The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem.Ezra 3
1. And when the seventh month [a month of festivities (Leviticus 23)] was come [approached], and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man [with one consent] to Jerusalem.
2. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar [the Temple was built around the altar, which was the centre of all] of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.
3. And they set the altar upon his bases [upon its old site]; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord, even burnt offerings morning and evening.
4. They kept also the feast of tabernacles [booths built of branches], as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom [they were careful to avoid everything like innovation], as the duty of every day required;
5. And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the Lord.
6. From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.
7. They gave money [their own workmen were paid in money] also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa [to which the cedar trees were sent], according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia [the authority of Cyrus over Phœnicia was undoubted].
8. Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the Lord [for the original ordinances, see 1 Chronicles 23].
9. Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel [Jeshua and Kadmiel were the two heads of Levitical families] and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.
10. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel [so once more all goes back to historical methods].
11. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord [the praise was antiphonal]; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever 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.
12. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:
13. So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
"The people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem" (Ezra 3:1).
THE emphasis must be laid upon the expression "one man." There are times when we are struck by individuality; we go into detail, and speak with some critical minuteness about one man's peculiarity and another man's eccentricity. There are other times when we take no heed of the unit, except as it is representative of the sum total; we forget characteristics, points of separation, in the grand consolidation of human beings all intent upon the accomplishment of one purpose or the expression of one holy thought. We need not think of the number as being large arithmetically; probably in an arithmetical point of view the number on this occasion was not large: but how many soever were in it, the whole represented but "one man,"—a solid energy, a glorious and effective unity of strength. Why? They were brought together partly by love and partly by fear. When the altar was set up on this occasion it was the first symbol of defiance to all the surrounding and observing heathens. Church-building is nothing in civilised or christianised lands to-day. A hundred churches can be in course of erection in any of the chief cities of the globe now given up to the Christian profession, and the citizens would pay but little heed to the fact that so many pinnacles were rising to the clouds. We must recall the circumstances under which the altar was set up. Heathenism prevailed even in places once holy; the whole spirit and genius of the time was against the worship of the true and living God: when the smoke curled upward from the new altar it was like a signal of defiance to those who had given themselves up to worship the hosts of heaven, or the beasts of the earth, or images of their own fashioning. Religious liberty has its disadvantages. In our dreaming we suppose that if all men stood upon a religious level, and all men professed the same form of faith, we should have enjoyment and high enthusiastic delight in religion; sometimes we have supposed that if persecution could be put down, and every man could utter his own thoughts in his own words, then we should have heaven upon earth. It is not so. The dream is not founded upon a right conception of human nature. Perhaps there is not much that is to be more dreaded than the cessation of persecution. Men prayed in the old days, when the wolf was about the city, when the tiger might be let loose at any moment, when every sound that was heard might be the approach of the persecutor; men then prayed when they wanted to pray; that was no child's work; prayer was then an agony, and therefore it prevailed. When we can build altars where we like and how we like, we may soon cease to build altars at all. The danger of the cessation of persecution is the danger of deadly indifference. Persecution was turned into a motive to worship; Christians were brought together in one holy consent and brotherhood: they needed such association for the stimulus of each other's confidence, the assurance of each other's faith and hope; men felt safe when they were near the altar. To-day the world, measured by Christian nominal profession, suffers under the disease of indifference. Men do not care whether they go to church or not; they can be satisfied with very little church-going or religious worship and sacrifice; if they give it up altogether they will not miss much of social patronage or social enjoyment. There is no threatening abroad in the land now against men who pray in any place they may choose for their sanctuary. What, then, is forgotten in that view of things? It is forgotten that persecution cannot cease; it only changes its form: for ever will it be true that they that will live actually in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. The old vulgar way is thrown out of history altogether, or so thrown back as to be almost beyond recollection; fire and faggot, and thumb-screw and executioner's block and axe,—these are terms that have lost all accent and force of meaning: but the one enemy always lives; the devil never succumbs. The persecution may now come spiritually. A man may be fighting battles every day in the week and no other man may know of it. Do not suppose that enemies are all external and numerable, and are open to such treatment as is possible to mere phases of antagonism as represented by the action of the hands; we are never safe but at the altar; we are never safe but within the enclosure of the fold; we may not venture far by ourselves, or trust to the light of our own wit or the guidance of our own fancy to discover a path in the wide desert hitherto untrodden by human feet: our safety is in fellowship, in association, in keeping quite closely together. To break away from the security of being so near to one another as to take consultation almost in whispers, is to give up the battle, is to accept defeat.
