Welcome back, fellow exile!
Q. Why did the leaders start by rebuilding the altar?
A. Because they were terrified of the peoples of the lands.
Sacrifices, feasts, and festivals were the order of the day. They wanted a public statement of dedication to focus their efforts on rebuilding, and one goal was their defense against the peoples of the lands.
They then paid money to the craftspeople necessary to provide supplies. Leadership became united in a single goal, and when they finished their first step, laying the foundation, they held a celebration to publicly recognize the milestone and praise G-d.
We already have the perfect sacrifice—Yeshua Hamashiach!
It should be noted that throughout this chapter, the prophet uses perfunctory language over and over again, “as it is written”, “the prescribed number of”, and “according to the directions of”. Basically, they were doing these things because they were told to do it. We’ll show you many chapters from now, near the end of our journey together that, many years later, they celebrated these same things with reckless abandon and the prophets at that time will state that it was the first time they actually celebrated these festivals. But for now, it was a good start to do these things.
Sometimes, we may feel like we are just going through the motions, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To heal from the more vitriolic mental illnesses like eating disorders, youth/parent problems, alcoholism and substance abuse, and PTSD, having and doing acts of tradition and ceremony that require us to engage with others, especially for things that are beneficial to a community, can be an important first step to a healing process. It breaks the cycle of mentally reliving our traumas over and over again, which can lock us in a black box of hopeless despair.
This is what was happening in Ezra 3. They were carrying out traditions, even if the intent of the heart wasn’t there, as a way to break the cycle of mentally reliving their traumas over and over again. Even if they were just going through the motions, there was value in going through the motions of tradition and ceremony. This is how G-d begins to cure us.
But we can’t do that from our couches watching church remotely on our TVs.
As a church body, our walls have been decimated (divided by 10), our people returning from exile likely feel defenseless, we’ve lost our sense of community, and the “peoples of the lands” today are just as hostile against the church as then. No doubt, the problem domain we face today is very similar in many ways to theirs. Our leaders need to be not only united but also have a plan with milestones—and each must be celebrated. This is a big elephant of a project, and we eat it one tiny bite at a time, celebrating each victory.
When we celebrate our first milestone, will those of us that saw our old temple before Covid exile weep as loudly as those who praise with shouts of joy at the celebration today?
Big Take-Aways from Ezra 3
8) Start at the altar, recognize G-d’s sacrifice for us to be here and so dedicated to this effort.
9) Hold festivals and feasts, making a goal of each to rebuild through outreach – inviting others.
10) Pay money, out of outreach offerings, to craftspeople to help us: messaging, materials, food, etc.
11) Pray that our leadership unites in vision and goal.
12) Ask our leadership to plan milestones and celebrations.