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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Ezra 3

Verses 1-7

§ 2. RESTORATION OF THE ALTAR OF BURNT SACRIFICE, AND CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES.

EXPOSITION

RESTORATION OF THE ALTAR (Ezra 3:1-3). On their arrival in their own land, the exiles, it would seem, proceeded first of all to their several cities, reconnoitring the ground, as it were, and at first taking no step that could arouse the hostility or jealousy of the previous inhabitants. After a while, however, "when the seventh month was come," they ventured with some misgivings to restore and rebuild the great altar of burnt sacrifice, which Solomon had formerly erected in the principal court of the temple, directly opposite to the porch (2 Kings 16:14; 2 Chronicles 4:1), and on which, until the destruction of the temple, the morning and evening sacrifice had been offered. We gather from Ezra's narrative, that when the ruins were carefully examined, the site of the old altar was ascertained, and care was taken to put the new one in the old place. The restoration of the altar thus considerably preceded even the commencement of the temple; the one being essential to the Jewish service, which could not exist without sacrifice, while the other was only a convenient and desirable adjunct. The altar must have been completed by the last day of the sixth month (see verse 6).

Ezra 3:1

When the seventh month was come. The seventh month was Tisri, and corresponded nearly to our October. It was the most sacred month of the Jewish year, commencing with a blowing of trumpets and a holy convocation on the first day (Leviticus 23:24), which was followed on the tenth day by the solemn day of atonement (ibid. verse 27; comp. Leviticus 16:29-34), and on the fifteenth day by the feast of tabernacles or "ingathering," one of the three great annual festivals, which lasted to the twenty-second day. Zerubbabel and Joshua determined to risk a disturbance rather than defer the restoration of the altar beyond the commencement of this sacred month. The people gathered themselves together. The people were bound to attend the feast of tabernacles (Exodus 23:14-16); but something more than this seems to be intended. The restoration of the altar and the re-establishment of the daily sacrifice having been announced, there was a general influx of the country Israelites into Jerusalem to witness the proceedings. As one man. Very emphatic (comp. Judges 20:1, Judges 20:8; 2 Samuel 19:14).

Ezra 3:2

Jeshua the son of Jozadak. The position of Jeshua, both here and in Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:9, sufficiently marks him as the high priest, though Ezra does not give him the title. Haggai, however (Ezra 1:1, 14; Ezra 2:2), and Zechariah (Ezra 3:1, Ezra 3:8; Ezra 6:11) distinctly assign him the office. His father, Jozadak, or Josedech, was the son of Seraiah, high priest at the destruction of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 6:14). The name Jeshua is a mere variant of Joshua, and so corresponds to Jesus, of whom Jeshua may be regarded as a type. His brethren the priests. As being all of them equally descended from Aaron, the priests were "brethren." Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel. See note on Ezra 2:2, where Zerubbabel's actual descent is given. And his brethren. Such other members of the royal house as had returned with him. As it is written in the law. See Leviticus 17:2-6; Deuteronomy 12:5-11. It was an express command of God to the Israelites that sacrifice should be offered only at Jerusalem in the place which he should appoint. Moses the man of God. That is, "the Prophet;" but the phrase is emphatic, and characteristic of Ezra.

Ezra 3:3

They set the altar upon his bases. They built the new altar upon the foundations of the old one, making it exactly conform to them. This was done, no doubt, to indicate that the religion which the exiles brought back from Babylon was in every respect identical with that which they had possessed before they were carried thither. Many moderns hold the contrary; but it has not yet been proved that the sojourn at Babylon modified the religious ideas of the Jews in any important particular. For fear was upon them. Or, "though fear was upon them." Notwithstanding their fear of the surrounding nations, they set up the altar. We must remember that their neigh-hours were not Persians, but descendants of various idolatrous nations—Hamathites, Babylonians, Susianians, Elamites, Cuthaeans, etc.—bitterly opposed to anything like a pure spiritual religion (see 2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:9, Ezra 4:10). Though the exiles had permission from Cyrus to raise up not only their altar, but their temple, it was not at all certain that his nominal subjects would passively submit. It was as if a modern Turkish Sultan should decree the erection of a Christian altar and a grand Christian cathedral at Kerbela or Bussorah, towards the verge of his empire. There would be great danger in acting on such a decree. Burnt offerings morning and evening. So the law required (see Exodus 29:38, Exodus 29:39; Numbers 28:3, Numbers 28:4).

Ezra 3:4

CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES (Ezra 3:4). Emboldened by their successful restoration of the altar of burnt sacrifice, Zerubbabel and Jeshua allowed the people to gather themselves together and celebrate the autumnal festival, though they can scarcely have made it on this occasion a "feast of ingathering."

As it is written. According to the mode of celebration prescribed in the law; i.e. for seven consecutive days, from the fifteenth to the twenty-second of Tisri, with burnt offerings every day, and a holy convocation on the first day and the last, and a "dwelling in tents" during the whole period (see Leviticus 23:31-42). The daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom. The offerings for each day of the festival are carefully laid down in Numbers 29:13-38. We must understand that all the particulars there enjoined were carefully observed.

Ezra 3:5

PERMANENT ESTABLISHMENT OF THE DAILY SACRIFICE, THE SET FEASTS, AND THE OFFERING OF FREE-WILL OFFERINGS (Ezra 3:5, Ezra 3:6). Having set up the altar, and celebrated the particular festival which the revolving year happened to have brought round, and which it would have been wrong to neglect, the exiles re-established permanently three things:—

1. The daily sacrifice;

2. The celebration of the new moons and other regular feasts; and

3. The practice of allowing the people to bring offerings whenever they pleased, to be offered on the great altar by the priest or priests in attendance.

The first of these was for atonement; the second for public thanksgiving and acknowledgment of God's mercies; the third for private devotion, the payment of vows, and the like.

The continual burnt offering. This is beyond a doubt the daily morning and evening sacrifice, called "the continual burnt offering" in Exodus 29:42 and Numbers 28:3-6. The clause is not modified by the succeeding words, which are additional, not exegetical, and which should not be translated, as in the A. V; both of the new moons, but, "and those of the new moons." The returned exiles kept henceforth regularly both the daily morning and evening sacrifice, and also that appointed for the new moons (Numbers 28:11-15), and those appointed for the other "set feasts,"such as the passover and the feast of Pentecost. And of every one that willingly offered. Nor was this all. The practice was resumed of sacrificing on the great altar at any time any free-will offerings that individual Israelites might bring (see Leviticus 1:1-17; Leviticus 2:1-16; Leviticus 3:1-17; etc.). Thus provision was made for all that was most essential in the ritual of religion, while the temple itself still remained unbuilt (see Numbers 28:6).

Ezra 3:7

PREPARATION OF MATERIALS FOR THE REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE (Ezra 3:7). When the restoration of religion had pro-greased thus far, the civil and ecclesiastical rulers turned their attention to that object which had been specially mentioned in the "decree of Cyrus" (Ezra 1:2, Ezra 1:3), the rebuilding of the temple. And, first of all, it was necessary to collect building materials, wood and stone, which were the chief materials of the first temple, and which Cyrus had particularized in a supplementary decree (Ezra 6:4) as those to be employed in the construction of the second.