Great occasions bring men together. Special historical crises cause men to forget all littlenesses of difference and to come together in one mass as against a common foe. We could create such crises if we pleased. We have been looking for them as coming to us: why not now change the point of observation and look out for them, and prepare ourselves to create them? How can this be done? This can be done by looking at the real evils that afflict the land. Men deny the poverty when they do not look out; men take a roseate view of things when they turn their back upon them. Let the Church of the living God bring before its view the real state of the country to-day, and all controversies of a wordy nature, all mere fray of expressions, attacks, replies, accusations, retorts,—all this would be forgotten in the awful wonder that there is so much of perdition actually at the very doors. The Church will never be united in controversy: it may be united in philanthropy. The children are naked, ignorant, forsaken; there is worldliness in their poor young eyes that ought to be full of light and poetry and hope; there is a leanness upon them that indicates a leanness within as well as a hunger and deprivation of the body. The devil is building his smoking altars at every street corner, and the metropolis of the world groans because of its intolerable sin and grief and weariness. If men will read their spirited journals, their dazzling romances, and drink their foaming wine, and enjoy their smoking feasts, and clothe themselves in the garments of vanity, they will deny all these things, and say, in some flippant tone, that there is more happiness in the world than is often supposed. We are not called upon to measure that happiness, but to dig down to the roots of the misery, and get them all eradicated, and burned with unquenchable fire. Were we to look in these directions we should make a historical crisis; we should not have to wait for the occasion that unites men's hearts. Let representatives of all the Christian communions of the country go down some of the back slums and alleys of the metropolis, and in the sight of unimagined misery they will forget their ecclesiastical controversies and cease the bitterness of their mutual reproach.
A beautiful expression is found in the second verse—
"As it is written in the law." (Ezra 3:2).
We cannot get rid of something that lies behind and beneath all external action. That sacred something is "the law." Do not qualify that term by the "ancient," or the "Mosaic," or the "ceremonial," or some other limiting word: there are certain terms that look best when they are unqualified. We speak of "the law of Moses," and thus we limit an illimitable term; we speak of "the divine justice," as if justice had two phases or aspects or degrees of dignity: "justice" is a grander word than "divine justice"; "law" is an everlasting term; the words "Moses," "ceremonial," "historical," "incidental," must fall off, but the word "law" abides evermore. There is a law of right; there is a law of worship; there is a law of philanthropy; and these laws, or forms of law, never change: we develop them in different ways, we invest them with various aspects, but when we cease to have consciousness of the nearness, reality, and authority of law, then all we have becomes merely sentimental; it may be done, or may not be done; it may be done to-day, or tomorrow; it may be done thus, or otherwise: then men's opinions are ranged against one another, as if opinions were of equal value—as they probably are around the whole circle of intercourse and controversy. What is written in the law? should be the abiding question. Then we build upon a rock. If we begin to unroof our Church, and find that it is slated with opinions, built with opinions, founded on opinions, that beneath it there is nothing but opinion, the Church may be blown down by any rough wind that cares to do so mean a work; but if the Church is founded upon "the law"—the eternal, the right, the true—then it can only be injured externally, in such a way that loving and generous hands can repair it; but the foundation abideth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.
