“Restoring Joyful Worship”
Lesson Text: Ezra 3:1-7
Background Scripture: Ezra 1:1-3:1-7
Devotional Reading: Matthew 23:29-39
Ezra 3:1-7 (KJV)
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.
2 Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.
3 And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening.
4 They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required;
5 And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord.
6 From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.
7 They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
To recognize God as our ultimate source of power to live for Him, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
To understand the significance of the altar and the Feast of Tabernacles to the former exiles.
To carefully consider ways to prevent current worship practices from becoming routine or mere ritual.
A Journey with Purpose
The word journey has become a popular term to describe the events that take place in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Many of the journeys of life will have one or more purposes. The expenses of miles, meals, and motels are not undertaken simply to spend money. Pleasure, business, religious conventions, or spiritual retreats are often combined to bring satisfaction and fulfillment to an individual or several members of a family.
Marketers know that many people find the words journey and purpose to be enticing. No one wants to live a life devoid of purpose. An Internet search reveals that there are several books that have titles with those two words. The idea being promoted is that you can find purpose, happiness, or fulfillment in your journey if you buy the recommended books.
Some people, however, suffer from the self-inflicted problem of filling their time with too many activities as they try to have lives that are rewarding and fulfilling. They become stressed in their efforts to complete the goals they have set. As the old saying goes, they “confuse activity with accomplishment.” The concept of balance is ignored. Such people need to assess what they are doing and then work to bring balance into their lives.
Today may not be January 1, but it is still a good time to make resolutions to evaluate one’s priorities. The lesson for today is about thousands of people who took a journey together. Their journey had spiritual purposes, and their purposes were realized.
The book of Isaiah provided the texts for the first four lessons this quarter, and that prophet’s ministry came to an end in about 700 B.C. The lesson for today is from the first part of the book of Ezra, and the events described took place about 165 years later. Isaiah provides several fascinating prophecies that find their fulfillments in the early chapters of the book of Ezra.
Assyria was the world superpower during Isaiah’s day. But he prophesied that it would be Babylon that would take captives from Judah (Isaiah 39:6, 7). Babylon was just a city of the Assyrian Empire when Isaiah wrote, but that status was to change.
Nebuchadnezzar and his allies destroyed Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, in 612 B.C. By defeating the Egyptians in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar established what was known as the neo-Babylonian Empire. The people of Judah were not compliant subjects, however, and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (see 2 Kings 25). That was over a century after the time that Isaiah wrote.
At the time when Babylon was just a city, Isaiah had prophesied that captive Israelites would return from there, and it all came to pass. An amazing prophecy in Isaiah is that of the specific name of the person who was to capture Babylon: King Cyrus the Great (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1, 13). Isaiah also predicted that Cyrus would declare that the temple would be rebuilt.
The troops of Cyrus captured Babylon in October of 539 B.C. Ezra 1:2 (which repeats the last verse of 2 Chronicles) notes Cyrus’s authorization to rebuild the temple. His declaration is usually dated in the spring of 538 B.C., at the annual New Year’s festival in Babylon.
The Cyrus Cylinder, found in 1879, is an important archaeological discovery in this regard. This artifact does not mention Judah, but it has the actual decree of Cyrus that all captured idols were to take residence again in their respective dwellings. The Israelites could not take a statue of their God since there wasn’t any, but they could take vessels to the temple that they planned to rebuild. Ezra 1 tells us that this is what they did, which fulfilled the prophecy in Jeremiah 27:21, 22, given about 597 B.C.
Ezra 2:64, 65 reveals that there were 49,897 in the first wave of exiles who made the journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, a trip of 880 miles. The primary purpose of the journey was spiritual: to rebuild the temple in order to renew the worship and rituals that had been given through Moses. The year of the return is one of the mysteries of history. The dates suggested by scholars range from 538 to 533 B.C.; we will use the date of 537 (which most scholars favor).
When Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C., there remained no nation of Judah, no capital city of Jerusalem, and no temple. Normally it would be impossible for a nation to come into existence again after an absence of 50 years. God was in this situation, however, and the impossible became a reality. As Jeremiah stated, nothing is too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17).
