JANUARY 3 — Genesis 3; Matthew 3; Ezra 3; Acts 3
THE SHEER INTENSITY OF THE experiences of God’s people during the first few months of their return to the Promised Land (Ezra 3) shines through the lines of the text.
(1) They are afraid (3:3). This is the first hint of the dangers that they face, the source of which becomes clearer in the following chapters. The Persian king Cyrus has granted permission to the Jews to return to their homeland, and even sanctioned certain payments for their support and for the rebuilding of the temple. But the frontiers of the empire are a long way from the center, and in the rough politics of the real world, possession is nine-tenths of the law. These Jews are, after all, a minority surrounded by foes much stronger than they.
(2) They are resolute (3:3). The opposition understands that the erection of the temple is not only a religious sign but a sign of growing political strength. The Jews therefore would have had some incentive to keep quiet and maintain a low profile. But their resolution at this juncture is admirable: despite their understandable fear, they build the altar of the Lord and re-institute the sacrificial system prescribed by the “Law of Moses the man of God” (3:2-6), and then proceed with the first steps of constructing a new temple.
(3) They are full of joy and praise (3:10-11). The laying of the foundation of the new temple elicits worship and adoration of God himself, who transparently is blessing the endeavors of his chastened covenant community. Here is hope not only for a temple, but for a restoration of the Davidic dynasty, the fulfillment of the glorious promises of hope delivered by the prophets during Israel’s darkest hours of exile.
(4) Many weep (3:12-13). These tend to be the older ones who can still remember the contours of Solomon’s magnificent temple. The foundations of the new structure seem piddling in comparison. Doubtless these people are grateful for days of small things; after all, they, too, have elected to return. But days of small things are still small, and the intensity of their emotional response is elicited by long memories of things past.
At least these people are alive, and getting on with God’s business. Their responses may sometimes be wrenching, full of lows and highs, but they are real, vital, human, charged with life and engagement. Here there is no glum despondency, no cynical reserve, no emotionally flat withdrawal. Here are the emotions of a group of people committed, in difficult circumstances, to doing God’s will.