They gave money also unto the masons. The exiles had no doubt been employed by the Babylonian monarchs to a large extent in building, as their ancestors had been during their sojourn in Egypt (Exodus 1:2). Consequently, among those who returned there were many masons and carpenters. These were now set to work by Zerubbabel, and received their wages in money. And meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre. The Phoenicians, on the other hand, received their wages in kind. As Phoenicia was a narrow strip of country, and grew but little corn, it had always to depend mainly for its supplies of food on its neighbours, and generally drew the greater part from Palestine (see Acts 12:20). Hiram had furnished materials to Solomon for the first temple on condition of receiving wheat, barley, wine, and oil (2 Chronicles 2:15). Zerubbabel made a similar arrangement at the present time with the Tyrians and Sidonians. To bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa. Having cut the timber in the mountains, the Phoenicians conveyed it to the coast, perhaps sometimes letting it pass down the rivers, and, collecting it on the coast into large rafts or "flotes" (2 Chronicles 2:16), took these by sea to the roadstead of Joppa (Jaffa). Hence it was conveyed by land a distance of thirty-five miles to Jerusalem. Lebanon cedar was in great request in the East, and appears to have been cut and carried off both by the Egyptians and the Assyrians. The forests must in the ancient times have been far more extensive than at present. According to the grant that they had of Cyrus. A special grant of Phoenician timber, made by Cyrus, seems to be intended. Though Cyrus had not conquered Phoenicia ('Herod.,' 3:34), he might regard his conquest of Babylon as involving the submission of what had for some time been a Babylonian dependency.

HOMILETICS

Ezra 3:1-3

The first sacrifice.

The third chapter begins much as the second chapter concluded, with a picture of the restored Israelites in their respective "cities" or homes. But they do not stay there very long. The temple and the temple worship, for which they had laid by (Ezra 2:68, Ezra 2:69) before dispersing, is still much on their minds. These verses tell us of the consequent action next taken in that direction—

1. on the part of the people specially;

2. on the part of their leaders specially; and

3. on the part of them all collectively.

I. THE PEOPLE SPECIALLY. They left their "cities" for the city of God; of their own consent (they "gathered themselves together"), with one consent ("as one man"). ὀμοθυμαδόν, 1 Esdras 5:46. What stirred them all in this manner? The fact, apparently, that the "seventh month" was "come," or was "approaching" (Keil). Certainly, connected with that month there were many things which might well have this effect. How important this month ecclesiastically, and from the point of view of the temple worship. On the first day, besides the new moon, came the festival known as the feast of trumpets (Numbers 29:1). On the tenth the great day of atonement, the great fast of the Jewish year (Numbers 29:7). From the fifteenth to the twenty-second was celebrated the third of the three great annual feasts, viz; that of tabernacles or ingathering. No other month was equally distinguished. No subsequent month of the twelve was distinguished by any universal call to the temple precincts. The next such call would be five months afterwards, in the passover month. How important, again, this seventh month, as the first month of the civil year, the month from which the Sabbatical and Jubilee years were computed (Leviticus 25:9). Its first day would answer exactly to our "New Year's Day," a most natural time for instituting or recommencing a new order of things. Historically, also, as being a month in which one of the special captivity fasts (see Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19) had been observed, this was a marked month in these exiles' minds. How fit a month, therefore, in every way, for making a beginning of some kind. "Now, if ever;" almost "Now, or never," the occasion seemed to exclaim. It is by such conjunctions, perhaps, that God most frequently signifies his guiding will to his willing people (comp. Acts 16:6-10).

II. THE LEADERS SPECIALLY. If the time for action was now so near, who should take the lead in regard to it? Who, of course, but the natural leaders. The leaders in the Church first ("Jeshua," etc.), the matter in hand being one so specially concerning them. But not the leaders in Church only; "Zerubbabel and his brethren," as laymen, also having their interest in it. Together they resolved to begin by rebuilding the sacrificial altar, that which had stood in the old temple before the holy place and in the court of the priests. Why did they begin in this way? Partly owing to the tenor of the "law of Moses," that being a law of sacrifices from beginning to end (see Hebrews 9:21, Hebrews 9:22), according to which there was no approach to the most holy place itself without the previous use of the altar. This consideration would probably tell especially on Jeshua and the priests; as the example of David, next, who desired to build the house, but was only permitted to "find out" its "place," and so far to begin it as to consecrate as it were its altar (1Ch 17:1-27.; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 1 Chronicles 22:1; Psalms 132:5), would tell especially on Zerubbabel, David's representative and descendant, and lead him also to wish to begin by erecting the altar upon the old "base" (verse 3). There would also be a third reason to influence both sets of leaders alike. By this time the returned remnant would find the hostility of their new neighbours awakened. Only surprised at first to hear of their return (comp. Psalms 126:2), afterwards inclined to ridicule and despise them (comp. Nehemiah 4:2-4), when they saw them settling down in their old habitations as a distinct and separate people (Numbers 23:9), these strangers would begin in various ways to show their dislike, and perhaps to murmur their threats. In this condition of danger how natural to follow the example of Samuel, and sacrifice to Jehovah. A very instructive lesson, by the way, for these gospel times. Just so our need of an atonement is the very first of our needs. The nature of God's law, the example of God's servants, the enmity of the world and Satan (Revelation 12:11) combine to teach us this truth.

III. THE CONGREGATION EN MASSE. Representatives of all Israel having come to Jerusalem, and the leaders having erected the altar, what were they all to do next? The place of sacrifice was restored. Out of the many kinds of sacrifices connected with it in former days, which should they place on it first? That which God had appointed for sanctifying the beginning and end of each day (verse 3). This quite in accordance with the very first use of the original altar itself (Exodus 29:38), and with the happy consequences thereby secured (Exodus 29:43-45). Also with the many remarkable successive injunctions of Numbers 28:1-31; Numbers 29:1-40, where we find it expressly commanded that whatever special sacrifices might be ordered on any day—whether for the Sabbath (Numbers 29:10), or new moon (Numbers 29:15), or passover (Numbers 29:23), or any day of it (Numbers 29:24), or Pentecost (Numbers 29:31), or feast of trumpets (Numbers 29:6), or day of atonement (Numbers 29:11), or feast of tabernacles, or any day of it (Numbers 29:16, Numbers 29:19, Numbers 29:22, Numbers 29:25, Numbers 29:28, Numbers 29:31, Numbers 29:34, Numbers 29:38)—these regular daily sacrifices were always to be offered "beside." Also with the prominence given to them in 1 Chronicles 16:39, 1 Chronicles 16:40; 2Ch 2:4; 2 Chronicles 13:11; 2 Chronicles 31:3. Also with the peculiarly grave character attached in Daniel 8:11; Daniel 9:27; and Daniel 12:11 to their cessation and interruption. Indeed, from a spiritual point of view, and regarding this people of Israel as a "congregation" or living Church, these daily sacrifices seem always presented to us as the very pulse of its life. How fitting, therefore, in the endeavour to restore that Church's suspended animation, to attend to them first. How important, also, under the new economy, the perpetual intercession of Christ. "He needeth not daily, as those high priests" (Hebrews 7:27), to offer for sin; "for this he did once [for all] when he offered himself." But there is a need that he himself should continually be pleading this one sacrifice on our behalf. On this depends our justification (Romans 8:34). On this in every way our salvation (Hebrews 7:25). Herein is the pulse of our life. So we seem to be taught by such passages as Colossians 3:3; Galatians 2:20. And so, with regard especially to the restoration of that life when impaired or suspended (just as with Israel in the case before us), in what is said in 1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2 respecting this great Intercessor or "Advocate," and the effectual plea of his death. "If any man sin," as every man does (1 John 1:8-10), and so begins to die, as every sinner then does, here is his way of escape.

Ezra 3:4-7

The first feast.

"Also," Ezra 3:4; "afterward," Ezra 3:5; "but," Ezra 3:6; these are the three stepping-stones of this passage. After making a good beginning in restoring the daily sacrifices, the people "also" kept their first feast. "Afterward" they did what they could in restoring the observance of all the other ordinances and feasts of Jehovah. "But," it being impossible to do this satisfactorily as they were then situated with regard to the temple, they further proceeded to make the necessary arrangements for commencing its erection, which was, after all, their great work. Such seems to be the order here of thoughts and events.

