Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
The First Effort
A—THE RE–ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ALTAR AND THE PREPARATION FOR BUILDING THE TEMPLE
I. Building of the Altar, Feast of Tabernacles, and anxiety for the Building of the Temple. Ezra 3:1–7
1AND 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. 2Then 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. 3And 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. 4They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custorn,5 as the duty of every day required; 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. 6From 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. 7They 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.
II. Laying of the Corner-stone of the New Temple. Ezra 3:8–13
8Now 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. 9Then 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. 10And 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. 11And 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. 12But 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: 13So 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: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
The history itself now follows the historical foundations. The most prominent and interesting feature of the narrative is the readiness and zeal of the new congregation, with reference to the temple and its worship, the re-establishment of which was their proper work, and indeed first of all in Ezra 3:1–3 in the building of the altar.
Ezra 3:1. And when the seventh month was come.—The author calls attention to the zeal of all, without exception; especially also of those dwelling outside of Jerusalem. He means, of course, the seventh month of the same year in which the returning exiles arrived in Jerusalem, else he would have been obliged to define it more closely. Besides, it is clear from Ezra 3:8, that the following year was the second after their arrival. The seventh month was properly the festival month, and accordingly the time in which it must be shown how zealous the new congregation was with reference to the service of God. The new year’s day, the atonement day and feast of tabernacles fell on this month.—And the children of Israel were in the cities.—This clause is meant to indicate that they had already attained a certain degree of rest, but at the same time they had obtained a possession and a labor therein, which might have readily detained them; at any rate that they were again obliged to leave their own affairs and assemble together,—this, however, merely for the purpose of at once uniting in showing that they would not now allow themselves to be detained by anything from the celebration of the feasts of the law. It is clear from verse 6 that they did not wait until the feast of tabernacles, the 15th of the month, as it was prescribed in the law, but already on the day of the new moon came together, yea, in part already some days earlier, so that the building of the altar, which was for the first time undertaken on their coming together, might be ready for the day of the new moon.—The people gathered themselves together as one man.—This primarily means “as if inspired by one will,” thus, “with one spirit” (Keil) ὁμοθυμαδόν, 1 Esdras 5:46, thence also as much as to say “entirely” (Berth.). For the verbal repetition of this verse in Neh. 7:73, and Ezra 8:1, where an entirely different event was thereby to be introduced, and for the additional clause, which Esdras improperly has appended here, after Neh. 8:1, see note on Neh. 8:1.
Ezra 3:2. Jeshua,etc., stood up and built the altar, etc.—This clause indicates the zeal of the heads of the congregation at Jerusalem, which very well corresponded with that of the people as a whole, but which yet has something striking in it, if as is the most natural interpretation, the future, with ו consec, expresses chronological sequence. We are to suppose that they had not first caused the people to come together, but already before had gone to work in building the altar.
