gifts of a bountiful Providence. (See Exodus 23:16 b; Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13-15. But this festival was specially appropriate and significant at this time. “It was,” as Schultz remarks, “because of the season of the year in which the congregation had arrived in Canaan that the first feast which they could again celebrate in accordance with the law was the feast of Tabernacles. At the same time, however, we may see therein a special providence of God, which was at once lovely and significant to the congregation. The booths adorned with foliage and fruits had previously represented as well the gracious help in the times of the wilderness, as also the gracious blessings of harvest in the present; corresponding with this, the booths now gained of themselves a reference, on the one side, to the exhibition of grace during the new prolonged wilderness-time of the exile which had entered with so much gloom into the midst of the history of Israel; so to speak to the booths of protection and defiance which had arisen for the people, by the grace of the Lord, even in the heathen world; and, on the other side, to the new regaining of Canaan, which, to a certain extent, was a security and a pledge of all the further blessings in store for them in this land. They expressed the thanks which they owed to the Lord for both of these blessings in an especially lively and internal manner. This feast of tabernacles was a festal and joyous conclusion of all the preservations, consolations, and blessings that were behind them, connected with a joyous glance into the future; it was an evidence that a height had been reached upon which finally even the last height might be attained, an indication that some day, after all their struggles and all their labours, a still more glorious feast of Tabernacles, the Messianic, the eternal and truly blessed one, would come. (Comp. Zechariah 14:0)” The text distinctly mentions one feature of this celebration of the feast, viz., the fidelity with which the original directions for its observance were carried out: “They kept also the feast of Tabernacles as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number,” &c. The directions are given in Numbers 29:13-39. (See The Preacher’s Commentary on Numbers, p. 528.) For a people in their straitened circumstances the offerings required were very numerous; but they were fully and cheerfully provided by them. If their means were small, their zeal was great. (a).
 For remarks and illustrations on these points see The Preacher’s Commentary on Numbers, pp. 529, 530.
II. The celebration in religious worship of the natural divisions of time. “And of the new moons.” They presented the offerings appropriate to those occasions. “The first day of the lunar month was observed as a holyday. In addition to the daily sacrifice there were offered two young bullocks, a ram, and seven lambs of the first year as a burnt offering, with the proper meat offerings and drink offerings, and a kid as a sin offering (Numbers 28:11-15). It was not a day of holy convocation, and was not therefore of the same dignity as the Sabbath. But, as on the Sabbath, trade and handicraft work were stopped (Amos 8:5), the Temple was opened for public worship (Ezekiel 46:3; Isaiah 66:23), and, in the kingdom of Israel at least, the people seem to have resorted to the prophets for religious instruction (2 Kings 4:23). The trumpets were blown at the offering of the special sacrifices for the day, as on the solemn festivals (Numbers 10:10; Psalms 81:3).… The seventh new moon of the religious year, being that of Tisri, commenced the civil year, and had a significance and rites of its own. It was a day of holy convocation” (Numbers 29:1-6). What was the design of this religious celebration of “the beginnings of their months”?
1. To impress them with the value of time. Its irrevocableness should suggest its invaluableness. The religious observance of the new moons was calculated to emphasise the facts that one month more had passed away for ever, with all its possibilities and opportunities, and that another had commenced its course, and its opportunities must be promptly seized and diligently employed ere they also departed. (b).
2. To assist them to form a correct estimate of their life upon earth. “All men think all men mortal but themselves.” Man needs frequent and forcible reminders of the swift flight of time, and of the brevity of his life upon earth. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” The religious observance of the natural divisions of time may be regarded as an answer to this request, inasmuch as it helps to impart and to impress the lesson desired. (c).
3. To arouse them to make a wise use of the time which remained to them. As we realise the fact that one month of our allotted time upon earth quickly follows another into the everlasting past, we should also realise with imperial force the solemn conviction, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day, the night cometh when no man can work.” “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might,” &c.
III. The presentation in Divine worship of personal voluntary offerings. “And of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord.” These offerings were in addition to those required by the law, and were purely spontaneous on the part of the worshipper. The law required much, but in their zeal the returned exiles gave more. And in Christianity there is ample room for the expression of the grateful and reverent emotions of the soul. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” “In all thy gifts,” says the Son of Sirach, “show a cheerful countenance, and dedicate thy tithes with gladness. Give unto the Most High according as He hath enriched thee; and as thou hast gotten give with a cheerful eye. For the Lord recompenseth, and will give thee seven times as much.” (d)
(a) The end of the festival days among the Jews was to revive the memory of those signal acts wherein His power for them, and His goodness to them, had been extraordinarily evident; it is no more but our months to praise Him, and our hand to obey Him, that He exacts at our hands. He commands us not to expend what He allows us in the erecting stately temples to His honour; all the coin He requires to be paid with for His expense is the “offering of thanksgiving,” (Psalms 50:14); and this we ought to do as much as we can, since we cannot do it as much as He merits, for “who can show forth all His praise?” (Psalms 106:2). If we have the fruit of His goodness, it is fit He should have “the fruit of our lips” (Hebrews 13:15); the least kindness should inflame our souls with a kindly resentment. Though some of His benefits have a brighter, some a darker, aspect towards us, yet they all come from this common spring; His goodness shines in all; there are the footsteps of goodness in the least, as well as the smiles of goodness in the greatest; the meanest therefore is not to pass without a regard of the Author. As the glory of God is more illustrious in some creatures than in others, yet it glitters in all, and the lowest as well as the highest administers matter of praise; but they are not only little things, but the choicer favours He hath bestowed upon us. How much doth it deserve our acknowledgment, that He should contrive our recovery, when we had plotted our ruin! that when He did from eternity behold the crimes wherewith we would incense Him, He should not, according to the rights of justice, cast us into hell, but prize us at the rate of the blood and life of His only Son, in value above the blood of men and lives of angels! How should we bless that God, that we have yet a Gospel among us, that we are not driven into the utmost regions, that we can attend upon Him in the face of the sun, and not forced to the secret obscurities of the night! Whatsoever we enjoy, whatsoever we receive, we must own Him as the Donor, and read His hand in it.—S. Charnocke, B. D.
