Ezra 3

Ezra 3  •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 11
At the close of the last chapter we have seen that “all Israel”—the remnant in fact, but taking the place of the nation before God—dwelt in their cities. The commencement of this chapter opens out another remarkable action of the Spirit of God. “And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:11And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1)). In the book of Numbers we read, “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work; it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you” (Num. 29:11And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, ye shall have an holy convocation; ye shall do no servile work: it is a day of blowing the trumpets unto you. (Numbers 29:1)). This feast of trumpets prefigured the restoration of Israel in the last days; and it was therefore with a true spiritual perception that the people assembled themselves in Jerusalem at this time—a perception which, combined with their perfect unity, showed that both they and their leaders had been taught of God, and were under the power of His Word. (Compare Acts 2:11And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (Acts 2:1).) It is but seldom in the history of God’s people that such oneness has been displayed, because it can only be produced, not by any general agreement, but by the common subjection of all alike to the power of the Spirit through the truth. Twice only has it been seen in the history of the church (see Acts 2:44And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4).), and now it will never more be displayed on earth in the church at large, though it might perhaps be exhibited in small companies of the saints. But here, as at Pentecost, the whole congregation were as one man—one will dominating all, and gathering them with irresistible power to one common center; for they were all with one— accord in one place in the city on which the mind and heart of God were at that time set.
Having thus assembled, there “stood up Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon its bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries; and they offered burnt-offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt-offerings morning and evening” (Ezra 3:2-32Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. 3And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening. (Ezra 3:2‑3)). The governor, Zerubbabel, and the priest, Jeshua (aided by their respective “brethren”), united in this blessed work, the combination of the two foreshadowing Him who will be a priest on His throne, the true Melchizedek. (See Zech. 6:9-159And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 10Take of them of the captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah, and of Jedaiah, which are come from Babylon, and come thou the same day, and go into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah; 11Then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; 12And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: 13Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. 14And the crowns shall be to Helem, and to Tobijah, and to Jedaiah, and to Hen the son of Zephaniah, for a memorial in the temple of the Lord. 15And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if ye will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Zechariah 6:9‑15).)
One of their motives in the erection of the altar would seem to have been their felt need of the protection of their God, and faith discerned that this protection would be ensured on the ground of the efficacy of the sacrifices. And what could be more beautiful than this exhibition of confidence in God? They were but a feeble remnant, having no outward means of defense, and surrounded by enemies of every kind; but their very weakness and peril had taught them the precious lesson, that God was their refuge and strength. The setting up of the altar was therefore their first object; and as soon as the sweet savor of the burnt-offerings ascended up to God, all that He was, as then revealed, was engaged on their behalf.
It will be moreover observed that their burnt-offerings were presented morning and evening. This was called, at its original institution, the “continual burnt-offering” (see Ex. 29:38-4638Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually. 39The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even: 40And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering. 41And the other lamb thou shalt offer at even, and shalt do thereto according to the meat offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savor, an offering made by fire unto the Lord. 42This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee. 43And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory. 44And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest's office. 45And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God. 46And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:38‑46)), in virtue of which God had been able to dwell in the midst of His people. And if His presence was no longer in their midst, if He dwelt no longer between the cherubim overshadowing the mercy-seat, the efficacy of the burnt-offering remained; and as long as faith brought this, and presented it to God morning and evening, the people were as surely under the protection of Jehovah as before; as safe as, indeed far safer than, when Jerusalem in her glory was surrounded by her fortified walls and bulwarks. They might have therefore adopted the language of one of their psalms: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Psa. 46:1-31<<To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.>> God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. (Psalm 46:1‑3)).
The altar having been duly ordered, they kept the feast of tabernacles, as it is written (see Lev. 23:33-3633And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 34Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord. 35On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. 36Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein. (Leviticus 23:33‑36)), and offered the daily burnt-offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required. The feast of tabernacles was a figure of millennial joy (Lev. 23:4040And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40)). Israel was to rejoice before the Lord their God seven days. To human eyes looking at their desolate condition it might have seemed a mockery for these poor returned captives to be keeping a joyful feast. But faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” and thus brings the future into present realization. Moreover, when the soul once stands before God in all the acceptance of Christ, as prefigured by the burnt-offering, it has already the certainty of every promised blessing as secured in Him. It was thus open to the believing Israelites, who stood around the altar which they had erected amid the ruins of the temple, and as they saw the smoke of the burnt-offerings ascend up to heaven, to look onward to the time when all God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be fulfilled, and when the ransomed of the Lord would return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; when they would obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing should flee away.
