In early autumn, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled in Jerusalem with a unified purpose. Then Jeshua son of Jehozadak joined his fellow priests and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his family in rebuilding the altar of the God of Israel. They wanted to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, as instructed in the Law of Moses, the man of God. Even though the people were afraid of the local residents, they rebuilt the altar at its old site. Then they began to sacrifice burnt offerings on the altar to the Lord each morning and evening.
They celebrated the Festival of Shelters as prescribed in the Law, sacrificing the number of burnt offerings specified for each day of the festival. They also offered the regular burnt offerings and the offerings required for the new moon celebrations and the annual festivals as prescribed by the Lord. The people also gave voluntary offerings to the Lord. (Ezra 3:1-5)
Almost immediately upon returning to Jerusalem—in the middle of its ruins—the Jewish exiles built the altar for sacrifice. The people began worshiping God even before the Temple foundation was laid. The altar demonstrated their identity as God’s people and their commitment to serve God alone. Zerubbabel sacrificed burnt offerings as the law of Moses instructed (Leviticus 1–7). The sacrifices demonstrated that the people wanted to be right with God—seeking his guidance, living as he commanded, and asking his forgiveness.
After many years in captivity, the Jewish people had learned their lesson—they knew that God does not offer special protection to those who ignore him, even when they are his own people. They had been deported from Israel when they were relatively strong. Now, back in their own land, they were few, weak, and surrounded by enemies. They were forced to rely on God’s power. They had no other hope.
Sometimes depending on God requires losing everything else we’ve depended on. Then we can focus on what’s most important—having a right relationship with God. More than a temple for our religion or walls for our safety, we need God. Are you relying on something other than God?