There was a bit of a gap between the two posts; the first part (chapter 3) began on June 2, while the second half (chapter 4) was begun on July 25. Until next time, enjoy and be edified!
I was just reading through Ezra chapter 3, when Zerubbabel and some of the people of Judah return from the Babylonian Captivity to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem. What struck me was the reactions of the people in verses 10 through 13, watching as the foundation of the new Temple is being laid. The younger generation shouts for joy, while the older generation weeps with sorrow. Why is that?
Verse 12 tells us that those weeping were those who had seen Solomon’s Temple in their younger days. That got me thinking: what is the thought behind that, and how does it relate to us today? The older generation wept because they remembered Judah’s former relationship with God, and how that was reflected in the Temple. They must have recalled how Judah had abandoned God, and how in the end their sin had robbed them of the Promised Land, the Davidic line of kings, and the Temple. In short, they were mourning for the past, and that it would never come again.
By contrast, the younger generation shouts for joy to see the Temple being remade. There are at least a few reasons why: first, they had grown up without the Temple, but had no doubt heard stories about it through their parents. Second, they are coming home to the Promised Land, and the Temple was a symbol of a renewing/reestablishing of God’s presence and covenant with His people. Third, having grown up scattered in exile, the laying of the Temple foundation declared that Israel, having received the land and the Temple once more, was now a nation again. They now had a future as the Chosen People; is it any wonder they shouted for joy?
Both generations had lived most or all of their lives without the Temple; when the captivity first began, the people mourned because they thought that, with the destruction of the Temple, they were exiled from God as well. Through prophets like Ezekiel, however, God made it clear that He traveled with His people into Babylon and remained in touch with them no matter where they were. The younger generation, having grown up in that setting, now had a greater and deeper connection with God than they had ever known. Their joy is comparable to that shown in Jesus’ parables in the Gospels, when the shepherd finds the lost sheep or when the Prodigal Son comes home. The shepherd and father rejoice, for the lost has been found and the dead has come back to life! That, I believe, is the attitude the younger generation of Ezra 3 had in their hearts.
How does this apply today? In the Church, we have two basic backgrounds: I’ll call them Church Children and World Wanderers. The former group is comprised of those who grew up in the faith, while the latter are believers who came to faith later on after living in the world for a time. So often, Church Children have the same point of view as the older generation from the exile – focusing so much on the past that they can become calloused to what God is doing in the present, thinking that the future cannot compare to or be greater than what has come before. The World Wanderers, however, have lived without God for a time, and thus know what it is like to have that emptiness that the Church Children have perhaps never felt. Oh, that we would all have that joy, content with what God has provided and is doing in our lives than pining over what He has not!
In Ezra 4, we witness local opposition to the Jews rising. The “adversaries” named herein are most likely the inhabitants of the land north of Judah, where Israel once was. These are the Samaritans, descendents of Israelites who intermingled with the Gentile settlers brought in by Shalmaneser, the Assyrian monarch who conquered and scattered the 10 northern tribes in 722 BC. They profess to have worshipped Yahweh (admittedly in their own diluted way) and request a partnership in rebuilding the Temple. The Jews, however, reject their half-breed brethren, claiming Cyrus’ command was only to them.
This marks the first blow in the conflict between the Jews and Samaritans, which will continue until the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. The Jews did not believe the Samaritans to be of their fellowship, having mixed themselves with Gentiles in blood and religion, and the Samaritans felt that the pure-blooded Jews unjustly excluded them. For the next four centuries, they will bear this animosity against each other; such a blood feud will literally divide the land, as in later years the Jews will go so far as travel around Samaria to reach their northern settlements in Galilee.
Having been rejected, the Samaritans use this as an opportunity to frustrate the Jews in their reconstruction efforts. This may have been their intent all along; in John chapter 4, Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar, and she brings up the debate of the “proper” location for worshipping Yahweh. The Samaritans had a temple of sorts on Mount Gerizim (possibly a “high place,” as described in the Old Testament), while the Jews built the traditional temple on Mount Zion (the “high place” of Jerusalem, where it was at the pinnacle of the city). From the time of Cyrus all the way to Artaxerxes (three kings later), the Samaritans harass the Jews, but ultimately Yahweh provided for them and the Temple was at last rebuilt.
What can be gleaned from this? I believe two simple yet profound truths can be found herein: first, with every good work, opposition will inevitably arise. The second ties into the first: completing the task is much more rewarding when one has persevered through every obstacle along the way.