I. The "ALSO," the SPECIAL FEAST. In the natural order of things, the seventh month having now come, the feast of tabernacles would be that nearest at hand. We cannot, therefore, exactly consider them to have chosen this as their first restored festival; but we can see indications that they specially welcomed it, and observed it with much joy. The seventh month also brought round the feast of trumpets and the day of atonement; yet the observance of these, if now observed at all by them, was not of such a kind as to be considered worthy of special mention. The first thing mentioned is the daily sacrifice; the next, this feast of tabernacles. If not the next thing that occurred, therefore, it was certainly, to their thoughts, the next thing in importance. Observe, also, what is expressly recorded as to the spirit in which they observed it. The regulations for the observance of this feast were amongst the most intricate in the whole book of the Law. Many victims of many kinds were required for its due observance; some the same, some different, for all its seven days in succession; those required for the eighth day being different, again, from them all (see carefully Numbers 29:12-38). All this, as there found "written," if not as also added to by long-established "custom" (see John 7:2, John 7:37, John 7:38 for a supposed reference to a "custom" of this kind), as "every day required," they fulfilled. How great, how manifest their pleasure in learning, in doing all. This not to be wondered at when we bear in mind the peculiar joyfulness of this annual feast. As the feast of ingathering or harvest (Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Exodus 23:16), and as the feast which celebrated the close of their wanderings (Leviticus 23:40, Leviticus 23:42, Leviticus 23:43), it was, even more than the passover or the Pentecost, a special season of joy. Accordingly, while we read in the passover of the bread of affliction (Deuteronomy 16:3), and read once of rejoicing at Pentecost (Deuteronomy 16:11), we read of it twice (Deuteronomy 16:14, Deuteronomy 16:15) in this case. Also, in the history of Israel we find mention of certain special cases of peculiar joy, all connected with ideas of permanent habitation and finished toil, when this feast was celebrated with peculiar glory (see reference to Joshua in 1 Kings 8:65; 1Ch 17:1, 1 Chronicles 17:5; 2 Chronicles 7:8-10; Nehemiah 8:9-18). No feast, therefore, in every way, could have been more appropriate to their case.

II. The "AFTERWARD," the OTHER ORDINANCES. However peculiarly suitable to them this timely festival, it was not the only thing they observed. On the contrary, besides that which they had previously reinstituted (as again referred to in Ezra 3:6) they attended henceforward now to all things enjoined in God's law. They kept up still the continual burnt offerings (mentioned specially again perhaps because of their special importance), and began from this time to order regularly all monthly, or annual, or even occasional rites—"the new moons," "the set feasts," "the freewill offerings" of individuals. All that the Lord had "consecrated" or directly enjoined, all that he had also declared his willingness to accept, they gladly observed. In short, they restored in spirit the religious year, and as far as they could, in their circumstances, brought back in this respect the old days.

III. "BUT"—for, as we have remarked already, there was a serious "but" in this case—THEY COULD NOT AS YET DO ALL. They had the proper altar and priests; to some extent the proper vessels; also the requisite knowledge and inclination; and, in a certain way, the requisite means. For all this, however, to be done as they should be, with proper state and significance, and as Israel's future functions required perhaps more than ever, there was needed a proper house. To this matter, accordingly, they next turn. Its very "foundation" at that time was not laid, and could not be as things were. But the necessary preparations could now he seen to, and must be, indeed, without delay. For example, they could arrange as to wages, etc. with those workmen who were to work on the spot, as we read in the beginning of Ezra 3:7. Also with those to work at a distance ("them of Zidon and Tyre," Ezra 3:7), who were to cut the requisite cedar trees in Lebanon and convey them for use both by land and sea. In which last particular it is to be noted that they followed the example of the wise king himself when building the first temple, as well in choosing the right persons as in adopting the right route, and in offering the right remuneration, viz; not "money," but "meat" and so on (see 1 Kings 5:6, 1 Kings 5:9, 1Ki 5:11; 2 Chronicles 2:8, 2 Chronicles 2:16; also Acts 12:20). Further, we find that they asked for no more than they were already authorised to ask by King Cyrus (end of Ezra 3:7). It would be well if all business transactions were equally prudent and fair, especially those which have to do in any way with God's service. Seek out the hands that are truly skilful, offer them what it is worth their while to accept, ask of them only what is lawful, this makes the man of business and the man of honour as well. And in doing business on God's account the man of God should be both. May not this whole passage teach us yet another lesson in regard to doing God's work? There is always something, whatever our circumstances, that we can all do in that line. We can begin if we cannot complete. We can prepare if we cannot begin. Even where we can do nothing ourselves, we may engage others to do it. Moreover, if we really seek to use such opportunities as we have, our endeavours are quite sure to be accepted and blessed (Mark 14:8; 2 Corinthians 8:12). This applies to learning as well as doing God's will (John 7:17).

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Ezra 3:1-3

The altar rebuilt.

The return from Babylon is supposed to have been in the spring. The first employment of the people would be to construct for themselves huts, or so to repair dilapidated buildings as to make them fit for habitation. This accomplished, no time was lost in setting about the great work of re-establishing their ancient worship. So "when the seventh month was come," the month Tisri, corresponding to portions of our September and October, they repaired to Jerusalem to encourage and witness,—

I. THE REBUILDING OF THE ALTAR OF BURNT OFFERINGS.

1. They saw it placed upon its old bases.

(1) They regarded it as the same altar. No ceremonies of consecration needed—wanted no novelties in religion. Here is a useful lesson to Christians. The religion of their fathers was Divine, and was associated with a wonderful history.

(2) Antiquity should be tested by appeal to Scripture.

2. They saw it rise to its completion.

(1) They had hostile neighbours (see Ezra 4:1, Ezra 4:9, Ezra 4:10). Idolaters of all sorts will ever oppose true worship.

(2) These were overawed by the multitude. The wicked are cowards at heart.

(3) The hands of the elders were encouraged. This is the force of the particle, "Then stood up," etc. Learn the great value of witnessing for Christ.

II. THE OFFERING OF THE DAILY SACRIFICES. These are described Numbers 28:1-8.

1. The offerings. These were—

(1) The burnt offering—a lamb of the first year, type of Christ, consumed in fire, and so called the "food of God."

(2) The meat offering—fine flower mingled with oil, consumed by the worshipper or his representatives.

(3) The drink offering—wine—like the meat, partaken of by God and man (see Judges 9:13). This feasting the symbol of friendship.

2. These were continual.

(1) Morning, evening, day by 'day the year round, so forward "year by year continually" (see Hebrews 10:1).

(2) Kept up a continual remembrance of sin.

(3) Continually procured the "forbearance of God" until his justice should be satisfied in the perfect sacrifice and offering of Calvary.

3. But there was no sacred fire.

(1) The Jews confess the absence of this after the captivity. No account of any in the more recent Scriptures.

(2) Strange fire would scarcely be used. No account of its authorisation. Without this would it be accepted (see Le Numbers 10:1, Numbers 10:2)?

(3) Burnt offerings without fire! Significant of the waning of the dispensation. Designed to wean the Jews from Moses in favour of Jesus. Strength of prejudice! Strong tendencies even in Christians to ritual rather than to the spiritual in worship (see Galatians 3:1-3). We witness here—

III. A UNITED NATION OF WORSHIPPERS,

1. There was concert among the priests.

(1) The high priest was there. Joshua is not here expressly so styled; implied in the words, "Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren." Thus distinguished elsewhere (see Haggai 1:1; Haggai 2:2; Zechariah 3:1). He was the grandson of Seraiah, the high priest who was slain by Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Kings 25:18-21). He was a type of Christ not only in virtue of his office, but also in his name, which is the same as Jesus, and in his leading the captivity out of Babylon.

