Ezra 3
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The return from Babylon is supposed to have been in the spring. The first employment of the people would be to construct for themselves huts, or so to repair dilapidated buildings as to make them fit for habitation. This accomplished, no time was lost in setting about the great work of re-establishing their ancient worship. So "when the seventh month was come," the month Tisri, corresponding to portions of our September and October, they repaired to Jerusalem to encourage and witness, -


1. They saw it placed upon its old bases.

(1) They regarded it as the same altar. No ceremonies of consecration needed - wanted no novelties in religion. Here is a useful lesson to Christians. The religion of their fathers was Divine, and was associated with a wonderful history.

(2) Antiquity should be tested by appeal to Scripture.

2. They saw it rise to its completion.

(1) They had hostile neighbours (see Ezra 4:1, 9, 10). Idolaters of all sorts will ever oppose true worship.

(2) These were overawed by the multitude. The wicked are cowards at heart.

(3) The hands of the elders were encouraged. This is the force of the particle, "Then stood up," etc. Learn the great value of witnessing for Christ.

II. THE OFFERING OF THE DAILY SACRIFICES. These are described Numbers 28:1-8.

1. The offerings. These were -

(1) The burnt offering - a lamb of the first year, type of Christ, consumed in fire, and so called the "food of God."

(2) The meat offering - fine flower mingled with oil, consumed by the worshipper or his representatives.

(3) The drink offering - wine - like the meat, partaken of by God and man (see Judges 9:13). This feasting the symbol of friendship.

2. These were continual.

(1) Morning, evening, day by 'day the year round, so forward "year by year continually" (see Hebrews 10:1).

(2) Kept up a continual remembrance of sin.

(3) Continually procured the "forbearance of God" until his justice should be satisfied in the perfect sacrifice and offering of Calvary.

3. But there was no sacred fire.

(1) The Jews confess the absence of this after the captivity. No account of any in the more recent Scriptures.

(2) Strange fire would scarcely be used. No account of its authorisation. Without this would it be accepted (see Leviticus 10:1, 2)?

(3) Burnt offerings without fire! Significant of the waning of the dispensation. Designed to wean the Jews from Moses in favour of Jesus. Strength of prejudice! Strong tendencies even in Christians to ritual rather than to the spiritual in worship (see Galatians 3:1-3). We witness here -


1. There was concert among the priests.

(1) The high priest was there. Joshua is not here expressly so styled; implied in the words, "Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren." Thus distinguished elsewhere (see Haggai 1:1; Haggai 2:2; Zechariah 3:1). He was the grandson of Seraiah, the high priest who was slain by Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Kings 25:18-21). He was a type of Christ not only in virtue of his office, but also in his name, which is the same as Jesus, and in his leading the captivity out of Babylon.

(2) The "brethren" of Jeshua were with him. The sons of Aaron in general.

2. There was concert among the nobles.

(1) Zerubbabel was there. He heads the roll of names (Ezra 2:2) as a principal leader of the restoration. He was the representative of the royal family, and now a worthy successor of his ancestors, David and Solomon, who were so gloriously concerned with the first temple.

(2) His "brethren" were with him.

3. The people were there "as one man.

(1) Responsive to the summons of the chiefs. They assembled fifteen days earlier than the feast of tabernacles, when all the males should appear (see ver. 6).

(2) They came with exemplary unanimity; their heart was in it; they were the noblest of the nation, under 50,000, leaving the indifferent ones in Babylon. Such unanimity could never have been secured by coercion. Value of the voluntary principle. - J.A.M.

When the 42,000 Israelites arrived in the land whither they went forth, they took peaceable and glad possession of their old homes; many, if not most, of them returning to the very fields and homesteads from which their fathers had been led away. They then showed a piety which was partly the fruit of the long discipline they had passed through in Persia. Their service of Jehovah, on this their return, was characterised by -

I. SPONTANEITY (vers. 1, 5). They must have had much to do to bring into good condition the long-forsaken fields; agriculture must have been neglected, and there must have been a strong demand for the most active and unremitting labour. Nevertheless, without any edict or decree from any spiritual or secular authority, "the people gathered themselves together as one man at Jerusalem" (ver. 1). A common impulse urged them all to leave business employments and household duties and repair to the sacred city for the worship of God. And when there, they "willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord" (ver. 5). Their service was, as ours will be, the more acceptable because unconstrained, spontaneous, the prompting of individual piety. Not the mandate of an earthly master, but the will of our Divine Lord, the love of Christ, should constrain us to activity and liberality.

