For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

3:1.  “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.”


It is uncertain whether the seventh month here was seven months from the time they had left Babylon, or seven months from the time of their arrival in Jerusalem, or the seventh month of the year, for it was in that seventh month of the year that three of the great annual feasts were held: Feast of Trumpets celebrated on the first day of the month; Day of Atonement on the tenth; and Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, which ran from the fifteenth till the twenty-first of the seventh month.  Most scholars understand this particular gathering in Jerusalem to have been the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles,


The gathering of the people “as one man to Jerusalem” is generally taken to imply unanimity of purpose relative to the rebuilding of the Temple, and resumption of the Levitical order of worship.


3:2.  “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 of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.”


Jozadak, a descendant of Aaron, was the religious leader; and Zerubbabel, descended from David, was the civil head, thus were the religious and civil administrators joined as one in their determination to reestablish the divinely appointed order of worship.  This stands in stark contrast with the western world’s separation of church and state, the latter having no desire to have God interfere in its affairs, or impose His will upon its activities.


Their building the altar “to offer burnt offerings thereon” declares their desire to present God with their worship for Who He is, and for all that He had done for Israel.  Their worship being according to “the law of Moses” ought to remind us that God is to be worshiped according to the order He Himself has appointed, and not according to the vagaries of man’s imagination.  The amazing variety of what passes in Christendom for worship declares the extent to which man has chosen to replace the Divine order with what is of mere human origin.


3:3.  “And they set the altar upon his bases; 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.”


“Bases” should be singular.  The altar was set up on the base or site where it had been originally, the activity of the people being prompted in some measure at least by their fear of the heathen neighbors in the midst of whom they dwelt, their fear impelling obedience, apart from which they could not claim God’s protection.  It would be well if that same fear motivated us, for our need is as great as was Israel’s; but it is all too apparent that for the most part believers today aren’t governed by that same principle.  The world is as much our enemy as were her heathen neighbors Israel’s in that far distant day; but sadly the professing Church for the most part has lost that wholesome fear, not only of an enemy world whose ways she has embraced, but also of a righteous God whose dominion she has rejected.


Their presenting burnt offerings “morning and evening” reminds us that our days too should begin and close with the presentation of thanksgiving to God, for He has done for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” Ephesians 3:20.


3:4.  “They kept also the feast of tabernacles (booths), as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required;”


The feast of tabernacles (booths) lasted for seven days (15-21) in the seventh month (cf. Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-40), and foreshadows the millennial blessing, not only of Israel, but of the whole world.


3:5.  “And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons (months), 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.”


The continual burnt offering was prescribed, and was offered every morning and every evening; but in addition to it the people voluntarily and spontaneously presented these other offerings as an expression of their thanksgiving to God for His countless blessings and multiplied mercies.  We who are the recipients of even richer blessings would do well to emulate them by expressing our gratitude through obedience, remembering that it is written, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” 1 Samuel 15:22, the same truth being declared by the Lord Himself, “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” John 14:15; “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,” John 14:21; Paul also exhorting, “I beseech you therefore, brethren ... that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” Romans 12:1.


3:6.  “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.”


As noted above, see verses 3 and 4, only the altar of burnt offering had been set up, on its original site, but the work of rebuilding the Temple hadn’t begun.


3:7.  “They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink (wine), and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.”


In preparation for the rebuilding of the Temple, the people hired masons and carpenters, and paid the people of Tyre and Zidon with food and drink (wine) and oil, to bring cedar wood to Joppa, from which it would then be brought to Jerusalem, for the rebuilding of the Temple, Cyrus, king of Persia, having authorized that work.


Their willing generous giving is an example we should follow, keeping in mind what is written in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully ... give, not grudgingly or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”


3:8.  “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.”


The second month of the second year, i.e., fourteen months after their return from Babylon, and seventy years from the first deportation in 605 B.C., Zerubbabel the civil head, and Jeshua the religious head, appointed the Levites, over the age of twenty, to superintend the work of rebuilding the Temple.


The fact that the superintending Levites were “from twenty years old and upward” is the OT symbolic declaration of the truth recorded in 1 Timothy 3:6 relative to elders, that God does not permit the novice to have any part in overseeing the local assembly, as it is written concerning those to whom God has committed the oversight of the churches, “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.”


3:9.  “Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward (superintend) the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.”


Jeshua means he will save: Jehovah is salvation; Kadmiel, before (literally in front of) God; Judah he shall be praised; Henadad favor of Hadad (Hadad meaning I shall move softly: I shall love).

They may very well represent the evangelists, elders, and teachers, etc., whom God has given to the Church for her up building, see 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers ....” 


It is to be noted, however, that the apostles and prophets were for the apostolic age only, the completion of the canon of Scripture rendering their further ministry unnecessary, God’s communication since then being through the written Word.  The apostles were unique: they have had no successors, they by means of their teaching laying the foundation of the Church; but it is to be noted that the prophet has been succeeded by the teacher, see 2 Peter 2:1, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you....”  The great distinction between the prophet and the teacher is that the former received fresh revelation of truth beyond what had been revealed to his OT counterpart, that revelation constituting the NT scriptures, the work of the teacher being, not to receive additional truth, but to explain what the prophets have written.


In their meanings these names combine to set Jehovah forth as the Savior God, Who is worthy of all praise, honor, glory, and worship, the One before Whom all men must eventually stand for judgment, and before Whom all men should “walk softly,” (see above meaning of Hadad) i.e., in humble, loving obedience. 


