A Time to Rebuild

Ezra 3:1-13

Veterans Memorial Chapel

By Ch Jim Odell

This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for January 9, 2022. I am only hitting the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.

The Old Testament story line presents an interesting saga of the “on again . . . off again” relationship of Israel and God. Israel was chosen of God to represent Him to the world. For this God promised great blessings on them as a nation. But, time and time again, Israel preferred to go its own way, and do its own thing. Thus, God often attempted to correct them, and get them back on track. And time and time again, Israel turned to its own way, till God finally removed them from their “Promised Land.”

Ezra and Nehemiah are two short books, chronologically at the end of the Old Testament. They tell of the return of the nation to the land and the building of the Temple and Jerusalem. The two main characters of our story today are Zerubbabel (grandson of the next to last king of Judah, and descendant of King David), and Joshua the Priest (descendant of one of the last High Priests of Israel).

Zerubbabel, as governor, and Joshua, as High Priest, are tasked by Cyrus, the Persian Emperor, to set up Jerusalem as a city and commercial center for the repatriated Jews and rebuild the Temple as the religious and cultural center of Judaism. The Persian Emperor, Cyrus, had provided “bills of credit” to rebuild the Temple and provided transportation costs for the migration back to “the Promised Land.” The Jews were to build homes and till the ground and become not only a self-sufficient community, but a trading partner in the greater Persian Empire.

While this recolonization posed a risk to the migrating families, the greater risk was with the neighboring cities around Judah who did not want the economic competition of the Jews nor the recognition of “Jews” as anything more than a “troublesome race.” The largest of these neighbors were the Samaritans, a syncretistic culture with a religion mix of “old Judaistic” traditions and pagan practices. They saw the Jews as a threat to their very existence as a people.

So Israel completes its migration from the area of Babylon to “Palestine” (modern term) and settles in the Promised Land surrounded by peoples who did not want them there.

Then Zerubbabel and Joshua began rebuilding the Jewish religion in a new but hostile world. They did so in a way that they would not give up the “old truths” that God had revealed to them. We, too, are constantly in need of rebuilding our lives and worshiping with new norms, especially in our post-Pandemic and even post-Christian world today. But in this rebuilding, we must not neglect the “old view” of the One Holy God of the Bible. Things are changing, some for good, but so much seems not for the good.

Soon after their arrival, Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the governor began to rebuild the stone altar of sacrifice on the ruins of the old Temple built by Solomon. In the “seventh month” (3:1, our Sept-Oct time frame, their Rosh Hashana, or New Years) of their first year, they began offering the sacrifices on that altar. It had been a generation since any offerings had been offered to God on Solomon’s Temple site, the site God had dedicated as the place of sacrifice for “all people” (1 King 8:43) to worship.

They also reinstituted the regular daily and seasonal offerings as prescribed in the Law of Moses (3:4 ff). This was a new beginning for the Jews. They were returning as a new generation of Jews, raised in Babylon and Persia. And at the same time, they were keeping the Old Laws of Moses from ancient times. In a sense, this is reminiscent of every one of us growing up in a contemporary world, but holding on to “old truths” of long ago. Each of us need to be rebuilding our lives and families in light of both God’s ancient Law and our modern world.

Keep in mind, there is no Temple in chapter 3:1-6, only the slabs of marble flooring left from Solomon’s Temple after it was razed by the Babylonians over 40 years before.

They then began to collect free will offerings to pay workers to rebuild the Temple. Materials provided by the Emperor, and manpower provided by hiring experts to rebuild by freewill offerings of the faithful who wanted to see God’s work go forward. This is a great picture of life and service. We do not just pray God will do something great in our life or lifetime. We also step out and “move” back to the place of blessing and then sacrifice ourselves and our possessions to see God’s work move forward. We become cooperative with God in His work in our world. And that led to the great thanksgiving celebration described in 3:10-11.

I am very interested in the people’s reaction to the celebration in 3:12-13. The younger people rejoiced to see the foundation of the Temple laid and construction begun on the Temple. They rejoiced that the place of worship, destroyed in the lives of their grandparents, was being restored!

Yet some of the older priests and elders remembered the Temple of Solomon as it sat amidst its many courts and porticos. The new Temple building itself was the same size as Solomon’s, and Herod’s remake a few hundred years later. But at this point there were no courts and colonnades and approaches. This disappointed many of the older worshipers. It was also true that they recalled what they remembered as young children, and the present building did not seem as large. They had a nostalgic view more than a real view of the past glory. So they wept over what used to be.

Every one of us can recall the “good old days.” Days when churches were full, days when right and wrong were guided in good measure by a Christian world view. At Vets chapel we may recall the soldiers who came to worship before the fort closed, or the time when reservists worshiped here in greater numbers. In so doing, we may regret it is not like it used to be.

We can sulk over the old passing away, or we can rejoice in what God is doing through us today. “The shouts of joy were heard a far off” (3:13). We have a new beginning. God has not changed, only our world is different. The old Law still applies to our new world. I hope this New Year will give us a challenge to rebuild our lives and ministry around the new challenges God has given us. May we be among those who join in the joyful shout of the opportunities God has given us, and not sulk over the loss of the “good old days.”

Happy New Year and God Bless each of you.

CH Jim Odell