II. RIGHTNESS OF PLACE (vers. 1, 3). They gathered at Jerusalem (ver. 1), and built an altar on the very same basis as that on which the old altar had stood (ver. 3). They were right in this. For it had been very specially enjoined that only on that one site should sacrifices be offered unto God. They had regard to a precise injunction in thus confining their offerings to one place. No such restrictions limit our worship. The hour has come when neither on one mountain nor another shall men worship the Father (John 4:21). Wherever the people of God meet in sincerity and earnestness, there they "behold his mercy-seat." "Every place is hallowed ground" to the devout heart. Yet there is such a thing as propriety of place. Still "the Lord loveth the gates of Zion," and to worship him regularly at his house, to unite regularly with his people at the table of the Lord, is a useful and acceptable service.

III. UNITY (ver. 2). Jeshua and Zerubbabel stood together to build the altar of the Lord. It is a most excellent thing for any society when those who are influential in the Church and those highly placed in the State unite and do not divide their influence, strengthen and do not weaken one another's hands, in the promotion of morality and religion.

IV. READINESS THROUGH EAGERNESS (vers. 3, 6). After using Solomon's temple as their sacred edifice wherein to worship, it was natural that the people should desire something more than a rude altar reared under the skies. But so eager were they to return to the old sacrifices, which had so long ceased to be offered, that they could not wait for the erection of a building; before the foundation of the temple was laid (ver. 6) they began to present burnt offerings unto the Lord. The apathetic soul will be ready enough to find an excuse for irreligion, for leaving unoffered the sacrifice that is due; but the eager-hearted will be prompt to substitute one instrument for another, that the service may not be unrendered. A feeble piety will yield to the first check. Spiritual earnestness will be ingenious to devise means, and will anticipate the hour when all outside circumstances compel to devotion. Do not let God's praise remain unsung because a full-toned organ is not at hand for accompaniment, nor let his truth be unspoken because there are no fine walls to echo its proclamation. Godly zeal will find utterance whether art be present or absent.

V. REGULARITY (ver. 4). "They offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required" (ver. 4). There must be room left for some play of spontaneity, or our spiritual life will become mechanical and lose its animation and elasticity and beauty. But there must be also regularity: constant services, daily devotion, morning and evening prayer. Liberty and law must be reconciled and dwell harmoniously together, not only in every home, but in every heart.

VI. COMPREHENSIVENESS (vers. 3, 4). Opposite feelings led them to the mercy-seat: their fear led them to seek God - they set up the altar for fear of the people by whom they were surrounded (ver. 3); and their joy also led to devotion - they kept the joyous feast of tabernacles, and united in the service in which gladness of heart prevailed (ver. 4). The truly devout man is he with whom all paths lead to the throne of grace; to whom all things, however varied and unlike one another, suggest the thought of God; who brings his burden of grief and fear, as well as his treasure of joy and hope, to the feet of his Master. - C.

I. The HUMAN in WORSHIP. "Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak," etc. (ver. 2). These men were the leaders in this movement of worship; they gathered the people thereto. There is a human side to Divine worship; the altar looks toward earth as well as toward heaven; man builds, if God consecrates it; man appoints the time of worship, arranges its method, gathers the people, stimulates the conscience by faithful words, and enforces the law. A few good men can awaken the devotional in the multitude, can give the impulse of altar building.

II. The ESSENTIAL in WORSHIP. "And builded the altar" (ver. 2). The altar was built first because it was of primary importance; because it was essential to their sacrificial offerings. The altar first.

1. Then it is important to begin early - the altar before the city; early in life; in the day; in the enterprise.

2. Then it is important to begin aright - to commence with the essential rather than with the incidental. There are devotional, doctrinal, social, domestic altars; begin with them in any work of restoration; well begun is half done. Love before worship, pardon before works, Christ before civilization; commence with the altar.

