In the close of the foregoing chapter we left Israel in their
cities, but we may well imagine what a bad posture their affairs were in, the
ground untilled, the cities in ruins, all out of order; but here we have an
account of the early care they took about the re-establishment of religion among
them. Thus did they lay the foundation well, and begin their work at the right
end. I. They set up an altar, and offered sacrifices upon it, kept the feasts,
and contributed towards the rebuilding of the temple (v. 1-7). II. They laid the
foundation of the temple with a mixture of joy and sorrow (v. 8-13). This was
the day of small things, which was not to be despised, Zec. 4:10.
Here is, I. A general assembly of the returned Israelites at
Jerusalem, in the seventh month, v. 1. We may suppose that they came from
Babylon in the spring, and must allow at least four months for the journey, for
so long Ezra and his company were in coming, ch. 7:9. The seventh month
therefore soon came, in which many of the feasts of the Lord were to be
solemnized; and then they gathered themselves together by agreement among
themselves, rather than by the command of authority, to Jerusalem. Though they
had newly come to their cities, and had their hands full of business there, to
provide necessaries for themselves and their families, which might have excused
them from attending on God's altar till the hurry was a little over, as many
foolishly put off their coming to the communion till they are settled in the
world, yet such was their zeal for religion, now that they had newly come from
under correction for their irreligion, that they left all their business in the
country, to attend God's altar; and (which is strange) in this pious zeal they
were all of a mind, they came as one man. Let worldly business be
postponed to the business of religion and it will prosper the better.
II. The care which their leading men took to have an altar ready
for them to attend upon.
1. Joshua and his brethren the priests, Zerubbabel and his
brethren the princes, built the altar of the God of Israel (v. 2), in the
same place (it is likely) where it had stood, upon the same bases, v. 3. Bishop
Patrick, observing that before the temple was built there seems to have been a
tabernacle pitched for the divine service, as was in David's time, not on
Mount Moriah, but Mount Sion (1 Chr. 9:23), supposes that this altar was erected
there, to be sued while the temple was in building. Let us learn hence, (1.) To begin
with God. The more difficult and necessitous our case is the more concerned
we are to take him along with us in all our ways. If we expect to be directed by
his oracles, let him be honoured by our offerings. (2.) To do what we can
in the worship of God when we cannot do what we would. They could not
immediately have a temple, but they would not be without an altar. Abraham,
wherever he came, built an altar; and wherever we come, though we may
perhaps want the benefit of the candlestick of preaching, and the showbread of
the eucharist, yet, if we bring not the sacrifices of prayer and praise, we are
wanting in our duty, for we have an altar that sanctifies the gift ever ready.
2. Observe the reason here given why they hastened to set up the
altar: Fear was upon them, because of the people of the land. They were
in the midst of enemies that bore ill will to them and their religion, for whom
they were an unequal match. And, (1.) Though they were so, yet they built
the altar (so some read it); they would not be frightened from their religion by
the opposition they were likely to meet with in it. Never let the fear of man
bring us into this snare. (2.) Because they were so, therefore they set
up the altar. Apprehension of danger should stir us up to our duty. Have we many
enemies? Then it is good to have God our friend and to keep up our
correspondence with him. This good use we should make of our fears, we should be
driven by them to our knees. Even Saul would think himself undone if the enemy
should come upon him before he had made his supplication to God, 1 Sa. 13:12.
III. The sacrifices they offered upon the altar. The altar was
reared to be used, and they used it accordingly. Let not those that have an
altar starve it.
1. They began on the first day of the seventh month, v.
6. It does not appear that they had any fire from heaven to begin with, as Moses
and Solomon had, but common fire served them, as it did the patriarchs.
2. Having begun, they kept up the continual burnt-offering
(v. 5), morning and evening, v. 3. They had known by sad experience what
it was to want the comfort of the daily sacrifice to plead in their daily
prayers, and now that it was revived they resolved not to let it fall again. The
daily lamb typified the Lamb of God, whose righteousness must be our confidence
in all our prayers.
3. They observed all the set feasts of the Lord, and
offered the sacrifices appointed for each, and particularly the feast of
tabernacles, v. 4, 5. Now that they had received such great mercy from God
that joyful feast was in a special manner seasonable. And now that they were
beginning to settle in their cities it might serve well to remind them of their
fathers dwelling in tents in the wilderness. That feast also which had a
peculiar reference to gospel times (as appears, Zec. 14:18) was brought, in a
special manner, into reputation, now that those times drew on. Of the services
of this feast, which continued seven days and had peculiar sacrifices appointed,
it is said that they did as the duty of every day required (see Num.
29:13, 17, etc.), Verbum die in die suothe word, or matter, of the day in
its day (so it is in the original)a phrase that has become proverbial
with those that have used themselves to scripture-language. If the feast of
tabernacles was a figure of a gospel conversation, in respect of continual
weanedness from the world and joy in God, we may infer that it concerns us all
to do the work of the day in its day, according as the duty of the day
requires, that is, (1.) We must improve time, by finding some business to do
every day that will turn to a good account. (2.) We must improve opportunity, by
accommodating ourselves to that which is the proper business of the present day.
Every thing is beautiful in its season. The tenth day of this month was the day
of atonement, a solemn day, and very seasonable now: it is very probable that
they observed it, yet it is not mentioned, nor indeed in all the Old Testament
do I remember the least mention of the observance of that day; as if it were
enough that we have the law of it in Lev. 16, and the gospel of it, which was
the chief intention of it, in the New Testament.
