The Restoration From Babylon: Ezra 3

Ezra 3  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Ezra 3
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 the 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.
Second, 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. Last, 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. (The children of Asaph, and the children of the porters (Ezra 2:41-4241The singers: the children of Asaph, an hundred twenty and eight. 42The children of the porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, in all an hundred thirty and nine. (Ezra 2:41‑42)) were also Levites. All together, therefore, they numbered three hundred and forty-one; but only these seventy-four were available for this special work.) 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 fourscore (Num. 4:47-4847From 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 4:47‑48)). 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 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. 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 this 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, 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 for 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 this 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” (Ezra 4:8-108Rehum the chancellor and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort: 9Then wrote Rehum the chancellor, and Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their companions; the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, and the Elamites, 10And the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnappar brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria, and the rest that are on this side the river, and at such a time. (Ezra 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 toward 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” (Ezra 3:8-108Now 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. 9Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. 10And 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. (Ezra 3:8‑10)).
The Scripture reveals to us the full significance in the thoughts of God in 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 was 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 of grace and blessing—for indeed it was “a tried stone, a precious corner stone, 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 Pet. 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, appearing, and reign of His anointed—His King, whom He would one day establish on His holy hill of Zion.