They also, we are told, “offered the continual burnt-offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill-offering unto the Lord” (Ezra 3:55And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord. (Ezra 3:5)). And it will be remarked that the striking feature of all their proceedings was, that they ordered everything NOW according to the word of God (Ezra 3:2,42Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. (Ezra 3:2)
4They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; (Ezra 3:4)
). Whatever they may have practiced in Babylon, whatever had been their traditional rites and customs, all these had been left behind in the scene of their captivity; and now, delivered and brought back, nothing could satisfy them short of the authority of the written Word.
We might therefore characterize the proceedings narrated in this passage as the restoration of scriptural worship. This contains a principle of immense importance, and one that has found an illustration within the memory of some who are still living. There was a movement some fifty or sixty years ago, as already pointed out in a previous chapter, corresponding largely, as to its spiritual features, with this deliverance from Babylon; and the first object of the saints at that time, as with this remnant, was the restoration of the altar (using this term as a symbol of worship), and the ordering of the assembly in all its meetings according to the written Word. Customs, traditions, observances, all rites and ceremonies, were now tested by the recorded apostolic practices, and such as could not stand the proof were abandoned. It was but a remnant also that were brought out of bondage; but they had light and life in their dwellings and in their gatherings, because “as one man” they sought to give the Lord Jesus Christ His rightful place of preeminence as Son over His own house. In truth, God owned this movement in a remarkable manner, using it to recall believers, in every part of the land, to the authority of the written Word, to the knowledge of the fullness of His grace in redemption, to their priestly place and privileges, to the truth of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to the expectation of the Lord’s return. And if the spiritual power of that day has not been maintained, its influence is still felt; and it is not too much to say that the whole church of God is indebted to it, through the sovereign grace and appointment of God, for the exhibition and preservation of the full-orbed truths of Christianity. Before that time Christianity, in the hands of its public advocates, had degenerated into a mere code of morals, and the consequence was Socinianism and widespread infidelity; whereas since that day, whatever the increasing power of evil, and the rapid development of the signs of the coming apostasy, there has never been wanting a full testimony to the truth of God, and to His Christ as glorified at His right hand. All this proclaims to us, as with a trumpet voice, that the path of obedience to the written Word, in the power of the Spirit, is both the path of recovery from error, the secret of all blessing, and the true method of arresting spiritual decline.
The first five verses of this chapter are a delightful record, and might well be studied in connection with the first days of the church after Pentecost (Acts 2-4). In both places alike individual, as well as collective or corporate, spiritual energy is manifested. Thus it was not only the new moons and the set feasts that are noticed as having been observed, but it is added, “And every one that willingly offered a freewill-offering unto the Lord” (vs. 5). When God’s Spirit is acting in power, He fills the hearts of many of His people to overflowing, and the vessel, not being able to contain the blessing, runs over in thanksgiving and praise to God. This is the secret both of devotedness and worship.
The next two verses close up this period, preparatory to the introduction of another. “From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 3:6-76From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. 7They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia. (Ezra 3:6‑7)). The record of the commencement of offering burnt-offerings the first day of the seventh month is made with evident delight. It was grateful to the heart of God to behold the return of His people to Himself, acknowledging His claims, and the only ground of their acceptance. It shows us how particularly He observes the actions of His own, and that He takes pleasure in their approach and worship. Producing these fruits by His grace in their hearts, with the same grace He puts them to their account. (Compare Eph. 2:1010For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10) and 2 Cor. 5:1010For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10).)