Ezra 3:3. This verse more closely defines the previous one, and in its first half is designed for an explanation of the hesitation of Jeshua and the rest, in its second half for an explanation of what was meant by offering offerings according to the law.—And they set the altar upon his base—that is, on the foundation that was present long before for it. The sense of על מכונתו is without doubt essentially the same as על מכונו in Ezra 2:68. The qeri of the punctators has the more usual plural of the masculine form, which occurs also in Ps. 104:5; the plural, however, is unsuitable here, because there can be no reference to different foundations, and still less to different pedestals for the altar. Comp. מכונתן, Zech. 5:11. It is manifest that there is here an indication that they made their work as easy as possible, and sought to finish it as soon as they could. For if it was also natural that they should re-erect the temple on its old foundations, partly because the place could not be arbitrarily changed, partly because the difficult substructures might still, without doubt, be very well made use of, yet with the altar it might easily have been entirely different. Under favorable circumstances they might have been obliged to re-establish it on an entirely new foundation, since the old foundation, probably, was no longer intact. Hence the explanatory clause is added: why they had not previously gone to work:—For (they did it) because fear was upon them, because of the people of those countries; properly fear or terror, which was on them. The בְּ here expresses the condition in which they were (comp. Ewald, § 217 f, and § 299 b), or more accurately, it states under what circumstances the action proceeded. At any rate it can also be explained with Ewald, § 295 f: in anxiety it was incumbent upon them (עֲלֵיהֶם) namely, to build. The conjecture of Ewald (Gesch. IV., S. 131), that the suffix of עֲלֵיהֶם refers to the people of the lands and the reference is to their coming together to Israel in a friendly spirit, in accordance with Esdras 5:49, is entirely inadmissible. Accordingly they had not ventured to undertake anything greater or more public, because they feared the hostility of the surrounding nations, so long as the congregation was not assembled in greater numbers, and they had even now to fear hostile interruption in a greater undertaking. The explanation of J. H. Mich. and Keil: They re-established altar and worship in order to secure for themselves the divine protection against the peoples, of whom they were afraid, not only requires us to supply too much, but also is opposed by the fact that we should expect, if this view were correct, that they already previously would have gone to work upon the erection of the altar, and have offered sacrifices, especially those of the daily sacrifice. The peoples are certainly the neighboring peoples, comp. Ezra 9:1; 10:2.—And offered thereon burnt offerings, etc.—They sought to act in accordance with the law before all in offering the daily sacrifices. The sing. וַיַּעַל is to be referred to the one upon whom the offering of the sacrifice was chiefly incumbent, the priest in service at the time,—it is the indefinite subject. Perhaps however the plural of the qeri is more appropriate. The burnt offerings for the morning and evening are those belonging to every morning and evening. Those on the weekly Sabbath and feast days were required to be offered in various numbers. Comp. Ex. 29:38 sq.; Numb. 28:3 sq. The prominence given to the burnt offering alone is to be explained from the fact that these chiefly came into consideration, since the daily sacrifices, as well as those of the feasts, were chiefly burnt offerings, as then the burnt offering was regarded in general as the principal sacrifice. But at any rate they were entirely appropriate, in as much as they were the sacrifices of homage, through which the congregation might best express what they now above all had to confess, that they had Jehovah for their Lord, and prayed to Him as such.
In Ezra 3:4, 5 the congregation attests its sacred zeal by the celebration of the feast of tabernacles, and by other ceremonies of worship. The burnt offering of the “day by day,” or “every day” is that prescribed for the various days of the feast of tabernacles. בְּמִסְפָּר = numbered, Proverbs numero in singulos dies definite (J. H. Mich.), comp. 1 Chron. 9:28; 23:31; Ezra 8:34. כְּמִשְׁפָּט = according to law; in Num. 29:18, 21, 24, 27, 30, 33, to which passages there is a reference here, it is somewhat more definite, in their number, according to the law בְּמִסְפּרָם כַּמִּשְׁפָּט דְּבַר יוֹם בִּיוֹמוֹ is in apposition=the matter of the day in its day, opus dies in die suo (Vulg. and J. H. Michaelis), comp. Nehem. 11:23. Bertheau explains this expression as in accordance with יוֹם בְּיוֹם (6:9) as the duty to be done day by day, but this is opposed by the fact that בְּיומוֹ has the suffix. Compare for these prescribed sacrifices Num. 28 and 29, in accordance with which there must be offered on the first day of the feast of tabernacles thirteen bullocks, on the second day twelve, and so on.
