A Bridge to the Past

Ezra 3:1-7
1When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.

As I ponder this text today I am drawn to remember the traditions and practices of my own past. One of the frivolous practices for my family was having lefse during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Lefse is Norwegian flat bread made from potatoes, flour, and cream and grilled on a griddle. We all looked forward to leftover turkey on lefse as our dinner on Thanksgiving evening – for years. After I got married and had my own family, I tried to bring that tradition along with me, but lefse is not as easy to come by in Michigan as it was in South Dakota. So I tried – once – to make my own lefse and the effort was – well, let’s just say I didn’t do it again. The tradition was lost.

That example is, as I said, frivolous. But it does make the point that we find in our text for today. The Children of Israel, for that is what they are called in verse 1, (rather than Exiles) having returned from Babylon, take up the worship practices of their ancestors. For most of them, it might have been the first time they experienced the sacrificial system that had been established by God through Moses. The people gather in Jerusalem, build an altar, and take up where their ancestors had left off when Nebuchadnezzar captured and enslaved them. The offering also serves to point the reader forward by linking the continuity of the past with the future, since the daily evening and morning sacrifices would continue uninterrupted until 167 BC, when Antiochus Epiphanes would defile the altar.

The altar was built on the spot where the altar of the first temple stood, on the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24:18–25; 2 Chronicles 21:18–22:1). Thus like the first altar that was built by David before Solomon began to build the temple, this altar was built before the temple’s foundation is laid. Moreover, the altar was constructed for the express purpose of reinstituting the historic sacrifices that God had commanded for Israel through Moses (Ezra 3:2). This section sounds the first ominous note about the pagan inhabitants of the land. They instill fear in the Israelites (Ezra 3:3). This terror does not stop them from carrying out their desire to remain faithful to God by reinstituting the sacrifices he prescribed. Nevertheless, throughout the rest of Ezra and in Nehemiah the unbelieving inhabitants of the land will be a constant source of trouble for God’s people.
Steinmann, A. E. (2010). Ezra and Nehemiah (pp. 211–212). Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

That bridge to the past, built upon the sacrificial system will also serve as a bridge to the future coming of the Messiah. God set up that system to help the people understand their need for a Savior and God’s plan to provide one.