(2) The "brethren" of Jeshua were with him. The sons of Aaron in general.

2. There was concert among the nobles.

(1) Zerubbabel was there. He heads the roll of names (Ezr 2:1-70 : 2) as a principal leader of the restoration. He was the representative of the royal family, and now a worthy successor of his ancestors, David and Solomon, who were so gloriously concerned with the first temple.

(2) His "brethren" were with him.

3. The people were there "as one man."

(1) Responsive to the summons of the chiefs. They assembled fifteen days earlier than the feast of tabernacles, when all the males should appear (see verse 6).

(2) They came with exemplary unanimity; their heart was in it; they were the noblest of the nation, under 50,000, leaving the indifferent ones in Babylon. Such unanimity could never have been secured by coercion. Value of the voluntary principle.—J.A.M.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezra 3:1-7

Acceptable service.

When the 42,000 Israelites arrived in the land whither they went forth, they took peaceable and glad possession of their old homes; many, if not most, of them returning to the very fields and homesteads from which their fathers had been led away. They then showed a piety which was partly the fruit of the long discipline they had passed through in Persia. Their service of Jehovah, on this their return, was characterised by—

I. SPONTANEITY (Ezra 3:1, Ezra 3:5). They must have had much to do to bring into good condition the long-forsaken fields; agriculture must have been neglected, and there must have been a strong demand for the most active and unremitting labour. Nevertheless, without any edict or decree from any spiritual or secular authority, "the people gathered themselves together as one man at Jerusalem" (Ezra 3:1). A common impulse urged them all to leave business employments and household duties and repair to the sacred city for the worship of God. And when there, they "willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord" (Ezra 3:5). Their service was, as ours will be, the more acceptable because unconstrained, spontaneous, the prompting of individual piety. Not the mandate of an earthly master, but the will of our Divine Lord, the love of Christ, should constrain us to activity and liberality.

II. RIGHTNESS OF PLACE (Ezra 3:1, Ezra 3:3). They gathered at Jerusalem (Ezra 3:1), and built an altar on the very same basis as that on which the old altar had stood (Ezra 3:3). They were right in this. For it had been very specially enjoined that only on that one site should sacrifices be offered unto God. They had regard to a precise injunction in thus confining their offerings to one place. No such restrictions limit our worship. The hour has come when neither on one mountain nor another shall men worship the Father (John 4:21). Wherever the people of God meet in sincerity and earnestness, there they "behold his mercy-seat." "Every place is hallowed ground" to the devout heart. Yet there is such a thing as propriety of place. Still "the Lord loveth the gates of Zion," and to worship him regularly at his house, to unite regularly with his people at the table of the Lord, is a useful and acceptable service.

III. UNITY (Ezra 3:2). Jeshua and Zerubbabel stood together to build the altar of the Lord. It is a most excellent thing for any society when those who are influential in the Church and those highly placed in the State unite and do not divide their influence, strengthen and do not weaken one another's hands, in the promotion of morality and religion.

IV. READINESS THROUGH EAGERNESS (Ezra 3:3, Ezra 3:6). After using Solomon's temple as their sacred edifice wherein to worship, it was natural that the people should desire something more than a rude altar reared under the skies. But so eager were they to return to the old sacrifices, which had so long ceased to be offered, that they could not wait for the erection of a building; before the foundation of the temple was laid (Ezra 3:6) they began to present burnt offerings unto the Lord. The apathetic soul will be ready enough to find an excuse for irreligion, for leaving unoffered the sacrifice that is due; but the eager-hearted will be prompt to substitute one instrument for another, that the service may not be unrendered. A feeble piety will yield to the first check. Spiritual earnestness will be ingenious to devise means, and will anticipate the hour when all outside circumstances compel to devotion. Do not let God's praise remain unsung because a full-toned organ is not at hand for accompaniment, nor let his truth be unspoken because there are no fine walls to echo its proclamation. Godly zeal will find utterance whether art be present or absent.

V. REGULARITY (Ezra 3:4). "They offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required" (Ezra 3:4). There must be room left for some play of spontaneity, or our spiritual life will become mechanical and lose its animation and elasticity and beauty. But there must be also regularity: constant services, daily devotion, morning and evening prayer. Liberty and law must be reconciled and dwell harmoniously together, not only in every home, but in every heart.

VI. COMPREHENSIVENESS (Ezra 3:3, Ezra 3:4). Opposite feelings led them to the mercy-seat: their fear led them to seek God—they set up the altar for fear of the people by whom they were surrounded (Ezra 3:3); and their joy also led to devotion—they kept the joyous feast of tabernacles, and united in the service in which gladness of heart prevailed (Ezra 3:4). The truly devout man is he with whom all paths lead to the throne of grace; to whom all things, however varied and unlike one another, suggest the thought of God; who brings his burden of grief and fear, as well as his treasure of joy and hope, to the feet of his Master.—C.

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 3:1-7

Aspects of worship.

I. The HUMAN in WORSHIP. "Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak," etc. (Ezra 3:2). These men were the leaders in this movement of worship; they gathered the people thereto. There is a human side to Divine worship; the altar looks toward earth as well as toward heaven; man builds, if God consecrates it; man appoints the time of worship, arranges its method, gathers the people, stimulates the conscience by faithful words, and enforces the law. A few good men can awaken the devotional in the multitude, can give the impulse of altar building.

II. The ESSENTIAL in WORSHIP. "And builded the altar" (Ezra 3:2). The altar was built first because it was of primary importance; because it was essential to their sacrificial offerings. The altar first.

1. Then it is important to begin early—the altar before the city; early in life; in the day; in the enterprise.

2. Then it is important to begin aright—to commence with the essential rather than with the incidental. There are devotional, doctrinal, social, domestic altars; begin with them in any work of restoration; well begun is half done. Love before worship, pardon before works, Christ before civilization; commence with the altar.

3. Then it is important to begin under good leadership.

4. There is acceptance in a rude moral beginning. It was only an altar, but its offerings were accepted by God. When we have not all that is needful to ornate worship, heaven will accept a sacrifice from a rude altar; the heart is more than the structure. God will accept worship from the rude altar in the forest as well as from the stately altar in the temple.

5. Then there is a great power in a feeble but devout beginning. The flower is in the seed; the temple is in the altar.

III. The ADDITIONAL in WORSHIP. "And they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord," etc. (Ezra 3:3). A true worship will not rest content when the altar is built; the altar is only a commencement; we must go on to perfection. There is a binding influence in the erected altar; we cannot cast down what we have built. It is an inspiration; to what service will it lead. Faith and worship have numerous addenda. A man who begins with the altar to God can only end by working it out in all loving possibility; in fact, by placing himself upon it. We must put large offerings on our altars; Christ gave himself for us.

IV. The TIMOROUS in WORSHIP. They built the altar, all the while in fear of the people who perhaps had little sympathy with the edict of Cyrus (Ezra 3:3). The people erected the altar at once because they feared interruption; an altar erected is a power against the adversaries. In these days of quietude we can build our altar without fear of the persecuting enemy. What fears often animate the soul of the devout worshipper!

V. The SECULAR in WORSHIP. "They gave money also unto the masons," etc. (Ezra 3:7). Worship combines the sentiment of the soul and temporal aid; the bread of life which God gives us and the bread we give him. It combines—

1. Prayer.

2. Gifts.

3. Work.

The temple of God is built by a variety of gifts and by a variety of men; it provides a service for all. Many have to do with it mechanically who have nothing to do with it morally; a man may be a "mason" without being a minister.—E.