4. They offered every man's free-will offering, v. 5.
The law required much, but they brought more; for, though they had little wealth
to support the expense of their sacrifices, they had much zeal, and, we may
suppose, spared at their own tables that they might plentifully supply God's
altar. Happy are those that bring with them out of the furnace of affliction
such a holy heat as this.
IV. The preparation they made for the building of the temple, v.
7. This they applied themselves immediately to; for, while we do what we can, we
must still be aiming to do more and better. Tyre and Sidon must now, as of old,
furnish them with workmen, and Lebanon with timber, orders for both which they
had from Cyrus. What God calls us to we may depend upon his providence to
furnish us for.
There was no dispute among the returned Jews whether they should
build the temple or no; that was immediately resolved on, and that it should be
done with all speed; what comfort could they take in their own land if they had
not that token of God's presence with them and the record of his name among
them? We have here therefore an account of the beginning of that good work.
I. When it was begun-in the second month of the second year, as
soon as ever the season of the year would permit (v. 8), and when they had ended
the solemnities of the passover. They took little more than half a year for
making preparation of the ground and materials; so much were their hearts upon
it. Note, When any good work is to be done it will be our wisdom to set about it
quickly, and not to lose time, yea, though we foresee difficulty and opposition
in it. Thus we engage ourselves to it, and engage God for us. Well begun (we
say) is half ended.
II. Who began itZerubbabel, and Jeshua, and their brethren.
Then the work of God is likely to go on well when magistrates, ministers, and
people, are hearty for it, and agree in their places to promote it. It was God
that gave them one heart for this service, and it boded well.
III. Who were employed to further it. They appointed the Levites
to set forward the work (v. 8), and they did it by setting forward the
workmen (v. 9), and strengthening their hands with good and comfortable
words. Note, Those that do not work themselves may yet do good service by
quickening and encouraging those that do work.
IV. How God was praised at the laying of the foundation of the
temple (v. 10, 11); the priests with the trumpets appointed by Moses, and the
Levites with the cymbals appointed by David, made up a concert of music, not to
please the ear, but to assist the singing of that everlasting hymn which will
never be out of date, and to which our tongues should never be out of tune, God
is good, and his mercy endureth for ever, the burden of Ps. 136. Let all the
streams of mercy be traced up to the fountain. Whatever our condition is, how
many soever our griefs and fears, let it be owned that God is good; and,
whatever fails, that his mercy fails not. Let this be sung with application, as
here; not only his mercy endures for ever, but it endures for ever towards
Israel, Israel when captives in a strange land and strangers in their own land.
However it be, yet God is good to Israel (Ps. 73:1), good to us. Let the
reviving of the church's interests, when they seemed dead, be ascribed to the
continuance of God's mercy for ever, for therefore the church continues.
V. How the people were affected. A remarkable mixture of various
affections there was upon this occasion. Different sentiments there were among
the people of God, and each expressed himself according to his sentiments, and
yet there was no disagreement among them, their minds were not alienated from
each other nor the common concern retarded by it. 1. Those that only knew the
misery of having no temple at all praised the Lord with shouts of joy when they
saw but the foundation of one laid, v. 11. To them even this foundation seemed
great, and was as life from the dead; to their hungry souls even this was sweet.
They shouted, so that the noise was heard afar off. Note, We ought to be
thankful for the beginnings of mercy, though we have not yet come to the
perfection of it; and the foundations of a temple, after long desolations,
cannot but be fountains of joy to every faithful Israelite. 2. Those that
remembered the glory of the first temple which Solomon built, and considered how
far this was likely to be inferior to that, perhaps in dimensions, certainly in
magnificence and sumptuousness, wept with a loud voice, v. 12. If we date
the captivity with the first, from the fourth of Jehoiakim, it was about
fifty-two years since the temple was burnt; if from Jeconiah's captivity, it
was but fifty-nine. So that many now alive might remember it standing; and a
great mercy it was to the captives that they had the lives of so many of their
priests and Levites lengthened out, who could tell them what they themselves
remembered of the glory of Jerusalem, to quicken them in their return. These
lamented the disproportion between this temple and the former. And, (1.) There
was some reason for it; and if they turned their tears into the right channel,
and bewailed the sin that was the cause of this melancholy change, they did
well. Sin sullies the glory of any church or people, and, when they find
themselves diminished and brought low, that must bear the blame. (2.) Yet it was
their infirmity to mingle those tears with the common joys and so to cast a damp
upon them. They despised the day of small things, and were unthankful for
the good they enjoyed, because it was not so much as their ancestors had, though
it was much more than they deserved. In the harmony of public joys, let not us
be jarring strings. It was an aggravation of the discouragement they hereby gave
to the people that they were priests and Levites, who should have known and
taught others how to be duly affected under various providences, and not to let
the remembrance of former afflictions drown the sense of present mercies. This
mixture of sorrow and joy here is a representation of this world. Some are
bathing in rivers of joy, while others are drowned in floods of tears. In heaven
all are singing, and none sighing; in hell all are weeping and wailing, and none
rejoicing; but here on earth we can scarcely discern the shouts of joy from
the noise of the weeping. Let us learn to rejoice with those that do
rejoice and weep with those that weep, and ourselves to rejoice as
though we rejoiced not, and weep as though we wept not.