By Edna Thompson
Siloam Youth Sunday School Teacher
Once again worship with both song and sacrifice was practiced by the people of Israel after their return to the Promised Land. Ezra tells us the event – he describes the opposition faced by the Jews as they worked to rebuild the temple. Chapters 5 and 6 record their eventual success. Our lesson, taken from Ezra 6, highlights the dedication of the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
Last week, we reviewed the beginning of the rebuilding of the Temple. This week’s lesson brings us to the climactic moment when the Temple was completed, some 20 years later. As soon as the foundation of the new Temple was laid, trouble arose. The people already living in the land approached the returning exiles, offering to assist with the Temple. This was not a friendly offer. The author of Ezra describes them as “adversaries of Judah and Benjamin, indicating that their offer of assistance was not genuine. The initial exchange between the returning exiles and their adversaries set in motion a chain of events, narrated in Ezra 4:4 – 6:12, that halted work on the Temple for almost two decades. The work on the Temple was halted “throughout the reign of King Cyrus of Persia and until the reign of King Darius of Persia.”
The lesson this week picks up as all of the delays and opposition have been cleared away and the Temple has been completed. Everyone rejoiced at the dedication time: the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles. There were no tears shed this time (as in 3:12), only joy. One hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs were offered as sacrifices at the dedication. Also twelve goats were sacrificed as sin offerings for the twelve tribes of Israel. The sacrifices were eaten by the Israelites who had returned and by the neighboring people who had given up the sinful customs of other nations in order to worship the God of Israel. For seven days they celebrated the Festival of Thin Bread. This was the first time in almost four centuries, since the division of the nation under Rehoboam and Jeroboam that all Israel had been able to worship together in one temple.
Worship is the grateful response of the people of God to His mighty acts of deliverance on their behalf. Worship is so central in Ezra – Nehemiah because their writings define who the returning exiles were and what they were called to be. Even when we cannot see the cosmic significance of worship – God is at work in us in worship to transform us, to renew our identity as His people, and to deliver us from bondage to the rebellious powers of this world.
Ezra carefully pointed out that rebuilding the Temple was commanded first by God and then by the kings, who were His instruments. God’s will is supreme over all rulers, all historical events and all hostile forces. If we trust in His power and love, dedicating all to Him, no opposition can top us, and there would be an abundance of joy in doing it.