The Setting for Restoration (Ezra 3:1)
1. Why was it important for the children of Israel to gather “as one?” What was significant about of the “seventh month” (Ezra 3:1)?
Many scholars assume that the returning exiles reached Jerusalem in about the fifth month of the year, for this is the timetable that Ezra used later (Ezra 7:8, 9). If so, it means that the people took two months to locate themselves in their ancestral lands and villages (see 2:70). Before any more time passed, however, the people wanted to reestablish the proper worship of God. So in the seventh month, the people came “together as one man to Jerusalem.” This was significant to the initiation and progress of such an undertaking.
Most of the people were from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, but people from other tribes were also present. It was therefore appropriate that the ancient name “Israel” be used to describe the people who assembled to fulfill their spiritual goals.
The seventh month, called “Tishri” or “Ethanim” (1 Kings 8:2), is considered to be the most important month in the Hebrew year; it is equivalent to our late September and early October. On the first day of the month, the people celebrated the Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25). The tenth of the month is the Day of Atonement, when special sacrifices are offered for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 16 for details). The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) begins on the fifteenth day and continues for seven days, with a special eighth day as a holy convocation.
Rebuilding the Altar (Ezra 3:2-3)
2. Who had the prominent role in rebuilding the altar (Ezra 3:2)?
The total number of priests in this return is 4,289 (Ezra 2:36-39), and the high priest is a certain Jeshua (or Joshua). It is the priests who take the lead in constructing the altar of the God of Israel for the purpose of sacrificing burnt offerings. This task was the first step in their efforts to rebuild the Jerusalem temple. Even as Abraham and Joshua before them, the exiles marked their entrance into the promised land with the construction of an altar to the Lord (see Gen. 12:7; Josh. 8:30-31). The group offered sacrifices in accordance to that which is written in the law of Moses the man of God (as recorded in, among other places, Leviticus 1).
“Zerubbabel” the son of Shealtiel is a grandson of King Jehoiachin, the next to last king of Judah (see Matthew 1:12, where Jehoiachin is listed by the alternate name Jechonias; see also Jeremiah 24:1; 27:20; 28:4; 29:2).
What Do You Think?
What do you remember about a church leader (or group of leaders) being a steadying influence during a time of transition?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
During a time of internal church conflict | During a time of pressure from an outside source (culture, government, etc.) | During a natural disaster | Other
3. Where was the altar specifically built (v. 3)?
There is no question about where to build the altar: it will be on the same place as the previous altars on this site. David had an altar constructed here after purchasing the threshing floor (2 Samuel 24:18-24), and this is where Solomon, David’s son, built the altar for the temple. The people remembered the various sacrifices commanded by the Law, which would include a burnt offering each morning and evening and extra offerings for special days. It wasn't necessary to wait until the temple was completed before offering sacrifices to God. As long as there was a sanctified altar and a qualified priest, sacrifices could be given to the Lord. After all, it's not the external furnishings but what's in the heart that concerns God the most (1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 51:16-17; Hosea 6:6; Mark 12:28-34).
The people are doing their best to follow the instructions given by Moses and to follow the examples of godly leaders of centuries past.
What Do You Think?
What are some good ways to honor the godly examples of your church’s leaders, past and present?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
“Big” ways (banquets, etc.) | “Small” ways (notes in the church bulletin, etc.)
However, there are other inhabitants in the region who do not appreciate the fact that almost 50,000 people have suddenly arrived in “their” land. They are probably a mixture of non-Israelites and a few Israelites who had been left behind by the Babylonians. The new arrivals have moved into the villages of ancestors, and now the city of Jerusalem is becoming their religious center. Animosity develops, and this creates fear for the Israelites. But God’s people have struggled to make their journey, and they intend to finish what they have started. This stands as a tribute to the Jews’ wholehearted trust in the Lord, despite their apprehensions about living among their pagan neighbors (see Psalm 62:6-8).
