“Restoring the Temple”
Lesson Text: Ezra 3:8-13
Background Scripture: Ezra 3:8-13
Devotional Reading: Psalm 66:1-12
Ezra 3:8-13 (KJV)
8 Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the Lord.
9 Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.
11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
12 But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that 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:
13 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.
To see how the returning captives responded in obedience and worship to build the temple.
To show how rebuilding the temple and restoring the worship of God brought great joy to the Israelites.
To examine our lives and allow God to rebuild, restore and revive us.
His First Bridge
He was a college student, and his summer job became a learning experience. He had been accepted as a worker for a highway department, and he was assigned to one of the bridge crews. One day, the men of the crew traveled to the site of the bridge that they were ready to build. With the old structure already removed, the men made their way down the banks to the stream bed. The work was ready to begin—way down there—and the goal was to build a bridge that would be about 15 feet above them—way up there!
The young man simply did as he was instructed. The bridge floor would be poured “up there” some day, but first there was much work to be done below the surface of the ground. It was essential to have a solid foundation that would provide support for the bridge. Such a foundation included two abutments anchored deep in the ground and “wings” that deflected water away from the abutments and back into the streambed.
When the bridge was finished, the student began to understand the reasons behind all the preliminary work. The necessity of the early work “down there” made sense; the stability of the new structure depended on the foundation—all the work in the ground that had to be completed before the superstructure could be built.
The lesson text takes us back to certain events surrounding a foundation that was laid centuries before the bridge in this story.
Time: 536 B.C.
One word summarizes the reason why the nation of Judah had to experience captivity in Babylon. The word is disobedience! One word is also behind what led to their disobedience. That word is idolatry, for the people had had a fascination with it. The Israelites seemed determined to want a pluralistic religion that involved the one true God alongside other, fictitious gods.
In Moses’ farewell addresses, he warned the nation of the negative consequences for disobedience: idolatry would cause them to be scattered among the nations. From those distant places they would decide to seek the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:25-30; 30:1-3), and this is what they did. While in Babylon, almost 900 miles from home, the captives finally realized that God meant what he said. The temple had been destroyed, and they knew that the reason was their disobedience to God.
The prophets had said that there would be a return, and many people were ready to make the trip back. When they returned, they planned to build a new temple. It might not be as glorious as the one that Solomon had built, but they knew that acceptable worship for them could be complete only by having a temple that they would dedicate to God. It is generally true that it took the Babylonian captivity to cure the people of idolatry. There would be minor exceptions, but it was never again the problem it once was.
Getting Organized (Ezra 3:8-9)
1. What was the time and setting in which the rebuilding of the temple began? (Ezra 3:8a)
Throughout the process of renewal of worship in Jerusalem, it is evident that there are parallels between the temple that was completed by Solomon and its replacement. The month for the construction to begin is the same for both the first and the second temples—the second month of the Hebrew calendar (1 Kings 6:1). That corresponds to late April and early May. The rainy season is ending, and it is an excellent time to begin work on the foundation.
The previous lesson described the construction of the new altar of burnt offerings. It was completed in order to be used on the first day of the seventh month (September/October). A period of seven months thus has passed since that time.
During the interval, the leaders make arrangements for securing building materials for the temple itself. Some items, such as the marble, are available in the surrounding areas. Any wood from previous constructions in Jerusalem was burned when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8, 9) or has otherwise perished by exposure to the elements over several decades. Thus more wood has to be procured, so cedar is ordered from Tyre (Ezra 3:7, last week’s lesson). Wood will be used in every fourth layer of the temple: three layers of stone and then one of wood (Ezra 6:4). For the time being, however, the emphasis is the foundation.
The fact that it is the second year since Ezra’s group arrived from Babylon has significance. The people had arrived in the fifth month (July/August) of the previous year (Ezra 7:8), which had allowed time for sowing of grain. By the time of the second month of the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, the reaping has already started in the Jordan valley, where it is warmer. Such reaping begins there in the first month (March/April). Workers not involved in construction thus can take care of the task of supplying food for those who work on the foundation.
2. What leaders oversaw the construction of the second temple? (v. 8b)
We offered introductory remarks on both Zerubbabel and Jeshua (also called Joshua) in last week’s lesson in commentary on Ezra 3:2, so that information need not be repeated here. Probing a bit deeper now allows us to see additional interesting connections.
“Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel” is a descendant of David, the king over Israel from 1010 to 970B.C. The easiest place to confirm Zerubbabel’s place in the lineage of David (and Jesus) is Matthew 1:12, 13, where the spelling is a bit different. The prophet Nathan had told King David that one of David’s descendants would build a house for the name of God (2 Samuel 7:12, 13); the “for ever” factor in that prophecy tends to show that the ultimate fulfillment is in Jesus. Solomon, a son of David, was the one who oversaw the building of the first temple; now another descendant of David is one of the leaders overseeing the construction of the second.
Joshua (or Jeshua) son of Jozadak is the high priest at this time (see Haggai 1:1). Thus it is fitting that he provides religious oversight to this project. His grandfather was Seraiah (1 Chronicles 6:14, 15); that man was the high priest when the forces of Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. Seraiah was taken to Riblah, about 65 miles north of Damascus, where he was executed (2 Kings 25:18-21). But family members made the journey to Babylon.
It was at Riblah that a prophecy of Ezekiel began to be fulfilled. He had prophesied that the prince of Judah would be taken to Babylon, but he would not see it (Ezekiel 12:13). That “prince” was Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. Zedekiah, a relative of Zerubbabel, had to watch the execution of his sons. Then he was blinded before being taken to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7).
Zerubbabel and Joshua (Jeshua) surely know these accounts about their ancestors. We surmise that this shared history serves as a bond as they work together in the construction of the new temple that Cyrus has authorized (Ezra 1:1-4).
3. What role did the Levites have in the rebuilding of temple? What was the age requirement? (vs. 8b - 9)
Ezra 2:40-42 records that there are 341 Levites among the people who have returned from Babylon. From the wilderness wanderings under Moses (Numbers 4:46, 47) to the time of Joshua, the ages at which Levites begin to serve have varied from 30 to 25 to 20, depending on the situation at the time (see Numbers 4:46, 47; 8:24; 1 Chronicles 23:24-27). In this particular case, it is those Levites who are at least “twenty years old” who serve as supervisors (set forward) for the work on the temple.
The names Kadmiel and Judah reflect the listing of Levites in Ezra 2:40, with a minor difference. The name Judah is used in the King James Version in the verse before us, but in Ezra 2:40 it is given as Hodaviah. The words are very similar in the original Hebrew, and the difference is not of any consequence; the references are the same. One of the sons of Henadad is named in Nehemiah 3:18, 24; 10:9
The important thing is that this is a team effort that demands cooperation and coordination. It seems reasonable that men with experience in such matters are the ones who are prompted by God to leave Babylon so they can contribute their talents in building the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5; compare Exodus 35:30–36:1).
What Do You Think?
Are there any offices or ministry tasks that a church should set “minimum age limits” for? Why, or why not?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Elder | Deacon | Teacher | Other
Laying the Foundation (Ezra 3:10-11)
4. Who led the people in the dedication of the temple’s foundation? Why was this significant? (v. 10)
The biblical accounts often compress descriptions of events into just a few words. We see that here as the narrative moves immediately from the preparations for laying the foundation to the completed project. Nothing is said about the depth, dimensions, or other factors that are involved in having a solid, level foundation.
The fact that it is the priests who sound trumpets matches what happened at the dedication of the first temple (see 2 Chronicles 5:12). At that time, 120 priests with trumpets stood on the east side of the altar. Priests often wear white robes, so it would be an impressive sight.
The reference to the sons of Asaph with cymbals also brings a certain nostalgia. When David celebrated the moving of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem in about 1000 B.C., it was Asaph who played the cymbals (1 Chronicles 16:5). He was still playing them when the first temple was dedicated in 959 B.C. (2 Chronicles 5:12), about 425 years before the event being described here. It is interesting that Asaph’s descendants are maintaining this family talent! (Some think, however, that the designation sons of Asaph is a title for the musicians, not a reference to genealogy.)
What Do You Think?
What experiences have you had (good or bad) that have helped you appreciate the importance of a good foundation?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Concerning buildings | Concerning financial issues
5. How did the people respond to the laying of the temple’s foundation? (v. 11)
This was a great day for the Jews who have made the trip from Babylon! They could see their dreams being fulfilled one step at a time. The altar of burnt offerings was put into use the previous fall, and now “the foundation of the house of the Lord” is finished.