Ezra 3:5. And afterward (they offered) the daily burnt offering.—Here we must supply the verb, they offered. Since according to Ezra 3:6 they began to offer burnt offerings on the first day of the seventh month, the meaning cannot be that they did not begin with the daily burnt offerings until after the feast of tabernacles (against Berth.), as if on the first day they had merely offered the offerings of the new moon, and on the feast of tabernacles the offerings of the feast; but had not yet on the ordinary days offered the daily sacrifices. That is inconceivable, or at least highly improbable. Moreover, the words do not imply that until the feast of tabernacles only the chief offerings had been offered, but not the offerings of the new moon, and as little the offerings of the atonement day (against Keil). Rather it is merely said, that after the sacrifices of the feast of tabernacles the usual order of offerings was again continued, which included the daily offerings, and then also those of the new moon and other feasts.—And of the new moons, is briefly, what was proper for the new moons, etc.—And of every one that willingly offered a free-will offering unto the Lord.—These words refer to all the other freewill offerings brought by the people which were offered, especially on the feast-days (comp. Deut. 16:2, 10, 16, 17), but also on other occasions. Moreover, among these offerings the sin offering is certainly included, as it belonged to the new moons, etc., and was necessarily attached to the burnt offerings (comp. Num. 28:15 sq.). We are to supply to לֶחֳדָשִׁים first of all עֹלָה, instead of עֹלַת תָּמִיד. Even the נְדָבָה might also be a burnt offering, Lev. 22:18, and especially Ez. 46:12; it only depended upon the form of the offering, namely, whether the gift was entirely consecrated to the Lord, or a festival meal was taken from it for the offerer and his family. Perhaps, however, we are to think finally of the offerings in general, instead of the burnt offering, also of the bloody offering, of which the נְדָבָה was usually a subordinate class (Lev. 7:16).
Ezra 3:6, 7. Here begins the anxiety for the building of the temple. From the first day of the seventh month on, they did not lack in zeal in offering burnt offerings, although the foundation of the temple had not yet been laid,—this for an introduction. They now, however, did their best (Ezra 3:7) henceforth towards laying the foundation of the temple. They gave money to the חֹצְבִים, who hewed stones, or even cut timber, and to the חָרָשִׁים, who prepared the stones and the timber, accordingly the workmen, without doubt, from the contributions mentioned in 2:68 sq. To the Sidonians and Tyrians, however, who are always referred to in connection with the products of Canaan, they gave in return for their cedar wood, food and drink, that is, grain, wine, and oil, just as Solomon also had paid them with the produce of the earth, 1 Kings 5:21–25; 2 Chron. 2:10–15. Accordingly they had already found or cultivated something in the land which they practically had taken possession of in the spring, from which they had been able to secure a harvest.—To bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa = to Joppa on the sea, as 1 Kings 5:23 and 2 Chron. 2:15. Bertheau understands by it not exactly Joppa itself, but merely the vicinity, but there certainly was nothing in the way of their landing at Joppa itself. The sand drifts which now render it impossible for ships to approach nearer the coast than half an hour’s sail, and the earthquake that seems to have occurred, were probably then not in the way, and by no means hindered the landing from rafts. At other points of that coast the difficulties would have been still greater.—According to the grant,etc. The permission given them by Cyrus, which to a certain extent rendered the work obligatory to them, was the general permission to build the temple; implicite it involved also special permission to put themselves in connection with the Phœnicians for the accomplishment of this purpose. רִשְׁיוֹן is an ἅπ. λεγ., whose meaning is derived from the Aramaic and Rabbinical רְשָׁי,רְשָׁא, facultatem habere, and רְשׁוּ, facultas.
Ezra 3:8–13. The sacred zeal of the congregation showed itself above all at the laying of the foundation of the temple. In the next year the preparation previously necessary had been so far completed, that now they could think of the building itself. When Theophilus (ad. Antol., Lib. III.), according to Berosus, designates this second year after the return as the second year of Cyrus, it is perhaps only in consequence of a sort of carelessness. Cyrus had, it is true, given the permission to return already in his first year, but before the return itself could have taken place the necessary consultations and preparations required a considerable time, during which Cyrus’ second year already approached. After that they had first allowed the passover feast to pass by, and perhaps also already the grain harvest had been quite well advanced; they proceeded in the second month to lay the foundation.—Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the remnant of their brethren. By these we must understand the entire congregation, at least so far as they were settled in Jerusalem; the remnant of their brethren are brethren in the wider sense, who are immediately more closely defined on the one side as priests and Levites, who at once follow after the high-priest Jeshua, and on the other side all who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, having joined Zerubbabel. Accordingly the entire congregation, as well in their leaders as in their multitude, took part in the work.—Began and appointed the Levites, who were twenty years old and upward. This might mean, they began to appoint, according to Gesen., § 142, 3 a. But according to the context the sense is: they began the building of the temple, in that they appointed the Levite. הֶעֱמִיד is used, especially by our author, in the sense of “appointing to an office.” Comp. 1 Chron. 15:17. etc. That they also appointed the Levites at the age of twenty years with the rest, was in accordance with the rule of David, 1 Chron. 23:24 sq., and after the example of Moses (Numb. 8:24). נִצֵּחַ, in the sense of “direct,” with עַל is, with the exception of the titles of the Psalms and Hab. 3:19, peculiar to our author. Gusset improperly asserts, with reference to 1 Chron. 23:4, that נִצֵּחַ may also mean “unite with one in a work,” but it can only mean to preside over an affair, sometimes also accomplish it.
