Monday Reflection – August 12, 2019
They sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:11
The book of Ezra opens with the end of the Babylonian captivity and the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. For some time after their arrival they were occupied with the necessary work of rebuilding their houses and lives, amid the ruins of Jerusalem and its neighborhood. Having accomplished this, they sought to rebuild the altar of burnt offering. This was urgent and immediate so they could make atonement for their sins and receive the divine blessing on their preparations for the temple.
As they set out to rebuild the temple, they organized the base upon its old foundation, so that it occupied as nearly as possible the site on which it had formerly stood. There they offered the burnt offerings, as they wanted to restore their religious and worship life even before the temple was rebuilt and dedicated. At the establishment of the foundation, the faith community began to worship God. They sounded the trumpets and cymbals as they sang and shouted, praising and giving thanks to God. They declared, ‘God is good and his mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ There were no walls, no roof, no pulpit or table, yet they worshipped God. Isn’t it true that sometimes we get caught up in the beautiful edifice that we lose sight of the worship? Sometimes our focus is on the sanctuary more than the worship? I am in no way suggesting that we ought not to ensure that God’s temple is in an appropriate state. However, our focus should be more on the quality of worship to God.
It is interesting that there was a mixed reaction from the people when they saw the foundation of the temple built. Some shouted for joy, while others wept. In fact, verse 13 says that one could discern the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping. Those who had only known the misery of having no temple at all, praised the Lord with shouts of joy. For them, it was as life from the dead. However, many who had seen the first temple were distressed that this new temple is likely to prove far inferior to that of the first, not only with regards to its outward structure, but also relating to the extraordinary marks of the divine favour that were evident in the first.
There was no hope that the poor beginnings of the latter temple would ever be raised to the grandeur and magnificence of the former, since the first was built by Solomon, the wisest and richest king. However, this new temple was being pursued by a small company of exiles. The first was finished with the most costly stones and timber, with exquisite art and overlaid with vast quantities of gold, while this one was going to be built with no better materials than what could be dug from the ruinous foundation of the old one.
Perhaps the greatest source of grief was that the ark of the covenant, and the mercy- seat which was upon it, the holy fire upon the altar, the Urim and Thummim, the spirit of prophecy, the Shekinah or divine presence, the five great things for which the former temple was so renowned, were lost and gone, and never to be recovered. What a time of distress for many! But, God provided a word through the prophet Haggai, “I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory: the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, says the Lord of hosts.” (2:7-9) Let us not stay consumed with the past and weep over it. Instead, let’s open our mouths and sing for joy; open our eyes and look, for God is going to do something new and better!