(b) Suppose that God had so cast the arrangements of our system as never to give notice, at all, of the passage of time, by the distinction of days, seasons, and years. In that case, we should all be living on together, but how fast or how slow we could scarcely guess. One year of men’s childhood seems as long to them, they say, as two, or perhaps even ten years, later in life. This shows you how they would mistake if there were no measure of time save that of their inward judgment. They would never realise how fast they are living. They would take the period equal to ten years, in the later portion of life, to be the same period which constituted only its tenth part in their childhood; and so, when drawing on towards the close of their days,—the very time when they ought most of all to be awake to the shortness of their stay,—then would they be, most of all, insensible to the flight of time, and the swift approach of eternity.
Observe, then, the faithfulness of God. He has made the very universe to be the clock of the universe, and admonish every mortal heart of the sure and constant passage of time. We are not left to our inward judgments. Time has its measures without, in the most palpable and impressive visitations of the senses. Every twilight tells us that a day is gone, and that by a sign as impressive as the blotting out of the sun! It is as if we had a clock, so adjusted as to give notice of the hour, by displacing, at a stroke, the light of heaven, suspending the labours of the world, quenching the fevers of its earthly schemes and passions, and diffusing an opiate spell of oblivion over all human consciousness. The impalpable odours of spring penetrate our secret sense as monitors of time. The summer heat is the heat of time, the winter’s cold is the cold of time—both forcing their way into our experience by a visitation that we cannot resist. One season tells us that another is gone; and, when the whole circle of seasons is completed and returned into itself, the new year tells us that the old is gone. And a certain number of these years, we know, is the utmost bound of life. How sure is the reckoning! It is even compulsory—none can escape it.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
(c) A thousand years is a long time, but how soon it flies! One almost seems, in reading English history, to go back and shake hands with William the Conqueror; a few lives bring us even to the flood. You who are getting on to be forty years old, and especially you who are sixty or seventy, must feel how fast time flies. I only seem to preach a sermon one Sunday in time to get ready for the next. Time flies with such a whirl that no express train can overtake it, and even the lightning flash seems to lag behind it. We shall soon be at the great white throne; we shall soon be at the judgment bar of God. Oh! let us make ready for it. Let us not live so much in this present, which is but a dream, an empty show, but let us live in the real, substantial future.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(d) Who, with the Word of God in his hand, but must feel that an era of enlarged Christian liberality is hastening on?…
Now, the Christian professor too commonly allows his regular contribution to check his liberality, to prevent his giving more than the stipulated sum, though there are times when his benevolent impulses would prompt him to exceed that sum; then, he will regard his subscription only as a pledge that he will not give less, but as leaving his liberality open to all the impulses of an unrestricted benevolence. Now, he is too often disposed to shun the applications for charity, and if he is overlooked and passed by, to view it as a fortunate escape; but then he will do good as he hath opportunity—creating the opportunity which he cannot find already made to his hands. Now, his ability exceeds his inclination; but then his inclination will be greater than his ability; like the Macedonian Christians of whom the Apostle testifies, “I bear them record that to their power, yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves.” Instead of being charitable only on comparative distraint, he will often anticipate application, and surprise the agents of beneficence by unexpected gifts; thus strengthening their faith in God, and inciting them to enlarge their designs for the kingdom of Christ: like the same believers of whom the Apostle records, that, instead of needing to be solicited, they entreated him to accept their contributions—“praying us with much entreaty to accept the gift.” Like the happy parent of a happy family, he will hail every new-born claim on his resources, and cheerfully deny himself in order to support it. And, instead of giving as he now does, as scantily as if he only aimed to keep the Christian cause from famishing, he will then act on the persuasion that his own enjoyment is identified with its growth and prosperity.—John Harris, D.D.
Works of piety and charity should, like water from a fountain, flow spontaneously from the gratitude and benevolence of a believing heart, and not require to be extorted with importunity, like the toil and trouble of drawing water from a deep well.—Anon.