3. Then it is important to begin under good leadership.

4. There is acceptance in a rude moral beginning. It was only an altar, but its offerings were accepted by God. When we have not all that is needful to ornate worship, heaven will accept a sacrifice from a rude altar; the heart is more than the structure. God will accept worship from the rude altar in the forest as well as from the stately altar in the temple.

5. Then there is a great power in a feeble but devout beginning. The flower is in the seed; the temple is in the altar.

III. The ADDITIONAL in WORSHIP. "And they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord," etc. (ver. 3). A true worship will not rest content when the altar is built; the altar is only a commencement; we must go on to perfection. There is a binding influence in the erected altar; we cannot cast down what we have built. It is an inspiration; to what service will it lead. Faith and worship have numerous addenda. A man who begins with the altar to God can only end by working it out in all loving possibility; in fact, by placing himself upon it. We must put large offerings on our altars; Christ gave himself for us.

IV. The TIMOROUS in WORSHIP. They built the altar, all the while in fear of the people who perhaps had little sympathy with the edict of Cyrus (ver. 3). The people erected the altar at once because they feared interruption; an altar erected is a power against the adversaries. In these days of quietude we can build our altar without fear of the persecuting enemy. What fears often animate the soul of the devout worshipper!

V. The SECULAR in WORSHIP. "They gave money also unto the masons," etc. (ver. 7). Worship combines the sentiment of the soul and temporal aid; the bread of life which God gives us and the bread we give him. It combines -

1. Prayer.

2. Gifts.

3. Work.

The temple of God is built by a variety of gifts and by a variety of men; it provides a service for all. Many have to do with it mechanically who have nothing to do with it morally; a man may be a "mason" without being a minister. - E.

In connection with the worship of the first year after the return of the children of Israel from Babylon, we notice -


1. They had their altar rebuilt.

(1) This was the first thing done, because it was essential. Sacrifice is interwoven with all the ceremonies of worship according to the law. The principle of sacrifice is no less essential under the gospel. Ponder the thought that there can be no true worship without sacrifice.

(2) They lost no time in this. They came forth from Babylon in the spring. The journey probably occupied four months (comp. Ezra 7:9). They had therefore barely time to get housed before the seventh month came, upon the first day of which they were "as one man" at Jerusalem. Learn that things essential to worship should have prompt and early attention. Forsaking Babylon - seeking Zion.

2. But the foundation of the temple was not yet laid. This recalls the worship of the patriarchs.

(1) That of the first family eastward of Eden (Genesis 3:24, and Genesis 4:3, etc.).

(2) That of Noah emerging from the ark (Genesis 8:20).

(3) That of the Hebrew patriarchs in Canaan (Genesis 12:6-8; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 15:9-11; Genesis 22:13; Genesis 26:25; Genesis 33:18-20). Learn, worship may be genuine without being elaborate (see John 4:23, 24).

3. There appears to have been no celebration of the ceremonies of the great day of atonement.

(1) The daily sacrifice commenced on the first day of Tisri (ver. 6). The great day of atonement was due on the tenth of the same month, of which there is no mention. The narrative carries us at once to the feast of tabernacles, which followed on the fifteenth day.

(2) The reason of the omission is found in the want of the temple. The sprinkling of the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry would be impossible (see Leviticus 16.). There was no most holy place for the high priest to enter (see Hebrews 9:7, 25). There was no altar of incense (see Exodus 30:10). Lesson: If we cannot worship God as we would, we should worship him as we can.


2. Foremost amongst these was the feast of tabernacles. This was one of the great annual festivals (Exodus 23:1-6).

(1) The passover. This was held on the first day of Abib - instituted to commemorate the events connected with the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:3, 4; Deuteronomy 16:1-8).

(2) The feast of first-fruits. This commenced with the putting in of the sickle for the harvest. Also called the feast of weeks, for it lasted seven weeks, while the fruits of the earth were being gathered. Lesson: We should recognise God in all our blessings. In all this rejoicing the Israelites still kept up the memory of their emancipation from Egypt (see Deuteronomy 16:7-12).

