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.
3When the seventh month came, and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered together in Jerusalem. 2Then Jeshua son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt-offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God. 3They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighbouring peoples, and they offered burnt-offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. 4And they kept the festival of booths,* as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt-offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day, 5and after that the regular burnt-offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the sacred festivals of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill-offering to the Lord. 6From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt-offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. 7So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from King Cyrus of Persia.
8 In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their people, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upwards, to have the oversight of the work on the house of the Lord. 9And Jeshua with his sons and his kin, and Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and Hodaviah* along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, their sons and kin, together took charge of the workers in the house of God.
10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel;
11and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever towards 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. 12But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the peoples weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
4When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, 2they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of families and said to them, Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of King Esar-haddon of Assyria who brought us here. 3But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of families in Israel said to them, You shall have no part with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus of Persia has commanded us.
4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build, 5and they bribed officials to frustrate their plan throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org