THE WORK OF THE DAY DONE IN THE DAY
(Ezra 3:4 : “As the duty of every day required”)
The pious Jews returned from Babylon having erected an altar, kept also the feast of Tabernacles as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, “as the duty of every day required.” It is in the margin, “the matter of the day in his day.” This has grown into a proverbial saying among those who love Scripture phraseology, and teaches us that we should do the work of the day in the day.
I. We may apply this to life in general. This is called a “day,” and it is a single day, a short day, a day which it is impossible to lengthen. And what is the language of reason, of Scripture? “To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” “Behold now … is the day of salvation.” And what will be your language if the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus? “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh, wherein no man can work.”
II. It will apply to prosperity. This is called a “day;” and Solomon tells us what is the duty of it. “In the day of prosperity be joyful.” He cannot intend to encourage extravagance and excess. We are to “use this world as not abusing it.” The wise man would teach us to enjoy the comforts our circumstances afford, in opposition to that self-denial that arises not from religious motive, but from anxiety; from a disposition to live comparatively poor and destitute at present in order to hoard up for the future; whereas the Apostle tells us that “God gives us all things richly to enjoy.” God, like a generous friend, is pleased to see His presents enjoyed—“to enjoy is to obey.” But let us be always joyful in Him; let us enjoy all in God, and God in all. Behold another thing that the duty of this day requires. It is gratitude. Compare your circumstances with those of others, whose plans are equally wise, and whose dependencies seemed equally sure. Compare your present with your former condition; the “two bands” with the “staff.” Compare your indulgences with your deserts, and how can you be unthankful? And surely the duty of this day requires liberality. He has made you stewards, and not proprietors; and He will soon call you to give up your account. “Charge them that are rich in this world that they do good,” &c.
III. It will apply to adversity. This is also called a “day;” and it is said, “In the day of adversity, consider.” This is the grand duty of the season. Whatever be your affliction, it is a solemn call to consider your ways, to examine your hearts and lives, to inquire wherefore He contends with you, and what He would have you to do. You are also to consider the alleviations of your suffering; how much worse it might have been; and to compare your resources with your difficulties. Another part of the duty this “day” requires is submission. “Submit yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” &c. This subjection does not exclude feeling, but regulates it; keeping us, while sensible of the affliction, from quarrelling with Providence, from charging Him foolishly or unkindly, and leading us to say, “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good.” The duty of this day also requires prayer. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble,” &c. “Is any afflicted? Let him pray.” The very exercise of it will soothe him, while the answer of it will deliver him.
IV. We may apply it to the Sabbath. This is called “the Lord’s-day” because it is consecrated to the memory of His resurrection, and is employed in His service. But as to advantage, it is our day. It “was made for man.” We are commanded to “sanctify it, calling the Sabbath a delight,” &c. A Christian will say, “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!” &c. He will take heed what he hears, and how he hears. But this is not all. He will retire. He will indulge in private reflection.
V. It will apply to every day. No day comes without its appropriate duty. We are to do everything in its season; to do the work of the day in the day; and not leave it till to-morrow.
1. Because we may not live till to-morrow. “We know not what a day may bring forth.”
2. Each day will have its own engagements, and it is wrong to surcharge one period with the additional work of another. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” It is unlawful to encumber to-day with the care of to-morrow; and to encumber to-morrow with the work of to-day.
3. Because by this temporary negligence, we have nothing to do, or too much; whereas by doing the work OF the day IN the day, we are never unoccupied, never oppressed.
4. Because by this means the mind is kept cool, and tranquil, and cheerful; and we shall know nothing of the perplexities and ill-temper of those who are always in confusion and haste.
To verify this important maxim, let me lay down three rules—
(1.) Rise early.
(2.) Grasp not so much business as to “entangle yourselves in the affairs of this life.”
(3.) Arrange a plan of life, and firmly adhere to it.—William Jay.
THE PREPARATIONS FOR REBUILDING THE TEMPLE
(Ezra 3:6 b, Ezra 3:7: “But the foundation of the Temple of the Lord was not yet laid. They gave money also,” &c.)
Two chief points are here presented to our notice—
I. The great work yet to be accomplished. Mingled with the joy of the Jews in their restored worship was the recollection of the great work which as yet was not even commenced. “The foundation of the Temple of the Lord was not yet laid.” We regard this as an illustration of—
1. The incompleteness of human joys. The gladness of the returned exiles in celebrating the feast of Tabernacles was tempered by the fact that they had only an altar; they had no temple. The brightest day of our life here has its cloud and its shadow. Our most serene seasons are not entirely free from disturbance. Our joys are incomplete. Our gladness is often checked by sadness. “There is a cross in every lot.” The victorious and calm eventide of the life of king David was darkened by trials in his family. “Although my house be not so with God” (2 Samuel 23:5). St. Paul “was caught up into Paradise” and there received “abundance of revelations;” but there was given to him “a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet” him. This incompleteness of our joys here is a wise and kind arrangement. We need the shadow as well as the sunshine. We are reminded by vicissitude that this is not our rest, and urged to set our affections on spiritual and eternal things. (a).
