I. 3:8-9 Beginning to build
3:8-9 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. 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.
The rebuilding of the temple starts in the second month as did the building of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:1; 2 Chron 3:2) (April-May was the beginning of the dry season, thus this would be the proper time to start building). The leaders of the project are named here as Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Sheshbazzar also played a role (5:16), but either he played a lesser role because he was old, or he died before the “second, successful attempt to build the temple” (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 63). The Levites are appointed to supervise the work, and the minimum qualifying age is set at 20. In the Pentateuch the minimum qualifying age is set at 30 (Num 4:3, 23, 30), but it seems that the age was lowered here due to the smaller number of Levites that returned. It could also be that the “range of functions associated with the Levitical office increased" (Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah, 101). The fact that both Yahweh and Elohim were used for the divine name can be seen in the fact that the “House of God (Elohim)” and “House of the LORD (Yahweh)” are used interchangeably.
II. 3:10-13 Praising and giving thanks to the LORD
3:10-11 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. 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.
The focus here is not on the physical details of laying the foundation, but rather on the joyous ceremony that accompanied it. The details closely parallel the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chron. 7:6). The trumpets used were not the ram’s horns, but rather the long, straight, metal instruments used for the assembly call (Num 10:2), alarm call (2 Chron 13:12-14), and for celebrations (1 Chron 16:6). The refrain “for His steadfast love endures forever” points to God’s character and nature, and occurs several times in the Psalms (Psalm 100:5, 106:1; 107:1; 118:1-4, 29; 136:1-26), as well as in Chronicles (1 Chron 16:34, 41; 2 Chron 5:13; 7:3, 6; 20:21), and Jeremiah (33:11). The love of God (Heºsed) is a reminder of God’s covenantal love and now they are celebrating it through shouting and singing. God’s covenantal love has been manifested not just in their return to the land, but now in the reestablishment of the temple worship.
3:12-13 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.
The prophet Haggai gives us insight into why some people were crying in the face of what seems to be good news. In Haggai 2:3 God is posing a series of questions, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” It seems that the older people who have seen the glory of Solomon’s temple were bitterly disappointed even though the temple had not yet been rebuilt. The foundation alone told them that the rebuilt temple would not rise to the level of the original. It could be that the smaller stones used here did not compare with the huge blocks used in Solomon’s temple (Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 65). The weeping of the older people clashed with the shouts of joy of those who saw the laying of the foundation not as a disappointment but as a great achievement.
The lessons of Ezra 3 are very important for today’s Christian leader. Worship as our response to God’s grace and mercy towards us, needs to be expressed by bringing our best. While the returning community during the time of Ezra brought dead sacrifices (as the Law required) we are asked to bring ourselves as living sacrifices. According to the apostle Paul, this will our spiritual worship which will be acceptable to God (Rom 12:1-2). Besides brining ourselves as living sacrifices, singing praises to God is also part of our response to God in worship. Music then, is not about us, is not about style, but it should always be about Him, the God whom we worship. To this end, contemporary composers and writers have correctly identified God as “our audience of One.”