(3) The last was the feast of tabernacles. In the present case this came first. This arose from the accident of its occurring first after the return from Babylon. Yet in this accident there was a providence, for the feast of tabernacles has a peculiar relation to gospel times (see Zechariah 14:18). This feast also called the feast of ingathering, for it was a rejoicing over the garnering of the harvest and vintage (Deuteronomy 16:13-16). Not so called here, for there would be no extensive ingathering in this first year. There was a remembrance of the deliverance from Egypt in this festival also; it called to mind the dwelling in tents in the wilderness. In this celebration the people could not but associate with this their own recent deliverance from Babylon. Lesson: In all our festivities let the grateful remembrance be present with us of our spiritual emancipation from the Egypt and Babylon of sin and error.

(4) Particularly note that they "offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the custom as the duty of every day required." On each of the days during which this feast lasted there was a difference in the custom (see Numbers 29.). "As the duty," etc. Hebrews, "the matter of the day in the day." Learn:

(a) Every day brings its own religious duties.

(b) We must do the work of the day in the day.

2. They offered also the continual burnt offerings.

(1) The daily offerings. These were never interrupted. They continued morning and evening throughout the year.

(2) Those of the Sabbaths (see Numbers 28:9, 10). The word Sabbath is applied not only to the seventh day of the week, but indifferently to all the Jewish festivals (Leviticus 19:3, 30).

(3) Those of the new moons (see Numbers 27:11-15).

(4) Additional to all these were the free-will offerings of the people. Lesson: The services of religion are not to be taken up fitfully, but must be steadily observed. They are not irksome, but delightful to those whose hearts are brought into sympathy with them by the grace of God. This grace should be diligently sought. - J.A.M.

The worship of Israel during the first year of the restoration from Babylon was such as could be conducted around an altar in the open. The people naturally felt how imperfectly they could fulfil the law of Moses without a temple, with its courts, its veil, and its sacred furniture. They did not let discouragement paralyse them, but taxed their energies and resources. These words bring under our notice


1. What was required (see ver. 7)?

(1) Here we read of "masons." These suggest the quarrying and cutting of stones, and their transportation to the site (comp. 1 Kings 6:16-18).

(2) "Cedars of Lebanon" are mentioned. These suggest also other kinds of timber. The trees had to be felled, transferred to Tyre or Zidon, thence floated to Joppa, and conveyed across the country to Jerusalem (comp. 1 Kings 6:5-10). Other preparations suggested by these hints.

2. How did they meet the demand?

(1) Indirectly, by the gifts and sacrifices offered in connection with their worship at the altar. These were required for the support of that worship. But the' spirit of the worship thus encouraged animated them to further efforts. So it operates still under the gospel.

(2) Directly, in their additional subscriptions of cash and kind (ver. 7). These gifts rewarded the workmen of Tyre and Zidon (comp. 1 Kings 6:11; 2 Chronicles 9:10). Also workmen of their own nation (comp. 1 Kings 6:13-15). How anticipative of the wide spirit of the gospel that Jews and Gentiles should be jointly concerned in this typical work!

(3) Do not these efforts shame those of Christian congregations? Here were under 50,000 persons, all told (see Ezra 2:64, 65), equal to about fifty out of the many thousands of our Christian congregations, undertaking this great work! What are we, each individual, doing towards the building of the spiritual temple?

II. THE STONE-LAYING. The arrangements were -

1. The appointment of officers for the building (vers. 8, 9).

(1) Zerubbabel had supreme command (see Zechariah 4.). This he had as of the seed royal, and representing David and Solomon.

(2) Jeshua the son of Josadak, as high priest, was associated with Zerubbabel.

(3) The priests of the courses were his seconds in command - captains of the hosts of workmen.

(4) The Levites were made foremen over the workmen. "And appointed the Levites," etc. (vers. 8, 9). There should be order in everything connected with the work of God.

2. The presence of all things essential to the ceremony.

(1) The stone itself was there. This was a type of Christ, the Foundation of the living temple (see Psalm 118:22, 23; comp. with Matthew 21:42-44; Ephesians 2:20-22; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 8:14; comp. with 1 Peter 2:6-8).

(2) Zerubbabel was there to lay the stone. In this he, too, typified Christ (see Zechariah 4:6-10). This language has unmistakable reference to the triumphs of the Messiah.

