Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 7 2019 - Ezra 2:68-4:5 – Rebuilding the temple

Today's reading gives us an account of how the work of rebuilding the temple began. Those who had returned from exile, carrying with them the money contributed by their Babylonian neighbours, added gifts of their own to fund the work. During the first seven months, those who had returned settled again in their own towns and villages. This would have involved repairs being made to their own homes or even building new homes. It would have involved preparing the land for sowing and harvest so that they could feed themselves again from the land God had given them. At the end of the seven months the people came together in Jerusalem to commence the work of rebuilding the temple.

The first part of the temple to be rebuilt was the altar so that the people could again offer sacrifices to the God of Israel. Their rebellion against God had led to their exile from the land. Now, their sacrifices were an acknowledgement of their sin and of their need of cleansing and forgiveness. Without such sacrifices they felt unable to approach God in worship.

It was another two years before the foundations of the temple were complete. The priests, Levites and people met to celebrate the occasion by singing that the Lord is good; his love towards Israel endures for ever. There were great shouts of celebration from the people but these were mingled with the sound of weeping by the older people who remembered Solomon's temple before it was destroyed. They seem to have doubted that the new temple would be any match for the glory of the former temple (see Haggai 2:3).

This combined sound of loud praise and weeping drew the attention of others who had been living in the area before the Israelites returned. They came to ask Zerubbabel, who seems to have been project manager for the rebuilding, if they could help to build the temple of the Lord. These were not Israelites but foreigners whom the King of Assyria had moved into the land of Judah as part of his policy of breaking up nations by mixing up their peoples. They claimed that they had been sacrificing to Israel's God while the inhabitants of Judah had been in Babylon. Their claims were evidently viewed with suspicion and their desire to help was seriously doubted for Ezra calls them "the enemies of Judah and Benjamin". So their help was refused and, instead of helping, they now set about doing all that they could to hinder the work.

Jesus' death as the Lamb of God is the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. His shed blood secures our forgiveness and cleansing and enables us to approach the living God with confidence, knowing that we will not be turned away. His life, death and resurrection is the only foundation for the life of his people. It is upon this foundation that the living God is building his church made of living stones – of men and women who have been freed from sin and given eternal life in Christ. This glorious temple of God's redeemed people in whom and among whom God dwells by his Spirit, is a temple far more glorious than that built by Solomon despite its abundance of gold and precious stones.

We who were once counted enemies of God have not been kept at a distance; we have been reconciled to God in Christ and have been embraced as part of his family. We have now been recruited into the great task of building this temple until every last living stone is put into place with shouts of praise and unmixed rejoicing. The Lord Jesus calls each of his disciples to build with care and to take care that we never do anything to damage this glorious temple or the least of its stones, for every one is precious to God (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).

Living God, help me to devote myself to the work of building your kingdom, strengthening and adding to the fellowship of your people. Keep me from discouraging and damaging any of those for whom the Lord Jesus shed his precious blood. May we, your people, reflect your glory as you dwell amongst us in the power of your Spirit, and may many others from every background and nation be drawn to Christ and so join us in this most precious work.

Peter Misselbrook