Ezra 3:9. The Levites at once gladly did their part in the work entrusted to them by the congregation. The sing. וַיַּעֲמֹד is here hardly to be explained from the fact that the verb, when it precedes, is not so strongly bound to the number of the subject. The sense is rather: Jeshua through his sons and brethren stood. בָּנָיו and also אֶחָיו are not merely used without connectives, which would here be unusual, but are in explanatory apposition with Jeshua. The names designating the fathers’ houses are the names of ancient, and, for the most part, fathers of the times before the exile, who now existed only in their sons and brethren; that is, as well in their own posterity as also in that of their younger brothers. Comp. notes on 2:3. Jeshua and also Kadmiel are, according to 2:40, two such names, comp. also Neh. 10:10, according to which even in the time of Nehemiah, Jeshua and Kadmiel still existed. This view is not opposed by the fact that “and his sons” is connected by conjunction with Kadmiel. We may understand thereby the older men of this family and their sons. Instead of בְּנֵי יְהוּדָה we are to read, according to 2:40, without doubt, בְּנֵי ־הוֹדַוְיָה. Whether this is in apposition with the two families of Jeshua and Kadmiel, or merely refers to the latter, is as doubtful here as in 2:40. Probably it is the latter (with Keil against Bertheau). That both, however, had a common ancestor, who was not Hodaviah, but Henadad, may be regarded as resulting from the last words of our verse. It is highly improbable that the clause as one (so united and entirely one were they) to set forward the workman in the house of God should be followed by the last words of the verse: the sons of Henadad, their sons and their brethren, the Levites, with the intention of naming stilt another third additional family; for they would not have been added on here without connection and without any predicate. Probably they are in apposition to both, to Jeshua and Kadmiel, with their sons. The relationship and connection of both would thus be indicated. In favor of this view is the comprehensive conclusion: their sons and brethren, the Levites, which does not suit a third particular class, but only the Levites in question as a whole. This also explains the reason why in Ezra 2:40 Henadad is not mentioned among the returned exiles alongside of Jeshua and Kadmiel. That in Neh. 3:24 and 10:10 Binnui is at once designated as a son of Henadad, may rest upon the fact that he belonged neither to Jeshua nor to Kadmiel, but to Henadad, constituting a family of his own, which was sufficiently well represented, and hence not especially named. That no force is to be given to Esdras 5:56 (against Bertheau), where the sons of Henadad are adduced as a special class and are placed before the predicate, is sufficiently clear from the fact that there the sons of Judah (Hodaviah) are likewise treated as a special class (ὑιοὶ ’Ιωδᾶ τοῦ ‘Ηλιαδοῦδ). Moreover עשֵֹׁה is a rare form, which is peculiar to our author for עשֵׁי. Comp. 1 Chron. 23:24, etc.
