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Ezra 3:1 When the seventh month had come and the children of Israel were in the cities- The seventh month could have been the seventh month after they arrived. But at this time they kept the feast of tabernacles (:4), which was to be kept in the seventh month of the Jewish year, so that is probably the month in view here.

The people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem- This seems to imply a strong unity amongst them; the same phrase is found in Jud. 20:11.

Ezra 3:2 Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak stood up with his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers, and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God-
"Rose up / stood up" is a word used often of the 'rising up' of the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:5; 3:2; 9:5; Neh. 2:18; 3:1). This was a fulfilment of the command to "Arise... Jerusalem!" (Is. 51:17; 52:2; 61:4). But this 'arising' was to be associated with the dawning of Zion's light in the form of Yahweh's glory literally dwelling over Zion (Is. 60:1). This didn't happen at the time, because the appearance of 'arising' by the exiles was only external and wasn't matched by a spiritual revival. Joshua and Zerubbabel between them were intended to be the priest and king of the restored kingdom, but when that didn't work out, Zechariah's prophecies seem to have envisaged the appearance of a singular king-priest. But this too didn't happen. God was trying by all means to bring about the reestablishment of the Kingdom despite so much human dysfunction and disinterest, just as He is today.

Note that Zerubbabel was the adopted son of Shealtiel, and only on that basis was reckoned his "son".

Ezra 3:3 In spite of their fear because of the peoples of the surrounding lands-
Time and again, Isaiah’s restoration prophecies told Judah that they should not fear, as Yahweh would mightily be with them in their work (Is. 41:10,13,14; 43:1,5; 44:2,8,11; 54:7,14; 59:19). But Judah feared the surrounding nations- Ezra and Nehemiah are full of this theme. Nehemiah refused to be put in fear by the Samaritan opposition because of his faith in Isaiah’s promises (Nehemiah 6:14). And Isaiah further spoke to Judah’s heart in Isaiah 51:12,13: “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations [s.w. re. the foundation of the temple being laid] of the earth [‘heaven and earth’ often refers to the temple]; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?”. The fact they did fear meant that they had forgotten Yahweh who was so eager to re-establish their Kingdom.

The restoration prophecies had stated clearly that the returned exiles would not be afraid. Jer. 30:10: “Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid”. Isaiah’s restoration prophecies contained not only many clear commands to not fear at the time of the restoration (Isaiah 41:10,13,14; 43:1,5; 44:2,8; 51:7; 54:4), but also a clear statement that if they were truly the re-established Kingdom, they would not fear: “Thou afflicted, tossed with tempest [s.w. Zechariah 7:14 re. how Judah was ‘tossed around’ by the 70 years captivity] I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires...and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee... and all thy children shall be taught of the LORD” (Is. 54:11-14). But the adversaries to the rebuilding did make the returned exiles afraid (and also Neh. 6:9). Nehemiah exhorted the people not to be afraid perhaps on the basis of Jeremiah’s words (Neh. 4:14). Their fear and problem-oriented view of life stopped the Kingdom bursting forth into their experience. That fear was rooted in an obsessive self-interest that eclipsed a true faith in that which is greater and larger than us as individuals. And so it can be with us.


They set the altar on its base- That is, they built it on its previous site.

And they offered burnt offerings on it to Yahweh, even burnt offerings morning and evening- These were the daily offerings commanded for each day under the law of Moses.

Ezra 3:4 They kept the feast of tents, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the ordinance, as the duty of every day required-
This was in the "seventh month" (:1). Even with Ezekiel’s prophecies behind him concerning “the prince”, Zerubbabel was easily discouraged in the rebuilding, and needed the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah to encourage him again. He kept the feast of tabernacles (Ezra 3:4) but without dwelling in booths (Neh. 8:17)- i.e., half heartedly. He could have been Messiah, perhaps- he may well have been 30/33 at the time of the restoration (Mt. 1:12,13). When Judah returned, they could have entered into the new covenant, featuring “nobles [an intensive plural, meaning ‘the great noble’]… and their governor shall proceed from the midst of them” (Jer. 30:21). Zerubabbel the Governor could have fulfilled this; but he flunked out. Yet God lifted up his spirit a second time (Hag. 1:14 cp. Ezra 1:5); he was given a second chance, such was God’s enthusiasm that he should achieve what was potentially possible for him. But again, he failed. He saw the glory of Babylon as more attractive than the hard work required to bring about Yahweh’s eternal glory in Zion. It is noteworthy how God worked through this man’s failures, and desired to give him (and all Israel) further opportunities.  

