When the Jews return to Jerusalem, they are ready to reconstitute the nation and reclaim God’s promise to Abraham and their ancestors. All families are asked to prove their lineage before they return to their ancestors’ cities, and all priests are asked to do the same before they begin service at the temple. The Jewish leaders are careful that the right people return to the right places so that the new nation resembles the nation under the great kings David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah.
Just as the Southern Kingdom’s kings made the restoration of proper worship the priority of their reforms during the monarchy, the reconstruction of the altar is the first order of business when the Jews return to Jerusalem. But they cannot be overzealous in their rebuilding. The few Israelites who have remained in the land while most of the population was exiled revere the site of the destroyed temple as holy. To immediately build the temple on the old foundations could be considered apostasy, so the Jews proceed in their reforms with caution. They don’t want to incur the wrath of God or of their new neighbors.
3 In the seventh month, the month of Tishri, when the Israelites had settled into their towns and when all of the returning Jews had gathered together in Jerusalem in preparation for the festivals, 2 Jeshua (son of Jozadak) and his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel) and others of those returning home built a new altar of uncut stone for burnt offerings to the True God of Israel following the law of Moses, the man of the True God. 3 The men built the altar on the ruined foundation of Solomon’s altar because they feared those who were left behind in the land during the exile. Jeshua and the priests burned offerings to the Eternal each morning and evening 4 and celebrated the Feast of Booths just as Moses had prescribed, offering the required number of burnt offerings each day. 5-6 The daily burnt offerings to the Eternal began on the first day of the seventh month, and when the Feast of Booths ended, our continual offerings did not. They gave burnt sacrifices for the new moons and all of the Eternal’s prescribed festivals, and everyone’s freewill offerings were given to Him.
But the foundation of His temple had not been laid. 7 Jeshua, Zerubbabel, and their fellow returning expatriates exercised King Cyrus of Persia’s permission to pay masons and carpenters and send food, drinks, and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians in exchange for a shipment of Lebanese cedar by sea to Joppa.
8 In the second month of the second year after they had begun preparations for the True God’s temple in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel (son of Shealtiel), Jeshua (son of Jozadak), and the priests and Levites and all who had been exiled, began construction of the Eternal’s temple. The Levites 20 years old and older oversaw the construction, 9 and Jeshua and his relatives, Kadmiel and his sons, the descendants of Judah, oversaw the True God’s temple laborers, the descendants of Henadad and their brothers the Levites.
10 After the laborers had laid the Eternal’s temple foundation, the priests and Levites praised the Eternal as their beloved King David of Israel had prescribed. The priests dressed in their vestments and played trumpets, the Levite descendants of Asaph played their cymbals, 11 and together they sang praises and gave thanks to the Eternal.
Priests and Levites: We praise him because He is good and because of His continual and loyal love for Israel.
All the people joined in, shouting praises to the Eternal because the foundation of His temple was complete. 12 But in the midst of those praises, the priests, Levites, and tribal leaders who remembered the first temple wept loudly when they saw it because they knew this temple could never be as grand as Solomon’s. 13 There were shouts of joy intermingled with cries of sorrow, and the entire ensemble grew so loud it could be heard a great distance away.