In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work. They appointed Levites twenty years old and older to supervise the building of the house of the Lord . Joshua and his sons and brothers and Kadmiel and his sons (descendants of Hodaviah ) and the sons of Henadad and their sons and brothers—all Levites—joined together in supervising those working on the house of God. When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord , the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord , as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord : “He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord , because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. – Ezra 3:8-13
This post marks my “float” into the book of Ezra. Apparently this book describes about a century of history of Israel from about 540 to 440 B.C. The focus of the book is the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem by a remnant who has returned from Babylonian exile. I don’t know much about this book so it will be uncharted waters.
The first couple of chapters set the stage for the book. God “stirred up the spirit” of Cyrus, the king of Persia, and convinced him that he should build (or rebuild) a house for God in Jerusalem. Many of the exiled families were to return and take some of the items stolen from Jerusalem back with them to rebuild the temple.
In the passages just prior to this passage the remnant returns and they begin the rebuilding process by building the altar first and offering sacrifices to God. I found this timing rather interesting…build the altar before the temple. This would be a bit like building a prayer room before you build the church around it…not a bad idea.
So in this passage the foundation of the temple, God’s house, was laid. That part is relatively straight forward. It is after this that things get a bit confusing. The people are singing songs and praising God for the completion of the foundation, but the older priests and Levites are weeping. The passage goes on to say that “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping”.
Why were the older priests and Levites, “who had seen the former temple” weeping? If tears are really samples of our souls what do their tears tell us? Were they weeping for Joy? Were they saddened by the reduced grandeur of the new temple compared to the old one built by Solomon? Were they simply tears of gratitude and relief that they would once again be able to worship God? Lots of questions…no great answers.
Perhaps the response of the priests and Levites was similar to the response of a person who has been adrift at sea for a long time when they are finally rescued — they kiss the solid ground. These religious leaders may have felt “rescued” from the uncertain “sea” they were navigating during the exile in Babylon. The temple for them may have been “solid ground” after many years at sea. A relationship with God through Jesus can be like this as well…solid ground amid shifting sands.
Prayer: God thank You for being solid ground on which we can find rest and security in uncertain times