The year: 457 B.C.
The place: the house of God in Jerusalem.
The people: Jews who spent decades upon decades in Babylon, witnessing the glory of the Babylonian reign and also the Persian Empire.
I write this background so you can picture the scene that is in Ezra 3. Imagine a people who have faithfully returned to the land that was promised by God to Israel, led by a faith and hope in the great God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. Imagine these people returning from Babylon after so many years of captivity, and after a year of hard work in Jerusalem and through the finances provided by the king of Persia and freewill offerings, the foundation for the rebuilt temple was made.
How would you expect these Jews to react? Their work was not even complete, their joy wasn’t even made full, and their people were still being threatened from all sides by invaders and thieves who wanted to prey on the Jews. So, how did they act? What was their next course?
“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever 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” (Ezra 3:10-11 ESV).
How could they possibly have hope in such a time as this? Why is the laying of the foundation so important? I tell you why: because they believed that what God promised was coming to pass. They believed in something that Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations, and they believed that it was coming to its fulfillment. Think about this: why did they sing that song? That answer can be found in Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV): “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Do you know when this song was being sung? When the Jews, including our dear prophet here, were in captivity! Where did they find such joy?
They believed in the fact that God would be victorious, and that He is true and faithful evermore; furthermore, they believed that God would crush the enemies of His covenantal people and defend the cause of the righteous. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’… You will repay them, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. You will give them, dullness of heart; Your curse will be on them. You will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under your heavens, O Lord” (Lamentations 3:24, 64-66 ESV).
The people of Ezra not only remembered the words of the great prophet Jeremiah, but they believed the word of the Lord. They saw the newly built foundation, the enemies surrounding them and the uncertainties… yet they rejoiced and worshipped, proclaiming their assurance in God’s promises because they knew them to be true. They knew the end would prove victorious and it is with this knowledge that they had the confidence to carry on and continue the work, glorifying God in the process.
Now, did all of the Jews participate in the same joy that Ezra and many others were participating in? I wish it were so, but in the last two verses of Ezra 3, the following was written: “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:12-13 ESV).
There were faithful Jews who recognized the promises of God’s sure victory, and there were others who couldn’t seem to move on from the past. I can only imagine the pain the old fathers must’ve felt because the foundation couldn’t have possibly compensated for the former glories of Jerusalem and the holiest of places, the Temple of God. The Temple represented God’s glory on earth to them as well as the reign of David. However, they should’ve rejoiced because God, as many other Jews who worshipped saw, was planning something much bigger: He was paving the way for the reign of another, the Messiah!
Sure enough, the Messiah did come, and sure enough, He later on would come to say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). Furthermore, Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV). God did the unthinkable: He fulfilled a greater promise through the once captive Jews that were led by Ezra in the rebuilding of the house of God.
Dear ones, I actually have greater news than Ezra could ever give to the Jews he led: the covenantal people of God today have the task of building God’s kingdom through the authority that was given to Christ. Through the preaching of the Gospel, God has called us to rebuild and to build on the foundation that He has established through Himself, the Apostles, the Patriarchs, and the Scriptures. We have enemies, plenty of threats and so much to do, but we must not wail and waste time to pity ourselves! We are not a “loser bunch,” but sons and daughters of the King of kings and Lord of lords, who promises to crush His enemies completely through the gospel preaching and influence of the Church.
In Romans 8, Paul writes, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21 ESV). God has given us a great and marvelous task to rebuild the Kingdom of God on earth and to bring about God’s reign not through our doing, but by the power and authority of God.
Are there believers who choose to weep rather than to rejoice and to see the victorious end? Yes, and I pity them. I honestly pity dispensationalists; I honestly pity the pessimistic amillenialists. They have no hope and don’t believe that God will build His Kingdom through the Church. They see newspapers and cable news as a greater authority than the Bible. They believe the Church can’t possibly win, that the Gospel could not possibly stand to change the world and bring about a change, but the Scriptures are clear: “Through you we drive back our foes; through your name we trample our enemies” (Psalm 44:5 CSB).
I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to examine the Scripture, from Genesis and Revelation, and tell me how the Bible speaks about anything remotely sounding like the Church will lose. “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27 KJV) We should not weep, for the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever, and He has promised to be with us and that He will conquer His enemies through us.
What shall we say then? What shall we do? May we embrace the Great Commission, and may we look upon God’s promises with hope and joy. May we worship as the Jews of the exile did, and may we always remember that the end is victorious, not because of our doing, but because our God is the Mighty Conqueror and the Prince of Peace.
Soli Deo Gloria.