Summary: The exiles who returned to Judah from captivity bgan the rebuilding process for the Temple. However it was their own hearts that needed restoring and it was God Himself who became the builder.
Ezra: Building Up What Was Broken Down”
Read Ezra 3:1-13
Last Monday morning, a young man named Sgt. Sean Peterson was in our home. Sgt. Peterson is a recruiter for the Army here in Merced and was telling Laurie and I about the arrangements for Kevina going up to Stockton to take the ASVAB test. ASVAB stands for Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. It’s a test that determines what jobs in the armed services recruits entering are qualified to train for. Eventually the conversation got around to a discussion about what it’s like to go through basic training. Sgt. Peterson explained that basic training is difficult because the purpose of it is to transform a person from what he or she is at the beginning, to what the army wants them to be by the end. He said that a drill instructor’s intention is to break a person down, so that they can build them back up. They break them down physically, pushing them to their limits and beyond in their strength and endurance. It involves physical training, discipline and emotional and intellectual development. He also mentioned that while basic training isn’t easy, it’s always worth doing because of the better person a new recruit becomes in the end.
Some of us here this morning need to go back to basic training in our relationship with God. Let me explain what I mean by reviewing with you what was going on with the ancient Israelites in this passage.
As I mentioned last week, the book of Ezra is divided into two major parts. In the first six chapters, Ezra describes the first return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon. This involved the emigration of about fifty thousand Jews from Babylon back to their ancestral homeland in Judah. The last verse in chapter two says, Now the priests and the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their cities, and all Israel in their cities. (2:70). The end of Ezra chapter two also describes how the people who returned wanted to rebuild the temple and they gave generously to that end. The people provided for the rebuilding about eleven hundred pounds of gold and three tons of silver. One important item that we should note here is that while the Jews who were in captivity still followed God to a certain extent, since they were not going to Jerusalem and celebrating the feasts as God had commanded them to in the Law, they were not following God as they had done in the past. Incidentally, it was during this time in captivity that the synagogue system was inaugurated as a place of worship for the Jews.
God was disciplining them in captivity so that when they came back to Judah and Jerusalem, they would not only be coming back to a place they were from, but also more importantly, they would consider themselves as returning to God. Here we see a process that I believe God led them through in re-establishing their connection and relationship with Him. Because even though what we see here in this text is an historical description of the returning exiles that returned coming together to build an altar and a temple, it was in fact God Himself who was the builder. He was at work creating in them through their unity and worship, the people He wanted them to be again. Remember, last week we talked about restoration. That it means to change and to cleanse. God did not want the same kind of people returning that had left. God wanted the people who came to be different than those who had left. Remember, the reason the Jews had to go into captivity in the first place was because they neglected their spiritual lives with sin and disobedience. There are times in our own Christian lives, after we’ve experienced the discipline of God because of our own sin and disobedience, that God does the work of restoration in our lives as well. If we follow the story in Ezra chapter three we’ll see the process God used to do it. And it’s a process we can use in our own lives.
The question is: How does God go about restoring us?
1. God builds us up when we renew our commitment to each other. (v. 1)
Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.
At the very beginning of the process the people renewed their commitment to each other. They practiced unity.
In the original language this does not necessarily mean that every single person who came back, but that those who did came together for a common purpose. For them the purpose was to do the work of rebuilding the temple together.