By Sam E. Stone
This is the second week of studies from the book of Ezra. It describes the time when God’s people were able to worship in Jerusalem once again. Being released from Babylonian captivity was not enough. Now they needed not only to rebuild the altar but also to restore the entire temple, following God’s directions for worship. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther contain the inspired record of what took place at this time period.
James E. Smith explains, “The first six chapters of the Book of Ezra cover a single generation, 538-515 BC. The major concern of this period was the rebuilding of the house of God. For forty-nine years the ruins of that magnificent structure bore testimony to the sin which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.”
Laying the Foundation
Ezra 3:8, 9
In last week’s lesson we studied the construction of a new altar of burnt offerings in Jerusalem. It was used on the first day of the seventh month. In today’s lesson seven months have passed since then. During this time the people gathered the necessary supplies to rebuild the temple itself. The two leaders mentioned last week—Zerubbabel and Joshua—directed the project. Zerubbabel represented the Davidic line and Joshua the priestly line. At their side were other priests and Levites. Responsibility was given to even the younger Levites (age 20 and older) to supervise the work. Ruben Ratzlaff points out that previously such responsibilities did not begin until a person reached the age of 30 (Numbers 4:46, 47) or 25 (Numbers 8:24). “They are the only group for whom the age requirement is made; perhaps this is to tell us their care in conforming to the sacred ordinances.” The Levites could be counted on to make sure everything was ritually correct.
Ezra 3:10, 11
Once the foundation was completed, the people were ready to celebrate! The importance of the occasion is seen both by the special vestments the priests wore and the music that was included. Cymbals are mentioned (compare 1 Chronicles 16:4, 5; 25:1) as well as trumpets (compare Numbers 10:8). Some suggest there were two choirs singing antiphonally as well (see Psalm 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11). C. F. Keil suggests, however, that since there is no definite allusion to responsive singing, it may simply refer to their use of Psalms like 106 and 107, both of which encourage praising the Lord for his goodness. Regardless, surely they made the heavens ring with their hosannas. Those who like a high-decibel level in their worship music would have felt right at home in Jerusalem that day!
Whether in our worship or theirs, the Lord looks at the hearts of those participating, not at their accuracy of pitch, volume level, or musical skill. Bible students note that when David celebrated moving the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (about 1000 BC), it was Asaph who played the cymbals (1 Chronicles 16:5). He played them again at the dedication of the first temple in 959 BC (2 Chronicles 5:12). Now it was the sons of Asaph who played on this significant occasion. The praises being sung by the people were, “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.”
In addition to the music, there was shouting as well. These uninhibited worshippers wanted to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. This had been prophesied by Jeremiah before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. God assured him that, after a time of desolation, the Lord’s praises would again be heard in the holy city (Jeremiah 33:1-11).
Ezra 3:12, 13
Some 50 years before, Jerusalem had been destroyed. Many of the older priests and Levites and family heads . . . had seen the former temple. Many of them wept now. Their weeping might indicate their sorrow that the new temple would not be nearly as grand as the previous one. But they might also have been remembering their years of captivity and mistreatment, their long trip back home, and the difficult days as they worked to rebuild the foundation of the temple.
Ratzlaff sums it up: “Verse 13 concludes the scene as the two emotions, the shout of joy and the sound of weeping, are blended into one distinguishable but impressive tone. For in worship there is a place for both: the tears of sorrow and the shout of joy.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.