The Religious Observances Restored (Ezra 3:4-5)
4. What was the first feast commemorated by the returning Jews from Babylon? What did it signify (v. 4)?
The Jews performed every aspect of their worship in strict accordance with God’s Word (Ezra 3:4). The “feast of tabernacles” goes by other names (Feast of Booths, or Ingathering), and it’s easy to get confused. This was typically done between September and October, five days after the Day of Atonement. Tabernacles involved a week of celebration for the harvest, as well as living in booths and offering sacrifices. Leviticus 23:33-43 instructs the Israelites to use tree branches to construct “booths,” and the people are to live in them during the feast, hence the name Feast of Booths. The purpose of living in these makeshift structures is to remind the people that their ancestors lived in tents during the 40 years of the wilderness wanderings.
This event, then, is something like a seven-day campout, with feasting every day. It is a day for everyone to rejoice—the widows, orphans, Levites, and strangers (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). The harvest is over, and it is a time to celebrate.
5. What were the other feasts celebrated by the Jews (v. 5)?
The Jews also reestablished all the other various sacrifices, sacred seasons, and feasts associated with the temple (Ezra 3:5). This included the “new moons” festival. This religious holiday occurred at the beginning of each new month. Through the offering of special sacrifices and the blowing of trumpets, the Jews set apart this time of observance. During the festival, all forms of work and activity were discontinued.
Rebuilding the Temple (Ezra 3:6-7)
Verses 6-7 are transitional in the story of the rebuilding of the temple. The sacrificial worship has been established; now the people begin the task of rebuilding the Temple. The people had great zeal and enthusiasm for the worship of God. “But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid” (v. 6). This is the transitional phrase. The people were anxious to complete this task.
6. Where did the Jews get the finances to rebuild the temple (v. 7)?
Funding for this project is partly from those who stayed behind in Babylon. They have sent along much wealth with those Israelites who have made the journey to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:6). King Cyrus also has provided funding (6:3-5). The returnees establish a special treasury on arrival, and they too have contributed to it (2:68, 69).
God’s people allocated these funds to purchase building materials and to pay laborer borers to construct the temple. Specifically, the Jews hired “masons” and “carpenters” (Ezra 3:7).
During King David’s final days, he informed his son Solomon of the many preparations he (David) had made for the building of the temple. David had provided gold and silver in abundance, and he reminded Solomon that there were many skilled workmen available for the project (1 Chronicles 22:14, 15). Solomon completed the first temple over 400 years prior to today’s lesson setting. As those men were paid for their services, and as workmen also were fairly compensated when the temple was repaired some 150 years after that (2 Kings 12:6-14), so also these workmen are paid.
As we continue in verse 7 of today’s lesson (Ezra 3:7), we see that Solomon too had obtained cedar trees from Lebanon. So his efforts were similar to what we see here (2 Chronicles 2:8-10). The procedure of transporting the timber in “floats by sea” to Joppa is also repeated (2:16). A sea voyage from the port of Zidon (or Sidon) south to Tyre is about 25 miles; from Tyre to Joppa is an additional sea voyage of about 90 miles. The overland distance from Joppa to Jerusalem is about 38 miles. All this activity was in accordance with king Cyrus’s decree. Therefore, worship was restored by the returning Jewish exiles.
First steps are often the most difficult. Although the Jewish exiles had been released from captivity, hard work faced them. Nevertheless, that first step to build the altar of sacrifice enabled them to restore their sacrifices, and steps were taken to rebuild their temple. Their zeal in doing this reveals how they valued the precious privilege of answering God’s move on their hearts to accomplish His plans and purposes (Ezra 1:5).
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Be encouraged by knowing that as we pray for God’s will to be done, He will watch over us (Ezra 3:1-3).
2. Worship the Lord in all you do and have in accordance to His Word (Ezra 3:4-7).
Things That Are First!
The first day of the week is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. For the Christian, this is the primary day to assemble with other believers (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Hebrews 10:25). It is a matter of priorities.
Those who made the trip from Babylon to Judah set an excellent example in the matter of establishing priorities. On arrival, they did well in putting first things first: they continued their work in spite of the early opposition. Later opposition deterred them for a time, but they eventually completed the task. It was a matter of priorities.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of the thousands of people in today’s lesson who were willing to sacrifice personally to honor You. May that be my desire this day and every day! In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Seek first the kingdom of God.