Ezra: The Returned Remnant, Chapter 3

Ezra 3  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 9
OUR chapter sets before us briefly and in the unmistakable power of the Spirit two pictures of the remnant alike instructive and affecting. They are also characteristic of this book.
“And when the seventh month was come, and the sons of Israel were in their cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, 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. And they set the altar on its base; for fear was upon them because of the people of the countries; and they offered burnt offerings on it unto Jehovah, the morning and evening burnt offerings. And they held the feast of tabernacles as it is written, and [offered] daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required; and afterward the continual burnt offering, and those of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Jehovah that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a voluntary offering unto Jehovah. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings unto Jehovah. But the foundation of the temple was not [yet] laid. And they gave money to the masons and to the carpenters; and meat and drink and oil to those of Zidon and to those of Tire, to bring cedar-trees from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia” (vers. 1-7).
The season was singularly appropriate. It was not the first month of the sacred year, in its paschal lamb and feast of unleavened bread the foundation of holy security in presence of judgment and of communion with Christ perfect and exclusive of all corruption. Still less was it the time of the feast of weeks, when the two wave-loaves baken with leaven were brought out fifty days after the wave-sheaf was waved before Jehovah on the morrow after the sabbath, the first day of the Lord's resurrection, the gathering not of Israel but of the church during Israel's rejection, as we know, a kind of first-fruits as He was. Here it was the harvest month, the final one of Jehovah's feasts, but it was only a little witness. The set time was not yet come, whatever the pity upon Zion meanwhile to encourage the waiting remnant. It was the seventh month, and the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Had the God of Israel not been before their eyes, they would not have so gathered. Still less when gathered, would the heads of the priesthood and of the people with their brethren, as their first joint public act, have builded the altar of their God to offer burnt offerings, “as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.” Human prudence would have made haste to erect a wall against their enemies. Faith and reverence led them to build the God of Israel's altar. They could not do all that Moses and Aaron did, or David and Solomon; nor would Jehovah deign under the then circumstances to give the Shechinah, or Urim and Thummim. The full restoration of Israel is still future. But they were free, yea they were bound, to acknowledge Him and His goodness to them after the due manner; and the burnt offering was the constant expression of approach to Him by virtue of an unblemished sacrifice, when all tried by fire rose up acceptably before Him.
They in their utter weakness, “though fear was upon them because of the people of the countries,” justly felt that their God had the first claim. They had seen what forgetfulness of Him had brought upon them, what unsparing chastisement of their idolatrous sins and all others, not because they were not but because they were His people. They had experienced His compassion on their low estate when captives, and His fidelity to the prophetic word in bringing back a remnant to the land; and as one purpose of heart gathered them, so their prime object was to worship Him “as it is written in the law of Moses.” It was not a new device to meet their anomalous circumstances. They had a vast deal urgent to do in a land of rain and neglect; and in no place more than Jerusalem. They had individually cleared themselves as Israelites and priests in chap. ii. They rightly judged that their first act in unity was due in adoring sacrificial recognition of Him. O if all had been it accord with this good beginning! this altar was their best stronghold. It was their spontaneous resource by grace; and what a testimony to all the earth! Certainly it was precious to the God of heaven.
Along with this rest for their timid hearts in the God they thus honored, their jealous submission to his word is as plain in this chapter as in the foregoing, and we may add His own care for it in chap. 1. They had little strength, but they kept His word and did not deny His name. It was the more striking, because the mass of Israel abode far away, scattered among the Gentiles of the east. Godly ones had prayed in their captivity, with windows open toward Jerusalem. But there only did they build an altar, there only offer burnt offerings. Never do we hear of such worship in Babylon, never in Assyria. To us, Christians, the name of Jesus is the center, the sole worthy center for the gathered saints; even as the altar here was for the faithful Jew. It was no question what others did or did not: these recovered from captivity, when gathered, owned thus the God of Israel without pretending to do more than they could. It was godly order, and simple obedience, because it was living faith, and not mere sentiment. Does not this become any faithful now?
But blessed as this was, they did not rest there as if it were all. “They held the feast of tabernacles as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinances, as the duty of every day required; and afterward the continual burnt offering, and those of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of Jehovah that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a voluntary offering unto Jehovah. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer offerings unto Jehovah. But the foundation of the temple of Jehovah was not [yet] laid. And they gave money to the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, to those of Zidon, and to those of Tire, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.” Thus ceasing to do evil, they learned to do well, and prepared to follow the Lord fully.
“And in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbahel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem; and they appointed the Levites from twenty years old and upward, to oversee the work of the house of Jehovah. And Jeshua stood up, his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah [Hodaviah], as one, to oversee the workmen in the house of God; [also] the sons of Henadad, their sons and their brethren, the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Jehovah. they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Jehovah according to time directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively in praise and thanksgiving unto Jehovah: For he is good, for his mercy [is] forever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout in praising Jehovah, because the foundation of the house of Jehovah was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and chief fathers, the aged who had seen the first house, [when] the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy. And the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off” (vers. 8-13).
This laying the foundation of the temple was a decided step in advance. It was good to build and use the altar without delay in faith; it was better to lay the foundation than to content themselves with that informal but acceptable and right beginning. No doubt circumstances were anomalous. The Persian had civil authority over them; and the people were for the most part among the Gentiles; and a new difficulty arose from imported Gentiles who imitated Jewish forms in the land. Yet faith is not to be turned aside from carrying out the truth, but humbly, not pretentiously, and never forgetting that the anomaly was due solely to Israel's sin and God's dealing with it. Hence, even in that hour of loudly expressed joy over the foundation laid, the old men wept; they felt more the ruin and its moral causes. God saw and cherished the tears. Men were more alive to the joy which greeted the auspicious act of that day. Both bore witness that Jehovah is good, and His mercy is forever, whatever be the failure of His people and His righteous notice of it. As it has been truly said, the Lord slighted neither; and each, according to their measure, did what they did to Him. Compare Rom. 14. But in truth zeal in going forward energetically, however right, lacks the due spiritual sense which estimates His glory and the state of His people, if there be not the constant and humiliating sense that He has been dishonored notwithstanding loving-kindness without end, and that He has justly stripped us of our ornaments. Do we feel it now?