THE PURSUIT OF SPIRITUAL RESTORATION
“Getting Started Toward Renewal” Ezra 3
The spiritual life is described in the Bible as a walk not a sprint. It requires determination, effort, dedication, commitment, and perseverance. We must be diligent because of the struggle associated with the spiritual life. The nature of the struggle means that we often must confess failures to maintain our spiritual walk and repent of sin that so easily trips us up. There will be numerous restarts—like pushing the restart button—to our spiritual walk. Spiritual renewal is a constant need for all of us. Israel once again faced the need for spiritual renewal as a nation and individuals. Here is another attempt by another remnant to begin again with confession and repentance for sure but to begin again the discipline of spiritual renewal vital for having fellowship with God.
COMMITMENT TO SPIRITUAL RENEWAL REQUIRES ADHERANCE TO GOD’S WORD 1-6
Spiritual renewal by its very nature requires obedience and compliance with the Word of God. Once you have strayed spiritually, a vivid focus upon scripture is essential to get you back on the correct path.
1. In this section the writer wants to focus attention on the exiles commitment to the Law of Moses—everything is being done in vs 2 ‘as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God’. It is imperative that the returnees adhere to the law of Moses because it was their forefathers who had left it and were driven into captivity. These exiles do not want to make that same mistake.
2. First, we see the determination to put the law in its place when the people immediately gather in Jerusalem united together in common purpose vs 1. It is the seventh month possibly referring to the time since they have arrived in Jerusalem. The 7th month had historically been a significant month religiously for the nation. Three religious festivals were held during this month on the religious calendar at this time. (1) The Feast of Trumpets on the 1st day of the month at the appearance of the new moon. The trumpets announced each new month signaling the people’s attention during the 1st day of the 7th month to set the day aside for rest and offerings (Num 29:1). It was a day of trumpet fanfare designed to create expectation. (2) The Day of Atonement on the 10th day –the most significant day of the entire year when the sin of the entire nation for the prior year was atoned for and carried away (Lev 16). (2) The Feast of Tabernacles on 15-21 days of the 7th month. Families were to live in booths made from tree branches remembering the captivity bringing offerings and gift the entire week. So this particular 7th month for the exiles is filled with anticipation as the prepared for reenactment of and continuity with the pre-exilic exiles to whom they are related.
3. Second, the priority for this new group of returnees is spiritual in nature. They arose and ‘built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it’. Jeshua a descendent of Aaron and a religious leader and Zerubbabel a descendent of David and a civil leader along with other spearheaded this project. This would be the 1st piece one encounters entering the courtyard of the tabernacle. It was a place of constant burning fire and bloodstains. The 1st requirement in any approach to God was sacrifice for sin and this is where it took place. This altar was a place of death. A burnt offering usually of a bull, sheep, goat or fowl was to ensure that the offerer could be accepted before the Lord to make atonement for him (Lev 1:3-4). He would lay his hands on animals head, then killed it near the altar, the priest sprinkling its blood on the altar, it was gutted, the remainder burnt on the altar. So the exiles first concern is their fellowship with God. In addition, Burnt Offerings sacrificed each morning and evening on behalf of the entire nation vs 4.
4. Third, we have a description of the emotional state of these exiles as they rebuilt this altar and instituted the sacrificial rituals necessary for the spiritual renewal of the people. They were terrified of the peoples of the land. Just like their forefathers had been before they finally fought and then settled in this territory. These ‘peoples of the land’ were foreigners who had been deported by the Assyrian empire when it was under their control. These ‘peoples’ opposed the intrusion of these exiles—threatened by their return to the land. The Israelites’ fear of their neighbors foreshadows the opposition that will soon arise against them. It is interesting that returning in the will of God, attempting to observe the Word of God, determined to obey the Law of God, the Israelites find them selves in danger and their plans in jeopardy. Don’t assume that when you are committed to spiritual renewal that it will be easy or because you are doing what God wants that you will not be in danger or face threats. In the midst of the fear and danger they plow ahead and follow through with their obedience. Here is what they did: they set up the altar; they offered burnt offerings; they celebrated the booths; offered continual burnt offerings and freewill offerings vss3-6. So they start well in compliance with the Law vs 2 and 4. These sacrifices reveal the people wanted to be responsive to the Law of God. The section closes with an ominous note that the foundation of the temple still had not been laid. And after all it is for the rebuilding of the temple that brot these exiles back to the land. The prophet Haggai later speaks to the people about finishing the temple.
