Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.Ch. Ezra 3:1-3. The Building of the Altar
1. The first clause of this verse concludes the Register of the preceding section in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:73).
the seventh month] Probably the 7th month in the first year of the Return, since the next recorded date (Ezra 3:8) is the 2nd month ‘in the second year of their coming unto the house of God’.
The 7th month—the month Tisri—was in some respects the most sacred in the Jewish Calendar. The 1st day was the Feast of Trumpets (Numbers 29:1): the 10th was the Great Day of Atonement (Numbers 29:7; Leviticus 16:29): the 15th was the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-36; Leviticus 23:39-44; Numbers 29:12-38). It was therefore an appropriate season for the first religious act of the new community. ‘The holy convocation’ on the 1st day was to herald the new order of things.
Psalms 81. very possibly commemorates the festival of ‘the new moon’.
as one man] cf. Jdg 20:1; Nehemiah 8:1.
Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded 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.2. Then stood up … to offer]
Jeshua the High-priest (cf. Ezra 2:2) mentioned here in connexion with sacrifice, before Zerubbabel; in Ezra 3:8 after Zerubbabel in connexion with the work of rebuilding the Temple.
Jeshua’s brethren are the priests: Zerubbabel’s brethren ‘the heads of fathers’ houses’ (cf. Ezra 2:2; Ezra 2:68).
Zerubbabel called here for the first time ‘son of Shealtiel’. See note on Ezra 2:2.
and builded] a ceremonious act performed by the heads of the people.
the altar of the God of Israel] cf. Ezra 1:3. We are reminded by this term of the unity of the divided and scattered people. The altar, the place of sacrifice, symbolized the approach of the whole people.
as it is written in the law of Moses] cf. Ezra 6:18; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 35:12; 2 Chronicles 35:26. The offerings for the 1st day of Tisri, the Feast of Trumpets, are described in Numbers 29:1-6.
the man of God] For the phrase used of Moses, cf. 1 Chronicles 23:14; 2 Chronicles 30:16.
And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening.3. upon his bases] R.V. upon its base. Marg. ‘in its place’. (a) There is a difference of reading. The C’thib gives the singular, the K’ri the plural. The word occurs frequently in the plur. (e.g. 2 Kings 16:17; 2 Kings 25:13; Jeremiah 27:19; Jeremiah 52:17; Jeremiah 52:20), it is probable that the singular has been altered into the more familiar plural usage. (b) The meaning of the word is much controverted. On the one hand it is supposed that having cleared away the rubbish and débris the leaders of the people came upon the old foundations or ‘base’ of the former altar and erected the new altar upon the spot. But the translation ‘upon its base’ scarcely admits of such latitude of interpretation; although the sentiment is most suitable.
On the other hand, if to ‘set upon its base’ merely means to erect, the term is unnecessarily ponderous.
The translation of the R.V. margin ‘in its place’ seems to be the best. It is very probable that the word in the verse is identical with that in Ezra 2:68. The altar was set up in the place which it was permanently to occupy.
for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries] R.V. the countries. The condensed language of this clause in the original has occasioned much perplexity. Literally it runs ‘for in fear upon them because of &c.’. (i) Another rendering has been proposed ‘for they (set up the altar) in fear, which came upon them because of the people of the countries’, but this leaves the word ‘for’ unexplained and supposes a very awkward construction.
(ii) The translation of the A.V. and R.V. cuts the grammatical knot contained in the words ‘in fear’ by translating them as the subject. Accepting this translation ‘for fear was upon them &c.’, a further question is raised by the motive of their action. The following answers have been given: (a) they set up the altar hoping to obtain thereby assistance from God, for they were in a state of fear: (b) they set up the altar in haste, for they feared the neighbouring peoples lest their interference at the court of Cyrus should check the work at its outset.
(iii) Quite a different turn to the verse is given by another rendering (? that of Ewald). ‘They set up the altar (and they were able to do so), for there was a fear felt toward them (the Jews) on the part of the people of the country’. This would be a fear such as we read of in Genesis 35:5; Exodus 15:16; Joshua 2:11. It is to be noticed that in the last two passages the same rather unusual word for terror is used as we find in this verse.
(iv) Supposing that there has been a corruption of the text, it has been suggested that some important words have fallen out and that we should read ‘And the people of the countries gathered themselves together against them, and they (the Jews) set up the altar in its place, for in a moment of terror at them did they set it up’. (Ryssel.)
