In our study of Ezra chapter three, we look at the implementation of the Word of God in the lives of those who had returned from exile to the city of Jerusalem.
When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled as one man in Jerusalem.
After a period of time in which the people went to their own towns and built their own houses, they all came together in Jerusalem. It is just before this great gathering that the prophet Haggai was sent to the leaders in order to call them to focus the people on the work of the Lord and not their own homes.
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.
Ezra leaves out a portion of the events that occurred at this gathering but we see it in Nehemiah 8. This is where Ezra stood and read the Book of the Law. We see that, not only was it read, but it was put into action. The priests began by building the altar. This altar was a place of meeting between God and His servants and is a picture of Jesus Christ. We, likewise, need a place where we can gather with a group of God's people for worship.
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.
We see that this return to the things of God brought opposition from the people around them. This opposition did not stop the work and they worshiped the Lord with sacrifices. It is much the same with us today as, if you are focused on the things of God, you can expect opposition.
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.
Even though they did not have a building yet, the people offered sacrifices and celebrated the feasts of the Lord. This was a picture of what was to come through Jesus Christ. He fulfilled all of these sacrifices on our behalf and gave us the meeting place of our hearts. Today, we often get caught up in a fancy building for a place of worship but, as we see here, it is not about the building.
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 authorized by Cyrus king of Persia.
Not only did the people worship God through sacrifices burnt on the altar but also through giving. The money was then used to pay the skilled workers that would build the temple. Some was given to the carpenters and we are reminded that Jesus was a carpenter and, just as these carpenters rebuilt the temple, Jesus was building the temple in the hearts of men.
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.
It is very interesting to note that God's people were supervisors in the building and not mere laborers or craftsmen. There are many today that act as if God does not use people that have not yet accepted Jesus Christ but, as we see here, that is not so. We do not know how many came to faith in God while building this temple but surely there were some. The same principle applies today; if we allow the lost to serve the Lord alongside us, they will hear about Jesus and some will believe and be saved.
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.
The people had a kind of ground-breaking celebration when the foundation was laid. There was singing and praise for what God was doing.
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 as the younger generation was celebrating the work of God, the older folks were weeping and mourning at the loss of what used to be. This mourning was drowning out the celebration and much the same thing can happen in the local churches. Many times the old ways and traditions hold the congregation back from growing and celebrating the work of the Lord.