The Lord has stirred the heart of Cyrus who is the king over Persia, the world empire in 539 BC. The Lord has stirred him to decree for God’s people to be able to return to Jerusalem so they can build a temple. The significance of this event cannot be overstated. For God to call for his temple to be built means that God wants to be with his people again. Even though the people had deeply sinned and experienced judgment by being removed from the land, the Lord has not stopped desiring to be with his people. So the Lord offers hope in the darkness, moving Cyrus to allow the people to go back and worship the Lord. Those whose hearts had been stirred by the Lord returned to Judah. They return to nothing but have been given resources and wealth to begin to restart the work.
Handling Fear (3:1-6)
Ezra 3 begins by telling us that the people have returned to the land and have settled in their towns. The first step on their return is make a dwelling to live in and a means for food. But when the seventh month came, the people assembled together in Jerusalem. The seventh month is a significant date is Israel’s history. The seventh month was the month when the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles were celebrated. These were feast days that remembered being set free from their slavery and the mighty hand of God who had freed them. The seventh month was also the month when Solomon dedicated the temple after it completion (1 Kings 8). Now remember that the people do not have a temple or anything in Jerusalem to be able to worship the Lord. This is the reason they have returned. But the people rise up and come to Jerusalem to sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord, as was written in the Law of Moses.
But there is an important statement made in verse 3 that we see controlling this paragraph. We read in verse 3 that the people set the altar in place because they were afraid of the people in the land. Coming back to Jerusalem and looking to do the Lord’s work did not have a positive reception. I want us to see that the people are afraid of the surrounding peoples. So what will they do now that they have returned and are afraid of the people around them? What are they going to do when they come back and things are not easy but frightening? What these people do is put the altar of the Lord in place and sacrifice burnt offerings morning and evening on that altar. They worship despite their fear of the surrounding people. In fact, they worship because they are afraid of the people. They are going to seek the Lord’s favor all the more now that they are afraid. They are going to seek forgiveness all the more now that they are back and are experiencing resistance. The burnt offerings show that the people understood their need for sin to be dealt with and their need for God to be with them. The work could not begin until the altar was in place.
I wish that more people would have this understanding and view of worship. It is so sad that church has come to mean coming and doing certain activities out of commanded obligation to the Lord. I would like us to see that this is not the view of these people. They do not built the altar only because they think they have to. Rather, worship is the means of not only praising God but imploring the favor of God. We gather in worship because we are asking God to be with us, to help us, to give us favor, to bless us, and help us succeed in his work. Church has been turned into a selfish, what do I get out of this pursuit. But that is not its purpose. This is our time together to implore and plead with God together. What we need when we are afraid is worship. What we need when life is hard is worship. What we need when times are dark is worship. What we need when we look to restart our lives is worship. When these people in Ezra 3 embark on this project and they fear the people, they do not retreat but realize they need to worship. Worship is how they are going to access God and his help. We handle fear through worship.
Seeking God’s Way (3:1-10)
I also want us to see how the people emphasized doing things God’s way. In verse 2 we read that they made burnt offerings as it was written in the Law of Moses, the man of God. In verse 4 they offered the burnt offerings according to the rule prescribed. Verse 5 we see they began keeping all the feasts God had asked them to keep. In verse 10 we read that they praised the Lord according to the directions of David, king of Israel. This only makes sense. If worship is our way of coming to God and imploring him for his favor, blessings, help, and success, then we need to worship him the way he wants. Since worship is about seeking the Lord then we need to seek the way the Lord wants us to worship. Think about it like this. If my kids come to me for help with something and I show them what they need to do but they ignore it, then why did you come to me? If you are going to do it your own way, then don’t talk to me. But if you want my help, then listen and do as I say. This is all God is telling us. If you want relationship with him and want his help, then listen to what he has to say. We have to seek his will.
This will be a key point that we will see many times in our study. But it is important to see that as these people begin, they do not think of worship as something that they get to determine how to do. They do not see God as someone who will accept anything that they offer. They must follow what God has told them to do if they are going to worship him properly.