Ezra 3:5 and afterwards the continual burnt offering, the offerings of the new moons, of all the set feasts of Yahweh that were consecrated, and of each one who willingly offered a freewill offering to Yahweh-
Their technical obedience in offering sacrifice was commendable, but it was not being done according to the commandments for the restored temple in Ez. 40-48. They were still attempting to keep the old covenant, the law of Moses; ignoring the plain teaching of Jeremiah that they had broken this, and were being offered a new covenant which was not at all identical to the old covenant. Their motivation was therefore religious, historical and cultural, rather than spiritual and based upon God's word.

Ezra 3:6 From the first day of the seventh month, they began to offer burnt offerings to Yahweh; but the foundation of Yahweh’s temple was not yet laid-
The impression given is that they focused upon the sacrifices rather than laying the foundations of the temple, which ought to have been laid out according to the dimensions clearly given in Ez. 40-48. The prophets had often reminded God's people that He was not so interested in sacrifices as in hearts broken in repentance; but their focus upon sacrifice and ritual reflected their lack of repentance.

Ezra 3:7 They also gave money to the masons, and to the carpenters. They also gave food, drink and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus King of Persia-
They were consciously trying to imitate how Solomon had built the first temple. But instead they should have been seeking to build according to the dimensions and details of the plans given to them in Ez. 40-48. Their attempted replication of Solomon suggests they were rebuilding his temple rather than building the new structure of Ez. 40-48. Their motivation was in recreating their national past, following national heroes, rather than moving in line with the Spirit.

Haggai's prophecy can be dated quite precisely- it was given August-September 520 BC. This was harvest time. And at this very labour intensive season, where all hands had to be on deck out in the fields, the prophet called for a dedication of labour to building up God's house. Yet Judah were too concerned with their own harvests than the harvest of God's glory. They were asked to do something counter-instinctive- to take time out from harvest, and spend that time on building up God's house. And they failed the challenge. But it wasn't that they were simply lazy. Hag. 1:8, a prophecy given 18 years after the decree of Cyrus, orders the people to go up into the hills of Judah and get wood with which to build the temple. And yet according to Ezra 3:7, the decree of Cyrus 18 years earlier had resulted in cedar wood being brought from Tyre and Sidon, enough for the temple to be built. Where had the wood gone? Is the implication not that the leadership had used it for their own "cieled houses" (Hag. 1:4)? It all seems so petty minded. But this is what we are tempted to do, time and again- build up our own house and leave God's house desolate and in a very poor second place. And even worse- Hag. 1:9 records that the people expected "much" harvest, and were disappointed at the poor yields in Palestine. This would confirm the suggestion that many of those Jews who did return from Babylon were amongst the poor in Jewish exile society, and returned in home for personal betterment- rather than because they wished to obey the call of the prophets and establish God's glory in the land. That's a sober warning for all of us who may go through an external appearance of zeal for our God, whilst having very selfish and human motives underneath.

Ezra 3:8 Now in the second year of their coming to God’s house at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of Yahweh’s house-
I noted on Ezra 2 how very few Levites there were who returned. Only 341 members of Levitical families are listed in Ezra 2:40-42; and if only males over 20 were counted, that total number may have been as low as only 30- and that is assuming all the Levites who returned were obedient to this command, none were sick or handicapped etc.

Ezra 3:9 Then Jeshua stood with his sons and his brothers, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, having the oversight of the workmen in God’s house: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brothers the Levites-
This was all a far cry from the restoration prophecies of the Gentiles carrying the repentant Jews back to Judah and then themselves working to rebuild the temple for the Jews (Is. 60:10; Zech. 6:15). The Jews had to do so themselves, and as noted on :8, there were very few of them doing the work.