Ezra 3:10, 11. The laying of the foundation was accomplished with solemnity and festivity. The perf. with the simple copula וְיִסְּדוּ does not in itself carry on the narrative, but serves, as if the subject preceded and the preterite followed, to give the circumstances of the subsequent statement, so that the sense is: And when the builders laid the foundations of the temple, they appointed the priests, etc.—The subjects of יַיַּעֲמִידוּ are Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the congregation with them. The Kal., the priests stood, which is in Esdras, Sept., and Vulg., instead of the Hiphil, would not be better (Bertheau), unless we should regard this verse a well as the ninth, as carrying on the eighth verse; in other words, if it were parallel with the ninth, which is not the case. Rather it is parallel with the eighth verse, and contains a new appointment, that of the priests and musicians, and then Ezra 3:11 parallel with Ezra 3:9 narrates the activity of those who had been appointed.—In their apparel.—We must supply בּוּץ (Byssus) with מְלֻבָּשִׁים; comp. 2 Chron. 5:12: at any rate, the sense is: clothed with official robes. The following “with trumpets” does depend upon it. The trumpets, which do not properly have music in view, were entrusted to the priests (Num. 10:10). The music proper was from the time of David incumbent upon particular families of the Levites, especially that of Asaph (1 Chron. 13:8; 15:16, 19).עַל־יְדֵי is, according to the appointment, institution, 1 Chron. 25:2.
Ezra 3:11. And they sang together by course in praising,etc.—We may take וַיַּעֲנוּ in the usual sense: they began with praising, etc.; but may likewise, with the older interpreters, as Clericus and J. H. Michaelis, explain: they responded to one another in responsive songs. Whilst the one choir sang: “Praise the Lord, for He is good,” the other answered: “For His mercy endureth forever.” They were songs of praise, as PS. 106 and 107, 118 and 136, that they struck up, comp. 1 Chron. 16:34, 41; 2 Chron. 5:13; 7:3, etc. עַל הוּסַד, “over the being founded”=on account of the laying of the foundation. Comp. 2 Chron. 3:3.
Ezra 3:12, 13. It is true that strong expressions of sorrow mingled with the joy, yet both sorrow and joy showed equally well the sacred zeal of the congregation in the worship of God. If the exile had begun in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, and the temple had not been destroyed till eighteen years later in 588 B. C., there might now very well be old men present,—since only seventy-two years had passed since that beginning of the exile,—who had seen the old temple, and had still a lively remembrance of it. Even Haggai, in the second year of Darius, when some seventy years (more accurately sixty-six) had passed since the destruction of the temple itself presupposes that one and another had still a remembrance of the old temple. Comp. Hag. 2:3. בְּיָסְדוֹ is attached by the accents to the previous words, as if יסד were a noun, which meant founding, then permanence. But this noun nowhere else occurs; besides, בְּיָסְדוֹ, as an infin., seems to be connected with the words that follow thus: When the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes.—With this interpretation, it is true, the suffix is pleonastic, but in other passages of this author the suffix anticipates with emphasis the subject following it in apposition, comp. Ezra 9:1; 2 Chron. 26:14, etc.; Ewald, § 209 c. [This is a late Hebrew usage, an Aramaism; so also זֶה without the article and before its noun is emphatic=this same, this very.—TR.]—Many old people wept with a loud voice.—Not, as it were, tears of joy, because they could now again see the house of God arise; so also not merely with tears of emotion, because they on this occasion were again vividly reminded of the evils they had passed through. The relative clause: that had seen the first house gives the sense very decidedly: they wept tears of sorrow, because they could not conceal from themselves the fact that the new work, in accordance with all the prevailing circumstances, promised but little to attain unto the glory of the old. In favor of this is also Hag. 2:3 and Zech. 4:10. These tears were thus a proof that if only it had been in any way possible, they would gladly have made the new house as glorious as the old. The second clause is then antithetical: but many shouted aloud for joy—that is, were in such a joyful condition that they could not but be loud in their expression of joy.
Ezra 3:13. The meaning of the words: the people could not discern the noise of the shouts of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, can only be that both those who rejoiced and those who wept were alike zealous to express their feelings—so much so indeed that the words which were sung could not be understood.—For the people shouted with a loud shout and the noise was heard afar off.—תְּרוּעַת and קוֹל in this clause in distinction from תְּרוּעַת הַשִׂמְחָה in the first clause, can only mean the cry in general. This confused cry would be to the blame of the new congregation, if the confusion itself had not been the result of sacred enthusiasm for the cause of the Lord. עַד־לְסֵרָחוֹק stands for the more simple לְסֵרָחוֹק as in 2 Chron. 26:15.
