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God at the center

Lena Paahlsson was doing some Christmas baking with her daughters at the family’s farmhouse in central Sweden. After they finished and were cleaning up, she went to the place where she had laid her wedding ring—but it wasn’t there. They couldn’t find it anywhere although they looked everywhere. Feelings of despair and frustration set in. As far as wedding rings go, this was extra special as Lena had designed it herself. It was a thin band of white gold with seven small diamonds encircling it. 

And it was nowhere to be found.

Fast forward sixteen years. Lena is out in her garden pulling up some carrots. She pulls up one that is too small and is about to toss it on the compost pile when something catches her eye—there is something glittery around the top of the carrot. Upon closer examination she is shocked to see it is her lost wedding ring! Apparently, the ring somehow ended up in the scraps going on the compost pile. From there it was mixed into the garden and sixteen years later a carrot grew through it. (This is probably only time in history a woman has gotten excited about a one carrot ring). 

The temple is Israel's wedding ring. It is “the house of God." It was where Israel came together. It was the place where God met man. The temple spoke to Israel of these realities and more. It had been lost to them for seventy years. Now back from captivity, all that stands between them and the temple is the work of building it.

You could easily make the argument that the book of Ezra (at least the first six chapters) is structured around the temple. How important is the temple? It is even the concern of the Gentile king Cyrus as the book begins with him issuing a proclamation that Yahweh wants a temple built in Jerusalem (1:2). Cyrus' decree is what sets everything in the book in motion. Before we’re told anything about the people who are going to Jerusalem, we’re given a partial inventory of the articles “belonging to the temple” that are being returned to the temple (v. 7-11). When we do get around to the returnees, great attention is focused on those who serve at the temple: the priests, Levites, musicians, gatekeepers, temple servants as well as those who are not qualified to serve (2:61-63). We’re also told about the offering that is made for the rebuilding of the temple. We see this temple emphasis in texts like 2:70 where we're told “the priests, the Levites, the musicians, the gatekeepers and the temple servants settled in their own towns, along with some other people, and the rest of the Israelites settled in their towns.” Only those associated with the temple are specifically identified—the rest are “some other people” or “the rest of the Israelites.”

This stress continues in chapter three where the writer takes up with the building of the altar and foundation of the temple. He says nothing about their houses or communities being built and established. In chapter four there are idolatrous outsiders (identified as “enemies” in v. 1) who want to help building the temple and when refused they “set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans” (v. 4).  Later they write a letter to the king (Artaxerxes/Cambyses) and construction upon the building is halted for about a decade.

Chapter five opens with the work on the temple resuming with the support and encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah. They haven’t received official clearance from civil government but God has made it clear through Haggai they are to resume (see Haggai 1:7-8). Permission from the government (i.e., Darius) follows in chapter six and the temple is finally completed. Though it is much smaller than Solomon’s structure, it has taken 22 years to complete compared to the 7 years Solomon’s temple took.

All in all, “temple” or “house of God” occurs 54 times in the book. There was no temple in Babylon. We are to understand that Israel is not restored by returning to Jerusalem—they are restored through the rebuilding of the temple and the worship that flows from it. God is among His people and in the center of their life as He was before. And like Lena Paahlsson, there was much rejoicing when what was lost to them was restored (6:16, 22). 


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