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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Ezra 3

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-13

Ezra 3:1-13

And when the seventh month was come.

Rebuilding the temple

They began by re-establishing the worship and service of the holy place. They set up an altar, and offered the daily sacrifice. A wise beginning. Their task was hard, and they did well to begin with God. They made the right use of fear. It stirred them up to religious duty.

Before setting themselves to their tasks they kept the feast of tabernacles. The full repression of our religious joy, even though it be prolonged, will not delay the performance of life’s severer tasks. It is a suitable preparation for them.

They used their treasures in securing the best materials and the most skilled labour.

The foundations were laid amidst acclamations of joy. Many of the psalms which fill the Psalter with joyous strains were doubtless sung or composed on this occasion.

It was, however, a joy mingled with sorrow. (Willard G. Sperry.)

Rebuilding the temple

The first thing they did was to rebuild the altar. This was a right beginning. The altar of sacrifice was the centre of the Jewish religion; just as its antitype, the Cross, is the centre of Christianity. The Cross is our altar; it stands at the centre of our religion.

1. The altar of burnt-offering in this instance was intended as a safeguard. There is no security like that which a timid soul finds under the shadow of the altar (Psalms 84:3). A man is never so safe from adverse influences as when upon his knees.

2. This altar was “set upon its bases”--that is, it was restored upon its former foundations. There is virtue in observing old landmarks. Some things never grow obsolete. Air and water and sunlight are just what they always were, nor is human ingenuity likely to improve them in any way. There are some truths which bear to our spiritual constitution the same relation that light does to the eyes and water to the lungs. Nothing can amend or improve them. There may be new formulations, new modes of presentation; but the altar of the Christian religion will stand on its old bases as long as time endures.

3. The ceremonies of this restored altar were conducted after the prescribed form.

They next prepared for the rebuilding of their temple.

1. The altar meanwhile was kept in constant use. Its fires never went out. There was no lack of offerings upon it. The people had learned by sad experience their dependence upon God.

2. There was little difficulty in collecting the necessary funds.

3. The workmen were secured by generous outlay and paid promptly when the wages fell due.

4. The materials for the temple were collected from every quarter. Tyre and Sidon and the forests of Lebanon were put under contribution. Thus God ever utilises the nations. The Caesars built highways for the propagation of the gospel. Soulless corporations in our time are binding the far corners of the earth together with iron bands and cables, not knowing nor caring that God’s kingdom is thus being ushered in. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

Rebuilding the temple

Religion is; or should be, a uniting force.

We need not, and should not, walt before we worship God.

There should be some regularity in our devotion.

Our offering must come from the heart as well as from the hand.

The cause of christ must have the rest service we can secure.

Some take a higher, some a humbler post in the service of god.

We do well to rejoice when we lay the foundation of a useful work.

Joy is safe and wise when it passes into praise.

Sorrow and joy blend strangely in the events of life. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)

The benefits of the captivity


The people are again heartily united in action. They “gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.” These cheering words sound like a reminiscence of the best days of David, Hezekiah, and Josiah. A revival of union was sorely needed. The last three reigns before the captivity had been marked by unnatural discords. The providential cure of this evil was captivity. Two generations at least must pass away, and their feuds be buried with them; the worth of a temple and the blessing of a pure worship must be learned by their loss. This method of cementing nations was not new, and it has been exemplified since in almost countless instances. Every forward movement in society seems to be preceded by seasons of trial, whose hot fires are needed to fuse the heart and will of the people into one.

They made a right beginning of their work. They began with an altar. Can this be the same people whose closing record seventy years before had been that “they polluted the house of the Lord”? Reverence as well as union had been developed by captivity. They might have begun by clearing away the ruins, but that would have been a second step before the first; not even the rubbish of an unhallowed past may be touched without the blessing of God; they might have held a council to determine what they would do, but this would have been taking their own advice first and afterwards seeking the endorsement of Jehovah; they might have raised the walls around the spot before building the altar upon it, but that would have been asking God to own what He had been allowed no share in directing. On the contrary, with a reverence chastened by long exile they began with the altar itself. Where else would they have begun and not blundered? This order of building has always prospered. Ambitions, plans, hopes even, waited upon praise and supplication, and more than half the first year was devoted to continuous sacrifice and petition. What years of bitter deprival had taught them this dependence! But bitter sweetness let it be called, blessed bondage, to produce this wholesome fruit of reverence.

In the form of their worship they returned scrupulously to the pattern on the mount. They not only offered burnt-offerings, but they offered them “ as it is written.” They kept feasts by name not only, but in the way prescribed by the law of Moses. Their new moons and free-will offerings were those only that the Lord had consecrated in days past. This exact respect for the letter of the law shows how truly they appreciated the real cause of the national calamities. Every disaster since the days of Josiah had come from departing from the way of the Lord. A careless liberalism in worship had begotten a wicked license in the court and home life. It is one sign, therefore, that Judah’s captivity was not in vain, that the first inquiry of the people after setting up the new altar was this, “How is it written to worship?” and a better sign, that they conformed to the Divine pattern as scrupulously as if it had come but yesterday from the flaming Mount. Many are the evils suspected of a too rigid adherence to the Divine command. But where has a nation or an individual been ruined by a too scrupulous obedience? Not too much conscience, but too little; not strictness, but license is the national danger. Hence great reforms sweeping over the land always drive the people back to the simpler living, the holier thinking, and the minuter obedience of the fathers. The despised writing of the past is reopened, the neglected pattern of the Mount is clothed with a new authority, and so men returning unto God find God returned to them.

