Bible Commentaries
Ezra 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


B. The Rebuilding of the Temple chs. 3-6

Construction of the temple began soon after the exiles returned to Jerusalem. However, problems threatened the completion of the project. First, the immigrants contemplated abandoning their religious distinctives to get along with their neighbors (ch. 4). Then, opposition from their enemies threatened to terminate construction.

"The temple was the basis for the postexilic community’s fellowship with God." [Note: John A. Martin, "Ezra," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 659.]

"In a sense the standing of the furnished Temple of God symbolizes the existence of his covenant with his people. This is why the rebuilding of the Temple occupies so central a place in the Book of Ezra." [Note: J. G. McConville, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 11.]

1. The beginning of construction ch. 3

In view of the temple’s importance, the writer devoted quite a bit of space to narrating the events that accompanied its construction.

Verses 1-6

The erection of the altar 3:1-6

The text does not record exactly when the exiles arrived in Jerusalem, but it was probably sometime in 537 B.C. since Cyrus issued his decree in 538 B.C. The "seventh month" (Ezra 3:1) of the Jew’s sacred calendar was Tishri (late September through early October). [Note: See the appendix at the end of these notes for the Hebrew Calendar.] The people assembled in Jerusalem then to erect the altar of burnt offerings, the centerpiece of their worship (cf. Genesis 12:7). The seventh month was especially important on the Jewish sacred calendar because in it the Jews celebrated three of their annual festivals. These were the Feast of Trumpets on Tishri 1, the Day of Atonement on Tishri 10, and the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) on Tishri 15-22 (Leviticus 23:24-25; Leviticus 27:27-32; Leviticus 27:34-34). Tishri was the first month of the Jewish civil calendar, and the Feast of Trumpets was a kind of New Year celebration. It was on this day that the returned exiles began to offer sacrifices on their altar again (Ezra 3:6).

In presenting burnt offerings to God even before the foundation of the temple was in place, the Jews showed their earnest desire to be living sacrifices to Him. That is what those sacrifices symbolized (Leviticus 1; cf. Romans 12:1). [Note: See Fredrick C. Holmgren, Israel Alive Again, p. 22.] In re-establishing their ancient worship, these Jews, under the leadership of Jeshua and Zerubbabel, were careful to follow the Law of Moses (Ezra 3:2; cf. Exodus 27:1-8; Exodus 38:1-7; Deuteronomy 12:4-14). The absence of reference to Sheshbazzar suggests that he may have died. In any case he passed off the scene.

"From now on, Israel would be viewed (as in the theology of the Chronicler) as that remnant of Judah which had rallied around the law. He would be a member of Israel (i.e., a Jew) who assumed the burden of that law.

"The cult was regulated and supported by the law; to be moral and pious was to keep the law; the grounds of future hope lay in obedience to the law. It was this consistent stress on the law which imparted to Judaism its distinctive character." [Note: Bright, p. 416.]

"Judaism" as a system of worship began during the Babylonian Captivity when the Israelites had no temple, functioning priesthood, or kings.

"Ezra’s work was to reorganize the Jewish community about the law." [Note: Ibid., p. 374.]

The "law" in view is the Mosaic Law. One reason the people began offering sacrifices again was their fear of their neighbors (Ezra 3:2). They called on the Lord to protect them. Normally prayers for the Lord’s blessing on His people accompanied the daily morning and evening sacrifices (cf. Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8).

"Courage is not lack of fear; it is the will to act in spite of fear." [Note: Breneman, p. 91.]

Verses 7-9

The reconstruction of the temple foundation 3:7-9

As Solomon had done, these Jews contracted with the Phoenicians to the north to supply wood for the temple (cf. 2 Chronicles 2:16). The people needed several months of preparations before actual construction began on the site in 536 B.C. It commenced about 70 years after the first group of exiles had departed for Babylon in 605 B.C. Extensive foundation repair work was necessary because the temple stood on a hilltop and because Babylonian destruction had been extensive.

Under the Mosaic Law, Levites began their service at age 25 (Numbers 8:24). The Mosaic Law did not allow them to carry the tabernacle until they were 30 (Numbers 4:3). David had allowed Levites to begin some service at age 20 (1 Chronicles 23:24; 1 Chronicles 23:27). Zerubbabel and Jeshua also allowed them to begin working on the reconstruction project at age 20 (Ezra 3:8).

Verses 10-13

The completion of the temple foundation 3:10-13

The people celebrated God’s faithfulness when they had completed phase one of the temple reconstruction: its foundation.

"Principles of praise to be gleaned from these verses include the following: (1) Praise is the act of publicly exalting God’s person and work. (2) Praise can be enhanced through the use of music and songs. (3) Praise is a participating activity, not a spectator sport; it is worship people join in, not a program people watch. Praise involves God’s people in singing and playing, boasting and testifying to the greatness and goodness of the Lord!" [Note: Laney, pp. 32-33.]

Compared with the "first temple" (Ezra 3:12), this second temple was much less impressive. The term "second temple," as biblical scholars commonly use it today, refers to both this restoration temple and the Herodian temple that followed it. The second temple underwent changes occasionally, the major changes taking place as a result of Herod’s renovations. These improvements were still in progress in our Lord’s day (John 2:20). This second temple stood from 515 B.C. (Ezra 6:15) until the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70. [Note: See Lester L. Grabbe, "The Jewish Theocracy from Cyrus to Titus: A Programmatic Essay," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 37 (February 1987):117-24, for an introduction to the study of the second temple. Anthony J. Tomasino, Judaism Before Jesus, is a good, longer history (345 pages) of the second temple period.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.