(3) Jeshua the son of Jozadak was there to witness it (see Zechariah 3:9). In this he, too, was a type of Christ, our great High Priest (see Zechariah 3., and Zechariah 6:9-15). Essentials in religion are those things which concern Christ. These should be held as fundamentals.

3. The provision for the celebration of praise.

(1) There were the trumpeters. These were the priests, distinguished by their apparel {see Numbers 10:8, 10).

(2) The Levites, sons of Asaph, struck the cymbals. This was "after the ordinance of David" (see 1 Chronicles 16:4 6). The Levites also led the singing. This was responsive. The burden was "Praise and thanksgiving be unto the Lord;" the response, "Because he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever towards Israel." The leaders of praise in Christian congregations should be godly persons.


1. There was the emotion of the people.

(1) Excitement was so strong that it vented itself in shouting.

(2) Ours should be intense as we realise the glorious things foreshadowed.

2. There was the emotion of the ancients.

(1) While "all" shouted "because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid," yet on the part of many the shouting was mingled with wailing. These were the ancients who looked on the ruins of the temple of Solomon, which they remembered in its splendour. They saw a mere handful of people, the relics of a great nation as they remembered it. They looked upon their chief magistrate, a dependent upon the Persian king, in contrast with what they remembered of the earlier representatives of David and Solomon.

(2) The passion of the weepers was such that it rivalled that of the exulters. No interests are so vital as those of religion. None should move us so deeply.

3. The outsiders heard the sound.

(1) Those "afar off "were the Gentiles (see 2 Kings 27:6).

(2) The nations of the world should be made to hear the sounds of Christian exultation. - J.A.M.

We have in this passage -

I. A TRUE THOUGHT (ver. 8). "Now in the second year of their coming," etc. We can easily imagine any orator among the company of the returned Jews making out a strong case for leaving the building of the temple till better days should dawn. The sufficiency of the altar already reared for the practical purposes of devotion; the readiness of God to accept any offering that came from the heart, however mean the outward circumstances might be; the insecurity of their present state; their incompetence to build a temple which would compare with that of Solomon; the imperative necessity that existed to spend all their strength in consolidating their new-gained liberty; the wisdom of waiting till they could do something worthy of the God they worshipped, etc. - all this might have been made plausible enough, perhaps was so made. But if so, it was overruled by the true thought that to the God who had redeemed them from bondage, and given back to them their old liberties and their beloved land, they owed the very best they could offer, and that at the earliest moment. The first-fruits, they had long learnt, belonged to him who gave them everything. It was meet and fitting that as soon as ever they were established in their own old land they should build to him, the Source of all their blessings, the best house they could rear. This was a true thought of theirs, and should find a home in our minds now. Not anything that will do, but the very best that can possibly be done, for God. We should not be content that "the ark of the covenant of the Lord should remain under curtains" while we dwell in a "house of cedars" (1 Chronicles 17:1). Whatever, in the affairs of his kingdom, is improvable should be improved. The slain lamb is to be "without blemish." The building should be without disproportion; the singing without discord; the service without mistakes. Let worthiness, excellency, beauty, grace be offered to him who has given us not only the necessary and indispensable, but the exquisite, the delightful, the glorious. Let nothing detain us from the immediate service of Christ.

II. SYSTEMATIC WORK (vers. 8, 9). They set about accomplishing their design with great carefulness and method. They committed it to the Levites, who were most interested and best instructed - to those of them who were of a suitable age (ver. 8); they sent to Tyre and Sidon and to Lebanon for the best workmen and the best materials that could be had for money (ver. 7); while, for love, the high priest and the priests overlooked and directed the work, and saw that all was according to the book of the law of the Lord. The work was quickly begun, but it was not hurriedly and slovenly dispatched. Each part was wrought by those who were specially adapted for it. No amount of zeal in the cause of God will make up for lack of intelligence and adaptation. We must build up the spiritual house of the Lord - the Church of Christ - not only inspired by consecration of spirit, but guided by a wise and intelligent adoption of the best means and appliances. Generous impulses must be sustained by sound methods, or the cause we have at heart will suffer, and instead of joy and exultation will come sorrow and shame.

III. MINGLED FEELING (vers. 10-13). No more touching and pathetic picture can be found even in the Bible itself - that book of tenderest pathos and truest poetry - than the scene recorded in the closing verses of this chapter. The Jews, pure in heart and godly in spirit, have ever been capable of the most profound emotion. Here was an occasion to call forth the fullest joy and at the same time the tenderest grief. Once more, on the ruins of the ancient sanctuary, the new temple was about to rise. It was the hour from which a new era in their nation's history should date. It was an act from which the devotion of a reverent people for many a long century should spring. Patriotism and piety lent their strong and hallowed influences to ennoble and consecrate the scene. Feeling touched its deepest and rose to its highest note. And when the aged fathers, the ancient men, remembering the perished glories of the temple on which the eyes of their youth once rested with such pride and joy, wept as they looked on its ruins; and when their tears and lamentations mingled with the shouts of gladness, resounding far and wide, that came from all the younger men, who rejoiced with great joy at the sound of the sacred songs celebrating the goodness and mercy of Jehovah, there was such a scene as can never have been forgotten by any of that goodly throng while life and memory remained. Thus hand in hand go joy and sorrow, inseparable companions, along the path of life. Thus do they stand together round the same altar, under the same roof. Thus do they mingle their smiles and tears at the same hour and scene. "Shadow and shine is life, little Annie, flower and thorn," says the aged grandmother in one of our poems; and in another we read most truly that

"There's not a string attuned to mirth
But has its chord in melancholy." We thank thee more that all our joy is touched with pain, sighs another tender spirit. That which forms so constantly recurring a strain in our poetry must be, and m, a prevalent and abiding feature of our life. Ill is it for those who have no other portion than the pleasures of the present, no other heritage than the satisfactions of earth and time. Well is it for those who thankfully accept earthly joy and the shaded brightness of the present time as flowers that spring at the touch of God's finger along the path of duty and devotion, intended to help us onward in that goodly way, speaking to us of the fuller blessedness which the future holds in its folded hand for them that are faithful unto death. - C.

Here we have illustrated the power of a right leadership, the wisdom of devout co-operation, and the progress of a great enterprise (vers. 8-10).

I. The. JOYFUL. in religious WORSHIP. "They sang together" (ver. 11).

1. That God will deign to consecrate by his Presence the temple erected. God will dwell in the temple made with hands; what a condescension and benediction is this toward man; hence the joy.

2. What God is in himself to those who worship him. "Because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel" (ver. 11).

3. In the strength which worship imparts during the trying circumstances of life. Who can tell the gladness put into the heart of Israel during their arduous task by their worship. Worship inspires joy in time of difficulty.

4. In the progress of religious enterprise. Another house to be erected for moral uses.

5. In religious youth the joy of worship is eminently strong. Natural feeling combines with spiritual delight.

II. The SORROWFUL in religious WORSHIP. "Wept with a loud voice" (ver. 12).

1. That sin has thrown life into such a condition that a temple should be necessary. Eden had no temple; heaven has none. Sin has rendered necessary the material aids to worship.

2. That disobedience should ever violate the holy sanctuary of God. The first temple had been destroyed; its glory had departed.

3. That the best temple man could build should be so poor and imperfect. The poverty of their work awakened tears.

4. That the temple should be so little cared for by man, and that so little good should be gained by its frequenters; so many of their comrades were left in Babylon.

III. THE BLENDING-OF JOY AND SORROW IN RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. "So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people" (ver. 13).

