“Ezra” series: (post #8)
Now in the second month of the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began work and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the house of the Lord. (Ezra 3:8, N.K.J.V.)
In the fourteenth month of their return to Judah, the group of former Jewish exiles began the work of laying the foundation for their new temple in Jerusalem. It was no coincidence that this was the same month in which King Solomon had begun work on the previous temple (1 Kings 6:1). That similar starting point showed that the returning exiles were trying to do things right this time.
The work was overseen by Zerubbabel as well as the High Priest Jeshua and the other priests. According to God’s instructions in the Mosaic law, the Levites (the non-priest members of the Jewish tribe of Levi) were to be responsible for everything related to the construction and upkeep of the tabernacle/temple (Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:47-54; 18:1-7). Consequently, the Levites who were twenty years old or older were appointed to do the actual hands-on labor. In previous times, the cut-off age for such work had been thirty rather than twenty (Numbers 4:1-3; 1 Chronicles 23:1-5), but King David, in one of his last acts as king, had lowered it to twenty (1 Chronicles 23:24-32).
Having a desire to build a temple is one thing, and having the Levites as an unpaid work force to build it is another, but having the knowhow to actually build such a structure is something else entirely. So, now it was time to start using the money that had been donated by those heads of families prior to the building of the altar (2:68-69). During the months that passed between the building of the altar and the laying of the foundation, additional masons and carpenters were hired and paid with money, food, drink, and oil (3:7). Cedar logs were also purchased from the Phoenician cities of Sidon and Tyre in Lebanon. The logs were cut in Lebanon, shipped along the coast to Joppa, and then brought the additional 35 miles overland to Jerusalem. The fact that Sidon and Tyre were also under Persian rule made it easy for Cyrus the Great to authorize the deal. Over 400 years earlier, King Solomon had purchased much of his building materials, masons, and carpenters from that same part of the world (1 Kings 5:1-18; 2 Chronicles 2:1-16).
As soon as the temple’s foundation was laid, Jeshua and his fellow priests stood in their priestly clothing for the formal dedication and blew trumpets (3:10). The specific group of Levites who were known as “the sons of Asaph” then played cymbals and praised the Lord. Using “the sons of Asaph” in this way harkened back to how King David had formerly instructed the forefathers of that group to play that particular role (1 Chronicles 25:1). The group also sang responsive praises to the Lord, giving thanks to Him (3:11). Afterward, all the people shouted with a great shout (3:11).
The time of joy and praise was somewhat hindered, however, by the elderly priests, Levites, and heads of the families. Rather than be happy about the foundation of the new temple, those who had seen the old one when they were young wept with a loud voice at their remembrance of it and the more prosperous times that had accompanied the laying of its foundation (3:12). Their outward mourning made for an odd mix when combined with the younger crowd’s shouts of joy. Both types of sound blended together to create one big din of noise in which it was impossible to tell exactly who was shouting for joy and who was crying out in mourning (3:13).
In his commentary remarks on the book of Ezra, Warren Wiersbe has left us with an excellent word regarding this friction between the elderly Jews and the younger ones. As a matter of fact, this extended word is so good that I’ll use it as the close to this post because nothing else needs to be added to it. In talking about how older believers and younger believers must work together in God’s work, Wiersbe weaves in a quote from the famed 19th century preacher Alexander Maclaren and writes:
It’s unfortunate when the unity of God’s people is shattered because generations look in opposite directions. The older men were looking back with longing while the younger men were looking around with joy. Both of them should have been looking up and praising the Lord for what He had accomplished. We certainly can’t ignore the past, but the past must be a rudder to guide us and not an anchor to hold us back. God’s people are a family, not a family album filled with old pictures; they’re a garden, not a graveyard covered with monuments to past successes.
We have similar generational disagreements in the church today, especially when it comes to styles of worship. Older saints enjoy singing the traditional hymns with their doctrinal substance, but younger members of the church want worship that has a more contemporary approach. But it isn’t a question of accepting the one and rejecting the other, unless you want to divide families and split the church. It’s a matter of balance: the old must learn from the young and the young from the old, in a spirit of love and submission (1 Peter 5:1-11). When they were new, many of our traditional hymns were rejected for the same reasons some people reject contemporary praise choruses today.
“But each class (the young and the old) should try to understand the other’s feelings,” said Alexander Maclaren. “The seniors think the juniors revolutionary and irreverent; the juniors think the seniors fossils. It is possible to unite the shout of joy and the weeping. Unless a spirit of reverent regard for the past presides over the progressive movements of this or any day, they will not lay a solid foundation for the temple of the future. We want the old and the young to work side by side, if the work is to last and the sanctuary is to be ample enough to embrace all shades of character and tendencies of thought.”
Every local church is but one generation short of extinction. If the older believers don’t challenge and equip the younger Christians and set a godly example before them (Titus 2:1-8; 1 Tim. 5:1-2), the future of the congregation is in jeopardy. The church is a family; and as a family grows and matures, some things have to fall away and other things take their place. This happens in our homes and it must happen in the house of God. To some people, “change” is a synonym for “compromise,” but where there’s love, “change” becomes a synonym for “cooperation with one another and concern for one another.” “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)