Ezra Chapter 3
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
Article Reviewed 12/10/2015
IT WAS SEPTEMBER TIME, “the seventh month” (v. 1), a highlight month in Israel’s calendar. The blowing of the trumpets introducing its first day was to be followed by the Day of Atonement and, finally, the Feast of Tabernacles. These were but figures of the restoration of Israel in the last days. Here a partial restoration had been effected, God in grace having given His earthly people a little reviving. Now we see:-
1. The Altar set up vv. 1—3a.
2. The Offerings renewed vv. 3b—6.
3. The Foundation of the House laid vv. 7—9.
4. The Response of the Saints vv. 10—13.
The order is instructive. Approach to God (1), the basis of the altar work and shedding of blood is followed by (2), worship through appreciation of something of Christ in the offerings. This leads to (3), fellowship enjoyed in the furtherance of the House of God and finally (4), witness—God-ward, saint-ward and world-ward. The altar and the offerings come first. Following this, exercise concerning the House of God is demonstrated in preparation and organization of the work. Full fellowship, service and witness spring out of delight in the Person and work of Christ. When we are in the good of His work and appreciate something of His fragrance by the Spirit’s ministry, the work of God’s house will be furthered. Any work done with lower incentives will be clearly revealed by the fiery test at the Judgment-Seat as being below the “gold standard” of our God. In this way only will all be “unto the Lord” (vv. 3,5,6, 11).
It is a good and pleasant thing for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133), and a fruitful thing too. What grand results were to be seen for their united efforts and striving together. The unbounded energies of the individualist were not enlisted here. The people gathered together “as one man” (v. 1), Joshua and his sons stood “together, or as one” (v. 9, R.V.), they sang “together” (v. 11), “all the people” shout (v.11), whilst Zerubbubel and others say “we ourselves together will build” (Ezra. 4. 3). Whether we gather for worship, service, furthering the House, praise or witness, let us be “of one accord, of one mind.”
Surrounded by foes, the future of this remnant seemed insecure. Should They seek armed support from Cyrus until they were firmly established? Was the first essential a wall of defence? These saints did not think so! Their eyes were up to God from whence came all their help. Should not they seek asylum for themselves and their little ones in Him (Cp. Ezra who, a little later, leaves his company in the good hands of his God—ch. 8). God’s desires and claims are here put first, “they put the altar on its bases” and in giving Him His portion they established their own position. The antidote for anxiety regarding material things is given in the Saviour’s words “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these (necessary) things (food, drink, raiment) will be added unto you” (Matt. 6). Here the people were afraid of the peoples surrounding them, the stronger foes who would annihilate them, so they set the altar on its bases, v. 3. Such outward circumstances as this, which cause us to lean hard upon God and take into account that which delights His heart, are blessed indeed. Bricks and mortar are nothing to God, as the destruction of great Nineveh clearly shows, but God proves Himself a stronghold in the day of trouble, taking special note of those that trust in Him (Nah. 1. 7). Let us by grace be those who seek God’s things first, whose affections are above, that we may be in the enjoyment of our security in our God, for “if God be for us, who can be against us” (Rom. 8. 31). Abram’s return from Egypt brought him to the altar. Israel coming up out of Egypt made an altar. There was no worship when in Egypt. Babylon is marked too by the absence of an altar. The people return to the land before God received His due from His people.
New problems faced these saints. Were they not such as to demand new methods? It would be expedient to do this or that now, surely, even if scriptural warrant for it be wanting! However, this remnant had returned on the basis of the fulfilling of scriptures written aforetime, and thus would they continue. Would to God they had gone on as they started, finding precepts and principles to guide them from the Scriptures, an “as it is written,” or “as the day required it” (vv. 2, 4) to which we, too, do well to take heed. The words and principles of God’s Word are eternal. The Scriptures are inspired of God and authoritative and “men of God” are always found in close connection with the “word of God” (ch. 2 Tim. 3. 16, 17).
For such a task as lay before the Lord’s people, returned at this time to the land, forceful and gifted leadership was a necessity. In this emergency God has His men and when these fail He will raise the prophets’ testimony to stir up their spirits (see Ezra 5. 1,2; Haggai 1). It is to be noted, however, that gift is not uniform, that the Spirit distributes to every man severally as He will. Here we find a High Priest and a civil governor each with their specific tasks and spheres among the people of God. What a grand thing it is to see them discharging their own ministries! In sacrificial ceremonies it is Joshua the High Priest whose name is to the fore (v. 2), whilst in the building project Zerubbabel’s name is foremost (v. 8). As each had received the gift so they ministered! The many-sided gift-giving grace of our God is apparent to His own glory when, as companies of His people, we take up our respective responsibilities, discharging them in accordance with His oracles and by His strength (1 Peter 4. 10, II). It would be well in this connection if those gifted among the saints were encouraged to stir up the gift that is within them. Circumstances are such in our time that the spirit of tearfulness is robbing the saints of the gifts given for their perfecting. Let those specially privileged as under-shepherds realize something of the responsibility that devolves upon them too. Armies never rise above their leaders; the Scriptures underline the effect of the leaders on the people by the. phrase “like priests, like people.”
Man needs armies, God can use a remnant, even a handful to mighty effect. The whole world was turned upside down through the untiring Spirit-empowered ministry of a few (Acts 17). On this occasion the impact made by the remnant was observed in several directions. Firstly heaven heard the priests and people shout with a great shout (v. 11). The mighty swelling volume of praise was clear and distinct, “He is good. His mercy endureth for ever.” Then again, among the people of God themselves there was a varied response. As the work for God commenced the reactions of old and young differed. In the light of the past, the “Ancients” could do nought but “weep with a loud voice” (v. 12). The new house seemed as nothing in their eyes in comparison with the glories of the Temple of Solomon (Haggai 2). The future opening before the younger generation with all its possibilities and hopes, caused them to shout aloud for joy (v. 12). Tears and cheers were the extremes of expression that day. The sober mind, wisdom and serious contemplation of the aged is ever needed to temper the enthusiasm of youth, whose zeal is not always according to knowledge. However, grace is needed in order that genuine spiritual ardour is not dampened. No doubt, at this time there was much to bring tears to the eyes of those enjoying the mind of God concerning the circumstances of His people. Such exercise is noted by the God who puts the tears of His saints in His bottle (Psalm 56. 8). Yet the aged must ever be on guard in order that reminiscence does not close their eyes to God’s working in the new generation. Finally it is sweet to note that the world around felt the force of the testimony of God’s people. They could not discern the different exercises of the saints but they could not fail to hear the loud shout (v. 13). All blended, and such was the volume of the witness that “the noise was heard afar off.” The city set on a hill cannot be hid and it behoves us to look to God that in our generation “the noise might be heard afar off.” Such witness is both aggressive and effective.
Hence some of the details written here, encourage us to put God first, enjoy more of the fulness and preciousness of Christ, unite in prayer, praise, worship, fellowship and service; to apply the Scriptures to our lives; to recognize God-given gift, and exercise and employ the talents given until He come; to see that cause for weeping does not lead to sleeping, and that godly wisdom is ever needed to temper youthful enthusiasm; and, finally, to encourage us afresh to a blended and powerful witness which shall be heard “afar off.”
(In next issue: “Part 4—Opposition encountered”).