1. A scene in the soul. In the soul joy blends with sorrow.

2. A scene in the sanctuary. In the same Church joy and sorrow blend in the experience of the worshippers.

3. A scene in the world. Sorrow and joy blend on earth.

4. Not a scene in heaven; there no more tears. - E.

The weeping of these old men was the first check on the enthusiasm of the builders of the temple. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the prophecies of Zechariah and Haggai, which illustrate them, are a very troubled history: sorrow, disappointment, and indignation again and again break out; but until now there had been no consciousness of hindrances, or the consciousness had been suppressed. The time of preparation, which is pre-eminently the time of hope, was over; the people stood face to face with the work they had undertaken; its difficulties were before them; they felt the poverty of their resources. But though the enthusiasm of the multitude was checked, it was not daunted; the hope of the younger men overbore the depression of the elders; the influence of their sacred festival sustained them; the popular feeling was wiser and more healthy than the despondency of the leaders. The work of preparation had been carried forward with spirit. Not more than a year, probably a good deal less (ver. 8), had elapsed since "the chief of the fathers" had come "to the house of the Lord which is at Jerusalem" (Ezra 2:68), and much work had been accomplished in the organising of labour and the collection of materials for the building (ver. 7). Patriotism, wisdom, and piety had been manifested in their plans. The whole remnant of Israel was enlisted in the cause; this was the work, not only of those who had returned, but also of those whom the military leaders of Assyria and Chaldaea had not deemed of sufficient importance to carry away (cf. ver. 1 with 2 Kings 24:14; 2 Kings 25:12). The daily sacrifices had been early re-established, that the courage of the people might be sustained by their faith in the God of Israel (vers. 3-6). Great carefulness was manifested that all things should be done according to the law; they were scrupulous in their obedience of God (vers. 2, 4, and Ezra 2:59, 61, 62). A beautiful simplicity and hope appear in the counsel of "the Tirshatha" (Ezra 2:63), the expectation that the LORD would again reveal his will for their practical guidance. The responsibility of all this action must have been felt by the "ancient men" "of the priests and Levites;" overstrained feeling may have been one reason of theft weeping. Among the causes of their grief, notice these -

I. THE DESPONDENCY WHICH IS NATURAL TO THE AGED. There was a great contrast between Solomon's temple and the ruins which were around them; between the glorious past of Israel and the scattered, demoralised condition of the nation now. But the greatest contrast was between the energies of their own youth and their present inability to rise to the demands of a great occasion. "We receive but what we give." Difficulties are a spur to a young man's courage; the consciousness of power shows itself in the desire to struggle and to overcome.

II. THE PARTIAL AND INSUFFICIENT RESPONSE THAT HAD BEEN MADE TO THE DECREE OF CYRUS. "Forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore" was the number of "the whole congregation" that offered themselves for the return; and of these a large proportion were persons professionally engaged about the temple. "The priests and Levites" mourned that their readiness met with so small a response from the people. Some of the leaders of the nation, noble men hearing noble names, were there; but many also of small account, "a mixed multitude," like a great proportion of our modern emigrants, unable to succeed anywhere and eager for any change (Ezra 2:58-63). The "great middle class" of Israel never returned. They continued "dispersed among the Gentiles." The feelings of the ancient men would probably exaggerate these facts.

III. UNREADINESS TO DENY THEMSELVES FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORK FOR WHICH THEY HAD RETURNED MAY HAVE ALREADY APPEARED IN MANY. Only "some of the chief of the fathers offered freely" (Ezra 2:68; cf. with the phrase "chief of the fathers" in our text). Zechariah (ch. 7.) speaks of the greed which characterised the nation during the captivity; Haggai first, and Malachi long afterwards, indignantly rebuked it in the men of the restoration (Haggai 1:3, 4, 9; Malachi 1:6-10). The great grief of the old men, however natural, would have seriously hindered the work. The want of hope, and the selfishness which made many plead hopelessness as an excuse for abandoning their efforts, were the sins against which Zechariah and Haggai had to testify. The frank impulse which led the multitude to shout for joy was wiser than the weeping. It anticipated the subsequent teaching of Nehemiah under similar circumstances (Nehemiah 8:10), "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Lessons: -

1. The mingled character of all human work. We begin in enthusiasm and continue in depression. There is the contrast of the actual with the ideal; the sense of accumulating difficulties; the consciousness of failing powers; the perception of imperfection in all human instrumentality. The work remains, though the feeling changes; remains to be done, remains when it is done. "Duty remains, and God abideth ever." "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."

2. The advantage of fellowship in labour. Many weep and many shout aloud for joy; and this is well, for each can temper the emotion of, and furnish help to, the other. "'Tis held that sorrow makes us wise;" but happy ignorance is also blessed. Care is good, and so is the occasional outburst of joy that sweeps care away. Blend old and young together; the old with memory which is the nurse of great purposes; the young with the passion to make a future for themselves.

3. The cause that can bind true men in a fellowship of labour. It is the cause of God; the cause in which we can worship together as well as work together. "They sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord;" "all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." A common faith in God and God's call harmonises all diversities of feeling. - M.

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