All of these agreed to superintend the work voluntarily, and it is instructive to note that elders are to serve in the same spirit, see 1 Peter 5:1-2, “The elders which are among you I exhort .... Feed the flock of God ... taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready (willing) mind....”


This Jeshua (Joshua), incidentally, was not the high priest, but rather, the Levite mentioned in 2:40.


3:10.  “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.”


The foundation upon which the believer’s eternal security rests was laid over two thousand years ago when the Lord Jesus Christ expiated all our sins by His vicarious death, it being written concerning that foundation, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 3:11.  And as the laying of the Temple foundation was accompanied by the activity of the priests, so was that of the spiritual temple the Church which is composed of pardoned sinners who have become a royal kingdom of priests, clad also “in their apparel,” the spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, which God imputes to every believer, as it is written, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness ...” 1 Corinthians 1:30.


The priests also had trumpets which they used to glorify God.  We too, the priests of this era of grace are responsible to glorify Him by “trumpeting” the good news of the gospel.


The Levites’ contribution to the worship was to sound their cymbals, the clash of which is to be echoed today by our sounding out the warning of the terrible end of him who dies without having been born again through faith in Christ as his Savior.  Unfortunately the clash of the cymbal is little heard today, the Gospel having been largely expunged of warning, so that men continue undisturbed in the sleep of death, a dreadful awakening awaiting them in hell, the indescribable torment of which will be continued eternally in the terrible lake of fire.


It is instructive to note that the name Asaph, the father of the Levites, means a gatherer.  We too are to be gatherers in God’s great harvest field, the world, those we lead to Christ being the “wheat” that will be gathered into His “barn,” those who die unsaved being the “tares” which will be ultimately gathered together for burning, first in hell, and then eternally in the terrible lake of fire.


Believers are the counterparts of the OT priests, as declared in 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood ...”  Their having trumpets and cymbals wherewith to praise God serves to remind us that we too are to sound forth the praises of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9; and as those priests were clad in special garments so are we, for we are clothed in Christ’s immaculate righteousness. But worship is to be accompanied by faithful testimony in the Gospel, the trumpet speaking symbolically, but very clearly, of testimony.


Relative to “the ordinance of David” it is to be noted that it was he who first appointed the musical ministry of the Levites, see 1 Chronicles 15:16,19; 16:7; 23:1,5; 25:1,2; 2 Chronicles 7:6; 8:14; 29:25,27; 35:15.  In the wilderness Israel had no musical ministry, and we do well to note that her wilderness experience foreshadows that of the Church, while her dwelling in the land symbolizes her in the enjoyment of millennial blessing. 


Contrary to what is generally taught today there is no musical ministry for the Church.  Believers of the Church age are commanded, “... be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” Ephesians 5:19, the command being repeated in Colossians 3:16.  The silence of the NT on the subject of choirs, etc., is instructive: it does not envisage any musical ministry for the Church; nor is scriptural silence to be construed as permission to introduce such a ministry.  We are safe in doing only that for which we have a clear “Thus saith the Lord.”


Some believe that Psalm 118 was the one used here to express the people’s worship.


3:11.  “And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; 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.”


Their singing together “by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord,” teaches symbolically that praise and worship are to be at the impulse of the Holy Spirit, which is always orderly, and not according to the vagaries of our own emotions.


The eternal endurance of His mercy toward Israel is not to be interpreted as excluding all other nations, for it is to be remembered that the believing remnant of Israel were the only ones whom He considered as being true Israelites, as it is written, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called.  That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of promise are counted for the seed,” Romans 9:6-8.  Since the true Israel is a figure of all believers of every age, the truth being declared here is that God’s mercy to believers will endure eternally.


The cause of their joyful worship was the laying of the foundation of the Temple, reminding us that the up-building of the Church, which proceeds with the salvation of souls, brings joy to the heart of every true believer, each new convert becoming another living stone which the Holy Spirit sets in its appointed place as the building of the Church continues.


3:12.  “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:”


The scene is repeated today.  Many Christians looking back to the phenomenal numbers converted in the early Apostolic age, and to the multitudes led to the Lord in revivals during the intervening years, deplore the paucity of converts in this present age.  Encouragement, however, lies in the fact that these are the closing days of the age, the gleaning time, the bulk of the harvest having already been gathered in.  This is the time typologically foreshadowed by Ruth’s gleaning in the field of Boaz.  It is the day of small things, and not to be despised, for God sets a greater value on faithfulness than on numbers.  Rather than weeping for departed glory, we should rejoice at news of conversions no matter how small the numbers, remembering that one soul is of greater value than the whole world, and, “... that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance .... there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,” Luke 15:7,10.


Relative to this verse G. Coleman Luck has written very pertinently, “Old men are often inclined to be too pessimistic and to look too much to the past, sometimes unduly dampening the godly enthusiasm of the young by their attitude.  But young people sometimes have a tendency to be overconfident and rush rashly ahead without proper preparation, thus making a miserable failure.  In proper bounds both the wisdom and conservatism of age along with the vigor and enthusiasm of youth can be used in the Lord’s work.  ‘There is room both for the weeping and the shouting.’”


3:13.  “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.”


And so is it today: there is much cause for weeping, but greater reason to rejoice, for clearly the age is almost ended: there are only a few more grains of sand to run in the hourglass before the Lord fulfills His promise to come to the air and catch us up to be for ever with Him.  Today could be our last on earth, our first in heaven.

[Ezra 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough