Sunday, September 27, 2020




The events of chapter 7 begin 57 years after the events of chapter 6. So, the temple has been completed for 57 years and the Jews have had that much time to worship the Lord as they are required to  by the covenant, but are not doing so. 


Introducing Ezra

These verses introduce Ezra to us. The lengthy description of his ancestry is meant to show us he is an important person who is qualified for the task at hand. It is likely that he was wholly unknown in Jerusalem, having lived in Persia his whole life. It is likely he began his ministry in Persia after the first group of exiles left for Judah. He may not have even been born when they left. 

To qualify as a priest, Ezra would have to prove his lineage was of the priestly line. We see that Ezra is a direct descendant of Aaron,  the first high priest, whose line descends for the most part through the first born sons. (5) Eleazar was actually the third son of Aaron by birth, but the first surviving son. The first two sons by birth, Nadab and Abihu, were killed by the Lord for offering unauthorized fire and incense before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-3) 

Eleazar and his younger brother, Ithamar, replaced Nadab and Abihu and served as priests under their father, Aaron the High Priest. Eleazar became high priest after Aaron’s death, and the office was passed down his line through the first born sons until the death of Uzzi. (4)

For some reason, the office of high priest at that time switched to the line of Ithamar. This began with Eli, who is famous for raising Samuel the prophet and judge, and continued until Abiathar, who conspired with others to keep Solomon from taking the throne. 

Solomon removed Abiathar and restored the high priestly office to the line of Eleazar, appointing Zadok as high priest. Ezra descends from Zadok after a few generations and so is a descendant of Aaron through the qualified line. It is quite a pedigree. It shows he was important. That is why this lengthy description of Ezra’s lineage is given to the Jews in Jerusalem and to us.

Not only was Ezra qualified by his lineage, he was qualified by his dedication. He was a scribe, one who studied and taught Scripture. He was skilled in the law of Moses. (6) This refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. (This statement also refutes claims that Moses did not write these books and that they were not written until after the exile.) 

Ezra must have been serving in some important priestly position in Persia, for Araxerxes refers to him as “Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven”. (12)

Finally, Ezra could claim authority from the Persian king, just as Zerubabbel and Jeshua had in the first migration from Persia. He had a letter from the king to prove it. 

And, on top of all that, he had the favor of King Artaxerxes. (6) He may have been a government official and known by the king. He evidently asked the king for permission and funds to go to Jerusalem and the king gave him all he asked. (6) So, this Ezra left Persia, here called Babylonia, and went to Jerusalem.


Ezra’s Companions 

Ezra’s journey took place in the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes, so it 458 B.C., 80 years after the first exiles returned in 538 B.C., the first year of the reign of Cyrus. This tells us the Ezra was born and raised in Persia. Yet, he was devout. Verse 10 tells us he had set his heart to study the law, to obey it, and to teach it.

A group of people came with Ezra. There were some priests and Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and temple servants. They would be men who could prove their lineage entitled them to these offices. 

The journey took four months. They would travel north along the Euphrates River until they were north of the Arabian Desert, then traveled west to Damascus and south down to Jerusalem. The path was similar to the one Abraham took from Ur to Canaan. The journey took Ezra four months. That must have been good time because the writer says he made it in four months because the hand of the Lord was on him. 


The King’s Letter

The King gave Ezra a letter of authority to take with him. He decreed that any Jew who wanted to go with Ezra could do so. In addition, he provided silver and gold for the offerings to God, the God of Israel. Ezra could use it to buy animals, grain, drinks, and salt to offer on the altar. The king authorized Ezra to spend any money left over as he saw fit, within the will of God. (18) 

The king evidently found additional vessels from the Temple, or had fashioned new ones, and sent them with Ezra also. (19)

This was a generous endowment from the king, but he did not stop there. He also decreed that any of the treasurers of the Province Beyond the River, where Jerusalem was located, to give Ezra whatever he needed, up to some limits he set. (22) And even further, the king exempted all those that had any service to the Temple from taxes. (24)

As a final point, the king commanded Ezra to appoint judges who also knew the law, or whom Ezra could teach, to judge the people of Judah according to the law of God and the law of the king of Persian. Ezra was also authorized to enforce the law and inflict punishment on those who disobeyed.