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Ezra 3:4-6

The worship of the first year.

In connection with the worship of the first year after the return of the children of Israel from Babylon, we notice—

I. THAT IT WAS SUCH AS COULD BE CONDUCTED IN THE OPEN AIR.

1. They had their altar rebuilt.

(1) This was the first thing done, because it was essential. Sacrifice is interwoven with all the ceremonies of worship according to the law. The principle of sacrifice is no less essential under the gospel. Ponder the thought that there can be no true worship without sacrifice.

(2) They lost no time in this. They came forth from Babylon in the spring. The journey probably occupied four months (comp. Ezra 7:9). They had therefore barely time to get housed before the seventh month came, upon the first day of which they were "as one man" at Jerusalem. Learn that things essential to worship should have prompt and early attention. Forsaking Babylon—seeking Zion.

2. But the foundation of the temple was not yet laid. This recalls the worship of the patriarchs.

(1) That of the first family eastward of Eden (Genesis 3:24, and Genesis 4:3, etc.).

(2) That of Noah emerging from the ark (Genesis 8:20).

(3) That of the Hebrew patriarchs in Canaan (Genesis 12:6-8; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 15:9-11; Genesis 22:13; Genesis 26:25; Genesis 33:18-20). Learn, worship may be genuine without being elaborate (see John 4:23, John 4:24).

3. There appears to have been no celebration of the ceremonies of the great day of atonement.

(1) The daily sacrifice commenced on the first day of Tisri (Ezra 3:6). The great day of atonement was due on the tenth of the same month, of which there is no mention. The narrative carries us at once to the feast of tabernacles, which followed on the fifteenth day.

(2) The reason of the omission is found in the want of the temple. The sprinkling of the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry would be impossible (see Leviticus 16:1-34.). There was no most holy place for the high priest to enter (see Hebrews 9:7, Hebrews 9:25). There was no altar of incense (see Exodus 30:10). Lesson: If we cannot worship God as we would, we should worship him as we can.

II. THAT IT COMPREHENDED ALL THE FESTIVALS OF THEIR RELIGION.

2. Foremost amongst these was the feast of tabernacles. This was one of the great annual festivals (Exodus 23:1-6).

(1) The passover. This was held on the first day of Abib—instituted to commemorate the events connected with the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:4; Deuteronomy 16:1-8).

(2) The feast of first-fruits. This commenced with the putting in of the sickle for the harvest. Also called the feast of weeks, for it lasted seven weeks, while the fruits of the earth were being gathered. Lesson: We should recognise God in all our blessings. In all this rejoicing the Israelites still kept up the memory of their emancipation from Egypt (see Deuteronomy 16:7-12).

(3) The last was the feast of tabernacles. In the present case this came first. This arose from the accident of its occurring first after the return from Babylon. Yet in this accident there was a providence, for the feast of tabernacles has a peculiar relation to gospel times (see Zechariah 14:18). This feast also called the feast of ingathering, for it was a rejoicing over the garnering of the harvest and vintage (Deuteronomy 16:13-16). Not so called here, for there would be no extensive ingathering in this first year. There was a remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt in this festival also; it called to mind the dwelling in tents in the wilderness. In this celebration the people could not but associate with this their own recent deliverance from Babylon. Lesson: In all our festivities let the grateful remembrance be present with us of our spiritual emancipation from the Egypt and Babylon of sin and error.

(4) Particularly note that they "offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the custom as the duty of every day required." On each of the days during which this feast lasted there was a difference in the custom (see Numbers 29:1-40.). "As the duty," etc. Hebrews, "the matter of the day in the day." Learn:

(a) Every day brings its own religious duties.

(b) We must do the work of the day in the day.

2. They offered also the continual burnt offerings.

(1) The daily offerings. These were never interrupted. They continued morning and evening throughout the year.

(2) Those of the Sabbaths (see Numbers 28:9, Numbers 28:10). The word Sabbath is applied not only to the seventh day of the week, but indifferently to all the Jewish festivals (Leviticus 19:3, Leviticus 19:30).

(3) Those of the new moons (see Numbers 27:11-15).

(4) Additional to all these were the free-will offerings of the people. Lesson: The services of religion are not to be taken up fitfully, but must be steadily observed. They are not irksome, but delightful to those whose hearts are brought into sympathy with them by the grace of God. This grace should be diligently sought.—J.A.M.

Verses 8-13

§ 3. REBUILDING OF THE TEMPLE AND OPPOSITION MADE TO IT.

EXPOSITION

LAYING OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE TEMPLE AND CEREMONIAL ON THE OCCASION (Ezra 3:8-13). Seven months were occupied with preparations. The winter was past, and the spring had arrived. It was the second month, Zif, the month of "blossom,'' corresponding to our May—the same month in which Solomon had laid the foundation of the first temple (1 Kings 6:1)—when Zerubbabel judged that the time had come for commencing the foundation of the second. The correspondence of the month was no doubt intentional, like the correspondence of the foundations of the altar (Ezra 3:3), and was to mark that all was to be as before, that nothing was to be wantonly changed. Zerubbabel and Jeshua presided; hut to Zerubbabel is assigned the chief part in the work. "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house" are the words of God himself to Zechariah (Zechariah 4:9). It was arranged that the work should commence with a religious ceremonial, natural piety here suggesting what was not recorded of the "first house," though it may have occurred and not have been put on record. The ceremonial consisted chiefly of praise, and was accompanied with sacred music, according to the pattern set by David and Solomon in their sacred processions and ceremonies (1 Chronicles 15:19, 1 Chronicles 15:24; 1Ch 16:5; 2 Chronicles 5:12, etc.). Their special parts in it were assigned beforehand to the priests, the Levites, and the people.

Ezra 3:8

In the second year. In b.c. 537, the second year of Cyrus in Babylon, which was also the second year of their coming (i.e. after their coming) to the (ruined) house of God (Ezra 2:68), began Zerubbabel, and the others, and appointed the Levites. Small as the number of the Levites who returned with Zerubbabel was, to them especially was intrusted the work of the house of the Lord, i.e. the superintendence of the workmen employed to rebuild it (see Ezra 3:9).

Ezra 3:9

Jeshua here is the head of the Levitical family mentioned in Ezra 2:40 as "the children of Jeshua," and Kadmiel is the head of the other family. Judah represents the "Hodaviah" of that place, and is probably a corrupt reading, as Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:43) has "Hodevah." The sons of Henadad, who are here united with the Jeshuites and Kadmielites, constitute a third Levitical family, which (as the text stands) was also engaged in superintending the work. But there is some reason to suspect that the passage is an unauthorized addition to the true text.

Ezra 3:10

When the builders (Zerubbabel and Jeshua) laid the foundation of the temple, they set the priests in their apparel—the rich apparel, designed "for glory and for beauty," which the law required (Exodus 28:40; Exodus 40:27-29), and which the people had recently provided (Ezra 2:69). With trumpets. To blow with trumpets was always the duty of the priests (Numbers 10:8; Numbers 31:6; Joshua 6:4; 1 Chronicles 15:24; 1 Chronicles 16:6; 2 Chronicles 5:12), to praise God with cymbals the task of the Levites (1 Chronicles 15:16, 1 Chronicles 15:19; 1Ch 16:5; 2 Chronicles 5:12, 2 Chronicles 5:13; 2 Chronicles 29:25, etc.), perhaps because the trumpet was regarded as the instrument of greater dignity. After the ordinance of David. David's ordinance on the subject is first expressed briefly in 1 Chronicles 15:16; afterwards, more fully, in 1 Chronicles 15:17-21 of the same chapter. The musical service of Zerubbabel fell short of the "ordinance of David," since it comprised neither psalteries nor harps, which were an essential part of David's system. Apparently, the musical skill of the Levites had declined under the depressing circumstances of the captivity (see Psalms 137:2).