The worship of the people was accompanied with their gifts. “They gave money also unto the masons and to the carpenters,” and their meat and drink and oil they exchanged for the sacred cedars of Lebanon. Surely, if any people might have found excuse for building on credit, they were these poor colonists, who had their burned cities to revive. They were building, too, for the future. Why should not the future share the cost? But these modern apologies for debt were then unknown. They remembered the story of the first tabernacle, the free-will offerings of their fathers and mothers. Something richer than cedar and brick must compose every true temple of worship. If the heart of the people, their love and devotion, are not built into the rising walls, they go up in vain; captivities are not in vain which thus revive the grace of self-sacrifice.

The holy joy with which they finally lay the first stone. With that stone an undisciplined people would have gone months before, but not these children of the captivity. There are spiritual foundations lower than the cornerstone of any temple, and these we have seen the people had been seven months in laying and seventy years in learning to lay--unity, reverence, obedience, and self-sacrifice. With a just and well-earned joy, therefore, they might lay on these settled foundations their first visible stone. It was not the joy of pride, for to themselves they took no praise. It was a tuneful joy, for they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks to God. It was a hearty joy, for all the people shouted with a great shout. This holy jubilee marked the break of a new day in the history of Israel. Weeping had endured for a long night of seventy years. This was the joy of the morning, and the happy dawn was all the brighter for the shadows that lay behind it. The joy that follows discipline and is earned by repentance and obedience is perhaps the sweetest joy known to men in this world.

The healthful sorrow and regrets that tempered these outbursts of joy. Undisciplined joy is sure to be giddy, but the joy of these returning exiles has in its sweet a dash of bitter, which saves it from hurtful excess. Many of the old men of the nation had seen the first house. They could not forget its glory. They remembered also, it may be, the impiety of their own days, and possibly of their own hearts, which hastened the nation’s shame. Something of self-reproach must mingle with that regret. The new house bids fair to stand, for it is founded for use. No foolish display taints the plan. A mighty hunger after Jehovah impels them to make Him a dwelling-place in their midst. A Church thus rooted in real spiritual want comes near indeed to the true ideal of a spiritual home. Every attitude of the builders also is a propitiation of Jehovah. He will certainly accept their work, for their union is perfect; their reverence is simple, sincere; their obedience unforced; their self-sacrifice ungrudging. Here are the materials of all acceptable sacrifice. An altar built in this spirit will never want fire. (Monday Club Sermons.)

A working Church

1. All at work: “The people gathered themselves together.”

2. All working in unison: “As one man.” A massed force is a winning force.

3. All working obediently: “As it is written in the law.” Christian activity not a sentiment but a duty. “To the law and the testimony.”

4. All working unceasingly: “As the duty of every day required. The daily performance of Christian duty leaves no arrears. (Willis S. Hinman.)

And they set the altar upon his bases.

The altar set up

In a new home the first thing they should do who fear God is to set up an altar there.

The service of those who are of one heart is what He takes pleasure in (Acts 2:1; Acts 4:32).

The best of defences is the favour of God, and so an altar may be a stronger bulwark than a fortress. (E. Day.)

The rebuilding of the altar: exemplary features of Divine worship

Unanimity and zeal in divine worship.

Sacrifice in divine worship. This suggests--

1. Man’s need of atonement with God.

2. Man’s duty of consecration to God.

Respect for precedent in divine worship. There are memories and associations clinging around certain ancient forms and places hallowed by holy uses which greatly stimulate and enrich the devout heart.

Conformity to scripture in divine worship.

Fear of enemies in divine worship.

1. The fear of enemies should not intimidate us from the worship of God.

2. The fear of enemies should impel us to worship God.

Regularity in divine worship. The offering of the daffy sacrifice suggests--

1. Our daily need of atonement with God.

2. Our daily need of renewed consecration.

3. Our daily need of renewed blessings. (William Jones.)

Sacred to Jehovah

When a British vessel comes to an uninhabited country, or one inhabited only by savages, the captain goes on shore with a boat’s crew, and, after landing, he unfurls the Union Jack and takes possession of the whole country in the name of Queen Victoria and his native land. He plants the flagstaff, and no foreign nation dare come and knock it down, or pull down the ensign of the power of Britain. So the priest built first the altar of sacrifice to show that the place was sacred to Jehovah, and that they and all the people were His servants. (Sunday School.)

They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written.--

Preparations for building

It is only ignorant, self-sufficient people who despise the experience of the past treasured up in history.

If we cannot have for God’s worship all the external proprieties we desire, we are not to wait till we can get them. Iii. The externals of worship are nothing to God, except so far as they influence us or are expressive of something in us. (E. Day.)

The celebration of the sacred festivals resumed

The commemoration in divine. Worship of national experiences and blessings.

1. It was a memorial of the emancipation of Israel from Egypt, teaching us that we should cherish the memory of former mercies (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 (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 (Leviticus 23:40; 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 (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

The celebration in religious worship of the natural divisions of time. “And of the new moons.” What was the design of this religious celebration of “the beginning of their months”?

1. To impress them with the value of time.

2. To assist them to form a correct estimate of their life upon earth.

3. To arouse them to make a wise use of the time which remained to them.

The presentation in divine worship of personal voluntary offerings. (William Jones.)

Verse 4

Ezra 3:4

As the duty of every day required.

The work of the day in the day

Time in the hands of many--I use the words of Solomon--is “a price in the hand of fools.” They know not its value. 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.

We may apply this to life in general. “To-day if ye will hear His voice harden not your heart.” “Behold now is the day of salvation.” “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh wherein no man can work.”

It will apply to prosperity. This is called a day, and Solomon tells us the duty of it, “In the day of prosperity be joyful.” He cannot, we may be assured, intend to countenance extravagance or excess. Those men are to be pitied who possess much and enjoy little; who have the blessings of life in abundance but no heart to use them. These generally promise themselves great enjoyment hereafter when they have obtained so much. We should never sacrifice present happiness to future imaginations. God, like a generous friend, is pleased to see His presents enjoyed--“to enjoy is to obey.” Another thing that the duty of this day requires is gratitude. The more you have received from God, the greater is your obligation to Him. And surely the duty of this day requires liberality. He had others in view as well as yourselves in all that He has done for you.

It will apply to adversity. This also is called a day, and it is said, “In the day of adversity consider.” You are 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 of this day is submission. The duty of this day also requires prayer. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble.”

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.” Such a season has peculiar claims upon us, and we are commanded “to sanctify it, calling the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord honourable; not doing our own ways, nor finding our own pleasure, nor speaking our own words.” Can this be doing all the duty of the day? When once a regard for the Sabbath is gone everything serious goes with it. Have we to learn this?

It will apply to every day. No day comes without its appropriate duty. We are to be diligent in our respective callings. And not only so--but 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.

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; we keep our affairs under easy management, and never suffer them to accumulate into a discouraging mass.

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. Rise early. Grasp not so much business as to “entangle yourselves in the affairs of this life.” If you look abroad into the world you may be satisfied, at the first glance, that a vicious and infidel life is always a life of confusion. Thence it is natural to infer that order is friendly to religion. (W. Jay.)

The day’s duty

That every day is enough for its own evil was a word of Jesus Christ. And there is another word that may be grafted on this. It is, that every day is enough for its own duty. It is suited to withdraw the thoughts from a vague futurity and collect them upon a space that can easily be surveyed, judged of, commanded. A day is one of the small circles of time. We can lay out its work though we cannot predict its fortunes. We can remember how it has been spent, whatever may have come to pass in it. It is capable of holding as much duty as our minds can well compass. He who fills each of them well as they pass and are recorded, is wanting in nothing. We hear it often said that life is but a day. It is said to express the shortness of our stay upon the earth. It is said, for the most part, sorrowfully. Let us reverse it and say, with more striking truth, that each day is a life. Every day is a life fresh with reinstated power, setting out on its allotted labour and limited path. Its morning resembles a whole youth. Its eventide its sobering into age. It is rounded at either end by a sleep, unconsciousness at the outset and oblivion at the close. We are born again every time that the sun rises, and lights up the world for man to do his part in it. A day is a complete whole then; a finished piece. It had its tasks and toils, and they have been more or less faithfully gone through with. Or if they have been neglected quite it is too late to fulfil them now, for the opportunity has passed away. You may say, however, that it is by no means so entire, so much a thing by itself, as has now been represented. A day falls in among the accounts of time not as one of its separated fragments, but as strongly connected with portions of it that went before and are to follow. It is bound to the past which it continues. It is full of unfinished performances and projects that have nothing to do with the going down of the sun or the hour for the night’s rest. All this is true of it. But is it not true also of life itself? A day is a life. It has all the elements in it of an entire being. It may be fair or foul. It may find us sick or well. But the soul is there that must create its own atmosphere, and that is often the healthiest when the pulses beat languidly and the flesh is in pain. The faculties are there that are to be exercised, and the affections that are to be kept in play. There an inward action is going on with all its responsibility. Again, a day is a life. We do not consider how much is contained within its rapid round. In describing its importance moralists and divines are apt to dwell principally on the uncertainty whether it may not be our last. And yet it would grow into great consequence in our eyes if we supposed that it was absolutely the whole. Reflect for an instant upon these two assertions. The narrow space that intervenes between your rising and your lying down does in the first place present the total sum, the full result of all your preceding experience. It is just what time and you have made it. Whatever you have observed, felt, done, there goes to the making up of what you are. The habits that you have been contracting, there reveal their strength. The dispositions that you cherish, there spread their thicknesses of deepening colour. A long action of forgotten days has been busy in forming to what it is the single day that has been rolling over you. You are prepared, then, to make a right estimate of the moral length of a day when you see it reaching back to infancy, and gathering upon itself the influences of a thousand facts of your history and emotions of your hearts, and reflecting a universe of truth and glory. And then consider further that it not only deserves so much from what is gone, but it extends itself forward also. It contains the germ of what is to be unfolded into far distant consequences. While it shows what the man has gradually become, it indicates with a warning finger what it is likely that he will be. Whatever one day is permitted to do with him, will probably continue to be done; if for good, going up to better: if for bad, going down to worse. The principles it exemplifies, the temper it displays, the bent of mind that traverses it, are not confined to its compass, and do not pass off with its date. Read that little leaf which is turned over so soon, and you may perceive that it is the book of your fate. We are thus brought to the practical application of the sentiment to which your attention has been directed. If a day is a life, let its work be done as its hours are passing. Let it have something of completeness in it. Men err in “despising those little ones.” They love to send their thoughts over years and ages. They defer their good intentions to further periods. But these little ones are the chief of all if we will look at them as they are, and if we will make them what they should be. Think of what you have gained or lost in the account that all must render in at the last day. Remember how you have comported yourself towards those who love you and towards those who love you not. Remember what the currents of your inclination have been. Reflect whether the will has gone right, and the heart has been a true one, whatever else may have proved adverse or unjust. (N. L. Frothingham.)

A day

As the circuits of the earth round the sun gives the year and the seasons, and the revolutions of the moon round the earth our months, so the revolving of our earth on its axis marks out as the condition of human life that it should be divided into days and nights, and these are constituted alternate seasons of labour and repose. So life as a time for work resolves itself into a thing of days (Psalms 104:23).

Life being made up of days, the character and complexion of life will depend on the improve ment of days as they successively pass by. It is more easy to feel the importance of life as a whole, than to be duly impressed with the value of its smaller divisions. If the mind be set on improving life, its distribution into days offers to us many advantages for attaining this end.

1. A day is more easily brought within the grasp of the mind and planned for.

2. There is less difficulty in reviewing it and judging of its character.

3. Every day a new beginning is made and opportunity afforded for correcting to-day by the experience of yesterday.

4. Who can calculate the advantage of the freshness derived from sleep and the new vigour thus imported into life?

(1) Physically.

(2) Mentally.

(3) Morally. The will is endued with new vigour as a manrises to a new day of life and activity.

The duty which every day requires. Every day has its appropriate duty.

1. Some duties daily should terminate directly upon God. Such are prayer and praise. Who can tell what our needs may be, what accidents may happen, what decisions we may be called to take and what moral risks may be encountered? Daily petitions should therefore be offered. And how meet it is to mingle with daily petitioning thanksgiving for daily mercies. “Blessed be the Lord who daily leadeth us with benefits.”

2. There is all the life-work.

(1) The culture of the mind.

(2) The business of each one’s station.

(3) Some direct service for the kingdom of Christ. This serves to hallow the day and to connect time the more distinctly with eternity.

3. Then there is the bearing of the burdens of the day.

The work of each day is to be done, with only a moderate thoughtfulness, yet without presumption as to the morrow and days to come. Christ discountenanced anxious forecasting as to the possibilities of the future. God is to be trusted to lay upon us burdens as He sees that we have strength, or as He will give strength to sustain them. Still less should there be presumption as to the future. Act as “in the living present,” “as the matter of every day requires.” “To-morrow,” exclaimed a powerful French preacher once, “is the devil’s word; God’s word is to-day.” “To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” (E. T. Prust.)

Verses 6-13

Ezra 3:6-13

From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord.

The full establishment of religious services precedes She building of the temple

A weighty truth is enshrined in this apparently incongruous fact. The worship itself is felt to be more important than the house in which it is to be celebrated (John 4:21-24). How vain is it, then, to treat the erection of churches as though it were a revival of religion! As surely as the empty seashell can never secrete a living organism to inherit it, a mere building--whether it be the most gorgeous cathedral or the plainest village meeting-house--will never induce a living spirit of worship to dwell in its cold desolation. Every true revival of religion begins in the spiritual sphere. (Walter F. Adeney, M. A.)

They gave money also unto the carpenters.

The preparations for rebuilding the temple

The great work yet to be accomplished. This illustrates--

1. The incompleteness of human joys.

2. The incompleteness of human works.

The altar was built, but the temple was not begun. The work of the earnest man is never accomplished. Even when death approaches, most men have much which they desire to accomplish. This incompleteness of our human works is also ordered wisely and well. It tends to prevent stagnation; to rouse to earnest activities, etc.

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.

The prompt preparations for the accomplishment of this work. Two points claim attention--

1. The variety of service and the unity of design.

2. The co-operation of Jews and Gentiles.


1. Are we “as living stones built up” in the spiritual temple of God? (1 Peter 2:4-6).

2. Are we also assisting to build this glorious temple? (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). (William Jones.)

The building of the temple

That difficulties ought not to discourage us in the Lord’s work. Paucity of numbers and feebleness of resources. Enemies.

The readiness of the people to give of their means unto the Lord (Ezra 2:68-69). Their first care was the house of God. Without homes of their own, their cities in ruins, with a thousand demands pressing upon them, they nevertheless provided first of all for the worship of the temple. How needful the lesson! God’s house before our own. God first and afterward self. This work first, and then our own.

1. They offered willingly. It was not the tithe which they were required by law to give. It was a free-will offering to God, and hence all the more acceptable (2 Corinthians 9:7).

2. They gave according to their ability. Proportionate giving as God has prospered us is one of the most pressing needs of the Church to-day. It is a duty as plainly enjoined as prayer and praise (Deuteronomy 16:17; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

The people were ready to work as well, as give. The Church needs willing workers even more than generous givers. Hearts and hands are always worth more than gold and silver.

1. They worked unitedly. The people laboured “as one” (margin). Their counsels were not divided. There were no jealousies, no personal ambitions to hinder the progress of the undertaking.

2. The work was systematically prosecuted. Zeal and energy were displayed, but without making them substitutes for intelligence and adaptation. One of the great needs of God’s people is appreciation of the advantages of systematic work.

Thankful joy in the Lord’s service. The ancient men wept with a loud voice as they saw the foundation of the new house laid. Yet, after all, their weeping may have had nothing in it of the spirit of murmuring. Tears are ofttimes expressive of the deepest joy.

“There’s not a string attuned to mirth

But has its chord in melancholy.”

The joy that is touched with pain is the noblest of joys. The sweetest music is written in the minor key. Possibly the noise of their weeping was more grateful to God than the shouts of their younger companions. (Rufus S. Green, D. D.)

The second temple

The building of this temple was a visible and abiding testimony to man’s firm faith in the existence and power of the god of heaven. “The mystery of holy shrines,” says Kinglake, “lies deep in human nature. However the “more spiritual minds may be able to rise and soar, the common man, during his mortal career, is tethered to the globe that is his appointed dwelling-place; and the more his affections are pure and holy, the more they seem to blend with some sacred spot, that belongs to the outward and visible world?’ Temples tell us of one who is invisible. As Jacob set up an altar in the place where God talked with him and called the name of the place Bethel, so always men have erected memorial stones to commemorate their faith in God.

The temples and altars which man builds dignify a desire on his part for nearer and more constant communion with God. From the first God had revealed Himself as One who was ready to meet with His people, to draw aside the veil, at least in part, and commune with them from off the holy place. Outside the walls of Eden He appeared above the altar of Abel. Whenever, in later times, the patriarchs set up an altar and called on the name of the Lord, they expected that He would come and sanctify the spot by His presence. They were not disappointed. Enoch walked with Him; Noah built an ark under His direction; Abraham saw His day; to Jacob He appeared again and again; He talked with Moses and showed His glory to Isaiah; Elijah’s altar was touched with fire; to the whole people He showed a pillar of cloud and flame, and commanded them, saying, “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them,” and when it was finished, the shekinah appeared, God dwelt in the Holy of holies, and from off the fiery seat talked with His prophets and priests. Although under the Christian dispensation the idea of communion with God is ennobled, and the fellowship made more exalted and spiritual, so that Jesus Christ is now our true sanctuary and passover, still the old conception is not altogether abandoned. While the veil of the temple is rent in twain and every common bush is aflame with God, still there is a special blessing for those who meet together in the sanctuary. The place of worship is correctly spoken of as the “meeting house,” the meeting-house where man comes to meet his God.

The conduct of these temple buildings indicates determination and self-sacrifice. (Sermons by Monday Club.)

Verses 11-13

Ezra 3:11-13

And they sang together by course.

Religious feeling prompts to praise

During the persecution in Madagascar, a number of native Christians would assemble at midnight in the house of the missionary for religious instruction. On one occasion they said, “Mr. Ellis, we must sing.” “No,” said he, “it is as much as your lives are worth to be heard.” They continued to talk about the love of Christ, and then exclaimed again, “Sing we must.” He cautioned them, and they added “We will sing in a whisper” So on their bended knees they quietly sang a hymn. “But I could only weep,” said the missionary, who knew their peril. (Sunday Companion.)

Building for God’s praise

During the months that St. Francis went up and down the streets of Assisi, carrying in his delicate hands the stones for rebuilding the St. Damiano Chapel, he was continually singing psalms, breaking forth into ejaculations of gratitude, his face beaming as one who saw visions of unspeakable delight. When questioned why he sang he replied, “I build for God’s praise, and desire that every stone should be laid with joy.” (H. O. Mackey.)

Who had seen the first house.

Declensions in religion observed and lamented

The first and second temple may be considered as expressive of the state of real and substantial godliness in our own land, in two ages not much more distant from each other than those were in which these two temples stood. What I purpose is to point out some of those articles respecting the first and second compared, which seem most applicable to the end I have in view.

That the first and second temples were built in the same place, had nearly the same foundation, and were both raised with the same design. The temple which we raise and that which our forefathers saw, are built on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets; Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone.” We have the same Gospel, the same Saviour, and the same precious Agent is employed for conversion, edification, support and comfort.