In connection with this, however, there is a human name, and in connection with the human name a eulogium which any one might covet. We read, in the second verse once more, of "Moses the man of God." Well for Moses that he is dead! Men become more valued in proportion as they pass away from the vision of their critics, and come into the field of criticism through the haze of fancy and through all the soft regard of sentiment. There was a time when we read thus of Moses—"as for this Moses... we wot not what is become of him." He was living then; he was a visible figure in society. Christ ascended early. He said in effect, The body must get out of the way; so long as there is a body to be looked at there will be a point of criticism, and the wrong elements of human nature will be stirred into activity: I must ascend as soon as I have given the last touch to my earthly work. So he went up, and the clouds received him out of sight. How does any man become known as a man of God? The character cannot always be hidden. There is something about a godly man which graciously betrays itself. There is no need for self-demonstration, self-exposure to the moral admiration of mankind; there is a mysterious action in the whole life, a new way of looking at things, saying things, and doing even common things, which men notice and reason about, and finally ascribe to an inspiration not of the earth. The character comes up at last and secures the confidence of mankind. Actions would seem to be subjected to criticism of an unjust and injurious nature, but in the long run there is a mystery which is called Character; it stands out in all its gravity, completeness, and dignity; and within such a character is the mystery of godliness. The righteous shall live for ever. No man can put away the memory of the just; it is blessed for evermore; when the world would forget it, it retires for a while and then returns with new claims upon human attention and regard. "Moses" is a great name; "Moses the man" is a worthy designation; "Moses the man of God,"—say if in all the Old Testament there can be found a higher designation. We wait until we come into the New Testament for higher titles. "Moses the man of God" is an Old Testament designation; "Paul a slave of Jesus Christ" is a New Testament designation: they both mean the same thing; you can easily tell which is from the Old Testament and which from the New, but in the soul of them they mean that both the men have touched the living God, and represent eternal thoughts and eternal principles.
See another beautiful expression in the fourth verse—
"As the duty of every day required." (Ezra 3:4).
Think of daily duty, daily religion, as we think of daily labour. If duty be discharged diurnally, then it will be impossible for us to fall into arrears. Ay, there's the rub! Our religion is in arrears; we have not balanced the account We know what this is in daily economy. Our only hope is in paying up to the uttermost farthing at every sundown. If you have a balance of one farthing to the wrong, it is questionable whether you can ever recover your ground; if you have a balance of one farthing to the right in usual finance, you are rich—not in the amount, but in the security, in the dignity, in the freedom, in the independence resulting therefrom. But in this matter of religion, who looks into the question of arrears,—the prayerless days; the days when the altar fire was not kindled or renewed; the days on which no Bible messages were read or set in the memory as a defence against Satan and his wiles; the days when we kept back our right hand from labour, and hid it in our bosom, saying that we would to-day for once have release from toil? Have we escaped from the ancient law? we may indeed have so escaped, but only to have come into a wider and more exacting law. The law as it was written by the human hand of Moses cannot cover all the space that is expressed by the Christian word "love." Love works every day, only wishing the day were longer; love doubles its fortune by giving it wisely away; men cause the sun to stand still, and the moon, until the battle is fought, because of their earnestness; mind speaks to matter as a sovereign might speak to a subject, saying, Halt! To deny it is to deny the sovereignty of God. Let us redeem the time, buy up the opportunity, work while it is called day, for the night cometh wherein no man can work. Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them. Ask the white-robed ones whether they are sorry they worked so much whilst upon earth, and imagine their gracious indignation as they reply, Who is our master herein? Christ, as always. What said he? he said, I must work while it is called day: still a little light lingers in the western sky, and whilst it is dying there is some child to be blessed, or some weary life to be relieved. All this is to us language of supreme ideality; let that be acknowledged: in declaring such terms we inflict upon ourselves the most tremendous judgments; let that be so: still we must not lower the sky; we must not tamper with the balances of the sanctuary; when we begin to trifle with ideals we shall debase all that is sacred in common life. This is one great function of all church-life—to magnify the ideal, to look at the ideal steadily and calmly, to be rebuked by it in one sense, and to be encouraged by it in another.
"They set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals" (Ezra 3:10).
