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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezra 3

 

 

Verses 1-7

The First Observance Of The Feasts Of The Seventh Month After The Return (Ezra 3:1-7).

It is probable that this is the first of the major feasts that the arrivees had been in a position to celebrate. (Had they been able to observe a Passover it would surely have been mentioned). Thus it occurred possibly in the seventh month in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia (Ezra 1:1), or alternately in the seventh month in the year in which they arrived. But the mention of the seventh month is not for dating purposes. It is in order to explain why they now acted as they did. For ‘the seventh month’ was in Israel a month of feasts. First would come the feast of trumpets on the first day of the month, then the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the month (although to be fully celebrated that required the Temple and a Holy of Holies), and then the feast of Tabernacles, which continued for seven days, commencing on the fifteenth day of the month (see Leviticus 23:23-36).

Ezra 3:1

‘And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.’

The gathering of the people to Jerusalem would have been seen as one more evidence that Israel was now continuing as of old. It indicated that the assembly of the twelve tribes was once more taking place. We can therefore imagine with what joy they gathered. It would have made them feel an affinity with the people of Israel at the time of the Conquest, who would also have experienced a similar ‘first time’, when they too were finally established ‘in their cities’. It would appear from this that this was the first opportunity for them to do this subsequent to their arrival in the land.

The mention of ‘the seventh month’ is not for the purpose of dating the passage, but because it would arouse a chord in every reader’s heart in view of its connection with the Feasts of that month. They would recognise that the people had been eagerly awaiting ‘the seventh month.’ ‘When the seventh month was come -- the people gathered themselves together’ does not necessarily mean that they awaited the seventh month before commencing preparations. The point is that the seventh month saw them all gathered in Jerusalem ready for the feasts to begin.

Ezra 3:2

‘Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.’

The non-mention of Sheshbazzar would appear to be fairly conclusive evidence that he was dead, or at least incapacitated. For the lead in what took place was taken by Jeshua, as chief priest, along with his brother priests, and Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, as at least governor-elect, along with his ‘brothers’. That the term ‘brothers’ is to be taken widely is apparent from the fact that the priests have all been described as Jeshua’s ‘brothers’. It may well simply indicate all the non-priestly returnees, seen very much as ‘brothers’. The emphasis is thus on the fact that all involved were in full agreement with what was happening, and indeed saw themselves as involved in it.

And their first act was to ‘build the altar of the God of Israel’. This may indicate that they built it from scratch, but it could equally indicate that they erected it on a primitive altar already there. For even if we had not had reason to think so, it would have been extremely unlikely that such a sacred spot had not been used for offerings and sacrifices during the preceding period. Archaeology continually evidences the fact that veneration of sacred sites continues long after any buildings have been destroyed. That this did in fact take place here is confirmed for us in Jeremiah 41:5; Haggai 2:14.

This ‘building of the altar of the God of Israel’ was in accordance with YHWH’s instructions through Ezekiel whereby he commanded the people to build an altar in Ezekiel 43:13-27, by which to service the heavenly Temple which had descended on a mountain outside Jerusalem (a Temple which was already there, invisible to the normal eye, and not commanded to be rebuilt). This may well have been in the minds of Jeshua and Zerubbabel, and would confirm the legitimacy of the altar. Furthermore such an altar had been authorised in Exodus 20:24-25, for none could doubt that the Temple mount where God had revealed His glory on the first Temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-2) was a place where YHWH had recorded His Name. And had not Abraham himself, on entering the land, built an altar to YHWH? (Genesis 12:7-8).

The emphasis on ‘the altar of the God of Israel’ (a unique phrase) may be intended to emphasise that the previous altar used since the destruction of the Temple was not seen as being such. In other words it was not seen as legitimate (compare Haggai 2:14). Now it had been replaced by an altar that was legitimate. The previous altar might well have involved syncretistic worship.

In the Law of Moses the phrase ‘the God of Israel’ is used three times and is uniquely connected with the worship of God. In Exodus 24:10 it refers to God when He appeared as the elders were gathered on Mount Sinai to eat before Him, inaugurating Israel as the covenant people. In Exodus 34:23 it refers to Him as the One before Whom the people will gather three times a year. In Numbers 16:9 it is used of God as having set aside the Levites to the service of the Tabernacle. Thus it was potent with meaning.

‘To offer burnt-offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.’ And the aim of this altar was so that they could offer burnt offerings on it in accordance with the Law of Moses the ‘man of God’ (i.e. prophet). Just as their gathering in assembly again fulfilled the Law of Moses, so would the offering of whole burnt offerings on the altar. Such burnt offerings were required during the feasts of the seventh month (see Numbers 29 for details, the offerings beginning on the first day of the month). So there was a great sense of repeating what had followed the Exodus.