That the first house surpassed the second, as it was made of more goodly materials and was built on a nobler plan. Whilst we are built on the same foundation as our fathers we are less perfect in the eyes of God than they--we have less dignity of character in the various relations of life--we are less fit to become the habitation of God. It is to be feared that we have less divine knowledge than those in the past; that the ways, works, and word of God are less studied with a design to amend and purify the heart, and that those ordinances are more neglected now than they once were which have the most apparent tendency to carry on a work of grace and piety. Our graces are defective. We are too apt to rest in present attainments. Our fathers seem to have excelled us in a determined opposition to sin--in a weanedness from this world--and in a spiritual, holy, heavenly walk. We seem less in earnest than they in the cultivation of those things that improve, enlarge, and ennoble the soul, and that stamp a dignity on human nature.

That the first house exceeded the second, in the manner of its dedication. The temple we raise is dedicated to God. How far this dedication falls short of that which our fathers made is not easy to say. There seems to have been no sacrifice which the apostles and martyrs were not willing to make; and they seemed to conceive of themselves as sacred to God. We are sprung from those who in their day were examples of devotedness to God, and who carried with them this persuasion that the temple of God should be holy, whose temple they were. Ancient men remember the dedication they made, the correspondence there was between their lives and that dedication, and the degree in which “holiness to the Lord” was inscribed upon them. We of the present generation seem to be making a more partial dedication to Him than our fathers made. Multitudes among us seem to be trying to “serve two masters.” It is alas! too apparent from the thoughts with which we begin and close the day--from the desires and passions that possess our minds through the hours of it--and from the nature of objects which we eagerly pursue, that we are not so exemplary in devotedness to God as many in past ages have been. The progress of a worldly spirit is visible among us; the great objects of religion are not habitually thought so amiable, important, and venerable by us as by the last generation of the people of God; nor is our regard to God, to Christ, and eternity so commanding a principle as it appears formerly to have been. Knowledge cannot so easily be taken of us that we have been with Jesus; nor can I think that we stand among men, like temples built for God and consecrated to Him as they did.

That the first temple surpassed the second, on account of that holy fire burning within, which proceeded from God, They from whom we are descended were eminently devout, the holy fire, the fervour of devotion which attended their offerings and sacrifices rendered them through Christ highly acceptable to God. They were mighty in prayer. Those who never prayed themselves remarked their devotion. Their closets, their families, some social band and the house of God could witness their communion with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ; their pious breathings of soul--the holy ardour of their spirit--and that pleasure, that improvement and lustre they derived from thence. The friends of the Church and their country sought an interest in their prayers. I dare not say that the devout among us are as numerous as they have ever been, or that the sacred fire of devotion burns now as bright and strong in the breasts of professors as it hath ever done. Ancient men may remember when there was more apparent devotion in our public assemblies--when more preparation was made for a profitable attendance there--when family worship, reading the Scriptures, and praying was more general among professors--when private devotion was made a more serious business, and when more schemes were entered upon and vigorously pursued to maintain and transmit a spirit of piety and devotion in societies and the world. Some professors content themselves with praying in their families once a day, others once in the week, and many without praying at all. Devotion is one grand instrument in the increase of faith; in strengthening the hand and encouraging the heart in the service of God and our generation; in lightening all the burdens and afflictions of life, in forming the inhabitants of earth to a resemblance of those in heaven, and in drawing down the blessings of God.

That the first temple exceeded the second in the cloud of glory, that amazing symbol of the divine presence. God is present with His Church in every age; but in different ages, and in the same age in different places, His presence and glory have been manifested in different degrees. Where there is a spirit of prayer and supplication poured forth; where the house and ordinances of God are frequented with a high relish and growing profit; and where benevolent and pious sentiments, affections, and passions are alive in the soul; there God is in an eminent degree. That the presence and glory of God are not seen in our temple as in that which ancient men and chief of the fathers remember, is, I fear, but too true. With respect to some places, it can only be said, “Here God once dwelt”; and in some others that are still frequented, a certain languor and coldness attend the worship which the manifestation of the presence and glory of God would have removed. (N. Hill.)

Wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy.--

The same events may be a cause for joy and a cause for sorrow

The name of Ezra, which signifies a helper, is strikingly illustrated in the character which this excellent man sustained. He was pre-eminently so to the Jews just about the period of their return from the Chaldean captivity, He stirred up the spirits of many to engage with him in this sacred employment; he devoted much of his talents, of his time, of his substance, and of his labours to the work; he occupied himself in rectifying and reforming many of the civil, political, and ecclesiastical abuses. Ask yourselves whether you sustain that character in a religious sense which Ezra so admirably bore? Have none of you proved hindrances instead of helpers in the work of God? Have none of you endeavoured to impede the religious procedures of those by whom you are surrounded--in your families, or in the circle in which you move, or in your neighbourhood, or in the Church, or in the world? The immediate reference in the language is, the set time which God had appointed to favour Zion had come. Israel had now to be delivered from the bondage beneath which it had for many years languished. The circumstance which is stated here is very remarkable. It seems that when the foundations of the house were laid the younger persons in the congregation of the people shouted aloud for joy; on the other hand, there were certain hoary-headed men, called here “the ancient men,” who wept aloud upon the occasion. There is no censure here implied; I should rather commend them for their tears. And I purpose to show you that there often exists in connection with the very same events cause for joy and cause for sorrow.