(v) The suggestion is here made that a very slight alteration—the omission of one letter (the preposition = ‘because of’)—will supply a good sense and remove the grammatical difficulty, i.e. ‘for the people of the countries were a terror to them’. The accidental repetition of this one letter has probably given rise to the whole difficulty. The meaning of the verse then will be ‘they set up the altar, for their neighbours were a source of terror to them,’ and the erection of the altar gave them religious confidence, it constituted a national rallying point; it was a beginning, and the success of the first movement might be decisive.
the people of those countries] R.V. the people of the countries. It is to be regretted that the R.V. has not here rendered this phrase (’ammê ha-arâçoth) by ‘the peoples of the lands’ as in Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 9:11. It here apparently means the inhabitants of the border countries. See note on Ezra 6:21.
burnt offerings morning and evening] The daily sacrifice morning and evening as described in Exodus 29:38; Numbers 28:3-8. Cf. Nehemiah 10:38.
They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required;4–7. The Feast of Tabernacles
4. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written] The manner of keeping the feast of tabernacles is described in Leviticus 23:34-42; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.
It was the autumn or vintage feast, the most joyous of all the great annual festivals. It commemorated the wanderings in the Desert. It would henceforth commemorate also the return from the Exile.
At this festival Solomon dedicated his Temple, 1 Kings 8:65; and with this festival was connected the reading of the Law by Ezra under Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:14-16).
‘As it is written’, a shorter phrase for that which occurs in Ezra 3:2. Cf. 2 Chronicles 30:5; 2 Chronicles 30:18.
by number, according to the custom, R.V. ordinance] The words in the original are clearly a reference to the passage in Numbers 29. where the sacrifices for the feast of tabernacles are detailed, i.e. 13 young bullocks &c. on the first day, 12 &c. on the second, 11 &c. on the third, and so on. It is to be regretted that the same English words ‘according to their number, after the ordinance’, which occur as a kind of refrain in that chapter (Numbers 29:18; Numbers 29:21; Numbers 29:24; Numbers 29:27; Numbers 29:30; Numbers 29:33; Numbers 29:37), were not either exactly reproduced here by the R.V., or altered there to ‘by their number, according to ordinance’. The attention of the reader would then have been drawn to the echo given by this phrase to the phraseology of the Pentateuch.
(Yet another rendering of the same phrase appears 1 Chronicles 23:31 ‘in number according to ordinance’.)
as the duty of every day required] because the number of the sacrifices altered every day during the Feast of Tabernacles. Literally, ‘the thing of the day in its day’: the same phrase is rendered ‘every day a portion’, 2 Kings 25:30; Jeremiah 52:34 : ‘as every day’s work required’, 1 Chronicles 16:37.
And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD.5. and afterward offered] R.V. ‘and afterward’, the verb being supplied from the previous verse.
The clause implies that after the celebration of this Feast of Tabernacles the Jews resumed for the first time since the destruction of Jerusalem the regular sacrificial system.
the continual burnt offering] i.e. the daily morning and evening sacrifice, prescribed in Exodus 29:38-42.
both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts &c.] R.V. ‘and the offerings of the new moons, and of all the set feasts’ &c. The A.V. gives the wrong impression that ‘the continual burnt offering’ belonged to ‘the new moons, set feasts,’ &c. The R.V. gives the right meaning.
The verse states that the Jews, now that the altar had been set up and the new order of things initiated by the solemn celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, resumed the customary burnt offerings, (1) daily, morning and evening, (2) at the new moon, (3) on all ‘set feasts’, (4) on the occasion of freewill offerings.
‘the new moons’. A popular day of religious observance among the Israelites (cf. 2 Kings 4:23; Hosea 2:11; Amos 8:5): not included among ‘the set feasts’ described in Leviticus 23, where the first day of the seventh month is the only new-moon day spoken of as a ‘holy convocation’ (Leviticus 23:24). Perhaps because the observance of ‘the new moons’ had been adopted from the general religious customs of the Semitic races, it received no special prominence in the Levitical code. The sacrifices for the ‘new moons’ are described in Numbers 28:11-15.
the set feasts]—see Leviticus 23:2-37, ‘The set feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations’ (R.V.),—i.e. (1) the Sabbath ( Leviticus 23:3), (2) the Passover ( Leviticus 23:5), (3) the Feast of Weeks ( Leviticus 23:15-21), (4) the Feast of Trumpets ( Leviticus 23:24), (5) the Day of Atonement ( Leviticus 23:27-32), (6) the Feast of Tabernacles ( Leviticus 23:34-36). In 2 Chronicles 8:13, ‘the set feasts’ are the three great annual festivals, ‘unleavened bread’, ‘weeks’, ‘tabernacles’, and these are probably intended here.
The ‘new moons’ and the ‘set feasts’ are found along with ‘the Sabbaths’ in 1 Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 2 Chronicles 8:13; 2 Chronicles 31:3; Nehemiah 10:33.
a freewill offering] Freewill offerings were made (1) on the great feast-days, see Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:16-17; and (2) whensoever any individual Israelite or Gentile desired (Numbers 29:39). They are called ‘oblations’ (Corbans) in Leviticus 1, 2, 3, where they are defined in detail.
From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid.6. From the first day of the seventh month &c.] This statement taken in conjunction with Ezra 3:5 (‘and afterward’ &c.) can only mean, that the Jews began to offer burnt offerings on their altar on ‘the first day of the month’, when the altar was set up, but that the regular offering of the daily sacrifice was not begun till after the Feast of Tabernacles (15th to 22nd).
But the foundation &c.] R.V. ‘but’ &c.: no full-stop. The explanatory clause is added. The burnt offerings were regularly made on the altar, although there was no Temple building, nor Temple worship. Such a thing would have been almost incredible to the Jew of later centuries.
They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.7. First steps taken towards the Rebuilding of the Temple
the masons] The stone for the Temple was excavated from the hill on which Jerusalem stood.
It is possible that the word rendered ‘masons’ may include the rougher workmen for both stone and wood, i.e. quarrymen and wood cutters, while the word rendered ‘carpenters’ may mean the skilled artificers for working up the wood and stone.
meat] The old English expression for ‘something to eat’. Cf. Luke 24:41, ‘Have ye here any meat?’ (R.V. ‘anything to eat?’).
oil] One of the necessities of life for the inhabitants of a hot country, applied externally: classed here with meat and drink, and apparently also in Psalm 23:5; Psalm 104:15; Micah 6:15.
Solomon hired workmen from Tyre and Sidon and paid them in the same way, when the first Temple was erected. It is noteworthy that whereas 1 Kings 5:11 states that Solomon gave Hiram’s household wheat and oil, we are told in 2 Chronicles 2:10 that he promised to give Hiram’s servants ‘wheat and barley and wine and oil’. On this occasion similar payment in kind was given—a heavy tax upon the resources of the young community—to the Zidonians and Tyrians, engaged in felling trees on Lebanon and floating them to Joppa.
from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa] R.V. from Lebanon to the sea, unto Joppa. The mountain of Lebanon from which cedars were obtained and sent into every country far and near (e.g. 2 Samuel 5:11; 2 Samuel 7:2; 1 Kings 5:6; 1 Chronicles 14:1, &c.). Cf. Jeremiah 22:23, ‘O inhabitant of Lebanon that makest thy nest in the cedars’.
The Tyrian workmen conveyed the trunks of cedar-trees from the hills to the nearest coast and then floated them in enormous rafts as far as Joppa, the nearest seaport to Jerusalem. Compare 2 Chronicles 2:16, ‘And we will cut wood out of Lebanon, as much as thou shalt need: and we will bring it to thee in floats by sea to Joppa (marg. Heb. Japho); and thou shalt carry it to Jerusalem.’
‘To the sea of Joppa’, the A.V. rendering, preferred by some, is most unnatural.
Joppa—the modern Jaffa—was included in the tribe of Dan (Joshua 19:46), but was never taken from the Philistines. Famous from the story of Jonah. In the Græco-Syrian period largely occupied by Jews, and included within Jewish territory by Jonathan and Simon, the brothers of Judas the Maccabee (see 1Ma 10:75). Peter at Joppa restored Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), and was summoned thence by Cornelius (Acts 10:5). Now a small seaport, but of considerable importance. With certain improvements to the harbour it would become an important place. Distance 30 miles from Jerusalem.
according to the grant that they had &c.] The ‘grant’ or permit seems to be the probable rendering of the Hebrew word, which does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament.
of Cyrus king of Persia] What is the grant referred to? It appears from Herodotus (iii. 34; see Rawlinson’s note on Herod. iii. 19) that Cyrus was not master of Phœnicia, and was not therefore in a position to give a grant to the Jews to obtain cedar from Lebanon. Nor is it probable that the ‘grant’ means royal permission to enter into treaty with the Tyrians and Zidonians.
We must understand the word quite generally. The action of the Jews in procuring wood and stone and hiring workmen was in accordance with the wish of Cyrus, under whose favour they had undertaken the task of rebuilding the Temple.
Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD.8–13. The Foundation of the Temple
8. The Second Year of the Return.
of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem] cf. Ezra 2:68. Where the old Temple had been and the new was to be.
began] The meaning of this verb standing by itself, without an object and without a verb depending upon it, is not at first sight obvious. There are two ways of explaining it. (1) = ‘they made a beginning and appointed’—referring to the work generally; the verb ‘began’ being used without an object expressed. (2) = ‘began to appoint’—the two words ‘began’ and ‘appointed’ being, by a common Hebrew usage, placed coordinately. Of these two the former is the preferable. ‘Began to appoint’ gives a feeble sense. ‘Began and appointed’, i.e. ‘began by appointing’ expresses the full meaning.
Zerubbabel &c., and the remnant &c.] R.V. … and the rest &c. We find mentioned here (a) the two leaders, Zerubbabel the head of the royal, Jeshua the head of the priestly house, (b) the priests and Levites, (c) the rest of the returned community.
Zerubbabel here has the place of honour (see Ezra 3:2) in connexion with the building of the Temple, the commission which he had received from Cyrus. The prominence of the Levites in comparison with the smallness of their numbers (cf. Ezra 2:40-42) deserves attention. ‘Their brethren the priests and Levites’. (Cf. Ezra 3:2, Jeshua—his brethren the priests.)
appointed the Levites] The word ‘appointed’, lit. ‘to cause to stand’, is one very common in our author. Used of a building ‘to set up’, Ezra 2:68, Ezra 3:3, Ezra 9:9; Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 3:6; Nehemiah 3:13; Nehemiah 6:1; Nehemiah 7:1; of persons ‘to appoint’, ‘set over’, Ezra 3:9, Nehemiah 4:13; Nehemiah 6:7; 1 Chronicles 6:31; 1 Chronicles 15:17.
from twenty years old and upward] The limits of age for the Levite laid down in Numbers 8:24-25 excluded from service those younger than 25 and older than 50. The religious reorganization under David required the services of the Levite ‘from twenty years old and upward’; so 1 Chronicles 23:24; 1 Chronicles 23:27. The small number of Levites available made it all the more important to lower the standard of age. (For modification of original legislation see also on Ezra 6:20.)
to set forward the work] R.V. ‘to have the oversight of’, (Marg.) ‘set forward’. A rare word used in Ezra and 1 Chronicles 23:4. Elsewhere it occurs only as a participle in titles to Psalms and in Habakkuk 3:19 ‘for the Chief Musician.’
The Latin version ‘ut urgerent opus’ has suggested the rendering of the A.V. But the sense, suggested by the participial title ‘the Chief Musician, Conductor or Director’, is that of superintendence and direction. The R.V. construes ‘to have the oversight of’ here, and ‘to oversee’ in 1 Chronicles 23:4, the word being in both places used of the Levites appointed to superintend the work to be done in the ‘House of the Lord’.
Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.9. This verse presents considerable difficulty: (a) The English reader cannot fail to be struck with the awkwardness of the final clause, ‘the sons of Henadad … the Levites’. (b) The names here mentioned have been understood by different commentators to represent four, two and three families.
(a) The manifest dislocation of the verse has caused some to conjecture that it is a gloss, which has found its way into the text, having been originally introduced to supplement the previous verse by the names of those who had been appointed to the work and by emphasizing the fact that they undertook the duty. This conjecture, which is not without probability, would assign a very early date to the gloss, since the verse appears in the LXX. and, though in a corrupt form, in 1Es 5:58, ‘Then stood up Jesus, and his sons and brethren, and Cadmiel his brother and the sons of Madiabun, with the sons of Joda the son of Eliadun, with their sons and brethren, all Levites, with one accord, betters forward of the business, labouring to advance the works in the house of God’ (A.V.).
If we dismiss this conjecture on the ground of its lack of external evidence, we must be prepared to treat the verse as having come down to us in some way corrupted or mutilated.
The key to the verse lies in the last words, ‘the Levites’. The verse describes who the Levites were that received the commission (described in Ezra 3:8), and how they discharged it. The student therefore will take care not to confound the Jeshua here mentioned with the Jeshua (the high-priest) mentioned in the previous verse. This Jeshua is the Levite whose name occurs in chap. Ezra 2:40.
The natural arrangement of the words (illustrated by 1Es 5:58 quoted above) would be, ‘Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, (and) the sons of Henadad with their sons and their brethren (i.e. all) the Levites together, to have the oversight of the workmen in the house of God.’ The verse thus specifies the Levites who undertook the oversight of the workmen.