Ezra 3:11

They sang together by course. Literally, "They replied (to each other)," or sang antiphonically; the burthen of their song being, that God was good, and his mercy towards Israel everlasting. All the people shouted with a great shout. Shouting on occasions of secular joy and triumph has been practised by most nations, both in ancient and modern times. But religious shouting is less common. Still we hear of such shouting when the ark of the covenant was taken into the Israelite camp near Aphek (1 Samuel 4:5), and again when David solemnly brought it up from Kirjathjearim to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:15). Shouting appears also in the Psalms (Psalms 47:5) and in Zechariah (Zechariah 4:7) in connection with religion. It is always indicative of religious joy.

Ezra 3:12

Many … who were ancient men, that had seen the first house. The old temple had not been destroyed so much as fifty years. Consequently, there would be many who could remember its grandeur and glory. These persons, when the foundation of the (new) house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice. It was "the day of small things" (Zechariah 4:10). The new house, in comparison with the old one, was "as nothing" (Haggai 2:3). The difference was perhaps not so much in the dimensions (see note on Ezra 6:3) as in the size and quality of the foundation-stones (1 Kings 5:17), the excellence of the masonry, and the like. Solomon had employed the best workmen of one of the greatest of the Tyrian kings; Zerubbabel had only the arms of his own subjects to depend upon.

Ezra 3:13

The people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping. One, it would seem, was as loud as the other; neither predominated. This, which would scarcely be possible among ourselves, was not unnatural in the East, where those who lament utter shrill cries, instead of weeping silently. Herodotus describes the lament of the Persians for a lost general as "resounding throughout all Boeotia" (Ezr 9:1-15 :24).

HOMILETICS

Ezra 3:8-13

The first stone.

We now come in this story to a very critical time. The great work of the restoration of the house, for the sake of which the partial restoration of Israel to Canaan had been brought about and was to continue, at last is before us. We read, on the one hand, of the very last step in the way of prelude and preparation. We read, on the other, of the very first step in the way of actual construction. In both we shall find how much importance is attached to the juncture.

I. THE LAST PRELIMINARY. The site being fixed, the workmen engaged, as also, we may suppose (the "second month of the second year" having arrived), the proper materials being now on the spot, it only remains to arrange, before finally starting, for proper superintendence. Who so likely for this as those who had a kind of family fitness or hereditary call to that work, viz; the Levites of sufficient age? And what so proper an age (i.e. if second thoughts are best) as the age fixed by the "last words of David" (1 Chronicles 23:27, compared with 1Ch 23:3, 1 Chronicles 23:24-26; and see 2 Chronicles 29:25 as further evidence of the authority attaching to all David's arrangements concerning the house)? Such, accordingly, was the precedent followed by all concerned in this case. All who helped to make up the whole "remnant" that had returned to Jerusalem (including by name both leaders, and by express mention the priests and Levites, and by implication all other Israelites) approved of this plan. And all thus called and "appointed," i.e. all those Levites belonging to those families which had that hereditary acquaintance before referred to, equally approved of it too. Two families of such have been already mentioned among those that came up (Ezra 2:40). We find mention now for the first time, though not for the only time (Nehemiah 3:18, Nehemiah 3:24; Nehemiah 10:9), of a third, viz; the family or "sons of Henadad." Possibly these may have come up at some subsequent date, or it may be that they only form some minor division, which, as being specially qualified for the work now to be entered on, come specially now to the front. In any case it is a significant indication of the universal readiness on the part of all qualified Levites "to set forward the work." Indeed, in this "last preliminary" this seems the principal feature presented to us, this marked unanimity of will and judgment. As they appear to have travelled from Babylon, as they had harmoniously arranged in distributing the people (Ezra 2:70), as they had all agreed about erecting the altar (Ezra 3:2), so are they all of one mind also in this finishing touch. We may well believe that it was one secret of their happy progress so far. There is nothing so fatal as the absence of unanimity in building a house (Genesis 11:6-8). Nothing so effectual as its presence, especially where God's house is concerned (see Zephaniah 3:9, Zephaniah 3:10; John 13:34, John 13:35; John 17:20, John 17:21; also Acts 4:32, Acts 4:33; Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Peter 2:5).

II. THE FIRST MOVE. This was the action, of course, of placing the first stone. (Contrast, as a description of utter destruction, Matthew 24:2.) How important a step this was considered may be seen by noting the formalities observed on the occasion, being almost identical with those observed at that more than royal progress described in 2 Chronicles 5:4-14 (comp. also 1 Chronicles 15:27, 1 Chronicles 15:28). How significant too these formalities were in themselves. "Trumpets" are used commonly on occasions of state, to notify the approach of the sovereign, to draw attention to proclamations made in his name. In the Old Testament we find them employed to "sound an alarm," or assemble the people, or proclaim the Jubilee year (Le 2 Chronicles 25:8-10; Numbers 10:9, Numbers 10:10; Joel 2:1, Joel 2:15; Amos 3:6); and that generally, though not always, in the hands of the priests (Joshua 6:6, Joshua 6:8, Joshua 6:13; Judges 7:1-25.; 1 Chronicles 15:24; 1 Chronicles 16:4-6; 2 Chronicles 5:12). The priests, therefore, as here, sounding these, and clad in official garments, made the occasion one of state in God's name, as though himself present and speaking peace. On the other hand, the cymbals and songs of the Levites, praising God again in the ancient, national, and highly-esteemed manner (1 Chronicles 16:41; Psalms 136:1-26.; and the prophecy of Jeremiah 33:10, Jeremiah 33:11), was a kind of response to that voice. One is almost reminded of the "goodwill towards man" and "glory to God in the highest," when the foundation-stone of redemption was laid in Christ's birth (Luke 2:14). How important also the occasion was found to be in practice. Well begun is half done." A foundation-stone is both a proof and a promise—a proof of much, a promise of more. How much had now been accomplished! How great a step at last taken I How much more might be hoped! When the heart is full of such feelings, what can it do but shout out (see Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 9:9). Compare also the shout of Xenophon's returning ten thousand when they found out how far they had travelled towards the goal they desired on first catching sight of the sea. Just so the men here. "The foundation is laid. We shall soon have the house. Praise God." So they felt, so they shouted in the exuberance of their joy. So may a Christian also, when laying, as it were, by simple faith in Christ, the "foundation-stone" of his hope. With these "pleasures of hope," however, there were also sorrows of memory. Some fifty years or thereabouts before then there had been another house on that spot. There were "ancient men" present there who had seen it in all its glory. They could see it still in their minds. To them, therefore, this present "foundation-stone" recalled years of shame, and terror, and agony. Oh, that such a thing as this should ever have been required! That there should ever have been this pitiable necessity for thus beginning again! That there should be such a scene around them as they saw at that time (see, even long afterwards, Nehemiah 7:4; also Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10)! Bursting into uncontrollable tears at these thoughts, they filled the air with their cries. It was impossible indeed for any to distinguish which kind of cry prevailed most, the cries of sorrow or those of joy. No wonder the story adds that "the noise was heard afar off." Regarded, indeed, from a typical and prophetical point of view, has it ceased echoing yet (see, inter alia, Psalms 118:22-24; Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:4-8)?

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Ezra 3:7-13

Thought, work, and feeling.

