If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
There is a saying, “Part of moving forward is that you leave something behind.” And dependent on your perspective and the circumstances, this is either cause for celebration or sorrow.
That’s the case for the returned exiles in Ezra chapter three, and I believe also the case for all facets of society as we emerge from this two-year pandemic.
As we have declared no return to the mandatory lockdowns and economic shutdown we experienced in 2020, many community and social leaders and ordinary citizens desire the new normal to look much like the old pre-pandemic normal. Yet others are jubilant at the thought of moving forward.
There are seemingly contrasting views everywhere, including in the church, similar to those of Ezra’s time. In Ezra, the captives in Babylon are finally being released and allowed to go home and worship together.
Jerusalem is in shambles; the city had been destroyed about 50-70 years prior. But now, by an edict from King Cyrus of Persia, just under 50,000 people return to the region. They rebuilt the altar in Jerusalem, offered sacrifices, celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, returned to giving regular monthly burnt offerings, and on all of the holy occasions the Lord prescribed during the Exodus period.
A year later, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, they appointed new priests, gave material and financial donations, and began the work of reconstructing the temple. Extensive foundation repair work was necessary because the temple stood on a hilltop, and the Babylonian destruction had been extensive.
We aren’t sure about the details of the process of laying the temple foundation, but as we approach Ezra 3:10, we see that the focus is on the project’s results. They had braved the rugged conditions and completed phase one of the temple reconstruction. And as they are emerging from exile, this achievement calls for celebration.
One view of progress is to glorify God for progress. The priests and Levites led the dedication service for the temple’s foundation. Just like when David brought the ark to Jerusalem, these newly appointed priests put on their Sunday best, blew the trumpets and sounded the cymbals. And, in responsive fashion – back and forth, they sang this song of thanksgiving: For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel (Ezra 3:11).
God brought them out of captivity and allowed them back to the place where God dwelled among them to begin the process of rebuilding and restoring their lives. And for that, they were glad. And they celebrated formally, responsively, communally, and loudly.
And that ought to be the position of believers as we emerge from the confinement of this contagion. We ought to publicly exalt the person and work of God. With formality, everyone participating publicly, we ought to thank God for His mercy. “For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
But there is a contrasting view of this progress. Ezra 3:12 shares that there were some older priests, Levites, and family leaders at the dedication service, this return to temple worship. And they had memories of the first temple – Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed some 50-70 years ago, dependent on when they were deported to Babylon. And as these men looked at this foundation, they started reminiscing, thinking about how things used to be.
And so, while there were some who glorified God for progress, these older men instead held onto a glorified view of the past. They lamented that this current temple didn’t have the grandeur of the first one. This was inferior to what once was. Things weren’t the way they used to be.
Instead of rejoicing to see the sanctuary of their religion rise from the ruins, all they could do was weep because things weren’t what they once were.
I want to suggest to you that their crying was misplaced. They longed for the good old days, even crying about how today wasn’t like how things were, but failed to realize that what once was wasn’t as good as they imply with their tears.
While this temple doesn’t have the luxurious look of Solomon’s temple, they fail to acknowledge that things weren’t as good then as they looked. Sure, the previous temple was a grand place, but the people of God had grim souls.
Solomon’s temple was extravagant, but the people’s souls were sinful. Sure, the first temple was grand, but God had left the building (Ezekiel 10:18 states that the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house).
The old temple looked good, but God was gone. And that generation caused the fall of the kingdom to begin with. If they would have listened to the prophet beforehand and obeyed God, they wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.
Now, I do not want to suggest that we could have necessarily prevented the pandemic, but I believe that we should understand that while things may have looked better in the past, we must avoid the danger of glorifying the past.
The goal shouldn’t be to get back, but to go up. Instead of looking back with longing, or even looking around, we all should look up and praise God for what He has done and is doing.
Christopher M. Todd is a Coosa County resident and the pastor of The New Home Missionary Baptist Church near Rockford.