Where would you worship if your home, your church and your city were suddenly destroyed and you were deported to a strange faraway place where the people did not believe in your God? This is a question the Jews had to deal with for 70 years while they were held captive in Babylon. The army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and taken the people captive.
For half a century or more, if a situation seemed hopeless, this was it! Yet, God was able to use the ruins of their homeland and the wreckage of their personal lives to plant again the seed of national identity.
Amidst these ruins, Judaism once more was able to blossom. The history of God’s chosen people is marked by many tragic events, but none was more tragic than Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem and his carrying many of the people into captivity. While in captivity, the Jews began to meet for worship in synagogues, but they longed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple and to reinstitute the worship prescribed for the Temple by the law of Moses.
This lesson is about the first Jews who returned to Judah and Jerusalem in 536 B.C. and their reinstatement of sacrificial worship on the site where the Temple of Solomon once stood. This lesson calls attention to how important the worship of God was to those Jews and how important it should be to us. When the worship of the Lord was restored, this became the source of much joy for the Jews who returned from their captivity.
Since worship, consistent with Scripture, is still an unequaled source of joy, rejoicing and encouragement, we should be ever grateful for the wonderful opportunities that we have in America.
The LORD had said to His people through the prophet Jeremiah, in
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
They remembered the many wanderings. They thought of the many times they had been idolatrous. As they thought of these things, they began to seek God.
In Ezra 1:2 and 2 Chronicles 36:23 the attitude of Cyrus is remarkable. He spoke in such exalted terms of the God of the Jews even though he was a believer in many gods. He had many monuments in his kingdom.
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.
2 Chronicles 36:23
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia. All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me: and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.
The proclamation of Cyrus did not compel the Jews to leave Babylon. It simply granted them the permission to do so if they desired. It was based on each person’s desire. The purpose of the return is specified in the statement by Cyrus. It was to rebuild the Temple.
There was nothing said about the building process or fortifying of a city. It was purely a religious undertaking. Many of the Jews had prospered materially while in captivity. They had become successful and had gained much wealth. They were not eager to leave Babylon.
Some feared traveling to a land they had not personally seen. They were not really interested in being involved in a pioneer work of rebuilding a desolate country; therefore, not all Jews decided to return to their native land.
There were some, however, who “rose up” immediately and began preparations to return. Certain leaders of the tribe of Benjamin and Judah were among the first to go. It was their territory in which the capital city of Jerusalem had stood. They were joined by a group of Priests and Levites. They would be responsible for officiating in the restored house of God. The work of reconstruction appealed to other people from the various tribes of Israel and they volunteered to take part in the work. God touched those hearts who had a willing mind.
The Jews were helped by their Babylonian neighbors: freely providing them with gold and with silver, with goods, beasts and costly items. Besides all this, a certain number of freewill offerings were contributed: gold and silver as it was in Egypt at the time of that exodus.
The willing Jews, those leaving Babylonian captivity, headed for Jerusalem, thoroughly prepared themselves to return to Jerusalem to build the Temple, to fulfilling the LORD’s plans for His people. Their genealogy, family tree, can be read in Ezra Chapter Two and in Nehemiah Chapter Ten, names listed! The family “tree” of those who returned were carefully recorded for posterity. They included the names: “sons of” and the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants. In Ezra Chapter Two and Nehemiah Chapter Ten we can read the names.
1Now these are the children of the province that went up out of the captivity, of those which had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away unto Babylon, and came again unto Jerusalem and Judah, every one unto his city; 2Which came with Zerubbabel: (AND THE LIST/NAMES CONTINUE!).
Now those that sealed were… (AND THE LIST/NAMES CONTINUE!).
The total number of those returning, the number of the men of the people of Israel, was 42,360.
Ezra 2:64, 65
64The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, 65Beside their servants and their maids, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and there were among them two hundred singing men and singing women.
Nehemiah 7:66, 67
66The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore. 67Beside their manservants and their maidservants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and they had two hundred forty and five singing men and singing women.
Especially to be noted was their leader whose name was Zerubbabel, who was of the royal family and was a prince in the house of David. He faced a difficult task in rebuilding the Temple and overseeing the work and was often personally encouraged by God Himself.
14And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God. 15In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.
Haggai 2:4 (God speaking)
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
Haggai 2:20-23 (21-23, God speaking)
20And again the word of the LORD came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying, 21Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; 22And I sill overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. 23In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 4:6-7, 9-10 (God speaking)
6Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. 7Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it. 8Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
9The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it and thou shalt know that the LORD of host hath sent me unto you. 10For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and from through the whole earth.
After they reached Jerusalem, the altar was built and the sacrificial system reinstituted. The first sacred feast to be observed was the Feast of the Tabernacles. They got it right: worship before work. The labor of building the foundation did not begin until God had been honored at the altar.
All Christians are building character, relationships and the church. We have so much to do but will never finish the task unless we give first our best hours to worship.
Do we prepare to worship God? Do we rush to worship from other activities without prayerful or thoughtful preparation to commune with God? Personal preparation for worship will make our worship experience more meaningful. God has a purpose in bringing His people together for worship.
Private, personal devotions are essential for spiritual well-being, but public, corporate worship is also necessary. We gain wisdom, encouragement and strength from worshiping with other believers in Christ that cannot be obtained any other way.
Hebrews 10:24, 25
24And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 254Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another, and so much more, as ye see the day approaching.
Church buildings and houses of worship are visible symbols to the world that there are people in this world who have faith and believe in God. While we understand that God is not confined to temples or houses of worship, we should not overlook the importance of the church building as a visible symbol of faith and as the place where believers gather for worship to be strengthened in their relationship with God and with each other.