Ezra 3:3

‘And they set the altar on its spot, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt-offerings on it to YHWH, even burnt-offerings morning and evening.’

‘They set the altar on its spot.’ This would seem to indicate that it was sited where the bronze altar had originally been sited in Solomon’s Temple. They were being careful to ensure that they were following in the ways that God had commanded Israel. And one of the reasons for this activity was that they hoped thereby to obtain YHWH’s assistance against the hostility being shown to them by those who already dwelt in Judah and Samaria. The ‘peoples of the lands’ would be those who had been left in Judah when the exiles had been removed, who resented their coming back and taking back their family lands, and possibly also their religious isolationism, the neighbouring people in Samaria, who seemingly resented the same, and also possibly the Edomites who had taken over the land to the south, to say nothing of other antagonistic neighbours across the Jordan. Thus they clearly felt that by recommencing the worship of YHWH in the proper mode, and establishing the daily offerings, they would obtain YHWH’s assistance in dealing with their enemies.

Then the altar being ready they offered on it burnt offerings in the morning and the evening. This was a great milestone for the new Israel for it signalled the commencement of the daily morning and evening offerings. The establishing of the morning and evening burnt offering, an offering which was required of Israel twice a day in perpetuity (Exodus 29:38-46; Numbers 28:3-8), would have been seen as an important stage in re-establishing the people of Israel. It commenced from the first day of the seventh month (Ezra 3:6), even though the Temple had not begun to be built.

Ezra 3:4

‘And they kept the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt-offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required;’

Then (from the fifteenth day of the seventh month) they observed the feast of Tabernacles, in accordance with what was written in the Law of Moses in Numbers 29:12-40. They also offered the daily burnt offerings in accordance with the number required by the ordinance for the seventh month. The details of these daily offerings are found in Numbers 29:1-11. They would include the offerings on the feast of trumpets on the first day, the daily offerings, and the special offerings for the tenth day, for while the Day of Atonement could not be kept in accordance with Leviticus 16, because there was no Temple, the offerings of Numbers 29:7-11 could be offered.

Ezra 3:5

‘And afterward the continual burnt-offering, and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of YHWH which were consecrated, and of every one who willingly offered a freewill-offering to YHWH.’

And from then on they continued to offer the continual burnt offerings day by day (Numbers 28:3-8), and those of the new moons on the first day of each month (Numbers 28:11-15), and the offerings for all the set feasts which YHWH had consecrated, namely Passover and Unleavened Bread (Numbers 28:16-25), and the Feast of Sevens (Weeks) or of Firstfruits (Numbers 28:26-31), when they became due. And along with these were offered the freewill offerings which were willingly offered by God’s people.

Ezra 3:6

‘From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt-offerings to YHWH, but the foundation of the temple of YHWH was not yet laid.’

And this whole procedure commenced from the first day of the seventh month. From then on they began to offer burnt offerings to YHWH, even though the foundation of the Temple of YHWH was not yet laid. This is referring to the foundation commenced in Ezra 3:10. In Ezra 6:16 we learn of a foundation laid by Sheshbazzar. This would suggest that on first arriving in the land Sheshbazzar had laid a foundation stone for the Temple, presumably so that he could report back to Cyrus that he had begun to fulfil his commission to build the Temple. But of course the work could not then proceed until the necessary time consuming preparations had been made, something clearly delayed, presumably because there were more important things to do, and possibly due to Sheshbazzar becoming ill. Now, with the work planned to recommence further foundation stones would be laid (Ezra 3:10). It was the practise in ancient days to have more than one foundation stone.

Ezra 3:7

‘They gave money also to the masons, and to the stone workers (and/or ‘wood workers’ and/or ‘carpenters’), and food, and drink, and oil, to those of Sidon, and to those of Tyre, to bring cedar-trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.’

The work could not proceed immediately. Money was given to the masons and ‘the stone workers’ (the word has a wide meaning and could include wooworkers and carpenters) who would plan the work accordingly and list what was required, and then carry the work forward, and meanwhile an order was placed with Sidon and Tyre for them to provide cedar trees in accordance with requirements which were paid for by means of the export of grain, wine and olive oil (compare 2 Chronicles 2:15). The cedar trees were to be conveyed from Lebanon to the sea, and then by sea to the port of Joppa (or ‘to the sea of Joppa’, that is the sea which surrounded the port of Joppa), compare 2 Chronicles 2:16. There appears to be a deliberate echoing of the words in 2 Chronicles 2, which themselves would be was based on earlier sources (compare 1 Chronicles 29:29), with the aim of equating the building of this Temple with that of Solomon. It may not have been as grand, but it was certainly as important. These purchases were all made possible by the grant (the word means permission, but in this case the permission included the resources to carry out the work - Ezra 6:4) made by Cyrus, the king of Persia. Whether this grant was the monies described in Ezra 1:4, or whether it was extra to this, we do not know. We can compare the further grants made in Ezra 6:8-10.