Why did Artaxerxes do all this? First of all, because the Lord put it on his heart to give favor to Ezra. Daniel 4:35 says God does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth and none can stay his hand. 

Second, the king sought stability in the region. History tells us that Egypt has been in revolt against Persia. Artaxerxes would have been wise to establish buffer provinces that were stable and law abiding and that would not join the revolt. 

Third, the king was hedging his religious bets. He was not a Jew, but likely believed there were many gods who ruled over specific territories. He wanted to appease God so that his wrath would not fall on the king and his sons.


Ezra’s Postscript 

After recording the contents of the king’s letter, Ezra added his own comments. He blessed the Lord who put it into the king’s heart to beautify the Temple. It is an interesting contrast to the book of Esther, which never explicitly mentions God. Ezra gives full credit to God. 

Ezra gave further credit to God, who in steadfast love, give Ezra favor with the king and his counselors. Because Ezra felt God’s hand on him, he too courage and put his hand to the task.



The book of Ezra shows God firmly in control of people and events. Even the mighty king of Persian does the will of the Lord.

The Lord works to fulfill his promise to return the exiles to Jerusalem and restart the national worship of God. This is also his furthering the work of bringing the Messiah and his salvation at a later time. 

As the book of Ezra casts the return from Persia in the light of the original exodus, so it portrays Ezra as a new Moses. He will give the law to Israel in that he will teach it and bring obedience to it. He also appointed judges just as Moses did to assist in governing Israel.    

God works through different people at different times and situations. Esther was a beautiful young woman who, initially, was not very concerned with her people or her religion. But God placed her in a position to preserve his people and equipped her to do so. Ezra was zealous for his religion, devoted to God’s word in learning and obedience. God used him to revive his people.

God gave both Esther and Ezra favor in the eyes of those in power around them in order to accomplish the work he have them to do. 

God is still in control, he still uses women and men of all types to accomplish his work, and he will equip them to do it. You can step out in faith to do God’s will knowing he will do these things for you.

Sunday, September 20, 2020




The Work Resumes

Chapter 4, verses 6 through 23, are a digression, telling us about the opposition of the locals to the exiles over many decades. 

Chapter 4, verse 24, actually picks up the narrative that ended in 4:5, which told us the locals interfered with the building of the temple throughout the reign of Cyrus into the second year of the reign of Darius.  That year, according to chapter 5, verse 1, and Haggai 1:1, the Lord sent two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to speak to the Jews. 

Haggai 1 tells us about this in more detail. The word of the Lord was that it was not right for the Jews to build nice houses for themselves while the house of the Lord lay in ruins. Because they had not built the temple, the Lord had withheld blessing from them. They were not prospering. And the Lord intended to impose a drought on them. Drought is devastating to an agricultural economy. No crops can be grown without water. 

Specifically, Haggai addressed Zerubbabel the governor and Jeshua the high priest. He told them to go get wood  in the hills and bring it down to build the temple. The Lord said he would take pleasure in it and he would be glorified. (Haggai 1: 7)

Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the exiles obeyed God and resumed the work on the 24th day of the sixth month (September) of the second year of Darius’ reign, which was 520 B.C. (Haggai 1:15) This was 16 years after the foundations were laid as recorded in Ezra 3:10.

Ezra 5:2 tells us the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, were with them and supported them. We see from the book of Haggai that the  record of his ministry covers only four months, August 29 through December 18 of 520 B.C. He preached four sermons urging the people to rebuild the temple and to obey God.