2. The incompleteness of human works. The altar was built, but the Temple was not begun. The work of these patriotic and pious Jews was only just commenced. It would be long before it was completed. The work of the earnest man is never accomplished. Ere one task is completed another summons him to effort. If he were tempted to settle down to repose, his rest would soon be broken by the demands of unfinished enterprises, or by challenges to new endeavours.
“Labour with what zeal we will,
Something still remains undone,
Something uncompleted still
Waits the rising of the sun.”
Even when death approaches, most men have much which they desire to accomplish. The statesman is summoned hence devising new measures for his country’s good, which he will not assist in passing into laws. The author dies leaving his book unfinished. The Christian minister lays down his charge, leaving many plans for the welfare of his people not yet carried out; and the parent, while he longs still to do much for the welfare of his children. Doubtless the good man is not called to leave this world until his work here is finished; but to us it often seems that life closes here in incompleteness. This incompleteness of our human works is also ordered wisely and well. It tends to prevent stagnation; to rouse to earnest activities, &c. (b).
3. The obligation of the Church of God. The Jews at Jerusalem felt themselves bound not to rest content with the joys and blessings of the altar, but to proceed to the more arduous task of rebuilding the Temple. In seasons of religious worship the Church must not forget the work which it is called to accomplish. Our holiest delights should not detain us from our arduous duties. The Church should not entertain the idea of any pause or decrease in its labours until the spiritual temple of our God is raised into utmost and beautiful completeness out of the ruins of our fallen humanity. Let Christians labour on until the head stone of this temple shall be brought forth “with shoutings of, Grace, grace unto it.” (c).
II. The prompt preparations for the accomplishment of this work. “They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters,” &c. (Ezra 3:7). Two points claim attention—
1. The variety of service and the unity of design. See the various ways in which different persons contributed to the preparations for rebuilding the sacred edifice.
(1.) Certain Jews gave of their possessions to pay the workmen. “They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre.”
(2.) Other Jews laboured in the work of preparation. “The masons and the carpenters.”
(3.) Zidonian and Tyrian workmen also laboured in this work. “Them of Zidon and them of Tyre brought cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa.” And
(4) Cyrus assisted by his patronage and by his gifts. “According to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.” And others might be mentioned who otherwise promoted the great object; such as the Levites who acted as overseers of the work. All these, each in his own way and in his own sphere, helped to accomplish the end which was so eagerly desired by most of them. And in building the spiritual temple, there should be the individual effort of every Christian for the attainment of the great object which they all have in common: each one, in some form or other, should contribute his share in the glorious work, and all should keep in view the one grand end. (d).
2. The co-operation of Jews and Gentiles. “It was significant also,” says Schultz, “that at this building of the Temple again it was not Canaan proper, but the Phœnician Lebanon, that provided the building material, and that corresponding with this, heathen workmen and artists also took part in erecting the house of God. It indicates that the rest of the earth also, and corresponding thereto, the rest of mankind, are to render their gifts and capacities, which are more and more to take part in the complete and true worship of the Lord, that the Lord by no means regards them as profane. The rest of the earth and mankind become thereby, to a certain extent, consecrated in advance and designated as one who, if now already in the Old Testament economy, yet still more some day in the fulness of time, would take part in the highest destiny of Israel.” (e). In the Church of Christ “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all.”
1. Are we “as living stones built up” in the spiritual temple of God? (Comp. 1 Peter 2:4-6.)
2. Are we also assisting to build this glorious temple? (Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.) It is paradoxical yet true, that we should be both stones in the edifice and toilers for its completion. But are we?
(a) Mark the same people that usually have the highest joys, and see whether at other times they have not the greatest troubles. This week they are as at the gates of heaven, and the next as at the doors of hell: I am sure with many it is so. Yet it need not be so, if Christians would but look at these high joys as duties to be endeavoured, and mercies to be valued; but when they will needs judge of their state by them, and think that God is gone from or forsaken them when they have not such joys, then it leaves them in terror and amazement. Like men after a flash of lightning, they are left more sensible of the darkness. For no wise man can expect that such joys should be a Christian’s ordinary state; or God should so diet us with a continual feast. It would neither suit with our health nor the condition of this pilgrimage. Live, therefore, on your peace of conscience as your ordinary diet; when this is wanting know that God appointeth you a fast for your health; and when you have a feast of high joys, feed on it and be thankful; but when they are taken from you, gape not after them as the disciples did after Christ at His ascension, but return thankfully to your ordinary diet of peace. And remember that these joys which are now taken from you may so return again. However, there is a place preparing for you, where your joys may be full.—Richard Baxter.
(b) Human life is short; God’s work is complex and prolonged, and steadily flowing on. Hence we are continually beginning, and passing away, and leaving what we begin for others to finish. Every generation is beginning, and every generation is passing away without having finished what it has begun. But that which we begin is not going to stop because we cease to go forward with it. One worker dies; the loom goes on, and another worker takes up the thread that he has laid down. We pass away, and another man, somewhere, is prepared to step into our place. We commence a work, and perform a part of it; when we are gone, others perform another part; when they are gone, still others perform another part; and so that which we undertake is by others carried along to its bright consummation.—H. W. Beecher.