Verses 8-13

The Preparation Of The Foundations For The New Temple And The Reaction Of The People (Ezra 3:8-13).

In the seventh month of the first year of their ‘coming to the house of God at Jerusalem’ the returnees had celebrated the feasts of the seventh month. Now seven months later they would commence work on the Temple. In view of the fact that their order made to Sidon and Tyre had probably not yet been fulfilled simply due to the time required for its fulfilment all that they could do was lay the foundations. But they went about that with a will. Sheshbazzar had apparently laid a foundation stone, probably so that he could report back that the work on the building of the Temple had begun, but now other foundation stones were laid and the foundations prepared for when the material arrived. There would probably be a good amount of stones from the former Temple of Solomon to provide them with all the material that was necessary. Seeing the foundations laid would be a great boost to the new community, and we learn in this passage of the rejoicing that took place. Sadly difficulties would arise almost immediately. God expects us to build through difficulties, rather than removing them from us.

Ezra 3:8

‘Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers, the priests and the Levites and all those who were come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of YHWH.’

‘Coming to the house of God in Jerusalem’ refers to the arrival of the returnees at Jerusalem where the site of the house of God could be found (see on Ezra 2:68). This brings home the fact that the dating in this chapter is calculated from the time of the arrival of the returnees. In the first year of their return, in the seventh month, they had celebrated the seven month feasts on the new altar that they had erected. Now on the second month of the second year of their return they would lay the foundations of the Temple.

The work was to be the work of the whole community, the leaders Zerubbabel and Jeshua, and the rest of their brothers, that is the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem out of the captivity (compare Ezra 3:2. The whole community were working as one). And they appointed the Levites of twenty years old and upwards to have the oversight of the work of the house of YHWH. They would be responsible for ensuring that everything went forward satisfactorily. The dual phrases ‘house of God’ and ‘house of YHWH’ are also found in Ezra 2:68. The work may have been deliberately begun in the second month as it was in the second month that the building of the first Temple had commenced (1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chronicles 3:2).

The selecting of Levites from twenty years old and upwards was based on what David had done earlier, when selecting those who would work for the service of the house of YHWH. He too had called on the Levites from twenty years old and upwards (1 Chronicles 23:24). It was especially necessary at this time as there were so few Levites (Ezra 2:40). For ‘to have the oversight of the house of YHWH’ compare 1 Chronicles 23:4 from which (or from its source as outlined in 1 Chronicles 29:29) the phrase was taken. It is clear that an attempt was being made to equate the building of the two Temples, and thus to emphasise that the new Temple was being built in accordance with the words of David, just as the old had been. And, indeed what was now taking place was being built in accordance with the words of a Davidide, Zerubbabel. There is a deliberate indication of continuity.

Ezra 3:9

‘Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to have the oversight of the workmen in the house of God, the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brothers the Levites.’

The Levites who were to ‘have oversight of the workmen in the house of God’ are now detailed. The sentence is a little complicated but its essential meaning is clear. They were firstly ‘Jeshua his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons’. For these compare Ezra 2:40. In Ezra 2:40 Jeshua and Kadmiel appear to be the ancestral fathers of the clans. This presents us with three options:

1) That in Ezra 2:40 it is the contemporary leaders of the clans who are named and not the ancestral fathers of the clans. This appears unlikely, but not impossible.

2) That the contemporary leaders of the clans had, in view of the new beginning, taken the same names as the ancestral leaders of the clans. In view of examples that will follow later this could very well be the explanation. Taking a new name at a time of great crisis (like Jacob became Israel) was a tendency within Israel, and what better names to take at this crisis point than those of the ancestral clan leaders, especially as thereby they emphasised the continuity with the past. Compare how in Nehemiah 10 the covenant appears to be sealed in the names of the ancestral clan leaders, but may in fact have been sealed by men who, as leaders of the clan, had taken the names of the ancestral clan leaders

3) That it was pure coincidence resulting from the fact that names tended in Israel to be repeated in different generations.

Secondly there were ‘the sons of Henadad’, who in view of their position in the sentence may well have held a secondary position, something confirmed by the fact that they are linked with the remainder of the Levites. Later the sons of Henadad would include Binnui (see Nehemiah 3:24; Nehemiah 10:9) and Bavai (Nehemiah 3:18). But that was over ninety years later when there was another Jeshua and another Kadmiel (Nehemiah 10:9), presumably grandsons of the ones mentioned above. Grandsons were, at this time, regularly named after their grandfathers.

