Ezra 3:2-3 Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening.
Ezra 3:8 The construction of the Temple of God began in midspring, during the second year after they arrived in Jerusalem. The work force was made up of everyone who had returned from exile, including Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jehozadak and his fellow priests, and all the Levites. The Levites who were twenty years old or older were put in charge of rebuilding the Lord’s Temple.
Approximately 50,000 Jews took the opportunity to return to Jerusalem which was a 700 mile journey through the desert from Babylon to Jerusalem. Very few priests and Levites actually responded to Cyrus’ decree for the people of Jerusalem to return to their homeland after seventy years of exile. Only 74 Levites returned, of which were from the family of Jeshua and Kadmiel (Ezra 2:36-40). The majority had built homes and now were content living in Babylon.
Most of the ones who did respond were from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah who were exiled to Babylon during the seventy years. Those captured and exiled to Assyria in 2 Kings 17 didn’t return.
Jeremiah 29:10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.
During this seventy year period, some of the priests and leaders married pagan wives who didn’t worship God, a list of those guilty of intermarriage are provided in Ezra 10:18-44. Remember this…
Ezra 3:10-13 When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the Lord, just as King David had prescribed. With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord:
“He is so good!
His faithful love for Israel endures forever!”
Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid. But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.
Now the foundation is the most important aspect of a structure. It has to be balanced and secure. It must be strong and able to withstand the load that will be placed upon it. As a Christian, the foundation must be the Lord Jesus Christ, for He is the chief cornerstone.
Ezra chapter 3 tells us that they built the altar first. Jeshua, his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed by the Law of Moses. The scripture further tells us in the same chapter that they celebrated the Festival of Shelters as the Law prescribed. They gave voluntary offerings and the priests had actually begun to sacrifice the burnt offerings to the Lord. They did this all before the building of the foundation started. At first glance this appears to be in order according to the Law. But, was it really as it seemed? Were they just going through the motions? Not everything is always as it appears. One must look past the outward rituals and look deeper. One must discern were they truly sincere and in the will of God.
Isaiah 1:11-16 “What makes you think I want all your “sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gift; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days of fasting- they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.
Now let’s compare this building of the Temple with the Temple built by Solomon in 2 Chronicles.
Solomon calls all the leaders together to a place of worship at Gibeon. They gathered in front of the Tabernacle, at an altar, and consulted the Lord. They sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings on it in the presence of the Lord. God appeared later that same night to Solomon.
Solomon asked God for wisdom and knowledge to lead the people. God answered and gave him the wisdom and knowledge that he requested. Solomon then decides after being granted with wisdom from God to build a Temple to honor the name of the Lord. (2 Chronicles 1)
Solomon began building the Temple on Mount Moriah on the threshing floor of Araunah, the site that David had selected. This temple was completed to exact specifications. It was the most elaborate and grandest structure that had ever been built. (2 Chronicles 3)
The sacred items and the Ark of the Covenant were carried in to the Temple by the priests who had purified themselves. (2 Chronicles 5)
The priests and Levites were dressed in fine linen robes and took their positions.
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the Lord with these words:
“He is good!
His faithful love endures forever!”
At that moment a thick cloud filled the Temple of the Lord. The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple of God. Solomon then praised the Lord and stood before the altar of the Lord and lifted his hands in prayer. Solomon dedicated the Temple to the Lord.
2 Chronicles 7:1-3 When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the Lord filled the Temple. The priests could not enter the Temple of the Lord because the glorious presence of the Lord filled it. When all the people of Israel saw the fire coming down and the glorious presence of the Lord filling the Temple, they fell face down on the ground and worshiped and praised the Lord saying,
“He is good!
His faithful love endures forever!”
2 Chronicles 7:10, states that they were all joyful and glad because the Lord has been so good to David and to Solomon and to his people Israel. All the people were in one mind and one accord with unity. This is unlike the people present after the new foundation was laid; shouts of joy mingled with weeping.