Men are developed into simplicity. Perhaps it may be there that so many mistakes have been made. We have regarded development as rising into intricacy, pomp, multifold splendour and circumstance and dignity; therein we were wrong: the development has been along the whole biblical line towards simplicity; the robes have been thrown off, and all the gold and silver and gems we have read about in the ceremonial books have been buried, and men have passed on from stage to stage until they came to the simplicity that is in Christ—until they found a man sitting on the mountain-side with his disciples around him, saying, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." That is development,—not towards finer garniture, more ornamental clothing; not towards the multiplication of censers and the increase of ritualism, but towards simplicity. Neither in Jerusalem nor in this mountain shall men pray alone, but everywhere, for God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. So, then, there is no longer any locality or dress or specialty of function, or wild dreaming about succession of a literal kind; the succession is spiritual; he who has the spirit of the apostles is in the succession of the apostles, and he who has not that spirit is not in that succession, though he may be clothed with the cloak that was left at Troas. Herein lies the deep, broad thought, that the true aristocracy is an aristocracy of mind and character. See one poor pedant with a long list to show what he came down from. Verily, he came "down from"! His words are therefore well chosen. That is an affair of the bones and the sinews and titles of an evanescent kind. There is another lineage. Human nature was reconstituted in Christ. Paul gave up all that was supposed to be of the greatest value, and prided himself with a godly pride upon his descent from Christ and his relation to the eternal Son of God. If other men had whereof they might boast, he had more, and yet he counted all these points of boasting nothing, less than nothing, that he might win Christ. What is our relation to him? Have we on the garment of a pure character? Are we clothed with the habiliments of a noble consecration to Christ? Are we mighty in prayer? Then tell me not of the man of the dented helmet and the broken shield, and the man who "waved above his head the fragment of a blade;" tell me of the man who went after spiritual encounter, who by the grace of God overthrew powers and principalities, and after withstanding was enabled to stand. This is the law of Christian development. We develop away from priest and robe and ephod, and Urim and Thummim, towards simplicity, trust, faith, love, charity.
When the people sang together, and awoke the welkin, praising and giving thanks unto the Lord, what was the burden of their song? "Because he is good." Ay, that accounts for the lofty thundering music. What God are they praising? One about whom they are able to say, "He is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel." They limited the mercy to Israel, not in their uncharitableness, but in what was then their necessary ignorance. But now the song stands thus:—For he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever: let the house of Aaron say so; let the Gentiles take up the song, and return it in thunderous joy; every man making it a personal song, saying, I too must join that triumphant pæan, for God is good, and his mercy endureth for ever. That is the God of all ages, the God of all lands, the God of all hosts. If we cannot sing until we are theologians, we will never sing; if we are not to take part in the service of the sanctuary until we can give historical references, critical analyses, accurate observations upon letters and changes of literature, then we shall indeed be altogether strangers and foreigners. Let us say, We are going to praise one who is good, whose mercy endureth for ever. Who will join the song?
Almighty God, do thou come to us, in all the beauty of light, in all the tenderness of love, and encourage us in every holy work and every sacred enterprise. Give us the spirit of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may pity the world, that we may see it in its right relation to thyself, and earnestly desire that it may be recovered and set in the liberty of truth and love. We bless thee that thy Son our Saviour came to deliver the world from the thraldom of sin and from all the grief and misery of guilt: may we receive him into our hearts, and answer all his love by sweet and perpetual obedience; may there be no reluctance in our love; may our affection towards him be a complete and burning sacrifice: then shall we work as he worked; we shall go about doing good; we shall weep over the city that is lost, and seek them which are gone astray. We thank thee for thy house: it is a secure dwelling-place; no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed of the Lord shall walk there; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Help us to enter into the realisation of this sacred promise even whilst we tarry upon the earth; give us such gleams of heaven as shall make us glad, such foretaste of the eternal festival as shall quicken the hunger, and then appease it. The Lord look upon us in all the struggle of life—so long, so painful, sometimes so uncertain: now as if Satan would triumph, and, again, as if Christ would crush the serpent's head. Help us to believe that all things work together for good to them that love God; give us confidence in great principles, steadfastness of heart in all things wise and true, and may nothing be able to disturb our confidence or divide our love. Look upon all good men in every enterprise to which they put their hands,—in teaching the young, in guiding the perplexed, in comforting those who have no comforter. Be with all thy ministering servants everywhere, but specially with a double portion of thy Spirit and blessing with those who are labouring in difficult positions; give them to feel that they are thy servants, and that they are engaged in a work which is its own immediate reward, and which is followed by all the glory and rest of heaven: bless their children, and grant unto them a portion of thy Spirit, which no man can take away, illumining the mind, softening the heart, and training the will to instant and joyous obedience. Hear us in all our desires, prayers, and aspirations, and upon the old and the young alike let heaven's blessing rest day by day. Now give us the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the understanding mind, and at the end of our study of thy word may we be strong, resolute, wise, ready to do all thy will through Christ which strengtheneth us. Amen.