THOUGHTS UPON THE HISTORY OF REDEMPTION
Our chapter presents a beautiful picture of the sacred enthusiasm of the new congregation for the glory of God, and especially of their commendable zeal for the restoration of the temple. In former times pious kings had provided in this way for the worthy worship of God; but now here for the first time we see the congregation as a whole of their own accord stepping forward in this manner. Such an inspiration of heart had without doubt from the first been rendered possible and brought about by the severe judgment which God had sent upon them, and by the hard oppression connected therewith. It was like the break of a lovely spring day, full of new life, after a storm. It did not by any means secure them a result that must be secured by them, without trials and hinderances; but yet they were finally to have a noble and great success, yea, they gained a great importance for the entire subsequent development of the congregation and of the kingdom of God.
Ezra 3:1–3. That the congregation, as soon as they could be assembled together as such, should feel above all impelled to build the Lord an altar and offer burnt-offerings, was in accordance with the command which Moses had once given to the people to set up on Ebal, the navel of the land, stones and inscribe thereon the law of the Lord (Deut. 27:1–8), and even so with the other command to proclaim on this mountain the curse for the transgressor, and on Gerizim the blessing for the obedient, Deut. 11:29–32; 27:9–26. If the ancient congregation had by that act placed the land under the divine commandment, and marked it as under the Lord’s jurisdiction, and put it under the obligation to obey Him, so the new congregation consecrated themselves by this worship unto Him, as entirely belonging to Him, they confessed by the burnt-offering in a symbolical manner, that what they have, they from the Lord, and what they are, they are through Him, that thus they must be entirely devoted to Him. As offerings of homage, the burnt-offerings were better calculated than others to inaugurate the new beginning, the spring, which now broke forth for the congregation after the long night of winter.
Ezra 3:4. It was because of the season of the year in which the congregation had arrived in Canaan that the first feast which they could again celebrate in accordance with the law was the feast of tabernacles. At the same time, however, we may see therein a special providence of God, which was at once lovely and significant to the congregation. The booths adorned with foliage and fruits had previously represented as well the gracious help in the times of the wilderness as also the gracious blessings of harvest in the present (not the tent-life in the wilderness as such, comp. my Abh. in der deutschen Zeitschrift, 1857, and my Komm. zu V. Mos. XVI., and Keil’s Archäol. I., S. 412 sqq.); corresponding with this, the booths now gained of themselves a reference, on the one side, to the exhibition of grace during the new prolonged wilderness-time of the exile, which had entered with so much gloom into the midst of the history of Israel; so to speak to the booths of protection and defiance which had arisen for the people by the grace of the Lord even in the heathen world, and on the other side to the new regaining of Canaan, which, to a certain extent, was a security and a pledge of all the further blessings in store for them in this land. They expressed the thanks which they owed to the Lord for both of these blessings in an especially lively and internal manner. This feast of tabernacles was a festal and joyous conclusion of all the preservations, consolations and blessings that were behind them, connected with a joyous glance into the future; it was an evidence that a height had been reached upon which finally even the last height might be attained, an indication that some day, after all their struggles and all their labors, a still more glorious feast of tabernacles, the Messianic, the eternal and truly blessed one, would come. Comp. Zech. 14.
Ezra 3:6, 7. The celebration of the feast of tabernacles was followed by the preparation for building the temple in an especially appropriate and beautiful manner. If the Lord had provided His congregation with booths of preservation, of consolation, and of joy, not only now in Canaan, but even also in the times of the wilderness of the exile, how ought they now to have felt impelled from the heart to build Him a tabernacle also, in which His honor might dwell, a tabernacle of God with men, at least with and among His people! The communion with the Lord, which they had already enjoyed, would have been no true one, if it had not been connected with the desire that it should become strengthened and made more intimate, and if this desire had not now engaged in building the temple. That is the great end of all providential guidances, that communion between Himself and men, as it was prepared on His part by His condescension, should become established and enlivened more and more also on the part of men; for the most part naturally through the communion of the heart with Him, but also in order that it might be cherished in the heart, by the establishment, enlargement and completion of the external means and institutions which have been provided by God Himself for the purpose. The blessings and gifts with which He has blessed us should always be employed first and chiefly for this purpose. And how greatly are we shamed in this respect by this weak congregation of returned exiles, who were scarcely able to sow and reap, and who yet had so much left for the building of the temple.
