Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
God cannot be stopped. It is His will that the Jews rebuild the temple, so with the king's support, the building project proceeds without further interruption. Upon receipt of the royal decree, the provincial authorities ″carried it out with diligence″ (Ezra 6:13). And the people, inspired by the preaching of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, complete the building (v. 14).
Royal decrees and official assistance are not enough; the people have to be motivated from within to complete the work. Favourable circumstances must be matched with faithful character and fervent commitment. All this is provided by God, who facilitates in every way the successful completion of His house.
The temple is completed in 516 BC, four years after the work resumes (and after 15 years of inactivity). It is a long and difficult process, but when the building is finally completed, there is a great celebration. The temple is dedicated joyfully (v. 16), with sacrifices and offerings made in keeping with the joyful and holy moment. Sin offerings are made for each of the 12 tribes (v. 17); the remnant representing the entire nation of Israel. The priests and Levites are installed in their various groups, ready to serve the Lord in His temple (v. 18).
Long ago, the Jewish captives were covered with shame and heartbreak as they saw Jerusalem and the temple destroyed. Eventually, however, they returned with hope, and now, they celebrate joyfully a new temple on the same site, ready to be used for the worship of God. God has kept His promise, showing that He is with His people and has removed their shame.
The dedication service is reminiscent of the dedication of the first temple built by King Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:2-7:10). This time, the ceremony is simpler and carried out in humbler circumstances, but the joy is no less. Christian historian Edwin Yamauchi notes that there are some things missing.6 Prominent among them is the ark, which had been lost in the Babylonian captivity. Also, there is only one menorah instead of the ten in Solomon's temple (see 2 Chronicles 4:7). Surviving Roman artwork depicts this menorah being carried away after the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
Perhaps it is a reminder that while God will forgive and restore if people confess their sins and repent, some things may be lost permanently as a consequence of sin. It is better to obey God. Nevertheless, God promises to restore the glory of His temple in greater measure (Haggai 2:9). His presence is what gives the temple its glory, not the furnishings.
God can produce favourable circumstances to help us do His work of restoration and renewal. But this has to be matched by godly character and firm commitment to God on our part. If we do our work with humility and faith, God will honour our faith and obedience with His glory in our lives.
Why is it important that favourable circumstances be matched by faithful character and fervent commitment? What happens if any of these are missing?
Why is it better to avoid sinning and disobeying God? What can be lost even though we experience forgiveness of our sins? Yet how can we lean on God to restore our lives?