First in reference to the fact which is here stated concerning the Jews. We are told that the younger persons shouted for joy when the foundations of the house of God were laid, and the elder among them wept for sorrow. Jeremiah predicted that this would be actually the case (Jeremiah 33:10-11). What was there in this event to inspire joy? I answer four things.

1. First of all, the rise of this temple was a proof in itself that the fierceness of God’s anger had been turned away, and that He was now about to show mercy to His people. For a long time they had been deprived of their temple, of their altar, and of the institution of the most high God. They languished beneath His frown, but although He had punished them for their backslidings He had not utterly cast away the people whom He foreknew.

2. In the second place, now they had a prospect of enjoying an opportunity of attending on the public ordinances of God’s house. For a long time they had been scattered; the truly penitent among them had their private devotions by the banks of Kebar, and by the Euphrates they had wept when they remembered Zion, but they had no opportunity to convene themselves together to celebrate the ordinances to which they had been previously accustomed.

3. There was a third reason, too, and that respected the display of the power and of the truth of God. Here was a display of His truth in the actual fulfilment of the prediction of His word, and here was likewise an exhibition of His almighty power which had surmounted a variety of obstacles to the accomplishment of the important work.

4. Lastly, joy was natural on the present occasion because of the happy influence which this event would have on the interests of religion at large. What evidence was here given of the accomplishment of the promise of God illustrating His veracity and other of His perfections! What new facilities were now opened for the instruction of the ignorant, for the conversion of the souls of sinners to God! What a favourable opinion was likely to be produced on the minds of the heathen themselves when they saw the wonders which God had wrought for His chosen people (Ezekiel 37:24; Jeremiah 33:9). Now what was there in association with this procedure that was likely to awaken sorrow? There was much which justified the feelings of those excellent men who wept so that the noise of the weeping was heard afar off. For they could not but remember that it was in consequence of their backsliding from God that they had been so long suffering under religious deprivations; and there is something in the reminiscences of sin which will always produce some bitterness of feeling. Moreover they recollected the magnificence of the former temple; they could not but mourn when they contrasted the two structures. Venerable men, there was much worthy of their tears! There is a justifiable difference between the pleasurable joys of youth and age; in youth the passions are warm, health is usually vigorous, life is clothed in all its scenes which are yet to open with the freshness and beauty of novelty. Inexperience, too, disqualifies for a due consideration of those alloys which are always the companions of terrestrial delights. On the contrary, the ancient man is sobered by time, his feelings are mellowed by experience and observation. He is aware of much that will infallibly arise in a world of infirmity and imperfection like this to embitter the choicest pleasures, and consequently there is more of seriousness in the old man’s joy and less of ecstasy. We therefore eulogise those old men for their religious tears. They had no intention of damping the joys of those around them; they had no intention of diverting the ardent zeal of those who shouted for joy when the foundations of God’s temple were laid.

I illustrate the history and the sentiment which I derive from it in connection with a variety of facts which will be found existing in our churches, in our families, in our circles, and likewise in the world at large, pointing our remarks chiefly at personal experience.

1. First of all we may apply the statement before us to the diffusion of the truths of revelation and of Christianity throughout the world in which we live. Unquestionably we have cause for gratitude when we reflect upon what has been accomplished by British Christians within the last forty years. We are building a temple which shall gradually rise to a holy building in the Lord, and the top of which, the pinnacle, shall pierce the very heavens. But when we compare all these diversified exertions with the immense population of the world who are still destitute of the privileges of Christianity, the contrast abates our pleasures, for it is no more than the small drop of the bucket compared to the ocean, than a spark of fire or the kindling lamp to the sun which shines in the firmament.

2. However, the principles we have drawn from this passage may be applied to the various exertions of zeal in the days in which we live. We cannot but mourn over the lamentable apathy in reference to public religions interests which a considerable number of our forefathers and of our ancestors displayed. But what a change has taken place--for one institution that was established then for the benefit of the various classes of mankind, there are actually hundreds existing in our land. Surely, then, it behoves us to exclaim, “Come, magnify the Lord, and let us exalt His name together.” But honesty and fidelity must compel us to say also that there are abatements of our pleasures even in connection with this delightful subject. For I ask whether we are not sometimes driving ourselves into the opposite extreme which draws us away from our family altars and closet religion, or at least subjects them to much hurry and confusion? I ask, too, whether there are not some things in connection with our religious procedures which should be carefully avoided--pomp, and vanity, and ostentation, and display? I ask whether there are not passing even at the present hour, lamentable contentions and strifes in connection with some of our noblest Christian institutions?