Ezra 3:7. It was significant also that at this building of the temple again it was not Canaan proper, but the Phœnician Lebanon, that provided the building-material and that corresponding with this heathen workmen and artists also took part in erecting the house of God. It indicates that the rest of the earth also, and corresponding thereto, the rest of mankind, are to render their gifts and capacities, which are more and more to take part in the complete and true worship of the Lord, that the Lord by no means regards them as profane. The rest of the earth and mankind became thereby, to a certain extent, consecrated in advance and designated as one who, if now already in the Old Testament economy, yet still more some day in the fulness of time, would take part in the highest destiny of Israel. Comp. the beautiful remarks of Bähr on 1 Kings 5.
Ezra 3:8, 9. It was not a single head, as once with Solomon, from whom now the building of the temple proceeded; with Zerubbabel and Jeshua, at the same time all the returned exiles equally took part, as it is expressly said. That the entire congregation should take part freely in the highest work of humanity is the great object in view in all the divine providential guidances. Connected with this, however, the congregation gave a Levitical family the charge of conducting the work of building, accordingly in their choice of officers fell in with the regulations made and sanctified by God already long before, and thus certainly took the best action, since indeed in the tribe of Levi the interest in the house of God was still cherished in the most lively manner, and the understanding of what was necessary or appropriate was most surely preserved. That is always the most salutary and beautiful when the free recognition or choice on the part of the congregation and the arrangements objectively present on the part of God harmoniously combine.
Ezra 3:12, 13. With respect to the expressions of joy and sorrow at the laying of the foundation of the temple, every step by which we attempt to draw near to our highest end, the confirmation of our communion with God, should become a joyous feast. For the nearer we approach this end, the more there comes into view not only the true reverence of the Lord, but also the fulness of redemption and life, of righteousness, of peace, and of joy, involved therein. The farther off we remain therefrom, the more do unrighteousness, discord and mischief threaten to prevail. In fact nothing is so well calculated to exalt the hearts of the children of God from within outward, to fill them with sacred joy and attune them to festivity, as the coming of the kingdom of God. Ewald properly conjectures that at the time of the laying of the foundation (we must understand the times of the building of the temple and those that immediately followed as included therein), many a grand song resounded afresh, as the 118th Psalm, a song of festivity and sacrifice expressing the feelings of that period with such wonderful depth; and that they soon, as they again made pilgrimages to the ancient seat of true religion and the Davidic sovereignty, as well as the sanctuary itself (so Psalm 87), as also on the joyous pilgrim-march, sang a rich abundance of new songs of great power and enchanting inwardness, such as had hardly arisen since the time of David in such streaming fullness and creative life (so Ps. 120–134). Comp. Ewald, Gesch. IV., S. 131, 133. In the profound 116th Psalm: “I love the Lord because he hath heard my voice and my supplications,” the voice of joy mingled with sorrow, then so general, has found an appropriate and particular expression, which is so beautiful, that the pious king Fred. William 4 of Prussia, in his last severe affliction, chose it for his prayer. In the 113. Psalm, however, “Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord—the Lord is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens,” there is combined, in the same characteristic manner, the thought of the lowliness and poverty that they then so severely felt, and the praise for the exaltation which had now taken place. Especially, however, Psalm 107 belongs here with its remembrance of all the different afflictions and dangers through which they had passed with God’s help and with its constantly recurring refrain: “O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men;” and probably also Psalm 106, with its prayer that the Lord would still further gather them from among the heathen and redeem them from trouble. If we still so often, on our part, have a lack of joy and suffer from depression of spirits, and if even in better hours a pressure remains upon the soul, of which we are at times scarcely clearly conscious, then even this sadness may redound to the glory of God, that is, be a divine sorrow, which has its ground in the fact that we cannot serve God as we would wish, and as would be really worthy of Him. Under such circumstances we should not lack beams of hope, or rather of promise, that would be able to transfigure them.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
