Book of Ezra Chapter Three Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
It's one thing to be called by the Lord into some kind of service, and another to actually do what He wants. The miraculous edict of the Persian king was in effect, the return had taken place and the Jews were back in the land. Now what would they do? Here's Verse 1: "Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem." The "seventh month" was Tisri, which falls within September and October each year. The Jewish feasts and sacrifices were gone for decades and now it was time for them once more. The first day involved the blowing of trumpets and a formal gathering of the people. The tenth day of Tisri was the solemn Day of Atonement and the fifteenth was the Feast of Tabernacles, also called "Booths" or "Ingathering," one of three great annual festivals, this one lasting to the twenty-second day of Tisri each year. Not only were the Jews required to attend this festival, but they were also curious and excited, drawn to view the rebuilt altar of Verse 2: "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."
Jeshua's father, Jozadak (or Jehozadak), was the son of Seraiah, the high priest at the time of Jerusalem's destruction (1 Chronicles 6:14). Ezra does not call Jeshua the "high priest," but that title is attached to him in Haggai 1:1,14 and 2:2. He is also named as the high priest in Zechariah 3:1,8 and 6:11. The name "Jeshua" is a variant of "Joshua" and also "Jesus," and this man is reasonably viewed as a "type" of the then-future Son of God, Son of Man, Jesus Christ. All the priests were Levites, descended from Levi, son of Jacob, and are called Jeshua's "brothers" for that reason in Verse 2. Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, was the one named by Cyrus of Persia to be the governor of the area in the holy land formerly called Judah. The present inhabitants of the land were of various local tribes and were hostile toward the Jewish newcomers, and even though the Jews were afraid, they bravely built the altar of Verse 2. The morning and evening sacrifices could resume as required under the law given through Moses in Exodus 29:38-39.
Verse 3 clearly reveals their state of mind at the time of these verses: "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." The Hebrew people had been called by God to come back, which they did, but were now surrounded by hostile groups that resented them. The situation was not unlike traveling to a heavily fortified Muslim territory and attempting to build a Christian church right in their midst. Your efforts would not make you popular and you could easily become afraid and stop building. But when God is with us, we can do it. In Verses 4-5, "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." The sacrifices and offerings of these verses are precisely described in Numbers 29:12-39. These actions looked ahead to the Messiah who would sacrifice Himself for us, and this was also a form of prayer—what they did was an expression of thanks for deliverance in the past and a request for rescue right now.
Verse 6: "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." As commanded by the Lord in Numbers 29:12 & forward, they began the Feast of Tabernacles, also called Booths, which would last for seven days. That was good, but you can see the Lord's observation through Ezra that work to rebuild the temple had not yet commenced. God's concern for them is more clearly seen in places like Haggai Chapter One, where we find that the people were quick to build their own houses, but slow to build His.
They did have good intentions and even though they were terrified of their hostile new neighbors, they spent the money and began assembling supplies for the temple, in Verse 7: "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." It is easier to start a work than it is to actually complete it, which tends to be a problem for us all. Troubles will arise. Not everyone will like us or what we are doing, but we should respond to the Lord's call and do what He wants as soon as we can, rather than wait indefinitely for conditions to improve.
The clock was ticking. In Verse 8 we find that considerable time had passed before work on the temple foundation finally began: "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." The people had been more concerned with personal safety than for the work God called them to do, which is a danger for everyone. To do His will is our priority and is not in any way foolishness. It is instead an expression of faith in the Lord, which is exhibited here by Jeshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the local governor appointed by God through King Cyrus of Persia.
The capacity for Godly leadership is His gift, both to the leader and to those who are led. A few stood up at this point, found others willing to follow, and work on God's temple could now begin. Verses 9-10: "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. 10 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." Every good work in this world must be attributed to God, because He is truly the One who did it. In Haggai 1:13-14, we find that "the Lord stirred up the spirit" of the governor, the high priest and the people, who "came and began to work on the house of the Lord..." You may physically provide the money or build whatever it is, but God did it, as they saw in Verse 11: "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."
But there was a problem in the hearts of many who had higher expectations for the outward work than the Lord intended at the moment. Verses 12-13: "Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ 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." The point never was that the temple would merely be imposing, filled with precious metals and dazzle the senses. The temple was designed to bring praise to God, like any other work of His in this world. The Temple of Solomon ended in rubble and ruined pride. This one caused some to rejoice but others wept as they compared this one to its predecessor. Whatever it is you are called to do, do it with joy. If it seems small, it is actually great, for God has done it.
Lord, the work You have called me to do is not small. It's perfect for You have done it. Thank You, Lord. I rejoice in what You have done. In Jesus Name. Amen.