Celebrating the Achievement – Ezra 6:14-22

Kaufmann Kohler states in the Jewish Encyclopedia that no language has as many words for “joy” and “rejoicing” as does Hebrew.  In the Old Testament, 13 Hebrew roots – found in 27 different words – are used primarily for some aspect of joy or joyful participation in religious worship.

Hebrew religious ritual demonstrates God as the source of joy.  In contrast to the rituals of other faiths of the East, Israelite worship was essentially a joyous proclamation and celebration.  The good Israelite regarded the act of thanking God as the supreme joy of his life.  Pure joy is joy in God as both its source and object.

 If Kohler is correct, imagine how difficult the exile must have been for the Jewish people.  They had no reason for joyous celebration.  They had been forced to leave their homes.  Their families had been ripped asunder.  The wealth of their nation had been plundered.  Their culture had been devastated.  The temple had been destroyed.  Jerusalem lay in ruin.  They were a people who felt cut off from both God and God’s blessings.

Thanks to a decree from King Cyrus of Persia, however, the Jewish exile came to an end (Ezra 1:2-4).  The Jews were permitted t return home under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Ezra 2). 

Joyful anticipation must have inspired every step as this first wave of Jewish exiles traveled home.  These folks were ready to party.

 Before they could celebrate, however, there was work to be done. At the top of their “to-do” list was the rebuilding of the temple.  A “together-we-build” plan was organized.  Money was raised for the restoration project.  The foundation for the temple was finally laid (Ezra 3).

 Of course, not everyone was in favor of a restored Jerusalem and rebuilt temple.  Whenever an attempt is made to build something new for the glory of God, there will always be objections – both inside and outside the community of faith.

The enemies of Judah tried to thwart the restoration project at every turn.  Their opposition lasted throughout the reigns of Cyrus II, Cambyses II and into the reign of Darius I.

 It was during the early years of Darius’ reign that Tattenai, the Persian governor of Judah, sought to bring a final resolution to this matter.  He sent a letter of inquiry to discover the exact details of the decree issued by Cyrus II permitting the reconstruction of the temple.

After an extensive search, the decree was located (Ezra 6:1-5).  King Darius then added his own support to the project, ordering that the expenses be underwritten by tax revenues collected in Tattenai’s province (vv. 6-12).  With Darius’ support, any obstacle to the building project quickly diminished.  The temple was completed in the spring of 517 B.C.E.

Without a doubt, the new temple inspired tremendous hope in the people of Judah.  The temple served as tangible proof that God was with them.  With the new structure now complete, it was time to celebrate.  “The people of Israel, the priest and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.”  (v. 16)

 The people of Judah had sinned.  They had turned their backs on God in order to worship idols.  Their social ethics had become unjust.  Their personal lifestyles had become immoral.  For the Jews, the Babylonian captivity was seen as a period of divine chastisement.

As the exile ended, however, the people discovered that God had never stopped loving them.  They may have chosen to stand outside intimacy with God, but they could not move themselves out of the heart of God.   In an act of gracious kindness, God allowed them to return to their homes and rebuild the temple.  Once again, they would be able to approach the temple confident of God’s providential care and protection.  It was this assurance that prompted their joyous celebration.

 Joyous celebration is a necessary part of any congregation’s life.  It is important that each church maintain diligence, however, so that the appropriate reason for joyous celebration will not be lost.

 We ought not celebrate our achievements – but the achievements of God.  We celebrate the joyous grace of our Triune God.  Our joy should not be prompted by the erection of a new buildings, the meeting of budgets, or the increase of butts in our pews.  Rather we celebrate God’s love and our invitation to enter into God’s presence filled with joy. As Joseph Columba Marmion once said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life within us.”

Leave a Reply