Zechariah was more of a seer, a visionary. He related visions given by the Lord what showed a greater purpose for the temple, that it was a sign pointing to a greater purpose, the coming of Jesus. He said there would be a fountain opened that bring cleansing of sin. (Zechariah 13:1)

Many centuries later, in the mid-1700s, William Cowper wrote a hymn based on this thought, originally entitled “Peace for the Fountain Opened”, but later called “There Is A Fountain”. The first stanza says:

There is a fountain filled with blood

drawn from Emmanuel’s veins

and sinners plunged beneath that flood

lose all their guilty stains.

The preaching of these to prophets, in the power of the Lord, galvanized the Jews to renew their efforts to rebuild the temple and resist the temptation to quit working for the Lord.


Opposition Arises

As soon as the Lord’s work was taken up, opposition appeared again. The Persian governor of the province and his associates came and challenged the exiles. These appear to be different people than the first adversaries of the Jews. They asked them who gave them permission to finish the building of the temple. They knew the king had ordered it stopped until he said it could continue. 

The governor also used a common tactic of oppression: he asked for the names of those working on the walls. That has an intimidating effect. It says “we know who you are and we know where to find you”. This time, however, the opposition did not stop them from working while they sent a letter to the king. The letter will also tell us more of the response of the Jews to the challenge.


The Letter to the King

As before, the governor wrote a letter to the king, Darius this time, telling him what was going on, that the Jews has resumed building the temple. They recounted their challenge to the the authority of the Jews to rebuild. 

They also recounted the response of the elder of the Jews. They told Tattenai, the governor, their history concerning the temple, how it was build by a great king, but destroyed when God was angry with them and allowed them to be taken into captivity.

They also told that Cyrus the king made a decree that the house should be rebuild and that the sacred objects would be returned to the Jews. It appears that Tattenai was unaware of these facts and asked the king to have a search made in the royal archives for the decrees of Cyrus and for instructions of what to do.

There is one thing, though that really stands out in the response of the Jews to Tattenai. The first thing they said was “we are the servants of the God of heaven and earth”. (5:11) They had caught a vision from the prophets of the great God they served, one who was not a local deity, but who ruled all of the earth, including Persia. So, they were not doing a small task, they were the instruments used by the God of the universe to accomplish this part of his will and purpose. 

We all need to refocus at times. When we work or serve and it seems mundane, we need a reminder that we serve the God of the universe and he has chosen us to further his purpose for the world and the establishment of his kingdom.


Finding the Decree

Darius read the letter and decreed that a search be made for the decree. The researchers found a scroll in a citadel that recorded the decree. The decree did in fact state the the temple should be rebuilt, gave measurements and listed materials to be used, with the cost paid from the royal treasury, along with return of the sacred vessels.

God provided lavishly for his people from the treasury of Persia. He did this in the first exodus, causing the Egyptians to give the Israelites whatever they wanted, resulting in their plundering or despoiling the Egyptians. 


The Decree of Darius

Having found the decree of Cyrus, Darius proceeded to issue a decree reinforcing it. He ordered Tatteni and his associates to stay away from the temple site and to refrain from impeding the work on the temple. He further ordered the cost to be paid from the royal revenue, meaning the taxes and tribute collected in the province and normally sent to the king.

Darius went even further, ordering that the governor give the Jews anything the priests required to make sacrifices to God. Darius, as Cyrus had done, also solicited the prayers of the priests for himself and his sons. 

Darius also added a curse for disobedience. Anyone who opposed the work would be impaled and his house turned into a dunghill, and any king or people  who opposed the Jews be overthrown. 

Lastly, Darius ordered that it be done with diligence. There was to be no delay in obedience to his decree. 


The Work Is Finished, the Temple Dedicated

The Governor, having received the decree of King Darius, obeyed and did all the king ordered. With this help, the elders prospered in their work and finished the temple in the sixth year of Darius, on the third day of the month of Adar (515 B.C.).