Responding To God (3:8-13)
So now they begin the work on the Lord’s house. In verse 10 we read that when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the worship of praise ignited according to the directions prescribed by David. Listen to what the people sang. “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” All the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord because the foundation was laid. The words of Psalm 100 jumps to the people’s lips and they proclaim the goodness and steadfast love of God. The people are responding with worship. I think is important to think about. The people do not respond by praising each other for the good work they had done. They do not praise each other for having the courage to return and do the work. They praise God because they understand that it is only by God’s will that this has happened. They had come back to the land and implored God with their sacrifices and worship. God made a way in the darkness so that the foundation to the temple was completed. The people then respond with worship, praising the fact that God is good and his love endures forever.
But I want us to notice that there is another response recorded in verses 12-13. Many of the old men of the priests, Levites, and family heads who had seen the first house wept. They wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation being laid even though so many others shouted for joy. The loud voices of the weeping and the loud voices of the joyful shouting were so great that the sounds were indistinguishable and heard from far away.
Now what is happening at this moment? Many see this as a negative for a number of reasons. Some state that these older men were wrong for weeping during a time that should have been joyful and about celebration and praise. Some state that the reason they are weeping is because the glory of this structure is not going to be the same now as it was under Solomon. But it is important to note that the text does not say this. Nor does the text imply that these older men are doing something wrong and should be condemned. Some think it is a glory problem because of what we read in Haggai 2. But the problem with this idea is that Haggai will happen more than 16 years later.
I am going to submit to you that there is nothing wrong with what the younger generation and the older generation are doing at this moment. All of these sang and shouted with praise, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” I believe what Ezra is showing us is the contrasting nature of worship. Have you ever been overwhelmed when you got something back that you thought was lost forever? Maybe it was something important to you or maybe it was something sentimental to you. Or how about the tears that well up within you when you are reunited with someone that you have not seen for so long? I believe this is what is happening at this moment. The younger generation do not have an understanding what was lost and are overwhelmed and excited with joy as the work begins. But the older generation remembers what they used to have and how it had been gone for 50-60 years. But now it is being restored. Now it is coming back and they are overwhelmed to tears to see the foundation of God’s house laid. God has come back to be with his people.
Friends, this is the contrasting nature of worship. I hope you have experienced this is your worship to the Lord. Sometimes we come to the memorial of Jesus with great joy. We are amazed at the love of God and the work of God giving us the freedom from sins and the great hope of eternity. We proclaim our praise and awe for what he has done for us. But sometimes we come to the memorial of Jesus with sorrow and hurt. Our hearts hurt and we are sorrowful because we understand what we did to put us in this condition where we have separated ourselves from God, violated the covenant, and are in need of rescue. We weep because God is bringing us back to him even after the horrible week we have lived against him. We experience the power of a tearful, repentant heart. I believe this is what is happening in Ezra and we experiencing the same contrasting emotions when we come to the cross of Jesus.
Friends, this must be the answer to our fears. This must be the answer in our difficulties. This must be the answer when times are dark. Worship is your answer for fear, difficulties, and dark times. I do not mean just doing some worship activities. I mean using our gathering as a way to call upon God for help, comfort, and strength for whatever you are experiencing at this moment. Prayer is not preaching. Our prayers should be praising God and imploring God to act for us as we seek his will and work. Our songs are not just feeling good but praising God and imploring God to act for us as we seek his will and work. Our studies and lessons are not just about knowing a scripture but causing us to praise God and implore God to act for us as we seek his will and work.
Do we understand the words of praise in verse 11 are our words of promise? The Lord is good because his steadfast love endures forever toward his people. In Jesus we belong as the people of God. Jesus is the new Israel, the true vine and we are the branches if we love him and do his will. The Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever toward the people of God. The Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever toward you. We can have faith in the face of fear and rise up for the work when we believe and understand that the Lord is good because his steadfast love endures forever toward you. Make this promise real to you and real to your life. Then come to him in praise and implore the Lord to show this truth again and again as you rise up seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.