Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

06 August 2010

But the older men wept



This week I have been reading Ezra.  The exiled Jews are returning to Jerusalem.  The first thing to be done is to rebuild the temple that was destroyed so that their worship of the LORD, as laid down by Moses, can recommence.   Once the foundation has been laid, Ezra describes the scene.


When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD :
"He is good;
his love to Israel endures forever."
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. 
Ezra 3:10-13

That very tender verse of the older men weeping always stands out to me.  I looked in a few commentaries and there isn't a great deal written about it.  Mainly some thoughts that this verse brings into question the dating of Ezra.  And the fact that the men were not weeping for joy.

It could simply be that they were grieving the fact that this temple would never be as grand as the original.  The former temple that King David so dearly wanted to build for his LORD but didn't because God said, "No David, you have shed too much blood in your lifetime.  But I will grant your son a reign of peace and he can build it for me."  The temple that David carefully planned and for which he painstakingly gathered all the materials - timber from the cedar forests of Lebanon as well as gold, silver, iron, bronze and stone in incalculable quantities - and amassed workmen, craftsmen and artisans and all the money needed to see it built, ready for his son.  The temple that took Solomon seven years to build - the glory and splendour of which was renowned in all the lands.  The temple that was used as a place of worship but at other times was sickeningly defiled. The temple that was vilely desecrated and then tearfully, earnestly and reverently restored, time and again. The temple that was finally pillaged, burned and destroyed as the people of Judah were carried off into exile. 

Were the older men weeping because they could remember the old temple in all its glory?  Weeping because they knew the new temple would never match the grandeur of the former one?

Or does it go a little deeper?  Is it more than just about the building?  Are they weeping because this seemingly feeble attempt will not come close to the glory of the former temple - and therefore will not be worthy of the LORD they desire to worship within its walls?  Is there a heartfelt, conscience stricken grief that goes deeper than aesthetics?

A little time after the foundation is laid, Haggai the prophet comes to the people with a message from God, one that initially reflects the grief of the older men.

Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 
Haggai 2:3

But then he says,

'But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,' declares the LORD. 'Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' declares the LORD, 'and work. For I am with you,' declares the LORD Almighty. 'This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.'
"This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the LORD Almighty. 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty. 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty." 
Haggai 2:4-9

This "present house" is not a building, grand or otherwise, to be found in a city.  This "present house" is Jesus.  It is good to be reminded how deeply blessed we are to live this side of the cross - to know what happened next and how ultimately it didn't matter that the new foundation was built with smaller and inferior blocks of stone.  But as I draw close to the end of the history books in the Old Testament for this year, how very moving it is to picture the older men who had seen so much - the destruction of the temple, the exile, the return to Jerusalem and now the laying of a new foundation - standing there weeping in the midst of great rejoicing.

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