It, therefore, took four and a half years to finish the temple after building resumed, 20 years from when the building first started, and about 70 years from the destruction of Solomon’s temple. 

The Jews celebrated the completion of the temple with extravagant worship. They sacrificed over 700 animals for the sin offering of all Israel. They set up divisions of the priests and Levites to serve in the temple as the Law had provided (the Book of Moses). 


Observing Passover

A month later, in the first month of the Jewish calendar year, the exiles observed Passover for the first time in 70 years. Passover refers to an event and the memorial of it. 

The first Passover, the event, occurred before the final plague the Lord imposed on Egypt, the killing of the first born. You can read about it in Exodus 12. The Jews were told to slaughter a lamb without blemish at twilight, then take the blood and put it on the frame of the door of their houses, the two doorposts and the lintel. The angel of death would see the blood and passover the house without killing the firstborn. 

The lamb was to be roasted on a fire and eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. This was about haste. They were to be dressed and ready to leave Egypt when the Lord told them to. 

The Lord required the Jews to observe the day as a memorial and keep it as a feast. It went on for seven days with holy assemblies at the beginning and end. They could not eat bread with leaven. 

For this first Passover in 70 years, the priests and levites purified themselves, then slaughtered the Passover Lamb. It would be eaten by the exiles and those who had remained in Judah, but not joined into the pagan worship of the Gentiles who were resettled into the area. They went on to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days. 

This celebration of Passover was especially meaningful because they not only remembered the First Exodus, out of Egypt, but their recent Second Exodus out of Babylon\Persia. 

These things were all done with joy because of what the Lord had done to bring them home and to restore the temple, the sign that the Lord was with them.

Any time of building or rebuilding in the work of the Lord will be resisted by the devil. Our church is in a time of rebuilding. We are not rebuilding structures that were destroyed, but rebuilding in the sense of revitalizing the congregation and growing by reaching others for Christ. 

We have experienced a form of opposition in the pandemic. But, we have forged ahead where we could and continue to move forward. I pray that you will work with your church to keep building and rebuilding for the kingdom of God. And I pray that you will not let this time drag you into apathy, but, rather, that you will seek spiritual growth and renewal.

I hope you will attend your church if you are well. And I hope you will pray for the Church to move forward for the glory of God. 


Monday, September 14, 2020

God the refiner

 “I’m often mystified....I don’t understand why it is that as I endeavor to live for God...everything seems to be falling apart. Sometimes I struggle...’Why are You allowing this to happen?’...It’s good for us to remember that God is not an arsonist; He’s a refiner.” (Ron Dunn)

Sunday, September 13, 2020




Laying the Foundation

This passage tells us the exiles began work on building the temple in the next year, the second since they returned, so about six months have passed since the altar was built. The work began in the second month, called “Ziv”. Ziv is in the spring, falling in April and May of our calendar. So, the exiles waited through the winter and gathered to work in the spring. They also had to wait for the cedar wood to be delivered from Tyre and Sidon, as well as the skilled workers. This is also the month in which Solomon began work on the first temple. (2 Chronicles 3:2)

The project was initiated by Zerubbabel, who is acting as governor, but is of the line of David, and Jeshua, the high priest, just as they led the journey to Jerusalem from Persia. They brought together all the priests and Levites that returned from exile. They appointed all of the Levites over the age of 20 to supervise the work. 

This again reflects the building of the first temple. When David made preparations for his son, Solomon, to build the temple, he organized the Levites to supervise. (1 Chronicles 23) The organization of the Levites into families and duties was very useful here, because the chain of command was already established. 

There were many people working and they appear unified in purpose: to rededicate themselves to worship the Lord and to obey the covenantal law.

When the foundations were laid, they celebrated with a worship service. It was only the beginning of the project, but symbolized to the people the promise keeping nature of God. And they rejoiced in that.

