Ezra 3:1-4:5 – Worship Restored
SummaryChapters 1-2 established the continuity between preexilic Israel and those just returning from exile in terms of God's gracious activity and the physical transplanting of the people themselves. Here the theme of continuity continues with the reestablishment of worship by those who had returned with Zerubbabel.
The first stage in the completion of God's mission to restore the exiles to their homeland given through Cyrus, the Persian king (1:1-4), was completed in chapter 3 with the restoration of the altar and the resumption of sacrifices (3:1-6). The restoration of the altar began in "the seventh month," an auspicious time with its celebration of the New Year, the Day of Atonement, and the Festival of Booths. The New Year celebration would situate the community properly with respect to sacred time, and Booths would celebrate their return with reminiscences of God's gracious deliverance of their forebears from Egypt as well as a recommitment to the covenant. The Day of Atonement would not have been celebrated before the rebuilding of the temple.
The altar was restored in 538 B.C.E. Curiously, chapter 3 does not mention that a period of eighteen years elapsed before work on the ruined temple began in 520 B.C.E. (Haggai 1). The author of Ezra is much more interested in the theological importance of these events than in the accurate historical accounting of the events we might prefer.
In the rebuilding of the temple, continuity is once again stressed. This is most clearly seen in the intentional comparisons drawn between Solomon's temple and the rebuilt edifice:
• Then (1 Chronicles 22:2-4) and now (Ezra 3:7), Lebanese cedars were imported for construction by masons and carpenters from Tyre and Sidon, who were paid in a similar fashion.
• Then (1 Kings 6:1) and now (Ezra 3:8), work begins in "the second month."
• Then (1 Chronicles 23:4-32) and now (Ezra 3:8b-9), Levites oversee the work.
There are differences, however:
• Solomon's temple had been financed through the generous contributions of David and Solomon. Now, the congregation joins together in support of the task.
• Ezra 3:12-13 relates the people's joy at the laying of the temple's foundation. Their joy, however, is mingled with "weeping." It is not known whether they wept for joy or because this temple was only an approximation of Solomon's glorious edifice or because they would not live to see its completion.
Haggai clearly blames the eighteen-year delay in rebuilding the temple on the people's selfish neglect (1:4). The author of Ezra sees the problem as external and blames the delay on the opposition of the surrounding peoples (Ezra 4:1-5), thus absolving the community of the charge of neglect. This opposition will continue throughout Ezra and Nehemiah.