3. The principle before us would apply likewise to the religious aspect of things in your family and in your circle. Well may you exclaim, “We have no greater joy than to see our children walking in the truth.” But oh, is there no abatement to this pleasure? Is there no daughter who by her irreligion, her levity, and her folly, is the grief of her father and of her mother who bore her? Christian masters and mistresses, it may be that you have taught your servants and inmates to know the way of God, and there are some of them walking in His commandments and in His ordinances blameless; there are others who are evidently irreligious and living without God in the world.

Once more, however, and to bring our remarks to personal experience, the principle or sentiment we have drawn from this personal may be found applicable to the state of religion in your own souls. My Christian friends, compare your former and your latter state. Time was when you were all darkness. But one thing you know, that whereas you were once blind, now you see--see the evil of sin, see the excellence of the Saviour. And does not all this demand a song and an ascription of praise? Is not this event the result of the mercy of God which endureth for ever? And yet I make another appeal to you, whether even amidst all the joys there is much which should make you walk humbly before God, much which not unfrequently extorts from you the cry, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Does not all this awaken painful regrets? Now let me say that this combination of joy and sorrow in the bosom of a believer is perfectly congenial and compatible. Professed humility, the habitual exercise of penitence for sin, and a joy unutterable and full of glory, may exist together in the bosom of those who are converted and sanctified by the grace of God. You have much to deplore, much that is to be removed, much that is to be accomplished; yet we would prevent you from indulging too much depression, we would tell you that the little leaven shall leaven the whole lump. Oh, yes! He that has begun the good work in you shalt perform it till the day of Jesus Christ; and though powerful obstructions may again rise up to hinder the erection of this building which you are rearing, the top stone shall at last be brought forth with shoutings of grace, grace unto it. And soon the conflict shall be over, the enterprise shall be complete, and you, like the returned children of the captivity, shall settle down in a better country, even the heavenly, which shall be your permanent abode, where there shall be no admixture of pain. (J. Clayton.)

The shouts and weeping of a day of jubilee

It is worth while noticing that while the old men’s grateful tears honoured their God as really as the young men’s shouts of praise, yet that these last were after all the truest to the fact, for that whilst to the eyes of those who had seen the house in her past glory this house was in comparison as nothing, yet that to the opened glance of God’s prophet it was even now revealed that “the glory of this latter house should be greater than that of the former.” At such a time pure exultation and absolute dejection are alike out of place. Shouts of joy which pass into sobs and tears, which tell of humbled but grateful recollection, are the meetest temper in which we can present before our God our best offerings. If, then, this be the right temper for our minds, it must be a proper time for us to mark some of the chief imperfections which have hindered our service, as well as some of those brighter features which may at once fill our hearts with hope and help to direct us in our further course.

First, then, for some of the leading imperfections of our work.

1. Now in entering upon this subject of the imperfections of our services, I may say at once, in the first place, that a work which is so much as this is, the coming forth of the Church’s inner spiritual life, must, by the inevitable laws of the kingdom of grace, bear about it marks of the sins and infirmities which at the time weaken the spiritual life of the Church. We shall therefore surely find repeated in this our work the transcript of our own besetting sins; our secularity, our love of ease, our want of self-denial, our low estimate or unbelief of the spiritual character and power of Christ’s Church, our indistinct apprehensions of her distinctive doctrines, our low sense of the power of the Cross of Christ and of the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost in His regenerate people, our want of love to Christ, our weak faith, our fainting love to our brethren. But to use this truth most practically let us endeavour to see in detail some of the special forms of weakness in which our own spiritual evils have in fact made themselves manifest. And first among these, how scanty has our work been when weighed against our opportunities. Where are nations born through us into the faith? Where is there not the same sight?--a little work done, feeble and divided efforts blest far above their deserving, but still effecting little against the mass of evil. Next, how late was our service! And then to note but one more mark of imperfection and instrument of weakness, how have our services lacked, alas I how do they still lack, that grace of unity, with which more perhaps than with any other condition, both in the Word of God and in the experience of the Church, any great success in the evangelisation of the world has always been connected! Who can estimate the measure in which these, our sinful strifes, banish from us the indwelling strength of the ever-blessed Spirit of unity? Who can limit the success which might accompany His working, even by our feeble hands, if there were but restored to us the gift of a true brotherly union and concord?

And yet with that sound of weeping should there not be for us also voices of men that shout for joy? For too scanty as our work is, compared with what it should be, yet is it in itself great, real, and increasing. Late as we began it, yet for three half centuries has God received from us its thankful offering. It is no little thing to have been enabled to plant the Church of Christ throughout North America. It is no light blessing to have been permitted to accompany everywhere throughout the world England’s too irreligious colonisation with the blessed seed of the Church’s life, so that even for the extent of our work with all its scantiness we may indeed bless God. And for our last and greatest imperfection, for our own separations, many as are still, alas! our divisions, yet are marks of unity appearing and increasing with us. How full of hope and humble joy is this day’s new and glorious sight? Surely it is written for us to-day, “Rejoice, thou barren, that hearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which, hath an husband.” But then once more there is here matter for our future guidance, as well as for our present joy. Such gifts of God as those which are this day poured, out upon us must not only be received with thankfulness, they must also be used with diligence: They are cheering mercies, but they are also stirring calls to duty. (Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezra 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/ezra-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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