We have in this passage—

I. A TRUE THOUGHT (Ezra 3:8). "Now in the second year of their coming," etc. We can easily imagine any orator among the company of the returned Jews making out a strong case for leaving the building of the temple till better days should dawn. The sufficiency of the altar already reared for the practical purposes of devotion; the readiness of God to accept any offering that came from the heart, however mean the outward circumstances might be; the insecurity of their present state; their incompetence to build a temple which would compare with that of Solomon; the imperative necessity that existed to spend all their strength in consolidating their new-gained liberty; the wisdom of waiting till they could do something worthy of the God they worshipped, etc.—all this might have been made plausible enough, perhaps was so made. But if so, it was overruled by the true thought that to the God who had redeemed them from bondage, and given back to them their old liberties and their beloved land, they owed the very best they could offer, and that at the earliest moment. The first-fruits, they had long learnt, belonged to him who gave them everything. It was meet and fitting that as soon as ever they were established in their own old land they should build to him, the Source of all their blessings, the best house they could rear. This was a true thought of theirs, and should find a home in our minds now. Not anything that will do, but the very best that can possibly be done, for God. We should not be content that "the ark of the covenant of the Lord should remain under curtains" while we dwell in a "house of cedars" (1 Chronicles 17:1). Whatever, in the affairs of his kingdom, is improvable should be improved. The slain lamb is to be "without blemish." The building should be without disproportion; the singing without discord; the service without mistakes. Let worthiness, excellency, beauty, grace be offered to him who has given us not only the necessary and indispensable, but the exquisite, the delightful, the glorious. Let nothing detain us from the immediate service of Christ.

II. SYSTEMATIC WORK (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:9). They set about accomplishing their design with great carefulness and method. They committed it to the Levites, who were most interested and best instructed—to those of them who were of a suitable age (Ezra 3:8); they sent to Tyre and Sidon and to Lebanon for the best workmen and the best materials that could be had for money (Ezra 3:7); while, for love, the high priest and the priests overlooked and directed the work, and saw that all was according to the book of the law of the Lord. The work was quickly begun, but it was not hurriedly and slovenly dispatched. Each part was wrought by those who were specially adapted for it. No amount of zeal in the cause of God will make up for lack of intelligence and adaptation. We must build up the spiritual house of the Lord—the Church of Christ—not only inspired by consecration of spirit, but guided by a wise and intelligent adoption of the best means and appliances. Generous impulses must be sustained by sound methods, or the cause we have at heart will suffer, and instead of joy and exultation will come sorrow and shame.

III. MINGLED FEELING (Ezra 3:10-13). No more touching and pathetic picture can be found even in the Bible itself—that book of tenderest pathos and truest poetry—than the scene recorded in the closing verses of this chapter. The Jews, pure in heart and godly in spirit, have ever been capable of the most profound emotion. Here was an occasion to call forth the fullest joy and at the same time the tenderest grief. Once more, on the ruins of the ancient sanctuary, the new temple was about to rise. It was the hour from which a new era in their nation's history should date. It was an act from which the devotion of a reverent people for many a long century should spring. Patriotism and piety lent their strong and hallowed influences to ennoble and consecrate the scene. Feeling touched its deepest and rose to its highest note. And when the aged fathers, the ancient men, remembering the perished glories of the temple .on which the eyes of their youth once rested with such pride and joy, wept as they looked on its ruins; and when their tears and lamentations mingled with the shouts of gladness, resounding far and wide, that came from all the younger men, who rejoiced with great joy at the sound of the sacred songs celebrating the goodness and mercy of Jehovah, there was such a scene as can never have been forgotten by any of that goodly throng while life and memory remained. Thus hand in hand go joy and sorrow, inseparable companions, along the path of life. Thus do they stand together round the same altar, under the same roof. Thus do they mingle their smiles and tears at the same hour and scene. "Shadow and shine is life, little Annie, flower and thorn," says the aged grandmother in one of our poems; and in another we read most truly that

"There's not a string attuned to mirth
But has its chord in melancholy."

"We thank thee more that all our joy is touched with pain," sighs another tender spirit. That which forms so constantly recurring a strain in our poetry must be, and m, a prevalent and abiding feature of our life. Ill is it for those who have no other portion than the pleasures of the present, no other heritage than the satisfactions of earth and time. Well is it for those who thankfully accept earthly joy and the shaded brightness of the present time as flowers that spring at the touch of God's finger along the path of duty and devotion, intended to help us onward in that goodly way, speaking to us of the fuller blessedness which the future holds in its folded hand for them that are faithful unto death.—C.

HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD

Ezra 3:7-13

The founding of the temple.

The worship of Israel during the first year of the restoration from Babylon was such as could be conducted around an altar in the open. The people naturally felt how imperfectly they could fulfil the law of Moses without a temple, with its courts, its veil, and its sacred furniture. They did not let discouragement paralyse them, but taxed their energies and resources. These words bring under our notice

I. THE PREPARATORY WORK.

1. What was required (see Ezra 3:7)?

(1) Here we read of "masons." These suggest the quarrying and cutting of stones, and their transportation to the site.

(2) "Cedars of Lebanon" are mentioned. These suggest also other kinds of timber. The trees had to be felled, transferred to Tyre or Zidon, thence floated to Joppa, and conveyed across the country to Jerusalem. Other preparations suggested by these hints.

2. How did they meet the demand?

(1) Indirectly, by the gifts and sacrifices offered in connection with their worship at the altar. These were required for the support of that worship. But the' spirit of the worship thus encouraged animated them to further efforts. So it operates still under the gospel.

(2) Directly, in their additional subscriptions of cash and kind (Ezra 3:7). These gifts rewarded the workmen of Tyre and Zidon. Also workmen of their own nation (comp. I Kings Ezra 6:13-15). How anticipative of the wide spirit of the gospel that Jews and Gentiles should be jointly concerned in this typical work!

(3) Do not these efforts shame those of Christian congregations? Here were under 50,000 persons, all told (see Ezra 2:64, Ezra 2:65), equal to about fifty out of the many thousands of our Christian congregations, undertaking this great work! What are we, each individual, doing towards the building of the spiritual temple?

II. THE STONE-LAYING. The arrangements were—

1. The appointment of officers for the building (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:9).

(1) Zerubbabel had supreme command (see Zechariah 4:1-14.). This he had as of the seed royal, and representing David and Solomon.

(2) Jeshua the son of Josadak, as high priest, was associated with Zerubbabel.

(3) The priests of the courses were his seconds in command—captains of the hosts of workmen.

(4) The Levites were made foremen over the workmen. "And appointed the Levites," etc. (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 3:9). There should be order in everything connected with the work of God.

2. The presence of all things essential to the ceremony.

(1) The stone itself was there. This was a type of Christ, the Foundation of the living temple (see Psalms 118:22, Psalms 118:23; comp. with Matthew 21:42-44; Ephesians 2:20-22; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 8:14; comp. with 1 Peter 2:6-8).

(2) Zerubbabel was there to lay the stone. In this he, too, typified Christ (see Zechariah 4:6-10). This language has unmistakable reference to the triumphs of the Messiah.

(3) Jeshua the son of Jozadak was there to witness it (see Zechariah 3:9). In this he, too, was a type of Christ, our great High Priest (see Zechariah 3:1-10; and Zechariah 6:9-15). Essentials in religion are those things which concern Christ. These should be held as fundamentals.

3. The provision for the celebration of praise.

(1) There were the trumpeters. These were the priests, distinguished by their apparel {see Numbers 10:8, Numbers 10:10).

(2) The Levites, sons of Asaph, struck the cymbals. This was "after the ordinance of David" (see 1 Chronicles 16:4 1 Chronicles 16:6). The Levites also led the singing. This was responsive. The burden was "Praise and thanksgiving be unto the Lord;" the response, "Because he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever towards Israel." The leaders of praise in Christian congregations should be godly persons.