(c) I ask you to remember that every child whose heart is touched by the love of Christ, every worker for God who is ready to sacrifice his time, his comfort, his luxury, his life, for Christ, whose sympathy with the advance of God’s kingdom is produced by an intelligent understanding of the magnitude of the interests that are at stake; every bedridden, poverty-stricken Christian, who is daily wrestling with God in prayer; every Sunday-school teacher who identifies himself with this great enterprise, not simply by giving money (that is sometimes an easy way of putting aside a pressing claim), but by earnest thought, honest speech, and loyal feeling; every one of us who, appreciating the magnitude, sublimity, and consecration of Christian missions, does devote himself to this work, rises up for God against the evil-doers, enlists in the great battle which can only terminate when death and hell, the beast and the false prophet, are cast into the lake of fire.—H. R. Reynolds, D.D.
(d) I would stir you all up to help in this work—old men, young men, and you, my sisters, and all of you, according to your gifts and experience, help. I want to make you feel, “I cannot do much, but I can help; I cannot preach, but I can help; I cannot pray in public, but I can help; I cannot give much away, but I can help; I cannot officiate as an elder or a deacon, but I can help; I cannot shine as ‘a bright particular star,’ but I can help; I cannot stand alone to serve my Master, but I can help.” There is a text from which an old Puritan once preached a very singular sermon. There were only two words in the text, and they were, “And Bartholomew.” The reason he took the text was, that Bartholomew’s name is never mentioned alone, but he is always spoken of as doing some good thing with somebody else. He is never the principal actor, but always second. Well, let this be your feeling, that if you cannot do all yourself, you will help to do what you can.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(e) There are those in the Church who believe that God’s express aim in Judaism was to keep the Jewish people as separate from the world as possible; to keep them, like Noah, in an ark, while He plagued and punished the world at His will. But I maintain, on the contrary, that Judaism was always genial and benignant to the stranger who would adopt its belief and accept its blessings. From the evil which was in the world God was minded to keep the Jewish people free at any cost. From idolatry and its attendant pollutions He sought to deliver them, inasmuch as idolatry in the long run inevitably leads to national decline and death. To the stranger, the foreign person or nation, who would dishonour its beliefs and trample on its blessings, Judaism was stern as fate and pitiless as death. The nations which had filled up the measure of their iniquity, whose influence must be corrupting, were ruthlessly exterminated.… The Jews were simply God’s executioners here, and the same doom, they are plainly warned, awaited them if they suffered themselves to be tempted into the same sins. The nations, of whose pollutions the very land was weary, were swept off as the stubble before the flame. But this was the accident and not the essential character of the dispensation. The law here in England is merciful, though it has often to deal out terrible judgments on flagrant sins. And I am persuaded that the more carefully the spirit of the dispensation is studied, the more plainly will it appear that … from Moses to Zechariah, it is a cry to the nations not to rot in their own corruption, “Come with us and we will do you good.” How benignantly, in the closing verses of the eighth chapter of the book of Joshua, the “strangers which were conversant among them” are included in the benediction! How earnestly Daniel and his coadjutors sought to diffuse the blessings of Judaism among the nations which had enslaved them, and to make the Oriental despots sharers in the knowledge of the living God, which by revelation they had gained! How emphatically the prophets take up and echo the invitation with growing clearness and earnestness through the ages, until it breaks out into full utterance in the great Successor of Moses, the great Fulfiller of the Law, the Son of David, the King of Zion, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” Judaism in all ages was a witness for God to the nations, and a means of drawing all that would be drawn unto Himself.—J. B. Brown, B.A.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE
I. The work already done.
1. Something was already accomplished. Several months had passed away since the arrangements mentioned in Ezra 3:7 were made; and during those months the masons and carpenters, and the Tyrian and the Sidonian workmen, had not been idle. Considerable labour must have been expended on the site of the Temple before it was ready for laying the foundation thereof.
2. Arrangements were made for carrying on the work. “Now in the second year of their coming into the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel,” &c. (Ezra 3:8-9). And in these arrangements there was a unanimity which augured well for the success of the enterprise. “Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of the brethren, the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem,” were united in their arrangements and efforts for prosecuting the work to a successful issue.
II. The worship offered. “And when the builders laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets,” &c. (Ezra 3:10-11). Notice:
1. The manner of their worship. “They set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord.” Their worship was orderly and seemly in manner. It was conducted by those who were qualified for the work and called to it by the command of God, and in accordance with the arrangements made by king David (1 Chronicles 6:31; 1 Chronicles 16:4-6; 1 Chronicles 16:42; 1 Chronicles 25:1; Nehemiah 12:24).
2. The character of their worship. “Praising and giving thanks unto the Lord,” &c. Their worship consisted of grateful and joyful praise; because of—
(1.) The goodness of God. “Praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because He is good.”
(2.) The perpetuity of His goodness. “For His mercy endureth for ever.”
(3.) Their perpetual interest in His goodness. “His mercy endureth for ever toward Israel.” Reverent and grateful praise is the highest form of worship which we present to the Father of spirits. (a).