It took Solomon twenty years to complete the Lord’s Temple and his royal palace. During Solomon’s reign as King, he married many women of who worshipped other Gods. He built shrines for all his foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrifices to their gods. 1 Kings 11:5 states that Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of Sidonians and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. All of which was evil in the site of the Lord God.
God said in 1 Kings 9:6-9, “But if you and your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship others gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name. I will make Israel on object of mockery and ridicule among the nations. And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads in amazement. They will ask, “Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?” And the answer will be, “Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.”
God punished Judah’s wickedness by allowing the Babylonians to destroy their Temple, and their city and take thousands of people into exile.
Now let’s go back to Ezra 3:10-13 and ask the question, why were some so joyous and others weeping after the foundation had been laid?
Haggai 2:3 Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes nothing?
The outward appearance of the rebuild failed in comparison to the original. The materials were far less extravagant and of less value, but I believe there was more to the weeping than the superficial aspect.
First of all, prior to the building of the altar in Ezra 3, does it mention a cleansing or purification of the priests who were living in a paganistic country for seventy years, who carried sacred instruments that were once in the Temple of the most High God, that were later placed in the temple of pagan gods, then given back to be placed once again in the Temple of the Lord God?
In Ezra chapter 1:5, it does state that God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders to rebuild the Temple of the Lord, and in chapter 3 it explains that they sacrificed burnt offerings but it doesn’t mention prayer, or consulting the Lord, and furthermore it doesn’t mention that the Lord was pleased, that the sacrifice was accepted, and also never mentions that the Lord responded to any of the above. It simply says they wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings. They were following the ritualistic aspect of the Law of Moses but where was the presence of the Lord during this whole process?
Now earlier I had made known the fact that several of the priests, Levites, and leaders intermarried with pagan women. The scripture clearly states that this was a sin to marry those who followed other gods. Why would the Lord God show His presence with sin abounding on every side? Those who laid the very foundation of this new Temple were unclean and therefore the Temple was being defiled. The Bible says plainly that you cannot serve two masters. You cannot have the world and God also. There has to be a choice either for God or for the world. These people remind me of the church today who try their best to straddle the fence, compromising, both grabbing onto God with one hand and not letting go of the world in the other hand. God’s people must come out of the world and be separate. Again, where is the sanctification?
Clearly these people were not cleansed and ready to build. There was no purging of sin. There was no consecration. These people were not separate from those pagans surrounding them. They were intertwined with the unholy and the ungodly. They had the routine down but their hearts was clearly not right. The enemy was never bound, crippled, rebuked. The devil was allowed to hinder and soon completely stop the moving forward because he wasn’t denounced.
Ezra 9:11 Your servants the prophets warned us when they said, ‘The land you are entering to possess is totally defiled by the practices of the people living there. From one end to the other, the land is filled with corruption.
Yes, the people may have been thankful for the Lord bringing them out of captivity and yes, they did praise the Lord and sang songs and blew their trumpets but unlike the initial completion during Solomon’s reign…The presence of the Lord did not fill this area, there was no fire, no manifestations of the Lord’s presence whatsoever here.
These people were praising because of the emotional involvement, but once again, where is the presence of the Lord?
I believe the remnant of older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had actually experienced the presence of the Lord in such an awesome outpouring, the Shekinah Glory witnessed during the initial building would be so upset that the same outpouring didn’t happen this time.
Although I am sure they were glad to be out of captivity, and I am sure they had waited for what would seem like an eternity to get to go back to their homeland, I believe they had seen how far away the people in general had strayed from the Lord. Just as the many who rent their clothing in despair, weeping for the condition of the people, they would be distraught of the situation at hand.
God allowed the destruction of the first Temple due to corruption and wickedness and allowed the delay and cessation of the rebuild of the Temple for the same reason. The Temple remained in ruins for twenty years until the people humbled themselves, repented of their sins, and turned from their wicked ways. It was only then that the Lord permitted them to complete the Temple.