Ezra 3:10 When the builders laid the foundation of Yahweh’s temple, they set the priests in their clothing with trumpets, with the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise Yahweh, according to the directions of David king of Israel-
They were attempting to restore what had once been, as David had established things, from nationalistic and cultural reasons, just as they tried to replicate Solomon's usage of cedars from Lebanon. Instead they should have been trying to rebuild the temple according to the commands given in Ez. 40-48. This would have been why some wept and others shouted for joy in :12. The scene would not have been that impressive, for they only had 100 sets of priestly clothing (Ezra 2:69). The system of praise instituted by David would have only been very poorly replicated. Ezra 2:41 says that only 128 people from the singing family of Asaph returned, and not all of them would have been adults. This was very poor response. We note that apparently the famous singing families of Heman and Jeduthin didn't return (1 Chron. 25:1).

Ezra 3:11 They sang to one another in praising and giving thanks to Yahweh: For He is good, for His grace endures forever toward Israel. All the people shouted with a great shout when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh had been laid-
The "shouts" with which it was laid were the "shouts" of the foundation ceremony described in Zech. 4:7. This passage describes the Messianic kingdom of God which could have been restored in Israel at the time. But as explained on :12, the shouts were tinged with unreality, because it was clear that what had been built was not in obedience to the dimensions and system of Ez. 40-48, and was not even the size of the previous temple which the older men remembered from their youth in Jerusalem. Such great potential was precluded by Judah's limited vision. We notice that the young and old didn’t rejoice together- the old men wept at how small the temple was compared even with Solomon’s, whilst the younger ones rejoiced. Yet the restoration prophecy of Jer. 31:13 had spoken of how "Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old together”.


Ezra 3:12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice-
The language of Israel’s return from captivity as found in Isaiah and Ezekiel all has evident reference to the second coming and the final establishment of the Kingdom. It isn’t just that Israel’s return under Ezra and Zerubbabel was a type of that final homecoming. It could have been the Kingdom- had they obeyed the prophecies. It was all about a potential Kingdom of God. But they were too caught up with their own self-interest, with building their own houses rather than God’s; and so it was all deferred. Using the prophetic perfect, God had prophesied that at the time of the restoration, He would come and dwell in rebuilt Zion (Zech. 8:3)- just as Ezekiel’s prophecy had concluded: “The name of the city from that day shall be, The LORD is there” (Ez. 48:35). Clearly, Ezekiel’s prophecies could have been fulfilled at the restoration; God was willing that they should be. But human apathy and self-interest stopped it from happening as it could have done. When the foundation stone of the temple was laid, there should have been excited acclamation: “Grace, grace unto it” (Zech. 4:7). But instead the old men wept when the foundation was laid, knowing that the temple was nothing compared to what it ought to be (Ezra 3:12). The glory of the restored temple was prophesied as being far greater than that of the former (Hag. 2:9); Is. 60:17 alluded to this in prophesying that “For brass [in Solomon’s temple] I will bring gold, and for iron [that was in Solomon’s fixtures] I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron”. But it simply didn’t happen, because God’s people were satisfied with a small, inglorious temple so that they could get on with building their own “cieled houses” (the same word is used in describing how the temple of Solomon was “covered”, or cieled, with cedar). And the old men wept at the fact that the glory of the new house was less than that of the earlier one.

Is. 65:17-19 describes the new creation of Zion as it was possible at the restoration, when the former heavens and earth would not come into mind. The former “heavens” of Solomon’s temple did come to mind, and the old men mourned because of how far superior the former had been (Ezra 3:12). The voice of weeping was heard in the streets of Zion, as Judah mourned for their sins of marrying the surrounding nations and breaking the Sabbath.

Many also shouted aloud for joy- The returnees were to lift up their voice with joy at Zion’s restoration. But at the very humble dedication of the temple, the younger people lifted up their voice with joy (Is. 40:9 same words), but the older men wept, as the temple was not even as great as Solomon’s, and certainly not that commanded in Ezekiel and Isaiah.

Ezra 3:13 so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard far away-
"The people" may refer to the people of the land. They did not get a clear message, for it could not be discerned; when instead the joy of the restored Zion was intended to be a witness to the Gentiles. Instead they heard a sound which was a mixture of weeping and rejoicing.