3. The occasion of their worship. “When the builders laid the foundation of the Temple of the Lord.” We call attention to the occasion in this place, because it illustrated and stimulated their thankful praise. God had vouchsafed to them unmistakable manifestations of His goodness and mercy, in preserving and blessing them in Babylon, in granting them so favourable a return to their own land, and in helping them thus far with their work of restoration and renewal. Their own experiences would give force and fervour to their worship-song.
4. The spirit of their worship. This was hearty and enthusiastic. “And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” Worship which is not hearty, or which is cold or lukewarm, does not meet with Divine acceptance.
III. The emotions excited. “And all the people shouted with a great shout,” &c.
1. Great joy. “And many shouted aloud for joy.” This joy probably arose from—
(1.) The consideration of what was accomplished. “Those that only knew the misery of having no temple at all,” says M. Henry, “praised the Lord with shouts of joy when they saw but the foundation of one laid. To them even this foundation seemed great, and was as life from the dead; to their hungry souls even this was sweet. They shouted so that ‘the noise was heard afar off.’ Note.—We ought to be thankful for the beginnings of mercy, though we have not yet come to the perfection of it; and the foundations of a temple, after long desolations, cannot but be fountains of joy to every faithful Israelite.” Every step in the progress of our communion with God should be a matter of great joy to us.
(2.) The anticipation of what would yet be accomplished. They looked forward with confident and exultant hope to the completion of the sacred edifice.
2. Great sorrow. “But many of the priests and Levites, and chief of the fathers, ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice.” Their grief arose chiefly from memories of the past, with which the present contrasted unfavourably.
(1.) Recollections of the former Temple. They “had seen the first house,” and they knew well that they could not hope to build one which would be at all comparable with it in magnificence and splendour. “Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3). Moreover, they might have wept because of the sins which had led to the destruction of the former Temple, and the manifold miseries which had resulted from those sins.
(2.) Recollections of their own lives. The joyful acclamations of the young generation probably recalled to these “ancient men” the brightness and hopefulness and enthusiasm of their own youth, and the recollection awakened sad thoughts. The contrast between the purpose of early life and the performance of after days, and the sad disparity between the hopes of youth and the attainments of manhood, are generally sufficient to subdue and sadden the hearts of the aged. The difference between the ideal entertained at twenty years of age and the actual realised at fifty or sixty is often a mournful thing. And even if a man is able to carry out his purposes, and achieves what is commonly called “success in life,” how different the objects gained appear in possession from what they appeared in anticipation, and how disappointing! Much, very much, after which men aspire and for which they labour, cannot satisfy them; and having obtained their chief aims, they may cry mournfully—
“Years have gone by! and life’s lowlands are past,
And I stand on the hill which I sighed for, at last:
But I turn from the summit that once was my star,
To the vale of my childhood, seen dimly and far;—
Each blight on its beauty seems softened and gone,
Like a land that we love, in the light of the morn.”—T. K. Hervey. (b).
3. Great joy and great sorrow mingled. “The people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people.” We may regard this scene as—
(1.) An illustration of our personal experiences in this world. All our joys are tinged with sadness; all our sorrows have their mitigations, and if they do not yield rich compensations the blame will be our own. (c).
(2.) An illustration of the experiences of mankind in this world. The shouts of those who rejoice and the cries of those who mourn are ever mingled in this world. The exultations of the victors and the lamentations of the vanquished rise together from earth to heaven.
(3.) A feature which distinguishes the present from the future state. These mingled experiences belong only to this present life and world. In hell no one “shouts aloud for joy.” And in heaven “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (d).
(a) Praise is the very highest mood and exercise of the religious soul; it is the expression towards God of the holiest emotions of which we are capable—reverence, obligation, gratitude, love, adoration. Whenever these are uplifted to God in admiration and homage, there is the worship of praise—the highest and most perfect expression of all that is purest and noblest in our religious nature. As contrasted with the worship of prayer, the worship of praise is manifestly transcendent. Prayer is the pleading of our human indigence and helplessness; praise is the laudation of Divine excellency and sufficiency. Prayer supplicates the good that God may have to bestow; praise is the adoration of the good that there is in God Himself. When we pray we are urged by necessities, fears, and sorrows,—it is the cry of our troubled helplessness, often of our pain or our terror; we are impelled by feelings of unworthiness, memories of sin, yearnings for forgiveness and renewal. Praise brings, not a cry, but a song,—it does not ask, it proffers,—it lifts, not its hands, but its heart,—it is the voice, not of our woe, but of our love, not of beseeching, but of blessing. It comes before God not clothed in sackcloth, but with its “singing robes” about it, not wailing litanies, but shouting hosannas. Prayer expresses only our lower religious moods of necessity and sorrow; praise expresses our higher religious moods of satisfaction and joy. Prayer asks God to come down to us; praise assays to go up to God. The soul that prays falls prostrate with its face to the ground, often being in an agony; the soul that praises stands with uplifted brow and transfigured countenance ready to soar away to heaven. Moreover, the instinct of praise is deeper in the religious heart than that of prayer; song in the human soul is earlier, and will be later, than supplication. Prayer is the accident of our present sinful necessity; praise is the essence of all religious life and joy. The birthplace and home of prayer is on earth. The birthplace and home of praise is in heaven.”—H. Allon, D.D.