(b) The names of the Levitical families who returned appear in chap. Ezra 2:40, where there is some uncertainty whether the expression ‘of the children of Hodaviah’ refers to Kadmiel alone or to ‘the children of Jeshua and Kadmiel’ taken together.
The ‘Judah’ of our verse is probably a misreading for Hodaviah, not, as some prefer, an alternative name of the same person.
(1) Some see in the verse a mention of four Levitical families, i.e. those of Jeshua, Kadmiel, Judah, and Henadad.
(2) Others think that only two are intended, i.e. those of Jeshua and Kadmiel, who are further defined as sons of Hodaviah (=Judah), and as sons of Henadad.
(3) It seems better to suppose that there are three families referred to: (i) ‘Jeshua with his sons and his brethren,’ apparently a complete family, (ii) ‘Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Hodaviah’, apparently a special branch of the family of Kadmiel, (iii) ‘And the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren’, who, though not mentioned in Ezra 2:40, are represented in Nehemiah’s time (Nehemiah 3:18; Nehemiah 3:24; Nehemiah 10:9).
The absence of Henadad’s name from the list in chap. Ezra 2:40 is strange. But we must account for it by supposing either that the Henadad family never left Palestine, or that they came to Jerusalem between the arrival of Zerubbabel and the beginning of the second year, or that they belonged to the class more numerous than scholars have hitherto taken account of, i.e. those who returned to Jerusalem from exile in other countries. Perhaps the family of Henadad (‘the grace or favour of Hadad’, cf. Hadad, Benhadad, Hadadrimmon) had Syrian connexions or had found refuge in Syria during the disasters of Israel and Judah. Compare Ezra 6:21, ‘all such as had separated themselves from the filthiness of the heathen of the land’.
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.10. And when the builders &c.] By ‘the builders’ is clearly meant the workmen, not, as some commentators, Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
they set the priests &c.] So also R.V. text. (1) According to this reading, (a) the subject of the verb must be the leaders of the people (as described in Ezra 3:2); (b) the word ‘set’ in the Hebrew is the same as ‘appointed’ in Ezra 3:8 (see note); (c) and a parallelism may be noted between Ezra 3:8-11. Ezra 3:8; Ezra 3:10 describe the appointment (8) of the Levites, (10) of the priests; Ezra 3:9; Ezra 3:11 the work (9) of the Levites, (11) of the priests.
But the parallelism in other respects breaks down. In Ezra 3:8, the subject of the first clause (‘Zerubbabel &c. began’) is also the subject of the second (‘and they appointed’). In Ezra 3:10 the subject of the first clause cannot (except by the very unlikely interpretation which identifies ‘the builders’ with Zerubbabel and Jeshua) be taken as the subject of the second. Again in Ezra 3:8, after the word ‘appointed’ we find the sign of the accusative before ‘the Levites’ (so also in 1 Chronicles 15:17-18). In Ezra 3:10 its absence is very noteworthy, when taken in conjunction with the evidence for the other reading.
(2) According to some MSS. and ancient versions the priests stood, R.V. margin. This reading is supported by thirteen Hebrew MSS. (according to Kennicott and de Rossi), by the LXX. (ἔστησαν), by the Vulgate (steterunt), and by the parallel version in 1Es 5:59 (‘and the priests stood’ &c.). It is more likely to have been the original reading, and to have been altered by the insertion of a single small letter (yôdh) so as to correspond with the form which appears in Ezra 3:8, ‘appointed’. Supposing the received text to be the original, we have to account for (α) the omission of this letter in the authorities quoted above, (β) the absence of the sign of the accusative, (γ) the statement that Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the priests appointed the priests.
Adopting the intransitive ‘stood’, (α) we are able to account for the common text by the supposition that it is a reproduction of the form used a few lines above; (β) the construction is perfectly simple, cf. 2 Chronicles 29:26; 2 Chronicles 35:10; (γ) though the parallelism of verses is lost, the order of the sentences is less artificial; with the introduction of the foundation of the Temple a fresh subject is started; (δ) in the ceremonies of the Temple the priests would be independent, ‘they stood’: the expression ‘they caused to stand or set’, though suitable as applied to ‘the Levites’, the subordinate order (Ezra 3:8), is less suitable as applied to ‘the priests’.
