THE REBUILDING OF WORSHIP

EZRA 3

 

In the last chapter, we saw the Jews returning to their homeland. The last verse closed with each family dispersing to go to their own hometown or city. This presumably took place in the spring. As this chapter opens, the summer has come to an end and the people come together for the purpose of rebuilding their place of worship.

 

THE UNITY OF WORSHIP

Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1).

When the Jews first returned to the land, they tended to naturally gravitate to their own cities and their own villages. The entire land was desolate, but Jerusalem was especially devastated. The walls had been torn down. The Temple had been burnt. The city was a heap.

This began to change when, in the seventh month, the Israelites came together to Jerusalem. Our new year starts in January. We tend to number our months from that starting point. But this was not always the case. Even the names of the months that we utilize bear witness of a different starting point.

The new year started in the Spring. It coincided with the spring equinox. This was true even though the Jewish calendar was oriented as a lunar calendar with 28 days a piece.

We are told, not only that the people came together, but they came together as one man. It was as though a single body was at work. And in a sense, it was. This is how the church is always supposed to work. We have been called together to be the body of Christ. A body by its very nature is unified.

Paul gives the illustration of a disunified body. Imagine the arms and legs and eyes and ears all trying to go their own ways. It would be the death of the body. Churches die in the same way.

 

THE LEADERS OF WORSHIP

Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers arose 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.

So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening. (Ezra 3:2-3).

There was a unity, not only among the people, but also among the leaders. Jeshua was evidently the high priest while Zerubbabel held the reigns of civil authority. But there was no competition between the two. They both came together for the purposes of worship.

Josephus puts the size of the altar at 20 cubits square and 10 cubits in height (30 feet square by 15 feet high).

They began with the altar. This was no small structure. The altar was a large structure made of uncut stones. No human hand had molded its makeup. It represented that which is offered to God.

There is a lesson here. Our offerings to God can never take away sin because they are blighted with our own human efforts. Only that which comes from the hand of the God is acceptable to God. This is why your own good works can never save you. Only Godís own Son can accomplish that.

Notice also that they did not wait until the entire Temple was completed before they began worshiping the Lord. They began with what they had.

Sometimes I talk to someone who feels that he needs to straighten up his own life before he can come to church and worship God. That is a little like someone who is involved in a traffic accident saying to the rescue workers: "I know that I need to be in the hospital, but first I want to go home and heal from these terrible looking injuries. When I am presentable I will come back to the hospital."

Come to the Lord with what you have. That is the place to start. And then the process will continue from there.

Verse 3 says that they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands. The translation of the word "for" makes it look as though the reason that they set up the altar was because of their fear of the people of the land. But I donít believe this is the case. Although the preposition usually carries the idea of "for" it can be translated in a variety of ways and even as a conjunction ("but"). I think that the context would warrant such a translation in this case. They set up the altar in spite of the potential opposition from those who were living in the land.

 

THE TIMES OF WORSHIP

They celebrated the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the fixed number of burnt offerings daily, according to the ordinance, as each day required; 5 and afterward there was a continual burnt offering, also for the new moons and for all the fixed festivals of the LORD that were consecrated, and from everyone who offered a freewill offering to the LORD.

From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, but the foundation of the temple of the LORD had not been laid. (Ezra 3:4-6).

Their worship began with the Feast of Booths. This was a festival in which all of the people were to gather together and construct for themselves temporary booths in which they were to reside. It was a good thing, for there were probably not a lot of buildings standing in Jerusalem.

For an entire week, the Israelites would eat their meals and sleep in these temporary booths. For the children among them, it must have been akin to a week of camping. It was a holiday spirit and a time of remembrance. They were to remember that there had once been a time when they were without a home or a country and that they had been nomads wandering in a wilderness.

On this occasion, the Feast of Booths had a special significance. It looked back, not only to the time of wandering in the wilderness following the Exodus, but it also served as a reminder that they had recently been wanderers and were only now coming back into their homeland.

In verse 4 we read that this observance was according to the ordinance. This underlines what we know in theological terms as the REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE. It means that we worship God only in those manners in which He has designated worship to take place. This is in contrast to other positions:

Roman Catholic

Luther

Calvin

Worship takes place in any way that is ordained by the church.

Worship takes place in any way that is not forbidden by the Scriptures.

Worship takes place only in those ways that are mandated by the Scriptures.

The worship among the Jews was not according to convenience or their own decision. It was in keeping with that which had been mandated in the Scriptures.

 

THE GIVING FOR WORSHIP

Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia. (Ezra 3:7).

These people did not have a lot. They had lost everything when they were uprooted and taken away to a foreign land. They had rebuilt from scratch and now they had left their new homes in Mesopotamia to return to the Promised Land. They were in the process of rebuilding. But that did not stop them from giving to the Lordís work.

Their view was that the rebuilding of the Temple of God was a project that was worthy of their gifts and offerings.

This was no small project. It would require the hiring of skilled craftsmen as well as the purchasing of construction supplies in the form of cedar wood from Lebanon which had to be transported by barge down to Joppa and then overland into the mountains of Jerusalem.

 

THE ORGANIZATION OF WORSHIP

Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the LORD.

Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God. (Ezra 3:8-9).

One of the popular sayings today is to speak out against "organized religion." It is really a silly statement. After all, what is the alternative - disorganized religion? God is a God of order. And there is an appropriate organization that coincides with the worship of God.

 

THE MUSIC OF WORSHIP

Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD according to the directions of King David of Israel.

They sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, saying, "For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever." 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. (Ezra 3:10-11).

If I had been organizing the rebuilding of the Temple, I would have had the architects and the builders and the masons and carpenters. But that would have left out an important part of the construction process. I am speaking of the musicians. Music is important. It is ordained by God to touch the soul of man.

God invented music - it existed at creation (Job 38:7). He is the greatest music-lover in the universe. The Bible does not tell us what kind of music God likes - rather, He is concerned about the musician.

 

THE REACTION TO WORSHIP

Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathersí households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:12-13).

There were two divergent reactions from among the people at the laying of the foundation of the Temple.

Old Men

Wept with a loud voice

Others

Shouted aloud for joy

Why the two different reactions? We can understand those who shouted for joy. They were witnessing the rebuilding of the Temple. They were seeing the reconstruction of that which allowed them to worship the God of the universe.

But why did the old men weep? Verse 12 tells us that those who wept were those who had seen the first temple. I think that there are several possibilities:

  1. They wept because the new Temple promised to be so much smaller and less grandiose than the original Temple.
  2. They wept because they were reminded of the terrible consequences of sin. There is a lesson here. God is forgives sin. That is what the cross is all about. But the consequences often remain and have to be endured.


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