‘The sons of Judah.’ Note that Jeshua and his brothers and sons, and Kadmiel and his sons are called ‘sons of Judah’. This is the only use of the term in Ezra. Here it does not mean that they were descended from Judah the patriarch, but that they essentially belonged to, and were a part of, Judah the people (Ezra 1:2-3; compare ‘the sons of Israel’ in Deuteronomy 23:17). All the returnees, without exception, could be seen as ‘sons of Judah’, that is, as belonging to Judah the people, even those who were sons of Levi, Benjamin or other tribes. The term is stressing the oneness of the returnees.

Many, not liking this idea, have suggested an emendation of the text. In Ezra 2:40 Kadmiel is described as being ‘of the sons of Hodaviah ‘ and it is therefore suggested that that should be read here (bnyhwdwyh instead of bnyyhwdh). But we must always remember that in the days of the Temple the copyists knew the text by heart and would not just be copying a text but would be copying it as those who knew in their heads the words that they were copying. In those circumstances copying errors were far less likely, although clearly not impossible.

Ezra 3:10

‘And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of YHWH, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise YHWH, after the order of David king of Israel.’

Here the huge significance of the laying of the foundations is emphasised. It was accompanied by priests with their trumpets, dressed in their priestly apparel (Ezra 2:69), and Levites with their cymbals, as they praised YHWH for the ‘miracle’ that had happened. For the trumpets and cymbals compare 2 Chronicles 5:12 where they had similarly celebrated the completion of the first Temple. See also 2 Chronicles 7:6. The same instruments had celebrated the bringing of the Ark into Jerusalem in the days of David (1 Chronicles 15:28). It was seen, as it was, as an historic moment. YHWH’s house was being restored. The materials necessary for building had probably not yet arrived. The work would not be able to go on for some time. But the very fact of having laid the foundations was a triumph beyond what ten years earlier they could even have dreamed of. It was an event in itself.

‘After the order of King David (in the manner prescribed by King David).’ Note the emphasis of continuity with what David had done. What David had done was being continued. God’s work was again going forward. The writer was no doubt anticipating that God would work again in the same way as he had through David, who was seen as the pinnacle of Israel’s history. He clearly had in mind the promises of the coming of a future David (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24-25).

‘To praise YHWH.’ We must not let this fact get lost in the midst of the detail. They were set forward to praise YHWH. There was a huge feeling of praise and gratitude and worship. God was doing great things. They would later no doubt feel disappointed that things did not happen as quickly as they had hoped, but at this point in time they were full of praise and confidence. But God does not always work in accordance with our expectations.

Ezra 3:11

‘And they sang one to another in praising and giving thanks to YHWH, saying, “For he is good, for his lovingkindness endures for ever towards Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised YHWH, because the foundation of the house of YHWH was laid.’

The enthusiasm of the moment comes out here. There were huge celebrations because the foundations of the house of YHWH had been laid. They no doubt saw everything as now going forward without a hitch. Sadly it was to be otherwise. But they were not aware of that at the time. The scene is contagious:

· ‘They sang to one another in praising and giving thanks to YHWH.’ We can see the joy on their faces as they looked at one another as they sang His praise. They were all in it together.

· ‘They shouted with a great shout.’ It was a moment of great triumph.

· ‘They praised YHWH.’ Their worship was genuine. Their hearts were full of thanksgiving and praise as they considered what He had done.

The ideas behind the words they sang ‘for He is good, for His covenant love is always towards Israel’ are common in the Psalms. See Psalms 100:4-5; Psalms 106:1; Psalms 107:1; Psalms 118:1; Psalms 136:1. But here they stress that it was especially being shown towards His people, Israel.

Ezra 3:12-13

‘And many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, the old men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.’

Those who were older, who had seen the first Temple, wept. This may have been because they were so emotionally moved at the thought that it was being restored that they broke forth into weeping, just as women tend to weep at weddings (the Jews were an emotional people), or it may have been because, as they looked at the foundations they were aware that it would not quite come up to the magnificence of the old (compare Haggai 2:3). In view of the fact that only the foundations were to be seen we suspect it was probably the former rather than the latter. The later despondency (Haggai 2:3) should possibly not be read back into this moment. But we are left to make our own decision on that. It may well be that they were disappointed as to its size. But however that may be, the shouts of joy exceeded the sound of weeping, so much so that the one could not be discerned from the other. Indeed their shouts of joy were so loud that they could be heard a long way off. There is probably a double meaning in these last words. They were, of course, literally true. But the writer will now go on to point out that they were also eventually ‘heard’ by their enemies.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezra 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezra-3.html. 2013.

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