The praise “he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel” is very similar to what was voiced on two earlier occasions. One was when the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:34); the other was at the dedication of the first temple (2 Chronicles 5:13).
The fulfillment of a prophecy by Jeremiah should also be mentioned. That prophet was a prisoner by his own people in the days just before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (Jeremiah 33:1). The Lord assured him that even though the city would become desolate, a time would come when praises again would be heard; words very similar to those in the verse before us are given in Jeremiah 33:11.
The type of singing that is being done is usually thought to be antiphonal—when one choir sings and another choir answers (compare Deuteronomy 11:29; Joshua 8:33). The word translated sang can take the meaning “to answer” in this regard. This is indicated by the phrase by course. Psalm 136 is often cited as demonstrating this type of singing, for the same refrain occurs in all 26 verses.
Differing Responses (Ezra 3:12-13)
6. Why did the older people weep about the new foundation? (v. 12)
There are other loud expressions at this special celebration. The differing emotional responses to the same situation are shaped by previous experiences. The text indicates that the difference in the two reactions is that of age.
Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C., and it is now about 50 years later. This means that some of the older people present had seen the original temple before they were taken from Jerusalem. It is usually suggested that their weeping indicates that they are mentally comparing the foundation of the new temple with the previous one, and they realize that the new temple will not have the same splendor as what they had seen in their youth; thus their tears are those of grief.
The text, however, does not explain why they are weeping, and another option must be considered. The older people do indeed have painful memories of the long siege that ended in 586 B.C. They had endured an unpleasant trip to Babylon, but in old age have returned to Jerusalem with hopeful anticipation. They are seeing the temple and the city of David begin to rise again. Thus some propose that the tears may be those of joy and gratitude.
What Do You Think?
What was a time when an older member of your congregation helped you gain a deeper appreciation for your church family?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Helping you understand a past event | Sharing a story about the church property
Through stories about past members | Other
7. How did the “blended worship” impact the surrounding community? (v. 13)
The older men were looking back with longing while the younger men were looking around with joy. The older people wept because they remembered the first temple, and this one would not compare to its splendor. The younger people had no memories for comparison and rejoiced in the new foundation.
God is pleased with the broken, muffled sob of a contrite heart when sincere repentance occurs (Psalm 51:17). There may be a tear-stained face when some participate in the Lord’s Supper. Meditation about the agony that Christ endured moves some to have eyes that are moist. “Blended worship” includes more than different types of music; it may include sounds of joy mixed with those of sorrow. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Eccl. 3:4).
The blended sounds of weeping, shouting, and even louder shouting reverberate eastward to the Mount of Olives and to the south and north along the Kidron Valley. People of ancient times are not bombarded by the kinds of loud noises of today—power equipment, electronically amplified sound, etc. Loud sounds for them are trumpets, waterfalls, the excitement of large crowds, etc. This time the loudness is that of thousands of people rejoicing for the visible progress that has been made to have a temple again.
Even so, about 20 years will pass before the temple is actually completed. Opposition will result in a work stoppage (Ezra 4:1-5, 24) followed by spiritual lethargy. The temple will be built when God provides a new stimulus in the preaching of two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1, 2).
What Do You Think?
When have you observed mixed emotions within the same worship event? Why did that happen?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
A special worship service that occurs yearly | A weekly worship service
A one-time observance | Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God’s appointed leaders will ensure that the work of God progresses in the right direction. (Ezra 3:8)
2. We must work together to rebuild the foundation of obedience and worship of God. (v. 9)
3. Let’s rejoice and praise the Lord for the solid foundation that is laid. (v. 10)
4. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! (v. 11; Psalm 95:1-2; 136)
5. When we take the lead in spiritual renewal in our homes and churches, then our strong faith will be a joyful witness and encouragement to others. (vs. 12-13)
Whatever It Takes!
The Israelites who made the journey from Babylon were willing to give up houses, friends, and family—whatever it took to restore genuine worship in Jerusalem. It would have been easier to remain in Babylon, as so many other Jewish exiles did. But those who returned felt compelled to do so. Are we as willing to leave our comfort zones for God’s purposes?
Heavenly Father, may the joys and sorrows in my life always be associated with dedication to You, in Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Go where God leads you - and rejoice as you do!