Here we have, I. The Jews’ enemies made their friends. When they received this order from the king they came with as much haste to encourage and assist the work as their predecessors had done to put a stop to it, Ezra 4:23. What the king ordered they did, and, because they would not be thought to do it with reluctance, they did it speedily, Ezra 6:13. The king’s moderation made them, contrary to their own inclination, moderate too.
II. The building of the temple carried on, and finished in a little time, Ezra 6:14, 15. Now the elders of the Jews built with cheerfulness. For aught I know, the elders themselves laboured at it with their own hands; and, if they did, it was no disparagement to their eldership, but an encouragement to the other workmen. 1. They found themselves bound to it by the commandment of the God of Israel, who had given them power that they might use it in his service. 2. They found themselves shamed into it by the commandment of the heathen kings, Cyrus formerly, Darius now, and Artaxerxes some time after. Can the elders of the Jews be remiss in this good work when these foreign princes appear so warm in it? Shall native Israelites grudge their pains and care about this building when strangers grudge not to be at the expense of it? 3. They found themselves encouraged in it by the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah, who, it is likely, represented to them (as bishop Patrick suggests) the wonderful goodness of God in inclining the heart of the king of Persia to favour them thus. And now the work went on so prosperously that, in four hears’ time, it was brought to perfection. As for God, his work is perfect. The gospel church, that spiritual temple, is long in the building, but it will be finished at last, when the mystical body is completed. Every believer is a living temple, building up himself in his most holy faith. Much opposition is given to this work by Satan and our own corruptions. We trifle, and proceed in it with many stops and pauses; but he that has begun the good work will see it performed, and will bring forth judgment unto victory. Spirits of just men will be made perfect.
III. The dedication of the temple. When it was built, being designed only for sacred uses, they showed by an example how it should be used, which (says bishop Patrick) is the proper sense of the word dedicate. They entered upon it with solemnity and probably with a public declaration of the separating of it from common uses and the surrender of it to the honour of God, to be employed in his worship. 1. The persons employed in this service were not only the priests and Levites who officiated, but the children of Israel, some of each of the twelve tribes, though Judah and Benjamin were the chief, and the rest of the children of the captivity or transportation, which intimates that there were many besides the children of Israel, of other nations, who transported themselves with them, and became proselytes to their religion, unless we read it, even the remnant of the children of the captivity, and then, we may suppose, notice is hereby taken of their mean and afflicted condition, because the consideration of that helped to make them devout and serious in this and other religious exercises. A sad change! The children of Israel have become children of the captivity, and there appears but a remnant of them, according to that prediction (Isa. 7:3), Shear-jashub—The remnant shall return. 2. The sacrifices that were offered upon this occasion were bullocks, rams, and lambs (Ezra 6:17), for burnt-offerings and peace-offerings; not to be compared, in number, with what had been offered at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, but, being according to their present ability, they were accepted, for, after a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy, and their deep poverty, abounded to the riches of their liberality, 2 Cor. 8:2. These hundreds were more to them than Solomon’s thousands were to him. But, besides these, they offered twelve he-goats for sin-offerings, one for every tribe, to make atonement for their sins, which they looked upon as necessary in order to the acceptance of their services. Thus, by getting iniquity taken away, they would free themselves from that which had been the sting of their late troubles, and which, if not removed, would be a worm at the root of their present comforts. 3. This service was performed with joy. They were all glad to see the temple built and the concerns of it in so good a posture. Let us learn to welcome holy ordinances with joy and attend on them with pleasure. Let us serve the Lord with gladness. Whatever we dedicate to God, let it be done with joy that he will please to accept of it. 4. When they dedicated the house they settled the household. Small comfort could they have in the temple without the temple service, and therefore they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their courses, Ezra 6:18. Having set up the worship of God in this dedication, they took care to keep it up, and made the book of Moses their rule, to which they had an eye in this establishment. Though the temple service could not now be performed with so much pomp and plenty as formerly, because of their poverty, yet perhaps it was performed with as much purity and close adherence to the divine institution as ever, which was the true glory of it. No beauty like the beauty of holiness.
IV. The celebration of the passover in the newly-erected temple. Now that they were newly delivered out of their bondage in Babylon it was seasonable to commemorate their deliverance out of their bondage in Egypt. Fresh mercies should put us in mind of former mercies. We may suppose that they had kept the passover, after a sort, every year since their return, for they had an altar and a tabernacle. But they were liable to frequent disturbances from their enemies, were straitened for room, and had not conveniences about them, so that they could not do it with due solemnity till the temple was built; and now they made a joyful festival of it, it falling out in the next month after the temple was finished and dedicated, Ezra 6:19. Notice is here taken, 1. Of the purity of the priests and Levites that killed the passover, Ezra 6:20. In Hezekiah’s time the priests were many of them under blame for not purifying themselves. But now it is observed, to their praise, that they were purified together, as one man (so the word is); they were unanimous both in their resolutions and in their endeavours to make and keep themselves ceremonially clean for this solemnity; they joined together in their preparations, that they might help one another, so that all of them were pure, to a man. The purity of ministers adds much to the beauty of their ministrations; so does their unity. 2. Of the proselytes that communicated with them in this ordinance: All such as had separated themselves unto them, had left their country and the superstitions of it and cast in their lot with the Israel of God, and had turned from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, both their idolatries and immoralities, to seek the Lord God of Israel as their God, did eat the passover. See how the proselytes, the converts, are described. They separated themselves from the filthiness of sin and fellowship with sinners, joined themselves with the Israel of God in conformity and communion, and set themselves to seek the God of Israel; and those that do so in sincerity, though strangers and foreigners, are welcome to eat of the gospel feast, as fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God. 3. Of the great pleasure and satisfaction wherewith they kept the feast of unleavened bread, Ezra 6:22. The Lord had made them joyful, had given them both cause to rejoice and hearts to rejoice. It was now about twenty years since the foundation of this temple was laid, and we may suppose the old men that then wept at the remembrance of the first temple were most of them dead by this time, so that now there were no tears mingled with their joys. Those that are, upon good grounds, joyful, have therefore reason to be thankful, because it is God that makes them to rejoice. He is the fountain whence all the streams of our joy flow. God has promised to all those who take hold of his covenant that he will make them joyful in his house of prayer. The particular occasion they had for joy at this time was that God had turned the heart of the emperor to them, to strengthen their hands. If those that have been, or who we feared would have been, against us, prove to be for us, we may rejoice in it as a token for good, that our ways please the Lord (Prov. 16:7), and he must have the glory of it.
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