Disappointing Fulfillment


Disappointing Fulfillment


Disappointing Fulfillment

Ezra 3

Main Idea: The safest place you can be is in obedient worship. Sin will rob you of joy and endanger your survival.

  1. The Altar and the Festival of Booths (3:1-6)
  2. The Foundation of the Temple (3:7-11)
  3. Mingled Joy and Weeping (3:12-13)


Second Chronicles 14:8-13 reads as follows:

Asa had an army of 300, 000 from Judah bearing large shields and spears, and 280, 000 from Benjamin bearing regular shields and drawing the bow. All these were brave warriors. Then Zerah the Cushite came against them with an army of one million men and 300 chariots. They came as far as Mareshah. So Asa marched out against him and lined up in battle formation in the Valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.

Then Asa cried out to the Lord his God: “Lord, there is no one besides You to help the mighty and those without strength. Help us, Lord our God, for we depend on You, and in Your name we have come against this large army. Yahweh, You are our God. Do not let a mere mortal hinder You.”

So the Lord routed the Cushites before Asa and before Judah, and the Cushites fled. Then Asa and the people who were with him pursued them as far as Gerar. The Cushites fell until they had no survivors, for they were crushed before Yahweh and His army. So the people of Judah carried off a great supply of loot.

Asa had an army of 580, 000. Zerah the Cushite had an army of one million, and he had 300 chariots. How did Asa prevail? Second Chronicles 14:12 says that the Lord, Yahweh, defeated the Cushites.



Do you want a guarantee of safety? Do you want to be absolutely certain that you and those you love will be safe? I’m talking about unassailable assurance. Do you want to hear sirens in the night and feel secure? Do you want to be awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call and have a rock of refuge for any calamity that could come upon you?


God put Israel in the land of Canaan so they could fill the earth with His glory. Instead they defiled the land He gave to them. So just as God had promised through Moses (Deut 4:25-31), He drove them into exile. Just as Moses promised, they sought God in exile. The 70 years Jeremiah prophesied for Babylon passed (e.g., Jer 25:11-12), and God stirred the spirit of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1), just as Isaiah had prophesied He would (Isa 44:28-45:1). Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets had pointed forward to a new exodus after exile. Ezra is narrating the first installment of that new exodus here in Ezra 1-6, and we will see yet another installment of that new exodus in Ezra 7-10.

Just as God hardened Pharaoh’s heart at the first exodus, He stirred the spirit of Cyrus in Ezra 1. Just as Israel plundered Egypt at the first exodus, they plundered Babylon in Ezra 1. Just as Jeremiah prophesied that the temple vessels would be restored (Jer 27:21-22), Cyrus gave them back in Ezra 1. Just as Israel was numbered and arranged for their march on Canaan in the book of Numbers, so the people were numbered and marched on Canaan in Ezra 2.

Once in the land, Israel celebrated the Festival of Booths to commemorate the way God had provided for them in the wilderness. We will see them celebrate that festival here in Ezra 3, as they build the altar and begin to rebuild the temple.

The Altar And The Festival Of Booths

Ezra 3:1-6

We read in Ezra 3:1, “By the seventh month, the Israelites had settled in their towns, and the people gathered together in Jerusalem.” The seventh month was perhaps the most sacred on Israel’s calendar (Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, 22; Blenkinsopp, Ezra-Nehemiah). The first day of the seventh month was a day of solemn rest proclaimed with a 19blast of trumpets (Lev 23:23-25). The tenth day of the seventh month was the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29; 23:26-32). The fifteenth day of the seventh month began the week-long Festival of Booths (Lev 23:33-43).

Pause for a moment and imagine what would be entailed in what we read here in Ezra 3:1. Ezra 3:8 took place “In the second month of the second year after they arrived at God’s house in Jerusalem.” So this reference to the “seventh month” in 3:1 would seem to be taking place in the first year of the return to the land. These returnees left their homes to return to Judea, and within the year they begin to obey Deuteronomy 16:16: “All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths.”

Let’s be clear: when they “gathered together in Jerusalem,” they didn’t leave the alarms on in their homes. Any neighbors who stayed behind couldn’t be trusted because they were supposed to be in Jerusalem themselves. If they aren’t going to obey Yahweh and go up to Jerusalem, how can you trust them to obey Yahweh and not steal? The pilgrims couldn’t notify the local police that they would be away so the patrol cars could circle through every so often. When they went up to Jerusalem, their newly re-established homesteads in the towns and cities of their ancestors would be vacant and vulnerable.

Why did they leave?

To obey God.

Better to obey God and worship Him than to do what you think is safe. Better to obey God and worship Him than to do what makes sense in the eyes of the world—like stay home and guard your stuff.

So when they get to Jerusalem, what do you think they are going to do? Form an army? Take up a collection to hire guards? Look at Ezra 3:2-3 (my trans.):

And Jeshua son of Jozadak arose, along with his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, along with his brothers, and they built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it, according to what is written in the Torah of Moses, the man of God. And they established the altar on its site because fear was upon them from the peoples of the lands.

Some translations render that last phrase, “even though they feared the surrounding peoples” (e.g., HCSB, cf. NKJV), as though they are building in spite of their fear. The way I have rendered the text better20 captures the meaning of the original text (cf. ESV, NASB). That is, they are not acting in spite of their fear but because of their fear. They seek Yahweh in worship because they fear the peoples around them.

These people know where safety originates. Safety is not found in numbers. Safety is not found in might. And safety is certainly not available from the idols people worship: money, sex, power; these idols and what the idols are supposed to provide really haven’t changed much over the years. Safety is found not in them but in obeying the commands of the one true and living God. Safety is found in worshiping the one true and living God.

So these people leave their homes vacant and vulnerable, then the priests build the altar, and they did this “according to what is written in the Torah of Moses, the man of God.” Instructions for the altar were given in Exodus 27:1-2. Ezra obviously thinks the Torah came from Moses, and he presents Moses as one who represented God. This statement about the Torah is not that different from the statement about Jeremiah the prophet in Ezra 1:1. So the book of Ezra, which is part of the Writings in the Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament books, is affirming that the Law and the Prophets are the Word of God.

Now look at why they built the altar: because they were afraid of their threatening neighbors. Then look at what they do: they start offering sacrifices on that altar.

Why are they acting this way? Why aren’t they trying to protect themselves and their homes and their wives and their children?

They are!

These returnees have had their spirits stirred by God (Ezra 1:5). They seem to have learned from Israel’s history. All the attempts to rely on the arm of the flesh—on help from Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon—got the temple burned down. All that reliance on man rather than God got them driven off their land into exile in Babylon. These returning exiles have learned what they can and cannot trust. They can trust God; they cannot trust man.

Do you know how this applies to you? There is only One who can protect you, and that is not the commander in chief of this nation. There is only one who can guarantee your safety. There is One who can ensure your well-being. There is one living and true God. There is none besides Him. And if you die in His service your blood will be well spent. You will be away from the body and at home with the Lord, and on the last day your body will be raised and you will reign with Him.

21Is this the way you respond to intimidating neighbors, dangerous situations, and the spiritually devastating poison the culture offers as pleasure? We must be those who respond to danger, intimidation, and temptation by worshiping God. When you respond to danger by worshiping, you not only declare, you celebrate God’s power to protect you. When you respond to intimidation by worshiping God, you brandish God’s truth, which overcomes the lies and insinuations of the enemy. When you respond to temptation by worshiping, you relish the satisfaction that only God gives, of which temptation is but a cheap imitation.

So the exiles have come back to the land, and the first thing Ezra portrays them doing is rebuilding the altar. This has a significant precedent. As soon as God made promises to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, verse 7 states, “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘I will give this land to your offspring.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.” These people are seed of Abraham, heirs of the promises made to him, and they follow in the footsteps of their patriarch. They connect themselves to Abraham and the promises made to Abraham by building an altar just as he did. This, too, is “written in the law of Moses” (Ezra 3:2).

The end of Ezra 3:3 tells us about the resumption of the daily morning and evening sacrifice, and verse 4 tells us that the people renewed the celebration of the festivals. This is not just about obeying Scripture but about fulfilling prophecy. They have experienced the new exodus. The king’s spirit has been stirred. The Babylonians have been plundered. The returnees have been numbered just as the census was taken in Numbers. And since the first exodus, Israel has been celebrating the Festival of Booths to commemorate the way that God provided for them in the wilderness on their way to the land. Now that the second exodus has begun, when they celebrate the Festival of Booths again they are entering into God’s faithfulness in history. They are celebrating not only God’s provision and protection in the sojourn to the land after the first exodus but also in the one they have just experienced.

These festivals were powerful worldview builders in ancient Israel. Your worldview consists of dogma, what is taught; narrative, the story you believe about the world; symbol, memorials that celebrate the truths of your dogma in the sweep of the narrative in which they make sense; and liturgy, the use of your dogma, narrative, and symbols in worship.

In this case, the narrative of God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness became the dogma that was symbolically reenacted every year at 22the Festival of Booths. All of this was built into their liturgy, or order of worship. Mixing all these ingredients together and putting them on the stove to simmer year after year produced a powerful concoction: a biblical worldview. Not only did the reenactment of the wilderness sojourn every year at the Festival of Booths shape their worldview, it made the story their own. Descendants of those who were sustained through the wilderness entered into the experience of their forefathers every year at the festivals, reinforcing the truths Israel learned from the way Yahweh delivered them from Egypt and planted them in their own land.

The pattern of God’s deliverance and sustenance was rehearsed every year at Passover and Booths. The way that God had delivered and sustained Israel was firmly impressed on their minds. This impressed pattern became the type of thing that Israel expected God to do for them in the future. God’s deliverance and sustenance of His people shaped the way that God’s people understood Him typically to act because it was so deeply impressed on their minds through the yearly rehearsal of God’s mighty acts of deliverance and provision at Passover and Booths.

These annual rehearsals seeded the vegetable gardens of the imaginations of the prophets, and the prophets used the yield to prepare the stew of typological expectation they served to Israel. What I mean is this: the prophets promised exile from the land, followed by a new exodus and a return from exile. They prophesied that God would act in the future according to the pattern of His actions in the past. God’s way of acting at the exodus, the wilderness sojourn, on through the conquest of the land, was understood to be the way that God typically acts on behalf of His people. So the prophets were inspired to understand this, and by the Spirit, on the basis of the way God had acted in the past, they prophesied that the way God had typically acted in the past would be fulfilled in the future.

Thus, when we combine the way the festivals functioned in Israel’s life with the prophets’ promises of an exile from the land, a new exodus, and a new conquest, we begin to sense the meaning of the renewed celebration of the Festival of Booths after the new exodus from Babylon. As the returnees celebrated the Festival of Booths, they were not merely celebrating the way that God sustained their fathers through the wilderness, and they were not merely entering into the experience of their fathers. In addition to these things, they were now celebrating their own re-living of the exodus and their own experience of God sustaining them through the sojourn to the land of promise.

23What shapes your worldview? What forms the deeply impressed pattern that builds what you see as typically happening? Where do you get your dogma, your narrative, your symbol, and your liturgy? What we pastors are doing when we preach the Bible is trying to give you dogma and narrative. We have two primary symbolic re-enactments of our dogma and narrative in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and we are trying to bring all these things together in our liturgy, as we worship together (reading the Bible, praying the Bible, singing the Bible, preaching the Bible, and seeing the Bible in baptism and the Lord’s Supper). We are trying to build biblical worldviews.

So the festivals and sacrifices are renewed in Ezra 3:4, and it says that they kept the festival as prescribed and they offered the sacrifices by ordinance. They are following the law of Moses. Ezra 3:5 summarizes the resumption of worship according to Torah.

Verse 6 makes two more comments about the renewal of Israel’s worship: “On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, even though the foundation of the Lord’s temple had not yet been laid.” The first day of the seventh month is the day of the Festival of Trumpets, to which the first statement gives a nod. The second statement, that the foundation of the temple has not been laid, explains why there is no mention of a celebration of the Day of Atonement on the tenth of the seventh month. The Day of Atonement was to “purify the most holy place” (Lev 16:16, 20, 27), and there is not yet a most holy place to be purified.

In Ezra 3:1-6 we see the returned community in fear of the inhabitants of the land. Their response is not to cry out to Cyrus, king of Persia. They do not seek alliance with Egypt. Nor do they appeal for help from false gods. They seek help from the only place it can be found: from the Lord. They begin to worship, and they worship according to the law of Moses.

The Foundation Of The Temple

Ezra 3:7-11

Ezra 3:7 should sound familiar:

They gave money to the stonecutters and artisans, and gave food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre, so they could bring cedar wood from Lebanon to Joppa by sea, according to the authorization given them by King Cyrus of Persia.

24Ezra has structured this statement deliberately so that it calls to mind the narratives related to the building of the first temple in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles. In 1 Kings 5, Solomon made arrangements with Hiram king of Tyre. In 1 Kings 5:6-9 we read of how Hiram’s servants would take the cedars from Lebanon to the sea, and then 2 Chronicles 2:16 adds that they rafted them down to Joppa. In exchange, Solomon provided food for Hiram’s household, and 1 Kings 5:11 details the wheat and oil that Solomon gave to Hiram. Ezra 3:7 deliberately and intentionally likens what the returnees did to what Solomon had done.

Verse 8 says that this took place “In the second month of the second year after they arrived at God’s house in Jerusalem.” Solomon had begun to build the temple in the second month (1 Kgs 6:1; 2 Chr 3:1-2). So it would seem that just as the returnees are reenacting the experience of their fathers at the Festival of Booths, they are in a sense reenacting the deeds of Abraham in the construction of the altar and the deeds of Solomon in the foundation of the temple.

Whose deeds are you reenacting? Paul has called us to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Cor 11:1). If we have our worldview shaped by the Bible, if we begin to expect God to act the way He typically acts in the Bible, it will be easy for us to heed Paul’s charge in Philippians 4:4-8:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.

By calling us to rejoice, Paul is essentially urging us to respond the way the exiles responded to their fear in Ezra 3:3—by worshiping God.

Ezra 3:8-9 continues,

Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Jeshua son of Jozadak, and the rest of their brothers, including the priests, the Levites, and all who had returned to Jerusalem from the captivity, began to build. They appointed the Levites who were 20 years old or more to supervise the work on the Lord’s 25house. Jeshua with his sons and brothers, Kadmiel with his sons, and the sons of Judah and of Henadad, with their sons and brothers, the Levites, joined together to supervise those working on the house of God.

So they are going to build the temple, and they appoint Levites to supervise the work on the temple, and then Ezra tells us the names of the Levites who supervised the work on the temple. These references to supervising the building of the temple use a Hebrew word (natstseyach) that is from the same root in the same stem as the word in many of the Psalm superscriptions that refer to “the choir director” (menatstseyach). In the next verse we read,

When the builders had laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests, dressed in their robes and holding trumpets, and the Levites descended from Asaph, holding cymbals, took their positions to praise the Lord, as King David of Israel had instructed.

Let me summarize: in Ezra 3:8-10 we see the Levites supervising the building of the temple and leading musical worship when they lay the foundation, and they lead the worship “as King David of Israel had instructed.” I think this indicates that the word translated “choir director” in the Psalm superscriptions has to do with leadership in more than just music. It has to do with leadership in the restored community, leadership in the rebuilding of the temple and in the worship rendered to God. It might find its fulfillment in the One who will be the true temple builder, the true worship leader, the One who fulfills all that David and the Levites pointed forward to.

We read in 1 Chronicles 6:31 of David putting men in charge of the service of song at the temple. We read in 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 (cf. 1 Chr 25:1-2) of David appointing the Levites to minister before the ark “to celebrate the Lord God of Israel, and to give thanks and praise to Him.” He appointed Asaph to sound the cymbals and the priests to blow the trumpets, just as Ezra describes in Ezra 3:10. There in 1 Chronicles 16:34-35 David instructed the priests and Levites to sing,

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations26 so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise.”

Now in Ezra 3:11, with the people saved at the new exodus and gathered from the nations, Ezra tells us,

They sang with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord: “For He is good; His faithful love to Israel endures forever.” Then all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid.

They affirm that God’s love endures forever because God has been faithful to them in the distant past and in the recent past, and they trust Him to continue to be faithful in the future.

The message of the New Testament enables us to join with this ancient community of returned exiles who praise God for the typological installments of His great acts of redemption. All those Old Testament patterns were fulfilled in the way that Jesus lived and died. God accomplished salvation in Jesus in a way that fulfilled the festivals of Israel, fulfilled the Levitical system of sacrifice, and fulfilled the ministry of the temple (see Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment). Jesus has fulfilled the exodus in His death, and His resurrection inaugurates the return from exile. Christians are those who have been delivered from bondage to sin and death by the death of Christ, whom Paul calls our Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7).

If this is not the narrative—the teaching—that shapes your view of the world, we call you to embrace this story of the world. It is the true one. Jesus is the only Savior. Those who trust in Him participate in the symbols He gave. They are baptized, and they partake of the Lord’s Supper. If you are not a Christian, we call you to believe the true story of the world. We summon you to join us in worshiping the only One worthy by trusting in Christ through the power of the Spirit for the glory of the Father.

If you are a Christian, Ezra 3:11 is singing your song. The One who has fulfilled the Old Testament is the cornerstone of the new temple, and His apostles are its foundation. We are the living stones of this spiritual house, indwelt by the very Spirit of God (see Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence). Our lives are about worship, and we worship by obeying. The safest place to be is obediently worshiping God.

Mingled Joy And Weeping


Ezra 3:12-13

In the midst of all this fulfillment, we encounter unexpected disappointment: “But many of the older priests, Levites, and family leaders, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this house” (3:12). This is a letdown isn’t it? Why are they weeping? Because from the foundation it was probably obvious that this temple would not be what Solomon’s was. There are other reasons, too: There has been no mention of the ark of the covenant in this passage. That probably means it is gone. We saw in Ezra 2 that the people number fewer than 50, 000, whereas they came out of Egypt with more than 600, 000 men (Num 1:46). They have been left few in number after the exile, just as God promised through Moses (Deut 4:27). They have been decimated.

Why have they been left so pitifully reduced? Because of sin. They had sinned against God. They had broken the covenant. He visited the curses of the covenant upon them.

This mention of the weeping at the foundation of the temple shows us that while the people have been restored to the land, they can tell that all the glorious end-time promises the prophets made are not coming to pass. The desert isn’t blooming. The Messiah isn’t reigning. Jerusalem isn’t being exalted. There is a sense, here, in which they are already seeing prophecies fulfilled, but not yet seeing all of them realized. This points the reader of Ezra forward, doesn’t it? This tells the reader of Ezra to keep watching because greater fulfillments are coming. The New Testament Gospels tell us about those greater fulfillments, and John’s Revelation tells us about how all things will be consummated.


Let’s not fail to learn from the weeping at the foundation of the temple. Sin will endanger you. Sin will ruin your life. Sin will steal your joy. Sin will make it so that even if God restores you, until He wipes away every tear you will feel sin’s remorseful consequences. Sin will make it so that though you worship you will weep. Hate sin.

Do you want fullness of joy? Flee temptation. Do you want unmixed gladness? Resist the Devil. Do you want to know how to overcome sin in your life? Worship. Find satisfaction in God. The powerful enjoyments 28God makes available in this world are to lead us to Him, the One who can create such pleasures.

There is a beautiful picture of this in Starr Meade’s book, Keeping Holiday (pp. 132-33). As Dylan and Claire pursue their journey, they want to get authorized so that they can keep Holiday. Along the way, however, they hear such marvelous things about the Founder of Holiday (Jesus) that Dylan begins to care less and less about Holiday and more and more about the Founder. At one point, they have been on an exhausting hike and they are tired and hungry. They come into a chapel, and there awaits them the most enticing bread. Dylan sees that the bread is warm, fresh out of the oven, and rather than satisfy his hunger for food, he rushes out, hoping to satisfy his desire to meet the Founder, to catch a glimpse of the Founder who has provided this bread. Hungry and tired as he is, he wants to be face to face with the Founder more than he wants to eat. That’s what knowing God is like.

That desire to know God, to be in His presence, to walk with Him all our days—that is the desire that will enable us to overcome sin. The safest place in the world to be is in the obedient worship of God because to worship God in obedience to His Word is to be in His presence. To be in the presence of God brings the feelings that result in the joyful shout that will be heard far away (Ezra 3:13).

Reflect and Discuss

  1. In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat put the Levites and singers in the front of the army as they went out to battle (v. 21). In what ways can you find your safety and protection in worship?
  2. The Israelites left their homes unprotected to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals. In what ways would pursuing the worship of God today seem to leave God’s people vulnerable in the eyes of the world?
  3. Israel’s festivals celebrated the way that God saved them and brought them to the land of promise. What ways did Jesus give the church to celebrate the deliverance He has accomplished for us?
  4. What festival was Jesus celebrating when He instituted the Lord’s Supper? How were the two related?
  5. In what ways does baptism celebrate redemption in Christ?
  6. The festivals were given to Israel to shape their understanding of the world. How does Christ’s redemption, and the celebration thereof in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, shape your understanding of the world?
  7. 29In Ezra 3:11 the returnees praise the Lord “For He is good.” How has the Lord been good to you?
  8. The returnees continue in Ezra 3:11, saying that the Lord’s faithful love endures forever. What evidence have you seen of this in your life?
  9. Some of the Israelites wept when the foundation of the temple was laid. Can you relate to that on the basis of your experience with the church? How would the Lord have you respond to disappointing fulfillments?
  10. In the conclusion of this section there’s a story about a boy who, hungry and tired as he is, wants to find God in Christ more than he wants fresh, warm bread. Can you relate to that? What things distract you from desiring God above all?