7 Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and gave food and drink and olive 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.
8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord. 9 Joshua 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.
10 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. 11 With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord:
“He is good;
his love toward 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. 12 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. 13 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.
(Ezra 3:7-13 NIV)
As we finish up chapter 3, let’s take a quick review. King Cyrus, moved by God, allowed Jewish exiles to move from Babylon back to Judah and Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. The exiles moved back to their former towns and villages and settled into daily life. After establishing their homes and families, the exiles came together to fulfill their purpose – to rebuild the Temple.
Their first step, however, was to rebuild the altar and re-establish sacrifices to the Lord. This was a bold move, and the exiles did so with grave concern about the reaction from the local people. After the altar was rebuilt, the exiles celebrated the Festival of the Tabernacles, one of three nation-wide celebrations ordained by God. Daily sacrifices and offering were restored in this same timeframe.
In today’s passage, we see the exiles begin the rebuilding of the Temple. In verse 7, money was paid and goods were exchanged for building supplies. Because the supplies had to come from another province of the Persian kingdom, and there was a great expense in both the building supplies and their transport to Jerusalem, King Cyrus had to approve both the transaction between the provinces and the funds to pay for the transaction.
In verse 8, we see Joshua and Zerubbabel leading the building effort. The first thing these leaders did was appoint supervisors to oversee the work. These two men appointed supervisors twenty years old or older to make sure everything was performed according to God’s Word. This age consideration was the same that King David gave before he died (1 Chronicles 23:27).
The builders began by laying the foundation for the Temple. After the foundation was complete, the leaders held a celebration of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. The priests, Levites, musicians, and singers all had an integral part in leading the celebration. The musicians utilized trumpets and cymbals according to King David’s worship instructions given many generations before.
To be clear, this celebration was not a passive listening event by the rest of the exiles who were present as witnesses. This celebration of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord involved an active participation by the everyone in attendance. We see this participation carried out in the form of shouts of praise to the Lord in response to the musicians and singers’ lead.
Ezra points out in verse 12 that among all the praise and thanksgiving taking place, there was also an element of weeping. Ezra notes that the tears are coming from the old men who had seen the original Temple. Ezra does not say the reason behind the tears.
Were the tears because of the size of the Temple? Probably not, because King Cyrus had decreed that the new Temple should be of the same grandeur as the one built by Solomon. The tears might have been due to the lesser size and quality of the materials used to build the new Temple. The tears might have also been due to the lament over the sin of Judah and Jerusalem that caused the destruction of the Temple, the exile, the loss of life, all things that could have been avoided had the people simply obeyed God.
Ezra, in summary, tells us that the sounds of the celebration and the sounds of weeping all mixed together and were indistinguishable from one another and could be heard from afar. This was not just a loud party next door – this was a “keep the entire city awake” celebration.
As we look at today’s passage, we need to ask ourselves about our worship. Do we worship the Lord from the deepest part of who we are, or do we worship the Lord half-heartedly, going through the motions without really engaging with our minds, emotions, and souls? Do we celebrate the Lord with all our might, as David did when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6, particularly v. 14)?
May we say, along with King David and the exiles, “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” (verse 11a).
Do you feel led to spend some extra time in worship today? Psalm 136 is an excellent place to start.