The priests came, dressed in vestments, and blew the trumpets. The Levites played their cymbals. The Levites led a responsive singing of praise songs, praising the Lord for his goodness and his steadfast, or covenanalt, love for Israel. They were singing from Psalm 100:5 - “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever; and his faithfulness to all generations”.

However, in the midst of this joy, there was some sorrow. Evidently this temple was going to be more modest that Solomon’s temple. Those who were old enough to have seen the first temple wept loudly when they saw that the foundations of the second temple were smaller. (12)

Sadly, their sense of nostalgia kept them from rejoicing in the great work the Lord had done and was doing. The Lord had delivered them from exile, he was re-establishing the capital city, and, most importantly, re-establishing his covenant relationship with them. They would worship him and he would bless them as he had before. 

It is easy, especially as get older, to look back and think the days of the past were better than today. We can lose our joy and deprive the Lord of the praise to which he is due. Ecclesiates 7:10 says:

 “Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

I wonder if the young Haggai was present for this event. He would not begin to prophesy for another 15 years, when construction of the temple had halted. If he were present, he would later certainly contrast the enthusiasm of this day with the apathy of his prophetic days. 


Opposition Arises

Anytime you are building, or rebuilding, something for the Lord’s work, you can expect opposition. Satan constantly seeks to thwart God’s plan and rob him of his glory.So, when the enemies of the Jews heard that they were rebuilding the temple, they acted. First, the offered to join them. They claimed to worship God as the Jews did. 

They were evidently not Jews, but Gentiles of various nations that the Assyrians had resettled there. Esarhaddon was king of Assyria. (2) His policy was to resettle conquered people into other lands in his kingdom to break down their national identity. 

They may have intermarried with Jews left behind after the fall of Jerusalem. In the New Testament, they were called Samaritans, as the capital of the norther kingdom was the city of Samaria. They practiced a form of Judaism that was corrupted by the religious practices of the countries in which they originally lived. 

But the Jewish leaders refused to let the others participate and remained determined to do it themselves. (3) They were discerning, knowing these people did not worship God as he decreed. So, the would not risk pollution of their religion in order to receive assistance. 

“Syncretism” is the incorporation of concepts or ideas from other religions into your religion. It something we must constantly watch for and resist. We are constantly bombarded with ideas and practices from other religions. 

The opposition grew when the locals realized they could not incorporate the Jews, who were  determined to stand apart. The adversaries bribed officials to make life difficult for the Jews. They were far from Persia and things could be done without the king knowing. 

So, all during the reign of Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II) to his death in 530 B.C. and into the reign of Darius, who took the throne in 522, the locals opposed the Jews. 

The time line here is difficult to follow. Although the laying of the foundations occurred during the reign of Cyrus the Great, the writer of Ezra jumps ahead to tell us the persecution continued for a long time.

When, Cyrus the Great dies, his son Cambyses II became king, but died within one year. Then Bardiya, a man who claimed to be a son of Cyrus, became king. He was assassinated within a year. These two kings are not mentioned because they were not around very long.

After Bardiya died, Darius I became king. (5)So, Cyrus became king in 559 B.C. and allowed the Jews to return home and rebuild the temple. Persecution begins within two years of their return and continues into the reign of Darius I, which began in 522 B.C. That is about 35 years of persecution.

Verse 6 then jumps further ahead to the reign of Ahasuerus, known in the Greek world as Xerxes I, son of Darius the Great, who came to the throne in 485 B.C. Ahasuerus is the king during the events of the book of Esther. The opposition is still happening when Ahasuerus\Xerxes becomes king. So, this period of resistance to the building of the temple went on for many decades. 

This passage lends weight to the picture painted by the writer of Esther that the Jews did face opposition within the Persian empire.

During Ahasuerus’ reign, the opposition gathered all of the influencial people together and wrote a letter to the king. We do not know the contents of that letter, but verse 6 tells us it was an accusation against the Jews.


The Letter

Verse 7 jumps forward again. It begins with another letter, this time to Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes\Asasuerus, who became king of Persia in 465.  

The letter informed the king that the Jews were rebuilding the city. They called it the rebellious and wicked city. They also said, if the city was rebuilt, the Jews would not pay tribute to the king and he would lose control over the province.

They cast themselves as being good citizens Since they “ate the salt”of the king, meaning they were recipients of his largesse, they were obligated to make him aware. Notably, they said the royal revenue would be impaired. (13) Artaxerxes was very concerned with income since he had a lavish court and fought several wars. Finally they urged the king to look in the record books and see for himself that the city was rebellious.


The King’s Decree

So the king read the letter and read the record books and agreed that the city engaged in rebellion and sedition. He was probably looking all the way back to the last Jewish kings who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and Babylonia.

In addition, he knew that, at some points, Israel had been powerful with great kings. He, therefore, ordered that work on the temple stop until he said it could resume. 

The enemies then took the decree and used force and intimidation to stop construction. So, the work ceased until the second year of King Darius. This was Darius II, son of Artaxerxes, who succeed him after his brother was assassinated.  

Opposition and trial are the lot of the Christian. Jesus told us we would have tribulation in the world. But he has overcome the world. Our faith in him is our victory. We move forward in faith despite opposition and believe the Lord will act to accomplish his purpose. As the old hymn says "faith is the victory the overcomes the world". 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Greatest Wonder

 The incarnation is God’s greatest wonder, one that no creature could ever have imagined. God himself could not perform a more difficult and glorious work. It has justly been called the miracle of all miracles.  Mark Jones, Knowing Christ.

Sunday, September 06, 2020



Ezra 2

Those Who Returned

Chapter 1 told us general facts about the Jews returning to Judah with the treasures of the temple Cyrus returned to them. Chapter 2 tells us specifically who returned and what positions, if any, they held. This list is repeated in Nehemiah 7. 

The leaders of the group appeared to be named first. The first named is Zerubbabel. Since his name means “son of Babylon”, he was likely born in exile. So, he is one of those who knows nothing first hand of Jerusalem or the temple. 

More importantly, though, is Zerubabbel’s heritage. He is of the line of David. 1 Chronicles 3:10-24 gives us the descendants of David, beginning with Solomon. You see Zerubabbel listed in verse 19. Also, 

going to Matthew 1, we see that Zerubabbel is an ancestor of Jesus. 

This tells us that, if the Jews had been allowed to have a king, it would have been Zerubabbel. Instead, he becomes the governor of of Judah. (Haggai 1:1) That is likely why he is listed first.

Listed second is Jeshua. Jeshua is a variant spelling of Joshua. He was descended from Aaron (the brother of Moses) the first high priest and is, therefore, entitled to be the high priest. Haggai 1:1 names him as the high priest. Haggai and Zechariah were prophets the Lord sent to the exiles to urge them to finish building the temple when the exiles had stopped the work. That is why Jeshua is named second in the list. Verses 36-39 

The rest of those listed in verse 2 and 3 are likely leaders of the Jewish community. Nehemiah in this list is not the same as the Nehemiah who will come later and finish the work of the rebuilding the city. The Mordecai in this list is not the same as the man who later would help Esther save the Jews.

There are, however, 12 leaders. There are 11 mentioned here plus Sheshbazzar, who is named at the end of chapter 1 as the one who was charged with keeping the holy articles from the temple. There were originally 12 tribes of Israel with whom God began his work to establish his kingdom. Only two are now left. But God still works through 12 representatives to restore the kingdom. He will later work through 12 disciples to a greater restoration of a greater kingdom. The number seems to represent the perfect governance and authority of God over his people. 

The next group is listed in verses 3-35. These are ordinary people of the congregation. They are laymen. But they are returning to join in the work of restoration. 

The rest of the lists through verse 58 are people connected to the service of the temple. Verses 36-39 lists the other priests, who are sons and grandsons of Jeshua. 

Next are the Levites, then the singers, the gate keepers, the temple servants, and the sons of Solomon’s servants, who were evidently temple servants with special duties. Each group was counted and the number of them recorded.

Verses 59-63 tell a sad story of men who came up from various towns and claimed to be priests. Zerubabbel, the governor, excluded them from serving because they could not prove their descent from Aaron. Some of the genealogies were probably destroyed when the city was destroyed, were lost in the journey to Babylon, or destroyed during the exile. Zerubabble sort of suspended them until a priest could consult the Urim and Thummim as to what to do with them. 

We do not know exactly what the Urim and Thummim were. Exodus 28:30 tells us the high priest was to carry them in the breast piece he wore over his ephod. They were used to receive answers from the Lord. The most common speculation is that they were stones of different colors, maybe black and white, that were thrown down and the pattern in which they landed gave the answer. It is interesting that they are mentioned here, since the Old Testament does not mention them since the time of David.  

The whole assembly was counted and found to be 42,360 Jews. They also brought their servants and some professional singers and their livestock.  

Chapter 2 shows us that very specific facts were recorded about this first wave of exodus from Persia. Names and numbers are given. These are real people living out the promise of God.

These are facts that show us the historical veracity of the accounts, that they are true. It also shows us that God preserved the line of David to bring the Messiah to Israel. He also preserved the line of the High Priest, so that worship of the Lord could be restored to the manner he had commanded it. And, finally, it showed a significant number of people willing to work and sacrifice for the restoration of the kingdom of God’s people in the land he had given them.

Ezra 3


The third chapter begins with a date. This is significant for two reasons. First, the Jews have abandoned the use of the Persian calendar for the Jewish calendar The first verse of chapter 1 is dated to the first year of the reign of King Cyrus. This chapter begins with the seventh month of the year, referring to the Jewish calendar. 

A Jew reading this, or anyone with a good knowledge of the Old Testament, would immediately understand the significance of the seventh month. That was the month the Jews celebrated the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles. In Hebrew it is called “Sukkot”. This will be the first religious service of the restored congregation.

The Feast of Booths was designed by God for the Jews to remember the wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan, when God made the people live in booths (Leviticus 23:33–43). During the time of the feast, each Israelite family was supposed to construct a booth, or sukkah, and live in it for a week (Leviticus 23:42–43). These booths were shelters made from branches of trees with thatched roofs. This was to remind them that the lived in similar shelters during the Exodus from Egypt. 

Offerings were given every day, so the altar was continually burning. It was also a week long party, with feasting and rejoicing. It was a celebration at the end of the harvest season, making time to thank God for providing for them.

So, the Jews from all their towns came to the destroyed city of Jerusalem for the festival. There was no temple, but it was the place of the temple, and God decreed that they would hold the feast in that place.

Even though there was no temple, the priest and the governor wanted the people to obey God and celebrate the Feast. Since the Feast included daily offerings, they built an altar according to the specifications God gave Moses and put it in its place, in front of the area where the temple would be rebuilt. Then they began to offer burnt offerings, observed the feasts, and made freewill offerings to the Lord. 

They actually started the offerings two weeks early, for the Feast was not officially observed until the 15th of the month. They were eager to worship, to fellowship, and to seek forgiveness of sins. In addition, the sacrifices were part of their duties to the Lord under the covenant. So, they are making a statement that they are back to keeping the covenant and obeying God’s law. They do this despite the fact that they have a fear of the people living around them that are opposed to the restoration. 

Finally, they gave. Having the altar in its place was a stark reminder that the temple was not rebuilt. So, the people gave money to workmen and to those who supply the materials to rebuilt the temple. 

These are the same things we do today to rebuild, or strengthen, a church. We worship, we fellowship, we repent, and we give.