FIRST THINGS FIRST
Lord, thank You for new beginnings.
Read EZRA 2:68—3:13
68 When they arrived at the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury for this work 61,000 darics[a] of gold, 5,000 minas[b] of silver and 100 priestly garments.
70 The priests, the Levites, the musicians, the gatekeepers and the temple servants settled in their own towns, along with some of the other people, and the rest of the Israelites settled in their towns.
Rebuilding the Altar
3 When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, the people assembled together as one in Jerusalem. 2 Then Joshua 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. 3 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. 4 Then in accordance with what is written, they celebrated the Festival of Tabernacles with the required number of burnt offerings prescribed for each day. 5 After that, they presented the regular burnt offerings, the New Moon sacrifices and the sacrifices for all the appointed sacred festivals of the Lord, as well as those brought as freewill offerings to the Lord. 6 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.
Rebuilding the Temple
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[c]) 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.
a Ezra 2:69 That is, about 1,100 pounds or about 500 kilograms
b Ezra 2:69 That is, about 3 tons or about 2.8 metric tons
c Ezra 3:9 Hebrew Yehudah, a variant of Hodaviah
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica
“You cannot have rest, or be perfectly blest, / Until all on the altar is laid” (E. A. Hoffman, 1839–1929).
With King Cyrus’s assistance, a remnant of the Jews exiled in Babylon return to Judah, led by Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel and Joshua, although most remained scattered across the empire (see the book of Esther). Their primary task is to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, destroyed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar nearly 50 years prior. Protracted rebellion against God caused their exile. They are now being given a fresh start and know they must not repeat the sins of the past.
With this in mind, the first thing they do is build an altar. This is so appropriate because in so doing, they acknowledge that their renewed relationship with the Lord must be founded on obedience to his Word through the offering of sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins and the maintenance of fellowship with him. Those offerings prefigure the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which does away with all previous sacrifices and alone enables us to be reconciled with our Creator and walk in communion with him. Today there is no other way to come to (and return to) God except through the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Only after rebuilding the altar do the Jews begin to lay the foundation of the new temple. On that day of great celebration, many from the older generation weep because they remember the glorious splendor of the former temple. It is legitimate to remember the good old days when doing so helps us trust God for his assistance in facing present challenges. Yet, if we dwell in the past and lament that things are no longer as they used to be, our moaning can pour cold water on the enthusiasm of those who see the challenges not as obstacles but as opportunities. Is anything too hard for the Lord?
What do you need to “lay on the altar” to experience the fullness of God’s blessing and perfect rest for your soul?
Lord, as the restored remnant sang, You are so good and Your mercy toward Israel endures forever.
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