68When the people came to where the Lord's temple had been in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders gave gifts so it could be rebuilt in the same place. 69They gave all they could, and it came to a total of 500 kilograms of gold, 500 kilograms of silver, and 100 robes for the priests.
70 Everyone returned to the towns from which their families had come, including the priests, the Levites, the musicians, the temple guards, and the workers.
The First Offering
1During the seventh month of the year, the Israelites who had settled in their towns went to Jerusalem. 2 The priest Joshua son of Jozadak, together with the other priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his relatives rebuilt the altar of Israel's God. Then they were able to offer sacrifices there by following the instructions God had given to Moses, the man of God. 3 And they built the altar where it had stood before, even though they were afraid of the people who were already living around there. Then every morning and evening they burned sacrifices and offerings to the Lord.
4 The people followed the rules for celebrating the Festival of Shelters and offered the proper sacrifices each day. 5 They offered sacrifices to please the Lord, sacrifices at each New Moon Festival, and sacrifices at the rest of the Lord's festivals. Every offering the people had brought voluntarily was also presented to the Lord.
6Although work on the temple itself had not yet begun, the people started offering sacrifices on the Lord's altar on the first day of the seventh month of that year.
7King Cyrus of Persia had said the Israelites could have cedar trees brought from Lebanon to Joppa by sea. So they sent grain, wine, and olive oil to the cities of Tyre and Sidon as payment for these trees, and they gave money to the stoneworkers and carpenters.
8During the second month of the second year after the people had returned from Babylonia, they started rebuilding the Lord's temple. Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the priests, the Levites, and everyone else who had returned started working. Every Levite over 20 years of age was put in charge of some part of the work. 9The Levites in charge of the whole project were Joshua and his sons and relatives and Kadmiel and his sons from the family of Hodaviah. The family of Henadad worked along with them.
10 When the builders had finished laying the foundation of the temple, the priests put on their robes and blew trumpets in honor of the Lord, while the Levites from the family of Asaph praised God with cymbals. All of them followed the instructions given years before by King David. 11 They praised the Lord and gave thanks as they took turns singing:
“The Lord is good!
His faithful love for Israel
will last forever.”
Everyone started shouting and praising the Lord because work on the foundation of the temple had begun. 12 Many of the older priests and Levites and the heads of families wept bitterly because they remembered seeing the first temple years before. But others were so happy that they celebrated with joyful shouts. 13Their shouting and crying were so noisy that it all sounded alike and could be heard a long way off.
Why is it so difficult to get our priorities straight? No matter how important or imminent the exam was I still had to tidy my room to a state of perfection before I would begin studying. No matter how crucial a deadline is at work I still find myself using up my time on emails and easily achieved tasks. Even as I sit down to write this reflection I’m hours behind as once again I have my priorities wrong for today!
I’ve always admired those who are very disciplined (you know, the opposite of me) and those who always find time for what matters, like praying before any endeavor or in the midst of extreme pressure and busyness, finding the time each day to spend time in God’s Word. Getting your priorities straight is one of life’s great secrets.
Our reading today tells of the first wave of exile returnees from Babylon to Jerusalem. They have settled in their towns and have given generously to the rebuilding of the temple (2:68-69). Brilliant – getting their priorities right.
I bet they couldn’t wait to get started. The temple was so important to them, to their identity and their connection to God. I could just see them getting stuck in, getting real busy, almost overworking with excitement. But no, they get their priorities straight. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel (3:2) they rebuilt the altar first. This could have been left to after the temple was built, but it’s a sign of a new spiritual beginning for these reassembled people.
They had been exiled due to their relentless idolatry amongst other things, but they have changed. Their priority now was to get right with God, follow God’s way (3:4), and what I really find compelling about this account is that all this was done against opposition (3:3).
And when they do get going and build the foundations of the temple they stop to celebrate. With shouting and tears they praise and sing “The Lord is good! His faithful love for Israel will last forever” (3:11).
Lord, help me to prioritize my life for you. Help me to stop in the busyness, pray in the midst of the pressure, and meditate in times of trouble. May my praise of your faithfulness never leave my lips. Amen.