(b) I used to think a slight illness was a luxurious thing; … it is different in the latter stages; the old postchaise gets more shattered at every turn, windows will not pull up, doors refuse to open, or, being open, will not shut again. There is some new subject of complaint every moment; your sickness comes thicker and thicker, your sympathising friends fewer and fewer. The recollection of youth, health, and uninterrupted powers of activity, neither improved nor enjoyed, is a poor strain of comfort.… Death has closed the long dark avenue upon loves and friendships; and I look at them as through the grated doors of a burial place filled with monuments of those who were once dear to me, with no insincere wish that it may open for me at no distant period, provided such be the will of God. I shall never see the threescore and ten, and shall be summed up at a discount; no help for it, and no matter either.—Sir Walter Scott.
There is no joy unmixed with grief—
Each garden has more weeds than flowers—
Care rides upon the winged hours,
And doubt for ever haunts belief.
We stop to pluck some beauteous flower,
And cold precaution idly scorn,
To find some sharp and hidden thorn
Exacts a forfeit for the dower.
There have been tears of wormwood shed,
For every pleasure life can bring;
The joys of earth are flowers that spring
From out the ashes of the dead—E. H. Dewart.
In the bitterest grief, in the sharpest period of agony, in the dullest, most hopeless prospect, there is a source of joy which none but the spirit of Jesus can find or use. St. Paul calls it rejoicing in the Lord. Then we go out of ourselves, as it were, and leave the last trial like a cloak that is thrown off. We pass from the sharpest and most disappointing trouble into the presence of the Spirit of the Lord. We move in by a mental flash, as it were, and there see the source of life unshaken, undimmed, steady, like the shining of the moon above a battlefield; calm and quiet, as the sunlight amid the shrieks and tumult of a pillaged town.—Harry Jones, M.A.
There is great joy of prosperity, of love, of victory, but there is a joy that belongs to the experience of suffering and sorrow which is more divine and exquisite than any joy the heart ever knows outside of trouble. When a soul is afflicted till it is driven into the very pavilion of God, till Christ, as it were, wraps His arms about it and says, “Rest here till the storm be overpast,” that soul experiences an exquisiteness of joy which only those who have felt it can understand.—H. W. Beecher.
Then happy those, since each must drain
His share of pleasure, share of pain;
Then happy those, beloved of Heaven,
To whom the mingled cup is given,
Whose lenient sorrows find relief,
Whose joys are chastened by their grief.
—Sir W. Scott.
(d) This is a world of weeping—a vale of tears. Who is there that has not wept over the grave of a friend; over his own losses and cares; over his disappointments, over the treatment he has received from others; over his sins; over the follies, vices, and woes of his fellow-men? And what a change would it make in our world if it could be said that henceforward not another tear would be shed; not a head would ever be bowed again in grief! Yet this is to be the condition of heaven. In that world there is to be no pain, no disappointment, no bereavement. No friend is to lie in dreadful agony on a sick-bed, no grave is to be opened to receive a parent, a wife, a child; no gloomy prospect of death is to draw tears of sorrow from the eyes. To that blessed world, when our eyes run down with tears, are we permitted to look forward; and the prospect of such a world should contribute to wipe away our tears here—for all our sorrows will soon be over.—A. Barnes, D.D.
THE BUILDING OF THE TEMPLE
That an exuberance of joy and of sorrow should be excited at once by the same event, is undoubtedly a curious fact; and it will be profitable to show you—
I. What there was at that time to call forth such strong and widely-different emotions. The Jews, after their return from Babylon, had just laid the foundation of the second Temple, and this was—
1. To some an occasion of exalted joy. It was not the mere circumstance that a magnificent building was about to be raised, but the thought of the use to which that building was to be appropriated, that proved to them a source of joy. The erection of it was justly regarded by them as a restoration of God’s favour to them after the heavy judgments which He had inflicted on them during their captivity in Babylon. This event opened to them a prospect of again worshipping Jehovah according to all the forms prescribed to them by the Mosaic ritual. Nor could they fail to view it as tending to advance the honour of their God; in which view pre-eminently it must of necessity fill them with most exalted joy. With such views of the event before them the people could not but shout for joy; and “if they had been silent, the very stones would have cried out against them.”
2. To others an occasion of the deepest sorrow. The persons who manifested such pungent grief were “the priests, and Levites, and the chief of the fathers who were ancient men, that had seen the former Temple.” They wept because they well knew how infinitely this structure must fall below the former in point of magnificence. Of necessity it must want many things which constituted the glory of that edifice, and could never be replaced. The Shechinah, the bright cloud, the emblem of the Deity Himself, was for ever removed. The ark was lost, and the copy of the law which had been preserved in it. The Urim and Thummim too, by which God had been wont to communicate to His people the knowledge of His will, was irrecoverably gone; and the fire which had descended from heaven was extinct, so that they must henceforth use in all their sacrifices nothing but common fire. And what but their sins had brought upon them all these calamities? Would it have been right, then, in these persons to lose all recollection of their former mercies, and of the sins through which they had been bereaved of them; and to be so transported with their present blessings as not to bewail their former iniquities? No! I think that the mixture of feeling was precisely such as the occasion called for.