Commitment to comply with Gods Word is central to our spiritual renewal. You cannot ignore scripture, its teaching, its commands, and expect to have fellowship with God. Every spiritual casualty is in some way because of neglect of or disobedience of the Word of God. Getting back into fellowship, the path of spiritual renewal comes when you return to the Word and put it back into use in your life. Not some out of context understanding or mystical experience, but by an accurate comprehension of it’s meaning in context applied in your life. The Israelites understood the Law literally and put that literally to use. Don’t change the meaning or compromise it with the times.
THE OUTCOME OF COMMITMENT TO SPIRITUAL RENEWAL IS PRAISE AND THANKS FOR GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO US 7-13
1. Here then the rebuilding of the temple begins in earnest vs 7-9. In these verses is a period of preparation for building. We are now in the 2nd month of the 2nd year of their return vs 8. Why this delay of 7 months after the building of the altar? There was a period of preparation for the building of the temple foundation. First, they hired laborers. Then they purchased supplies vs 7. The wood came from Lebanon and was shipped to Joppa carried overland to Jerusalem. Solomon, 430 years earlier, had received laborers and building materials the same way for the 1st temple (2 Chr 2:1-16). They appointed overseers to manage the construction vs 8-9. These were families of Levites—Levites had responsibility for the building and transport of the original tabernacle (Ex 38:21; Num 1:50-51; 3:21-37).
2. With the foundation finally laid, a dedication service was organized and executed vss 10-11. Here another link to their forefathers is made as the preparation for dedication was ‘according to the directions of King David of Israel’. The musical praise and jubilant thanksgiving is a legacy of the past pre-exilic exiles. So with the connection to the law of Moses and the directions of King David the writer wants readers to understand these returnees as legitimate heirs of the promises of God to the nation. The careful record keeping, the enquiries into family histories, the building and worship protocol, all add up to this remnant of Israelites being in line with God’s promises to Abraham. They are united with Moses and David—the big three in the nations history.
Significantly, their praise and thanksgiving is because the Lord ‘is good; for His lovingkindness upon Israel forever’. This advances the idea of God’s faithfulness in two ways. (1) The people’s word affirms His eternal faithfulness toward his people. They were not in this cavalierly. (2) Their songs and shouts and praise fulfill God’s promises that this shall again be heard in the land (Jer 33:10-11; 30:19). God has his rightful place amongst the people.
3. In contrast with the joy of the many is the discouragement of the few vss 12-13. A few of the older priests and Levites and heads of households who had seen the former temple—destroyed 50 years earlier in 586 BC)—were discouraged by the scene. Possibly the roughness of this building project with the grandeur of Solomon’s provoked this response. We do know that 16 years later this same emotion was expressed again when the builders (Haggai 2:1-9) had completed the temple. The 2 sounds, joy and weeping from sadness mingled together so loudly that it was heard far away! It is a bittersweet moment as they dedicate the foundation structure and celebrate the first step in temple construction. This temple is the basis for the postexilic community’s fellowship with God.
The outcome of spiritual renewal is the praises of God’s people. You will specifically thank the Lord for His faithfulness to you in your own life situations. Spiritual renewal will motivate you to express thanksgiving to God. It is the habit of people who renew their walk with God. Whatever protocol you devise to do this is acceptable. For Israel, it meant complying with the stipulations of worship instituted by King David for the nation. For you, it may mean constant, regular, and daily expressions of personal thanksgiving to God. It may mean singing praise to Him or offering renewed dedication to some spiritual discipline. But God will become the center of your attention. His faithfulness something you relish to honor.
God is moved by the praise of His people—the sacrifices like the burnt offering is said to be a sweet aroma in His nostrils—His heart and emotional state. Your honest appraisal of God’s faithfulness to you shared with him in a spirit of thanksgiving and praise is pleasing to God. It is an honest recognition of His true nature. Adherence to the Word of God and genuine expressions of praise and thanksgiving are hallmarks of spiritual renewal. Not services, devotions, tithing, religious rituals, baptisms, traditions of men, catechism, membership, or appropriateness.