Ezra Chapter 3
When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem. Then Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.
Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices. Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred feasts of the LORD, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the LORD. On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid.
Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so that they would bring cedar logs by sea from Lebanon to Joppa, as authorised by Cyrus king of Persia.
In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work, appointing Levites twenty years of age and older to supervise the building of the house of the LORD. Jeshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God.
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD:
“He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.”
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
- Even if you go away for just a week or two, it takes a few days to adjust when you have returned home.
- If you go back to a place after an absence of several years, there are new road systems, shops have changed… some buildings have been demolished… You feel like a stranger!
Imagine how it felt for The Exiles after an absence of a lifetime!
- They had been captive under the cruel Babylonians
- Then under the more enlightened and humane Persians
- And now they were on their way home to Jerusalem…
Nehemiah probably came first with the support of King Artaxerxes
Then Ezra the priest arrived… We read in Ezra 7:10 that he had first “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD and to teaching its laws and decrees in Israel”
There are many lessons for us to learn from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah about working together to build the Kingdom Of God…
- Obedience to God involves reliance on Him and personal courage (v3)
- A new work does not mean the abandonment of all that has gone before (vs 4-5)
- God’s priorities may not be our priorities (v 6)
- Everyone has a part to play in Kingdom work (verses 7-9)
- Foundations need to be solid (v 10)
- God must always be given the glory (v 11, 13)
- Kingdom work should stir our emotions (v 12)
(1) Obedience to God involves reliance on Him and personal courage
Jerusalem was a dangerous place… it had been colonised by other groups, some of whom were antagonistic towards the people of God
- Later, those who worked on the wall needed an armed guard
- However, we read that “despite their fear” they built the altar and offered sacrifices
God sometimes places us in a difficult situation or allows one to develop to test our resolve and to strengthen our faith
- The Apostle Paul could even write in 2 Corinthians 12: 10…
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships and persecutions. For when I am weak then I am strong”
- When life is plain sailing we can become casual about spiritual things… and our relationship with God become rather stale …
- In a drought we either push our roots deeper or wither away
- So through the tough times, we need to get deeper into the One who is the source of life and hope, and banishes fear
Fear can be a snare… it paralyses us and makes us timid
- Satan rubs his hands with glee as we shrink from the challenge
“You were running a good race. Who (or what) cut in on you/tripped you up and kept you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:8)
What is your secret fear? Being humiliated… losing friends… being physically assaulted… aggressive neighbours… people’s contempt… clever arguments that show up your lack of knowledge…
- These are real and genuine concerns… but remember: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them they (still) built the altar”
(2) A new work does not mean the abandonment of all that has gone before (vs 4, 5)
- The people continued to celebrate and offer sacrifices
- They didn’t despise what God had established and used in the past!
- They continued to honour God in familiar ways… it provided stability and was a unifying force for this group of Israelites
When the Holy Spirit begins to move in a body of believers it is highly likely that new ideas and practices will emerge… sometimes dramatic changes are inspired…
- But the best forms of change usually happen gradually … They are set within a context of “ancient paths where the good way lies”
So in Jeremiah 6:16… This is what the LORD says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths; ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.” But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’.
Older people may find it hard to accept change… but younger people also have to realise that most things in church life and witness are done for good reason…
- Be careful not to sneer at things that seem ‘old-fashioned’ and might appear irrelevant. Perhaps they are, perhaps not!
- It pays to find out why things are done in a certain way before dismissing them as being unsuitable!
Of course it is possible for the ritual to smother the reality of what God is doing in His church…
- It doesn’t do any harm once in a while for everyone to sit down and ask some hard questions about priorities and procedures
- We need to learn the secret of walking close to God and being able to hear His voice saying: “This is the way, walk in it…”
(3) God’s priorities may not be our priorities (v 6)
- The people had waited a long time for the opportunity to build the altar and temple… they wanted to get on with the job!
- But in verse 6 we read that first they had to offer burnt offerings to the LORD… even though the temple foundations were not yet laid
The people’s relationship with God was of greater importance than the practical tasks that needed to be done
Those of us who are “doers” rather than “wait-ers” have a problem here! My motto is: “Do it now!”
