AN INTRODUCTION TO EZRA:
As we finish the books of the Kings and Chronicles, we continue our journey into the prophets and psalms. Here, the book of Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles ended: Cyrus, king of Persia, sends volunteers to Jerusalem to build a house for God. After 70 years in exile, the captives from Judah were finally allowed to return to their homeland. Nearly 50,000 people made the journey.
When they arrived, they began to rebuild Solomon’s temple, but became discouraged by the opposition (people in the area who did not like the Jews and did not want them in Jerusalem). Although Zerubbabel was in charge of the first migration of volunteers to Jerusalem and helped oversee the re-construction of the temple, Ezra was a well-known priest and scribe during this time, encouraging and pointing the people to God. In fact, Ezra led the second migration of Jews to Jerusalem almost 80 years after Zerubbabel (starting with chapter 7). Just for reference, the books of Haggai and Zechariah come from this time in history as well, as those two were the major prophets then (chapter 5).
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, 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 should with a loud shot, and the sound was heard far off.” -Ezra 3:12-13
From all of today’s reading, these verses are the most branded on my heart. This clash between an older generation and a younger generation – both worshipping God, but so differently. These elders served God in the temple that Solomon built (which as we’ve read was incredibly elaborate and stunning). But then persecution and war came and the Jews were captured and taken as slaves to Babylon; Solomon’s temple was destroyed.
Finally, 70 years into exile, some of the Jews returned home – to their Promised Land – to rebuild the temple of God. They faced a lot of opposition – mostly politics, and their resources were limited. No more gold and precious stones, but the same imported cedar wood, on the exact same place where the former temple once stood.
And as the workers laid the foundation, the elders wept – remembering the old temple and I’m sure thanking God for the chance to live long enough to be back home and seeing the new temple constructed. But there was also the younger generation – the ones born into captivity, the ones who grew up on a steady stream of stories of the old days in Jerusalem and plenty of persecution for being Jewish in a foreign land. I’m sure these young people were extremely passionate and overjoyed at the prospect of freedom, and so they shouted with joy.
We see some of that today. I grew up in a Russian-speaking, immigrant community where our parents and grandparents were raised in the Soviet Unction under great religious persecution, and my generation had the privilege to be raised in complete freedom in the United States. As a result, many of our churches have that similar dynamic between the elders who have seen hardships and how things used to be, versus the young, naive energy of youth that seeks freedom and joy first and foremost. Neither one is bad in itself, but as we see here, blended together they make quite the spectacle. Both are needed though, so we must be careful about annihilating one from the other.