Then follows, as we judge, a note of sadness—” But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.” The people had responded largely to the grace and goodness of Jehovah in their restoration, they had rejoiced to place themselves under His protection, and had ordered His worship according as it was written in the Law of Moses the man of God. But at present they went no farther. Instead of entering into God’s thoughts respecting His house, they rested in the blessings into which they had now been brought. Their spiritual energy had in measure expended itself in their first efforts, and their temptation was now to pause before going farther. Such has ever been the history of all real revivals in the church of God. Take, for example, that mighty work of God, of which Luther was the instrument. At the outset the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures was the battle-ax with which he waged war upon the corruptions and idolatries of Rome, and God wrought with him and granted a remarkable deliverance. But what followed? Luther, and his followers alike, rested in and feasted upon the fruits of their first victories, and the Reformation subsided into a system of State churches and creeds, out of which all vitality soon departed. (See Rev. 3:1-31And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. 2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. 3Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (Revelation 3:1‑3).) They failed to go on in communion with the mind of God—they labored for their own objects rather than His, and the consequence was that blight and decay soon showed themselves; the movement was arrested; and now, today, the very truths which were then recovered are fast fading away (if they have not already gone) from the very places which were the scene of the conflict
We learn therefore that the safety of God’s people lies in. their rising to the height of their calling. He calls us to fellowship with Himself, and with His Son Jesus Christ If, forgetting this, we are satisfied with the enjoyment of our blessings, and lose sight of God’s desires for us, feebleness and decline will soon mark us, whether as individuals or as companies of believers. If, on the other hand, God’s objects are ours, if our minds are set upon what is before Him, He will ever lead us on into fuller intelligence of His purposes of grace, as well as of His ways, and into larger blessedness. He delights in our happiness, and He would ever increase this by associating us in His grace with His own objects and aims.
If, however, the children of Israel did not prosecute the work of the Lord with all diligence, they were not unmindful of the purpose of their restoration; for, as we have seen, they began to make provision for the materials wherewith to build the temple (Ezra 3:77They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia. (Ezra 3:7)). To understand the circumstances of the remnant in contrast with the glory of the kingdom when Solomon’s temple was built, 1 Kings 5 and 1 Chronicles 28-29, should be read. Together with this, it should be remembered that Jehovah was the same, and that His resources were as available, through the exercise of faith, for this feeble remnant as for David and Solomon in all their power and splendor. True, they were outwardly dependent upon the grant of a Gentile monarch for permission to build, and for the means to secure the necessary materials; but it was God’s work on which they were engaged, and, counting upon Him, He would enable them to prosecute it to a successful issue. When believers work with God, their apparent difficulties and obstacles become the servants of faith to bring God in, before whom crooked things are made straight, and rough places plain.
In this section the account is given of the actual laying of the foundation of the temple. An interval of at least seven months must be placed between verses 7 and 8. How it was spent is not revealed. The ostensible ground of the pause, before commencing the work of building, would seem, from the connection, to be waiting for the “cedar trees.” However this might have been, “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” (Ezra 3:88Now 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. (Ezra 3:8)). Three things are to be noted in this statement. Whatever the state of the people at large, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, the governor and the priest, are foremost in the Lord’s work. Officially at the head, they retain the spiritual lead of the people. Happy is it for the people of God in every age, when their leaders are in the secret of the Lord’s mind, when they can call upon the people to follow them in His service. It is not always so: indeed, not infrequently the first action of the Spirit of God is in the midst of His people, and then the nominal leaders are set aside, or constrained to follow to preserve their place. Secondly, the governor and the priest know how to associate the people with themselves’ in their sacred enterprise. This is the sure mark of spiritual power on their part, as well as a testimony to the fact that God was working with them. Thus far there were no schisms, but all were banded together by the Holy Spirit for one common object. Lastly, we find that the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, were commissioned to set forward the work of the house of the Lord. This was evidently a recurrence to the scriptural order, arising out of a divine intelligence as to the nature of the work on which they were engaged. (See Num. 4; 1 Chron. 23:2424These were the sons of Levi after the house of their fathers; even the chief of the fathers, as they were counted by number of names by their polls, that did the work for the service of the house of the Lord, from the age of twenty years and upward. (1 Chronicles 23:24).) The maintenance of God’s order in the work of His house is of the first importance, for it is in fact subjection to His will as expressed in His Word. To man’s thoughts some other method might have seemed preferable; but the only question for the Lord’s servants was, and is, what has He directed? From not perceiving this, there has been perpetual conflict in the church of God between man’s will and the Lord’s; and, alas the consequence has been that man and man’s thoughts have almost universally usurped the place of Christ and His Word.
The Levites through grace readily entered upon their labors. There were but seventy-four. (See chap. 2:40.) In the wilderness, comprising only those who were “from thirty years old and upward, even unto fifty years old,” they numbered “eight thousand and five hundred and eighty” (Num. 4:46-4846All those that were numbered of the Levites, whom Moses and Aaron and the chief of Israel numbered, after their families, and after the house of their fathers, 47From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old, every one that came to do the service of the ministry, and the service of the burden in the tabernacle of the congregation, 48Even those that were numbered of them, were eight thousand and five hundred and fourscore. (Numbers 4:46‑48)). When the Lord therefore opened the door of deliverance for them from their Babylonish captivity, very few had cared to avail themselves of it; they had found a home, alas! In the land of their exile, and had forgotten Jerusalem, and ceased to remember Zion. The more precious to the Lord was the fidelity of these seventy-four, and with His presence and blessing they were enough for His service as overseers of the workmen in the house of God. Grace too had wrought in their hearts, for they stood “together,” or, as the margin reads, “as one” in their office. This was true fellowship, and sprang from the fact that they were in communion with the mind of God concerning His house. His objects were theirs, and hence they were not hampered by divided counsels; but “as one” they set forward the workmen. Blessed augury for the success of their enterprise, as well as the evident fruit of the action of the Spirit of God!
The next two verses describe the celebration of the laying of the foundation. “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the Fiesta 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. And they sang together by course, in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because He is good, for His mercy endureth forever 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” (Ezra 3:10-1110And 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. 11And 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. (Ezra 3:10‑11)). It was a day of great joy and gladness; and as they had gone back to the Word, “as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God,” for directions concerning the altar, the sacrifices, and the feasts, so they have recourse to “the ordinance of David king of Israel,” for guidance in their service of praise. (Compare 2 Chron. 5:12-1312Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brethren, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:) 13It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; (2 Chronicles 5:12‑13)). In the wilderness indeed we do not read of songs of joy; they had sung the song of redemption on the banks of the Red Sea, but even that soon died away on their lips, and was succeeded by the murmurs which were begotten by the hardships and perils of their pilgrim journey. But when in the land the ark had found a resting-place, if but for a time, in Zion, David “appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record, and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.” Also, Asaph and others were to play upon psalteries and harps. Asaph himself was to make a sound with cymbals, while certain priests were to blow with trumpets. “On that day David delivered first the psalm, to thank the Lord, into the hand of Asaph and his brethren,” in which the words occur, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever” (1 Chron. 16). Few and feeble therefore as were the children of Israel who gathered this day on mount Moriah, they were scrupulously exact in obedience to the Word. Engaged on the Lord’s work, they discerned rightly that in it human thoughts and human wisdom had no place. The Lord and the Lord alone must prescribe the method of His house.
Three classes are distinguished in this joyful celebration: there were the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the sons of Asaph with cymbals; and there were outside of these the people who answered the praise they heard with a great shout, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. None but priests were permitted to blow with the sacred trumpets (see Num. 10), for it needs to be in the holy place, in the presence of God, in communion with His mind, to discern when to sound the notes of testimony and praise. So likewise only the sons of Asaph—Levites, “according to the king’s order”— must use the sacred cymbals (1 Chron. 25:66All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God, according to the king's order to Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman. (1 Chronicles 25:6)). Thus duly arranged, “they sang together by course, in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord,” and the burden of their song was, “Jehovah is good, for His mercy endureth forever toward Israel”.
But there were tears of sorrow mingled with their notes of praise; for the next verse tells us of many of the priests and Levites, and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, those who had seen Solomon’s temple in all its glory and splendor, and as they contrasted it with the house they were now commencing, they wept with a loud voice, while the others shouted aloud for joy. And truly the tears of the one and the gladness of the other befitted the circumstances of the day; for those who had seen the glory of the kingdom and the visible cloud of the presence of Jehovah in the first temple, and who were now spectators of the desolations of Jerusalem, and felt their present impoverished condition, and their feebleness in attempting to build anew the house of the Lord, it was but natural, whatever their gratitude, that grief should predominate. For those, on the other hand, who remembered only their captivity in Babylon, with its deprivation of both altar and temple, it could be nothing but unmingled gratitude and praise.
And who can doubt that both the tears and the gladness were alike acceptable to the Lord, inasmuch as both might equally have been the fruit of the working of His grace in their hearts? Indeed, might not a parallel be found in our own times? When the Lord brought some of His people out of their Babylonish captivity, in the present century, and they entered anew upon the possession of their priestly privileges of access and worship; when they marked out again from the Word the true ground of the church, and sought in whatever feebleness to occupy it, their hearts, under the power of the Holy Spirit, would of necessity overflow in thanksgiving and praise. Now delivered from sacerdotal assumptions and claims, from the corruptions of the church and of Christianity, and filled with gratitude to Him who in His grace had opened their eyes, smitten off their fetters, and brought them into this wealthy place, they could but “shout aloud for joy.” On the other hand, when the ancient men, who were more deeply instructed in the Word, and who had often pondered the beauty and order of the church in Pentecostal days, compared it with their own feeble efforts to conform themselves according to the directions of the Scriptures, and when they reflected how many of their brethren had been left behind in bondage, sorrow was as appropriate as joy. There could not but be the blending of the two, so that, as in the case of the children of Israel, there might have been a difficulty in discerning “the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people.”
Altogether the celebration of laying the foundation of the temple is a beautiful scene. The reader, however, will remark that, in accordance with the nature of the book and the position of the people, the record is wholly taken up with what the people did and felt. God is not visibly in the scene, though it is apparent that all is being done for and to Him. In a word, His people are acting in faith, and faith only could bring Him in, and that of necessity was an individual thing. But we are not left without witness of God’s thoughts of His people on this day. If we turn to the book of Zechariah, we shall find that He was watching His people, and interested in their doings. As yet God had not begun to speak by prophecy to His restored people, either by Haggai or by Zechariah; but when He, some years later, stirred them up and encouraged their hearts by these means, He refers to the laying of the foundation of the temple. Zechariah thus speaks: “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? For they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth” (Zech. 4:8-108Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 9The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. 10For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:8‑10)).
We thus learn how precious to God was the commencement of His house. His heart was set upon it, and He ever rejoices when His people understand His thoughts, and, with intelligence of His mind, seek to be found in the path of His will. Zerubbabel had laid the foundation, and he also should finish it; and this should be a sign to the people that the Lord had sent His servant. It might be a day of small things, as measured by the outward eye; but it was a day which contained within itself the promise of the restoration of the kingdom in glory, under the sway of the promised Messiah (see Zech. 6:12-1312And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: 13Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. (Zechariah 6:12‑13)), and it was the privilege of faith to link itself, in this day of small things, with the full accomplishment of the purposes of God towards His people. Moreover, the eyes of the Lord—“those seven,” His perfect intelligence and cognizance of all things, for they are the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro through the whole earth should rejoice, and see the plummet in the hands of Zerubbabel; that is, when His house should be completed. In the previous chapter these seven eyes are upon the foundation-stone. “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant, THE BRANCH. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbor under the vine and under the fig tree” (Zech. 3:8-108Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH. 9For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. 10In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbor under the vine and under the fig tree. (Zechariah 3:8‑10)).
This scripture reveals to us the full significance in the thoughts of God of the laying of the foundation of His house by the remnant in Jerusalem. It was the assurance of the introduction of Christ, the Branch, who should secure to His people the promised blessing. So looked at, it is God that was doing all, if His people were the instruments. He laid the foundation-stone (compare Isa. 28:1616Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. (Isaiah 28:16)), though it were by the hands of Zerubbabel. It was His work, inasmuch as it was the fulfillment of His counsels. His eyes were upon the stone—that stone ok grace and blessing; for indeed it was “a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation”—and He Himself would engrave the graving; that is, He would unfold and declare all its divine import; and then He would remove the iniquity of the land in one day. For truly it was through His death and resurrection that Christ would become the Savior of His people from their sins, and thus the foundation-stone on which His people should be built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-54To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4‑5)), and on which His people Israel should also rest, and trusting in which they should never be confounded. The consequence therefore should be full earthly blessing, every man calling his neighbor under the vine and under the fig tree.
Combining the above scriptures with the narrative in Ezra will enable the reader to view the proceedings of that day with a double interest. If in Ezra the Spirit of God would associate us with the thoughts and feelings of the people in connection with their work, in Zechariah He draws us into fellowship with the thoughts of God. The people, it may be, saw but little beyond the promise of the restoration of the temple and its services; but God, with whom a thousand years are as one day, beheld in that day of small things the commencement of His work of grace and power, in virtue of which He would accomplish all His counsels through the advent, death, appealing, and reign of His anointed—His King, whom He would one day establish on His holy hill of Zion.