Ezra answers the question “Is there hope for Israel’s future?” And in short there is! There is a God of Heaven who does exercise sovereign control over history to fulfil his word, bless those who seek Him, and pour out wrath on those who abandon him. Therefore, Israel present and future hinges not on external events but on their holiness, as individuals and as a people.
Over 42,000 exiles, along with more than 7,000 servants, return to Judah under the leadership of Sheshbazzar. They quickly rebuild the altar and found the temple; however, opposition from the peoples of the lands halts the work for many years. Under the leadership of Haggai and Zechariah, the reconstruction resumes and the temple is finally completed. They celebrate the completion of the temple with great joy.
God’s sovereignty is evident, for the greatest monarch of earth is subject to his direction. Cyrus’s decree (1:2-4 ) emphasises the Lord’s sovereignty, acknowledges him as the God of Heaven, the Owner of all the kingdoms of the earth, and the Master who has appointed him to rebuild the temple. This fulfils The Lord’s word through Jeremiah.
Ezra 3 recounts the first two steps towards the rebuilding the temple. These events followed quickly on the heels of the Return. The people gather in Jerusalem and restore the altar of burnt offering to its place, in careful obedience to Moses’ law. It strengthens the sense that those who have returned are, in every way, the continuation of God’s chosen people. Why spend time in worship, why rebuild the temple when there was so much more to do?
Worship must always come first. Out of the rubble of their past disobedience, they first made sure they were right with God. In a sense, by making sacrifices first, they were saying, “Lord, we want to get right with you.” The altar was the symbolic centre of Old Testament religion. It was the place where they brought their lambs, goats and bulls to be offered to the Lord. They killed the animal, poured out its blood, and burned the flesh before the Lord. Without the altar there could be no proper worship, no assurance of divine protection, no guarantee of forgiveness, no access to God, and no lifting of the burden of guilt and failure. The altar was the link between God and man. During all the years in Babylon, the people had no altar and thus no clear access to God and no assurance of forgiveness. Their disobedience had taken the altar away and broken their fellowship with God.
There are times when we all need a new beginning with God. Sometimes we need a new beginning because of our own sin. Sometimes the circumstances of life have so defeated us that we need a fresh start. Sometimes we feel that hope is gone forever. And in those moments, we must do what the Jews did. We must return to the altar of sacrifice. For Christians, that means returning to the cross of Jesus Christ where his blood was shed for our sins. We all need the healing that comes from the cross of Jesus Christ. And we need it every day.
But, as they rebuilt the altar, we read they “were terrified because of the peoples of the lands.” Very soon opposition will arise. How often in these readings we have come across the words "Do not be afraid!" There was good reason for this encouragement from the Lord
The rebuilding of the temple begins in earnest as Zerubbabel and Jeshua hire labourers, purchase supplies, and appoint overseers to manage the construction. When the foundation is laid, a grand worship celebration marks the occasion. Once again there is a link back to their forefathers when the musical praise was conducted “according to the hand of David the king of Israel.” There is jubilant thanksgiving, based on the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord. We can note that:
1. The people’s words affirm his eternal loyal loving-kindness toward His people.
2. Their songs and shouts (3:12 ) fulfil the Lord’s promises that “again shall be heard … the voice of those saying, ‘Give thanks to Lord of hosts, for Yahweh is good, for His loving-kindness endures forever,’” and “From them will go forth thanksgiving and the voice of those who make merry” (Jer. 33:10-11 ; 30:19 ).