II. How far similar emotions become us at the present day.
1. There is at this time great occasion for joy. We are not, indeed, constructing a material temple for the Lord; but the whole nation is engaged in endeavours to erect a spiritual temple to Him throughout the world. Never was there a period since the apostolic age, when the exertions were so general, so diversified, so diffusive. And is this no ground of joy? Is there no reason to rejoice in what, we trust, is going on amongst us? If the Gospel be “glad tidings of great joy unto all people,” is it no cause for joy that it is brought to our ears; and that it is effectual amongst us to convert men to God? Are there not amongst you some at least who have been “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God”? Surely we have reason to rejoice.
2. Yet is there amongst us abundant occasion for grief also. If we suppose the Apostle Paul, who witnessed the state of God’s Church in its primitive and purest age, to come down in the midst of us, what would be his feelings at the present hour? Would his joy be unmixed with sorrow? Would he be satisfied with what he saw? It was with “weeping” that St. Paul contemplated many of the Philippian converts; and for many of the Galatian Church he “agonised as in the pangs of childbirth till Christ should be more perfectly formed in them.” And was this from a want of charity, or from a contempt of piety in its lower stages of existence? No; but from love, and from a desire that God should be honoured to the uttermost wherever His Gospel came, and wherever its blessings were experienced in the soul.
(1.) What, above all things, should interest our souls. Nothing under heaven should transport us with joy like the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in the world and in the soul. Nothing should produce in us such acute sensations of grief as a consciousness that God is not glorified in the midst of us as He ought to be.
(2.) What use we should make of our knowledge and experience. It is not so much an unqualified effusion of joy that is pleasing to the Most High, as that which is moderated with shame, and tempered with contrition.—Charles Simeon, M.A.
THE ALTAR AND THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE
Notes for Scripture Lesson (Whole Chapter)
Our lesson contains the account of the beginning of the great work of rebuilding the Temple. It is sad to find that through delays and indifference twenty years passed before it was finished, and then only on the arousing preaching of Haggai and Zechariah. They, however, began well, collecting material and laying the foundations by the fourteenth month after their return. Of this great and rejoicing day our lesson contains the brief account.
Looking carefully at the chapter, it will be seen that it contains two things, which, though related, are quite distinct—
1. The beginning of Worship.
2. The beginning of the Temple for Worship.
It will also be observed that the people very properly thought more of the spiritual worship than of the material building, and found that they could have the worship at once, though the Temple to worship in might be long unbuilt. The things we give to God, buildings, &c., must always come second, and have no value before Him until we have given Him ourselves. The true worshippers worship “in spirit and in truth;” but they properly accept all the helps of buildings and services. The key to the lesson may therefore be the sentence of praise spoken by Paul concerning the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:5). They “first gave their ownselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.”
We have then this to set forth and illustrate, and we call it—
I. The true order. First the burnt offering, then the Temple. First the self-surrender, then the doing of duty. First the worship of the soul, then the work of the hands. The burnt offering was designed to represent the entire yielding of the worshipper to God. How suitable such an act was for the newly-restored people, just beginning their national life! They properly began with a very solemn consecration of the whole nation to God by burnt offering. Though we do not bring representative sacrifices now, we follow the example of these earnest-hearted men. Tell of the youth, going out into life from a country town, not knowing what temptations might befall him, and solemnly consecrating himself to God, and using David’s resolve, “I will go in the strength of the Lord God, I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only.” That was his offering of himself on the altar of burnt offering, and the right and noble beginning for his life. That youth lived to work at building in the world the great Temple of God. But in the second part of the lesson we have another event introduced—laying the foundations of the second Temple, and this brings before us—
II. The mingled feelings. In the worship all feelings were absorbed in solemn joy; but when the foundations were laid, such memories blended with hope, that tears fell plentifully, and the wail of sorrow almost drowned the shout of triumph. Laying foundations of a new temple or church is the occasion for joy; show how we decorate with flags, &c., and have music and song. And yet now-a-days, when a new church replaces an old one, we cannot wonder that very touching memories should crowd round the elder people, making them sorrow in the very midst of other joys. So it is through our life, songs and tears are blended. Joys and sorrows go hand in hand continually. And so it must be in a sin-stricken world until “God Himself shall wipe all tears from our eyes.” Impress the duty which surely comes to all who give themselves to the Lord “a living sacrifice.” They have work to do for God in the world, and whatever forms that work may take, it is really a part of the work of building a great temple in the earth for the glory of God; a great spiritual temple that needs all sorts of workers and work; and, when one day complete, will win from the universe triumphant songs, with which shall blend no sorrow and no tears. “The Temple of God shall be with men, and He shall dwell among them.” God’s temple among men we must help to build.—R. Tuck, B.A.