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3:2 The writer is keen to demonstrate not only that the restoration of the altar was done under the aegis of the appropriate religious (Jeshua et al.) and civic (Zerubbabel et al.) authorities, but also that it was done “according to what was written in the law of Moses, the man of God” (Exod 20:25). As others note, the latter phrase is applied to David (2 Chr 8:14; Neh 12:24, 36) and Moses (1 Chr 23:14; 2 Chr 30:16), particularly in contexts where Torah observance is emphasized, thus allowing the writer here to not only establish the contemporary continuity with the cultic past, but also the care with which the commandments were kept in the process of restoration.
3:3 The emphasizing of the restoration of the altar on the “(original) site” (or “foundations” if the plural of the Hebrew is read) and the reinstating of the appropriate daily sacrifices (as stipulated in Exod 29:38–42) appear to be a further reflection of the writer’s persistent concern to emphasize continuity with the past. Most striking of all, however, is the writer’s insistence that the returnees’ first recorded response to their “fear of the peoples” was to prepare for and recommence worship of their God. […]
3:4–6 Just as Solomon celebrates the Feast of Tabernacles (3:4) hard on the heels of the dedication of the first temple (1 Kgs 8:2) so too here the “harvest” festival originally associated with the exodus generation (Lev 23:33–36, 39–43) is celebrated by the returnees as worship recommences. That this takes place “as is written” and “by the numbers” specified in Torah, day by day, reaffirms the faithfulness of the returnees and specifically their care and attention to the worship life of the community. […]
3:7 […] The writer’s description of, in this case, the gathering of supplies for the building of the temple appears to be influenced by the description in Chronicles of the building of the Solomonic temple (1 Chr 22:2–4; 2 Chr 2:7–15). Some returnees (and later readers) will have been aware of the prophetic word of Isa 60:13 to those exiled or returned: “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir, and the cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of my feet.” For them, the arrival of building materials will have been a reassurance that the God who had promised to restore was beginning to do so. […]
3:10–11 Rather than dwell on the mechanics of the reconstruction, the text is primarily interested in the character and intensity of the celebration that accompanies it. While we would expect such celebrations on momentous occasions, the similarity of the language here to that associated with the first temple (2 Chr 7:6) seems to reflect an attempt to evoke those festivities. […] While Ezra 2 emphasized the sacrificial involvement of the people themselves, this passage here—with its multiple mentions of praise and adoration of God (3:10, 11 [twice])—reflects and resonates with the remembered reality of God’s initiative and action in Ezra 1. Indeed, the psalmic refrain that is sung (3:11) leaves no space for self-importance among the returnees: it is not their piety or preservation of Torah and tradition that endures forever; rather it is God’s goodness and love that do so, and in their enduring, they make possible the repair, restoration, and renewal. That they endure “forever” is thus not only cause for gratitude, but also cause for hope.
3:12–13 Having duly noted the corporate liturgical celebration (3:10–11) of the progress that had been made, the writer now adds color to the scene by recounting the range of emotional responses among those gathered. Given the effort expended by the writer to illustrate the continuity of the new with the old, if the tears of those who had seen the former temple were ones of sadness (given the contrast drawn in 3:13 and perhaps Hag 2:3), they are at least confirmation that there were some who were able to assess and guarantee a sufficient degree of similarity. The writer’s curious insistence on emphasizing the impossibility of differentiating between joy and sadness suggests that the point is less the particular emotion expressed than the intensity and volume of their expression and their testimony to those beyond the community. 
 Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 16-17.
Bible Text: Ezra 3:1-13
1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
8 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the Lord. 9 And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.
10 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. 11 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. 12 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, 13 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.
Questions to help us go deeper
- Consider all the groups of people involved in building the temple, and their respective roles. What is my role in the body of Christ, and why is my faithfulness to it important?
- Given the mention of the “Law of Moses” (v. 2) and the “directions of David” (v. 10), what connections would the people have felt as they were engaged in the rebuilding?
- What is there to celebrate about only the foundation being laid, when the completion of the building was still far away?
- What are some new beginnings for which I can be “praising and giving thanks to the Lord”?
- In what sense are the joyful shouts and the people’s weeping both appropriate?
- What can I learn from each?