III. THE EFFECT OF THE PROCEEDINGS. This was various.

1. There was the emotion of the people.

(1) Excitement was so strong that it vented itself in shouting.

(2) Ours should be intense as we realise the glorious things foreshadowed.

2. There was the emotion of the ancients.

(1) While "all" shouted "because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid," yet on the part of many the shouting was mingled with wailing. These were the ancients who looked on the ruins of the temple of Solomon, which they remembered in its splendour. They saw a mere handful of people, the relics of a great nation as they remembered it. They looked upon their chief magistrate, a dependent upon the Persian king, in contrast with what they remembered of the earlier representatives of David and Solomon.

(2) The passion of the weepers was such that it rivalled that of the exulters. No interests are so vital as those of religion. None should move us so deeply.

3. The outsiders heard the sound.

(1) Those "afar off "were the Gentiles (see 2 Kings 27:6).

(2) The nations of the world should be made to hear the sounds of Christian exultation.—J.A.M.

HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL

Ezra 3:8-13

The joyful and sorrowful in religious worship.

Here we have illustrated the power of a right leadership, the wisdom of devout co-operation, and the progress of a great enterprise (Ezra 3:8-10).

I. The. JOYFUL. in religious WORSHIP. "They sang together" (Ezra 3:11).

1. That God will deign to consecrate by his Presence the temple erected. God will dwell in the temple made with hands; what a condescension and benediction is this toward man; hence the joy.

2. What God is in himself to those who worship him. "Because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel" (Ezra 3:11).

3. In the strength which worship imparts during the trying circumstances of life. Who can tell the gladness put into the heart of Israel during their arduous task by their worship. Worship inspires joy in time of difficulty.

4. In the progress of religious enterprise. Another house to be erected for moral uses.

5. In religious youth the joy of worship is eminently strong. Natural feeling combines with spiritual delight.

II. The SORROWFUL in religious WORSHIP. "Wept with a loud voice" (Ezra 3:12).

1. That sin has thrown life into such a condition that a temple should be necessary. Eden had no temple; heaven has none. Sin has rendered necessary the material aids to worship.

2. That disobedience should ever violate the holy sanctuary of God. The first temple had been destroyed; its glory had departed.

3. That the best temple man could build should be so poor and imperfect. The poverty of their work awakened tears.

4. That the temple should be so little cared for by man, and that so little good should be gained by its frequenters; so many of their comrades were left in Babylon.

III. THE BLENDING-OF JOY AND SORROW IN RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. "So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people" (Ezra 3:13).

1. A scene in the soul. In the soul joy blends with sorrow.

2. A scene in the sanctuary. In the same Church joy and sorrow blend in the experience of the worshippers.

3. A scene in the world. Sorrow and joy blend on earth.

4. Not a scene in heaven; there no more tears.—E.

HOMILIES BY A. MACKENNAL

Ezra 3:11-13

The foundation laid.

The weeping of these old men was the first check on the enthusiasm of the builders of the temple. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai, which illustrate them, are a very troubled history: sorrow, disappointment, and indignation again and again break out; but until now there had been no consciousness of hindrances, or the consciousness had been suppressed. The time of preparation, which is pre-eminently the time of hope, was over; the people stood face to face with the work they had undertaken; its difficulties were before them; they felt the poverty of their resources. But though the enthusiasm of the multitude was checked, it was not daunted; the hope of the younger men overbore the depression of the elders; the influence of their sacred festival sustained them; the popular feeling was wiser and more healthy than the despondency of the leaders. The work of preparation had been carried forward with spirit. Not more than a year, probably a good deal less (verse 8), had elapsed since "the chief of the fathers" had come "to the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem" (Ezra 2:68), and much work had been accomplished in the organising of labour and the collection of materials for the building (verse 7). Patriotism, wisdom, and piety had been manifested in their plans. The whole remnant of Israel was enlisted in the cause; this was the work, not only of those who had returned, but also of those whom the military leaders of Assyria and Chaldaea had not deemed of sufficient importance to carry away (cf. verse 1 with 2 Kings 24:14; 2 Kings 25:12). The daily sacrifices had been early re-established, that the courage of the people might be sustained by their faith in the God of Israel (verses 3-6). Great carefulness was manifested that all things should be done according to the law; they were scrupulous in their obedience of God (verses 2, 4, and Ezra 2:59, Ezra 2:61, Ezra 2:62). A beautiful simplicity and hope appear in the counsel of "the Tirshatha" (Ezra 2:63), the expectation that the LORD would again reveal his will for their practical guidance. The responsibility of all this action must have been felt by the "ancient men" "of the priests and Levites;" overstrained feeling may have been one reason of theft weeping. Among the causes of their grief, notice these—

I. THE DESPONDENCY WHICH IS NATURAL TO THE AGED. There was a great contrast between Solomon's temple and the ruins which were around them; between the glorious past of Israel and the scattered, demoralised condition of the nation now. But the greatest contrast was between the energies of their own youth and their present inability to rise to the demands of a great occasion. "We receive but what we give." Difficulties are a spur to a young man's courage; the consciousness of power shows itself in the desire to struggle and to overcome.

II. THE PARTIAL AND INSUFFICIENT RESPONSE THAT HAD BEEN MADE TO THE DECREE OF CYRUS. "Forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore" was the number of "the whole congregation" that offered themselves for the return; and of these a large proportion were persons professionally engaged about the temple. "The priests and Levites" mourned that their readiness met with so small a response from the people. Some of the leaders of the nation, noble men hearing noble names, were there; but many also of small account, "a mixed multitude," like a great proportion of our modern emigrants, unable to succeed anywhere and eager for any change (Ezra 2:58-63). The "great middle class" of Israel never returned. They continued "dispersed among the Gentiles." The feelings of the ancient men would probably exaggerate these facts.

III. UNREADINESS TO DENY THEMSELVES FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORK FOR WHICH THEY HAD RETURNED MAY HAVE ALREADY APPEARED IN MANY. Only "some of the chief of the fathers offered freely" (Ezra 2:68; cf. with the phrase "chief of the fathers" in our text). Zechariah (Zechariah 7:1-14.) speaks of the greed which characterised the nation during the captivity; Haggai first, and Malachi long afterwards, indignantly rebuked it in the men of the restoration (Haggai 1:3, Haggai 1:4, Haggai 1:9; Malachi 1:6-10). The great grief of the old men, however natural, would have seriously hindered the work. The want of hope, and the selfishness which made many plead hopelessness as an excuse for abandoning their efforts, were the sins against which Zechariah and Haggai had to testify. The frank impulse which led the multitude to shout for joy was wiser than the weeping. It anticipated the subsequent teaching of Nehemiah under similar circumstances (Nehemiah 8:10), "The joy of the Lord is your strength."

Lessons:—

1. The mingled character of all human work. We begin in enthusiasm and continue in depression. There is the contrast of the actual with the ideal; the sense of accumulating difficulties; the consciousness of failing powers; the perception of imperfection in all human instrumentality. The work remains, though the feeling changes; remains to be done, remains when it is done. "Duty remains, and God abideth ever." "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."

2. The advantage of fellowship in labour. Many weep and many shout aloud for joy; and this is well, for each can temper the emotion of, and furnish help to, the other. "'Tis held that sorrow makes us wise;" but happy ignorance is also blessed. Care is good, and so is the occasional outburst of joy that sweeps care away. Blend old and young together; the old with memory which is the nurse of great purposes; the young with the passion to make a future for themselves.

3. The cause that can bind true men in a fellowship of labour. It is the cause of God; the cause in which we can worship together as well as work together. "They sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord;" "all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." A common faith in God and God's call harmonises all diversities of feeling.—M.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/ezra-3.html. 1897.