The worship of God is characterized by joyous celebration because it is about who God is and His infinite goodness and everlasting mercy. We have more to praise Him for than voice or tongue can tell.
1And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. 2Then stood up Joshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shaltiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. 3And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening. 4They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; 5And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD. 6From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. 7They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia. 8Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. 9Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.
When we come to Chapter 3, obviously some time had elapsed. How much we do not know, but the priest, governor and the brethren built an altar for sacrifices. They built according to the specifications given in the Mosaic Law as stated in Exodus 27.
Exodus 27:1-8 (God speaking)
1And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits. 2And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof: his horns shall be of the same: and thou shalt overlay it with brass. 3And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass. 4And thou shalt make for it a grate of network of brass; and upon the net shalt thou make four brasen rings in the four corners thereof. 6And thou shalt put it under the compass of the altar beneath, that the net may be even to the midst of the altar. 6And thou shalt make staves for the altar, staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with brass. 7And the staves shall be put into the rings, and the staves shall be upon the two sides of the altar, to bear it. 8Hollow with boards shalt thou make it: as it was shewed thee in the mount, so shall they make it.
As soon as the altar was completed and set up, sacrifices were offered upon it. Scripture tells us that they feared the people living there. This made the Jews realize their need of Divine help and protection and of getting right with God.
Things have not changed much over the years. It often takes trials and difficulties to make us realize our need of God’s Divine help.
The observance of the Feast of Tabernacles and the first preparation for the construction of the Temple came next for the Israelites. The return of their small group, out of all the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, only 42,360 of the exiles can be thought of as involved in that great event.
After observing the Feast of Tabernacles, they reinstituted the daily sacrifices, the offerings and Israel’s national feasts, which are times God had appointed to celebrate His work: the 7 Feasts of Israel as recorded in Leviticus 23.
Pesach (Hebrew for Passover) The Festival of Passover has three parts.
1. Passover (Leviticus 23:5)
2. Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6-8)
3. First fruits (Leviticus 23:9-14)
Shavuot (Hebrew for The Festival of Pentecost)
4. Pentecost or Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15-21)
Succoth (Hebrew for The Festival of Tabernacles, has three parts: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot).
5. Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-25)
6. Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:26-32)
Sukkot (Hebrew for Feast of Booths or Tabernacles)
7. Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-44)
Ezra 3:10, 11
10And when the builders lald the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. 11And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
The laying of the foundation was a time of celebration and worship. It was a happy and worshipful time as thanks were expressed for God’s blessings in the building efforts.
The rich apparel, which the priests wore, which the law required, was “for glory and beauty.”
Exodus 28:2 (God speaking)
And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.
Exodus 28:40 (God speaking)
And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty.
The special garments were designed to set the priests apart from other men and give dignity and honor to the office.
The priests led the worship with their trumpets. The Levites played cymbals. David had introduced music into the worship service when the Ark of the Covenant had stood in the tent he had made for it. Music continued as a part of worship in the Temple Solomon built. Now music was being reinstituted after the pattern David had prescribed and the people sang and gave thanks.
And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
HE IS good and HIS mercy endureth FOREVER TOWARD ISRAEL.
The first temple had been destroyed about 50 years earlier and so some of the older priests and Levites remembered how it had looked. In their eyes, the second temple was greatly inferior.
It was obvious that their Temple could not come up to the majesty of the first one. The older people of Israel were glad the Temple would be rebuilt, yet they were sad because they knew so much of what had been destroyed was irreplaceable.
We are delighted to observe the growth and progress in the LORD’s church but saddened by how far we have strayed from the Word of God, the Bible.
The return of these Jews from exile did not happen without planning and preparation. Someone had to provide leadership and encouragement to arouse the people to want to make such an arduous trip. Plans had to be made to gather the animals and provisions they would need on the trip.
Enthusiasm must have been high when they first ventured out, but before long, their energy and enthusiasm must have begun to lag or wane. This is where good leadership is needed: to bolster their spirits. They appointed workers, gathered materials and proceeded to lay the foundation of the Temple, but then something happened. Their work stopped and foundations they had laid remained bare as a reminder of their stopping.
More than a decade and a half was to pass before, under the urging of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, they began again to work on the Temple. The devil tried his best to prevent the Temple from being built. He tried compromises.
1Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the LORD God of Israel; 2Then they came to Zerubbabel and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. 3But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.
In Ezra 4:1-3 Judah’s enemies suggested they all have a part in building some kind of universal house of worship. Zerubbabel and Joshua refused.
The devil then tried slander. Their enemies then wrote lies concerning them to the Persian king. They reminded the Persian king, Artaxerxes, that Jerusalem was a country of rebellion and suggested he stop all construction.
11This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king; Thy servants the men on this side the river, and at such a time. 12Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city, and have set up the walls, thereof, and joined the foundations. 13Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city be builded, and the walls set up again, then will they not pay toll, tribute, and custom, and so thou shalt endamage the revenue of the kings. 14Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore have we sent and certified the king; 15That search may be made in the book of the records of thy fathers: so shalt thou find in the book of the records, and know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful unto kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time: for which cause was this city destroyed. 16We certify the king that, if this city be builded again, and the walls thereof set up, by this means thou shalt have no portion on this side of the river.
King Artaxerxes agreed and responded that construction be stopped.
Ezra 4:17a, 21-24
17aThen sent the king an answer…
21Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. 22Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? 23Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. 24Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
But in spite of all this, GOD was at work!