- Most of the time that’s a wise approach… but it can mean wasted effort if I haven’t first “enquired of the LORD”…
- That’s where a church needs its pray-ers and prophetic voice.
Today there’s an emphasis on ‘instant gratification’… “You want it, you can have it!” Plus, instant communication… emails, texts etc.
- Waiting, saving carefully, even deliberately depriving oneself of something to foster patience and self-discipline is attributed to indecision or lack of faith or timidity…rather than viewed as a virtue
- But God is never in a hurry… neither should we! “The king’s business requires haste… but not rush!” We should be urgent but not frantic!
Waiting is often used by God to teach us important lessons… Moses spent half a lifetime as a shepherd… Joseph spent years in prison… Paul spent 12 years in Arabia prior to his ministry
- Jesus told us to count the cost before we begin a project… we are to use our brains, experience and godly wisdom in making decisions… They don’t normally come in dreams, angelic visitations or prophecies, though they might do.
- Waiting is not the same as indecision or indifference!
- How is it that a solution to an insurmountable problem comes after a night’s sleep or during a walk along the beach?
- An army spends most of the time preparing for battle…
- A boxer may only spend five or ten minutes in the ring but has spent months in training…
We need to be spiritually fit, so that when God says “move!” we are wearing the full armour and are in the best condition to fight
Jesus shows us the right attitude…
“Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done”
(4) Everyone has a part to play in Kingdom work (vs. 7-9)
There was large-scale involvement… people used their God-given talents and the skills they had developed over years to benefit the work
And there was an atmosphere of expectancy… that God was working and would honour their commitment…
We get a strong sense that no-one was sitting on the sidelines… everyone played a part as he or she was able
- It wasn’t a spectator sport… with a few players on the pitch and everyone else in a comfortable seat observing
- Some people were “at the front”; others were “behind the scenes”… but they were all involved in the same endeavour
We are not all gifted with great skills or talents…
- But we still have a role to play in Kingdom work
- No one is too old, young, frail or busy to be excluded
- Your ‘phone call, card, smile, willingness to listen and show loving support for those in the ‘front line’ is vitally important
Of course mistakes will have been made in the reconstruction process … people aren’t perfect!
- In church life, we can be too ready to pounce on someone when things go wrong … instead of showing understanding and care
- And give the younger folk a chance to make their mistakes, too! Older people… you were young and inexperienced once!
Briefly, a mention of three other lessons to be learned from the experiences of the exiles when they returned to Jerusalem…
- Foundations need to be solid (v 10)
Buildings collapse because the foundations are too shallow or built on sand rather than into the solid rock…
- There is no substitute for reading the Bible regularly and expecting that God will speak to you
- Praying continually… turning to God throughout the day as the One who lives within me and is closer than a brother
- Getting into the habit of praising God at every twist and turn of life
- Attending services regularly… meeting with believers
- And exercising your spiritual muscle by being active in serving one another… and living so that others see that Jesus Christ is real and God the Spirit changes lives
Our foundation is Jesus Christ… so we must get our roots deep into Him, so that we can stand firm, through the storm and tempest of life.
- God must always be given the glory (verses 11, 13)
The people gave a great shout and sang out loud…
- God is worthy of our praise despite circumstances… Our feelings or situation don’t change God’s right to be praised
The principle is clear: “He is worthy to receive honour and glory”
Our feelings and situations may impact on our attitude but they do not change the nature and worthiness of God.
- Kingdom work should stir our emotions
If we believe that people might be heading for a lost eternity, it should break our hearts and cause us distress
- And compassion for those who suffer should stir us and move us to action
In verse 12 we read that many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families wept aloud with sadness when they saw the temple foundations being laid … others cried for joy
There is little value in nostalgia if it means wallowing in regret… but there is great value in thanking God for what has gone before, even if the past seems brighter than the future
The chapter ends on a positive note…young and old together celebrating the love of God…and note how the sound was heard far away
- A body of God’s people, working together… loving one another… recognising gifts… being encouraging… praying for each other… serving one another… and praising God together…
Now that’s a New Testament church on the move!