Ezra 3:1–6. The feast of the redeemed: 1) They present their offerings to God; a) for the redemption for which they are thankful to the Lord, and for which they owe all to Him; b) notwithstanding the hostility of the world, which indeed grieves them and hinders them in many ways externally, but cannot hold them back from that which is essential; c) they consecrate themselves by a daily dedication of themselves. 2) They celebrate especially a feast of tabernacles; a) as preserved in the desert of the world and delivered therefrom; b) as richly blessed in the land of the Lord; c) as called to the eternal tabernacles of joy. 3) They advance the building of the house and kingdom of God; a) they consecrate for this purpose their possessions and gifts; b) they seek therefore also to add thereto that which is suitable in the world—all (1, 2 and 3) on the ground of and according to the prescriptions of the word of God.—BRENTIUS: Nobis quotidie hoc festum celebrandum est, quod turn celebratur, dum docemus et sentimus, nos esse peregrinos in hoc mundo et in tabernaculis corporis nostri brevi durantibus, nostrum politeuma esse in cœlo. STARKE: How lovely and necessary is brotherly love among the children of God! Especially in the building of the spiritual temple under Christ should there be one heart and one soul, and each one should stand as all and all as one man, Acts 2:44; 4:32; Ps. 133:2. If we would again properly reform and re-establish the worship of God, God’s word must be the law, rule, lamp, and guiding star, Ps. 19:5; 23:4; 119:105. Although believers have the commandment and promise of God before them, yet the human heart is often so weak that it is easily frightened; but we should here be at the same time blind and dumb, and not look to the present state of affairs, but rely upon God’s word alone, Prov. 18:10.
Ezra 3:6–10. How the house (kingdom) of God is built: 1) by the offerings of men; a) by the possessions and gifts of the congregation; b) by appropriating and using that which is useful in the world; c) under the protection of the civil authorities (“according to the permission of Cyrus”). 2) By the activity not only of the heads but also of the other members. The heads have their work to do as leaders, but the rest have freely to co-operate, they have to assist those who according to the divine arrangement have the charge of affairs, encourage them and strengthen them. 3) By the faithfulness of officers to their duties. God has ordained officers for the sake of order. There is not only the office of priests, but also that of their helpers, the teachers, and especially also fathers and mothers.—STARKE: God distributes His gifts in many ways; to one He gives talents for one work, to another for another, 1 Cor. 12:7 sq. The spiritual temple should also be urged on in all ranks of society with all energy, in order that the people may be built up into an holy temple in the Lord, EZ. 2:22 preachers and magistrates, instructors also, and parents, thus build a temple when they properly teach and preach, preserve discipline and honesty, and bring up the youth to piety.
Ezra 3:11–13. The joy of the congregation of the Lord: 1) Its ground—the laying of the foundation of the house of God; God on His part would have a dwelling among men, for this He has accomcomplished the work of redemption, especially the incarnation, the atonement, and the establishment of the Church; the congregation on their part constitute ever some part of the beginning of the house of God. 2) Its kind—it is a festive joy, and expresses itself accordingly in music and songs in praise of the Lord, but is still saddened, because the house of God still continues to lack the true glory. 3) Its significance,—its incompleteness of itself, points to its fulfilment.—STARKE: Christ is the true foundation and corner-stone of His church (Ps.118:22; Isa. 28:16; 1 Cor. 3:11), in whom we highly rejoice, and on whose account we have to praise God. Experience of previous times often gives an impulse to correct judgment; sometimes however unbelief derives an evil example and support therefrom. The inward joy of the Spirit should suppress all temporal sorrows, so that we should not hear the weeping for the joy.
[SCOTT: The greater difficulties and the more formidable enemies we are exposed to, the more we need the friendship and assistance of God.—In this world joys and sorrows will be blended, for it is a mixed state; hereafter there will be a complete separation.—HENRY: Let worldly business be postponed to the business of religion and it will prosper the better.—They that do not work themselves may yet do good service by quickening and encouraging those that do work.—TR.]
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.