in their apparel] literally ‘arrayed’ or ‘vestured’, i.e. in their priestly garments, cf. Ezra 2:69. In the similar description given in 1 Chronicles 5:12 the same word receives closer definition ‘arrayed in white linen’ or ‘byssus’.
with trumpets] as in 1 Chronicles 15:24; 1 Chronicles 16:6; 2 Chronicles 5:12. The priests were specially commissioned to blow the sacred trumpets. Numbers 10:8.
with cymbals] David assigned the instrumental music to the Levites, the cymbals especially to the sons of Asaph. Compare 1 Chronicles 25:1 with 1 Chronicles 16:4-5; 1 Chronicles 25:6.
after the ordinance of David king of Israel] R.V. after the order of &c. The same phrase occurs in 1 Chronicles 25:2, ‘after the order of the king’, (R.V. marg. Heb. ‘by the hands of the king’).
And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.11. And they sung together by course] R.V. And they sang one to another, literally ‘and they answered’, the same word as is rendered ‘answered’ in Ezra 10:12; Nehemiah 8:6. The traditional interpretation of this expression has seen in it an allusion to antiphonal singing, whereby a Psalm such as Psalms 136 would be rendered by two choirs, one choir singing the clause ‘O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good’, the other replying ‘for His mercy endureth for ever’ &c. There can be no doubt that certain Psalms, such as Psalm 24:7-10; Psalms 106, 107, 118, 136, lent themselves very readily to such musical rendering; and it is possible that Nehemiah’s division of the people into two companies on a great festal occasion may favour the view that antistrophic chanting was then in vogue (Nehemiah 12:31 &c.). But, in our ignorance of early Jewish music, it is impossible to speak with certainty upon the subject, while it is very easy to import modern and Western notions into our conceptions of Oriental music. The present verb very probably means that the chant of praise was responded to with a great burst of chorus, vocal and instrumental, the substance of which was some well-known sacred refrain. Cf. Exodus 15:20-21.
because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever] R.V. ‘saying, For he is good, for his mercy &c.’ The clause quotes the refrain. It has been natural perhaps to suppose that the allusion is made to Psalms 136. But reference to other passages, where the same refrain is quoted (1 Chronicles 16:41; 2 Chronicles 5:13; 2 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 20:21; Jeremiah 33:11) shows that the words are not a quotation from a Psalm, but rather a liturgical response in frequent use at sacred festivals, upon which the well-known Psalm was founded. The present verse constitutes an interesting fulfilment to the prediction of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 33:10-11).
because the foundation … was laid] The word here used occurs in 2 Chronicles 3:3, where the student will find the rendering of the R.V. (not of the A.V.) illustrated by this verse.
But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:12. But many &c. and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that] R.V. But many &c. and heads of fathers’ houses, the old men who, i.e. the heads of the people who would be most conspicuous, priests, Levites, and heads of families. The Vulgate ‘et seniores’ has apparently introduced a fourth official class, ‘the Elders’. The elders are not mentioned here; but see chap. Ezra 5:5.
had seen the first house] Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 587. The foundation of the new Temple was laid in 536. There were even some alive sixteen years later (520) to whose recollection of the former building the prophet Haggai could appeal (Haggai 2:3).
when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes] The traditional interpretation preserved in the Hebrew accents connects this clause with the one preceding, ‘the first house standing on its foundation, when this house was before their eyes’ (so marg. R.V.) The objection to this rendering is the concrete use of the word rendered ‘foundation’ not found elsewhere. But the construction is more vigorous and more vivid than that of the A.V. preferred by most commentators, which connects the whole clause with the words following.
wept with a loud voice] Clearly not tears of joy; expressions of joy are noticed in the next clause: nor tears of grief, because they could never live to see the completion of the building, or because the character of the work was by comparison with the former Temple poor and insignificant. Only the foundations were being laid, and the general plan was on a larger scale than that of Solomon’s Temple (see on Ezra 6:3). Disappointment at the small scale of the beginning may have taken possession of some (cf. Haggai 2:3-9; Zechariah 4:10). But the thoughts of the disasters of their youth, the sorrows cf. their manhood in exile, the gaps in their numbers, the insignificance of the new community by comparison with the splendour of Messianic hopes (Isaiah 60), were enough to cause sadness and weeping.
shouted aloud for joy] the younger and middle-aged men. If memory was sad, hope was joyful.
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 afar off.13. So that the people could not discern] literally, ‘And the people &c.’ The people generally, not merely the leaders, were of two minds. The sounds were mingled together; the weeping near at hand was as loud as the shouting. And the confused sound was audible a long way off.