The Word Made Fresh
1In the seventh month after the people had settled in their towns, they gathered together in Jerusalem. 2Jeshua son of Jozadak and his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his relatives endeavored to build the altar of the God of Israel and to lay burnt offering on it as described in the law of Moses the man of God. 3They were worried about the neighboring peoples, so they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings to the LORD on it every morning and evening. 4They kept the festival of booths (Succoth) as it should be and sacrificed the daily burnt offerings in the number specified by the law. 5They continued with all the regular burnt offerings, those commanded for the new moon and those required at all the sacred festivals of the LORD, along with the offerings the people brought of their own free will. 6Beginning on the first day of the seventh month they began the burnt offerings to the LORD even though the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. 7They gave money to the masons and carpenters and provided food and drink and oil to the Sidonians and Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to Joppa on the sea; this had been officially permitted and paid for by Cyrus king of Persia.
8During the second year after their arrival in Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak began to rebuild the temple together with their people – the priests and Levites and others who had come to Jerusalem from their exile. They assigned the Levites who were twenty years old or more to oversee the work on the LORD’s house. 9Jeshua with his sons and relatives, along with Kadmiel and his sons Binnui and Hodaviah, plus the sons of Henadad and the Levites with their sons and relatives, took charge of the workers building the LORD’s house.
10When they had laid the foundation of the LORD’s temple, the priests in their vestments were positioned to praise the LORD with trumpets, and the Levites who were the descendants of Asaph celebrated with cymbals, all in accordance with the directions that had been given by king David of Israel. 11They all sang responding to each other with praise and thanksgiving to the LORD:
“For the LORD is good whose never failing love for Israel continues forever.”
All the people reacted with a loud shout, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD’s house was now laid.
12But many of the priests and Levites and family heads, old people who had seen the original temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this building, although many others were joyfully shouting in celebration, 13and the people couldn’t tell the difference between the sound of joy and the sound of sorrow because they cheered so loudly that the sound could be heard far away.
1-7: The returnees act quickly to restore the religious rituals in Jerusalem. The seventh month is a festival month for the Jews, beginning with the Festival of Trumpets on the first day of the month (Leviticus 23:23-25), then the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) on the 10th day (Leviticus 23:26-32), and then the Festival of Booths (Succoth) for seven days beginning on the 15th of the month (Leviticus 23:33-36). So, on the 1st day of the seventh month all the returnees gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the festivals. Jeshua the chief priest and Zerubbabel the governor build the great altar. By the 15th of the month, they are ready to observe the Festival of Booths (no mention is made of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement). Beginning with the seventh month in the year of their return they begin to observe the daily, Sabbath, and new moon offerings. They also make arrangements with the governments in Sidon and Tyre to have cedars cut and brought down the coast to Joppa so that the rebuilding of the temple can commence, and King Cyrus of Persia apparently footed the bill (see Haggai 1 for a different version of what took place).
8-9: In the second month of the second year after their return they begin to organize the work force to build the temple.
10-13: When the foundation is laid the trumpets are sounded and the Levites sing a psalm, and the people raise a great shout. However, the old ones who have lived long enough to remember the temple of Solomon respond not with cheers but with tears. Is it because they are overcome with emotion that the temple is being rebuilt, or are they weeping with bitter disappointment that the temple now being erected is nowhere near as magnificent as the one they remember? “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” (Haggai 2:3).
Not only has God nudged the heart of the pagan King Cyrus but has provided strong leadership for the people in Jeshua and Zerubbabel. Other capable leaders will arise in the ensuing chapters. When people truly seek to honor the LORD, leadership always comes forth.