Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Having laid the foundations for the new temple in Jerusalem, the Jews have reason to celebrate and praise God loudly. God has kept His promise by bringing them back to the holy city. Now, they are standing on the threshold of rebuilding the temple, which will give them a spiritual and national identity.
The temple had always been the very centre of Israel’s national and religious life. It was located in the one place of worship God had chosen (Deuteronomy 12:4–7). It was there that God put His Name (v. 5). And it was around that Name, associated with the temple, that Israel would find its national and spiritual unity and focus. Now, against all odds, what many may have thought would never happen is unfolding right before their eyes. The priests put on their ceremonial garments as trumpets and cymbals are brought out to make joyful music to the Lord. It is time to praise and thank the Lord. They had not been able to do this for 70 years.
They sing, “He is good; his love endures for ever”, from the hymnbook of Israel (Psalm 107:1; 118:1). This is the same song that was sung at the dedication of the first temple (2 Chronicles 7:3). This time, the gathering is humbler, but their joy is no less. There are exuberant shouts of joy.
There are some, however, who weep, for they feel pain even amid the joy. These are the older men: priests, Levites, and family heads who had seen the original temple in its glory (Ezra 3:12). They may have also stood there years ago, watching their beloved temple go up in flames and be utterly destroyed by the Babylonian army. For them, this occasion recalls lots of painful memories, and perhaps the realisation that despite doing their best to build a new temple, they would not be able to match the glory and beauty of the former one. Unable to control their emotions, they weep loudly, though the others cannot distinguish between the joyful shouts and their painful cries (v. 13).
While the weeping of the seniors is understandable, such reactions come with potential danger. As Bible teacher G. Campbell Morgan reminds us in his book, Searchlights from the Word, “The backward look which discounts present activity is always a peril.”3 Nostalgia can hinder faithful enterprise.
Worshipping God should bring joy to our hearts and unite us. Renewing worship to keep it fresh is something we should all be concerned about. Sometimes, there are differences in opinion between older and younger people in this regard. It is important to listen to the wisdom and experience of older Christians—while keeping in mind that nostalgia about how things used to be should not become an obstacle to new pathways of renewal. It is God who leads and unites us.
Think about your reactions to starting a great project in your life or in your church. What gave you hope and joy? How can you maintain such a response throughout the process?
In what ways can seniors bring wisdom to the work of God? When must they be careful that their perspective does not dampen the efforts of others? What are the implications for you, whatever your age?