RE-01 Restart, part 2

Ezra 3

Christians have a tendency to overlook the value of the Old Testament because we assume we don’t need to understand it. We live on this side of the incarnation. “This side of the cross.” Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. There’s not much we can learn from an ancient faith steeped in a sacrificial system we no longer need.

RE-starting in Ezra 3 is all about understanding the book of Leviticus! The passage at hand begs the question – “If remaking the altar was how Joshua and Zerubbabel began again, what happened at that altar, day after day, year after year?” Let’s take a look at some of the details. What message might Ezra have for you and me today? I’ll summarize some of the background information as we go but feel free to download the following resource:

Marking a Manuscript?

Do you know how to mark-up a manuscript? In my last post you’ll find a link for downloading your own clean copy of Ezra chapter 3. In this post I’ll show you mine, which is marked up all over (I mark things up electronically using the Noteability app). I’ve broken the chapter into three paragraphs and titled those sections. Ezra 3 is packed with references to the Jewish worship calendar and the daily priestly duties at the altar (see the background information for helpful details). Bear in mind that in 536 B.C. there was no temple. Only the footprint. It would be a little like showing up at your church on Sunday, but with no walls, no atrium and no fellowship hall. Just the foundations shorn to the ground. No roof, no pews (or padded designer theatre seats) no sound system, lights or smoke machines! Just a small scrap of platform where the stage used to be and maybe a charred table where the communion elements might have sat. Joshua restarts everything by remaking only the altar and restarting their worship calendar!

The Altar First (vv 1-6)

1) Who are the principle leaders – why are they leading the efforts to Re-start (see background information)?

2) Ordinarily, celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles would happen at a fully functioning temple and would require a lot of equipment and formality. Joshua is pulling this off with nothing but the altar in place (compare this to the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated when Solomon first built and dedicated the temple cf. 1 Kings 8). Why go ahead with the celebration without a temple?

3) The seventh month seems like an odd time to restart your worship calendar. The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated Israel’s wilderness experience following the Exodus. They lived in tents and ate the food Yahweh provided (manna and quail). They knew Yahweh was with them because he too dwelt with them in the tabernacle those 40 years. Why might this timing make sense to a people returning to their homeland from a 70 year exile?

4) The exiles’ Re-start was further complicated by the presence of people who didn’t welcome their return. Have you ever noticed how starting and re-starting things can bring a cascade of unforeseen challenges? How do you cope with resistance and set-backs when life already feels halting and fragile?

The Temple Next (vv 7-9)

5) What is the rationale for restarting the sacrificial functions at the altar seven months before starting to rebuild the temple? Why would the altar seem a more important starting point than the temple (which created structure for the sacrificial system)?

6) There are two streams of leadership and supervision – the civic office of Zerubbabel (royal descendant here functioning as a governor) and the priestly structure of Joshua and the rest of the Levites. How do these reflect the varying needs of a people restarting their homeland identity?

Mixed Reviews (vv 10-13)

7) The dedication of the temple’s reconstruction is an incredible occasion! The younger generation who had been born just before or any time since the temple’s destruction, knew nothing of Solomon’s temple except what they’d been told about it growing up. It seems they easily affirmed God’s goodness and love toward Israel (v 13). What might they be thinking and feeling during this special celebration? What would fill them with joy and hope?

8) The older generation – especially the priests and Levites were not thinking about the future. They were still lamenting the past. Was this appropriate? Why or why not?

Twenty years further into the future,

Israel was just about to complete the rebuilding of the temple in 516 B.C. What many suspected when the foundations were laid came true in their view of the remade temple. “This is just not what it once was.” The prophet Haggai has a firm but gracious word for God’s people:

(Hag 2:1-9 NIV) 1 On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: 2 “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them,3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ 6 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory, ‘ says the LORD Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ‘ declares the LORD Almighty.”

Personal Application

I believe Ezra 3 shows us at least two challenges these Exiles have for you and me today. I’ve labeled them and written a few process questions you can select from to journal about or discuss with your small group.

The Tension between Lament and Remaking.

1-Think of an area of your life, the life of the Church, or our culture that is in decline, disrepair or abandonment. As you wrestle with exactly what is broken and account for what has been lost, what is your posture toward God and your future? Are you plagued by fears? Depressed? Stuck in lament only? Lament is appropriate when loss must be faced. It’s a disservice to what was valued to not mourn. But lament cannot be your only approach. Share with your group one place of renewal you long for. What is your posture toward it currently?

2- Is there an area of growth, improvement or reform that you feel energized by the Holy Spirit to work towards? Perhaps you’re like the younger generation coming out of exile who didn’t know what the former glory was like. Your posture is more open to the future. You are eager to do the work. Share with the group one way you are experiencing growth and blessing in spite of the brokenness around you. How is your creativity being tapped into? What gifts and skills can the Holy Spirit evoke in you as you move forward? What are your hopes focused on and how can you talk about them with others?

The Tension between the Altar and the Sanctuary.

1- Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire Old Covenant sacrificial system. He came as the incarnate Word. He was our great high priest as well as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It’s tempting to say we just don’t need to understand the temple and the altar. But Jewish believers knew what the altar meant (see the article on altar on the last pages of the resource document). It was the place where God would accept sacrifice for sin. It was the place where first-fruits of each year’s harvest would be offered to God. It was were the morning and evening sacrifices were given for the sin of the people. How do you understand the idea of Altar today in your relationship with Jesus? Of course Jesus died for our sins. But you, personally and daily, how do you account for that? Do you have a place and a space where you regularly meet Jesus and abide in him (John 15)? Share with your group or process in your journal. When you look at the altar of your spiritual life, is it in good working order? Are you meeting God and bringing your sin to him in confession? What are your “thank offerings” like? What do you give God in the time you set apart to be with him?

2- What kind of communal worship life do you have with other believers? If the altar is a representation of your personal worship what does sanctuary with others look like? Your church building might not be lying in ruins, but is it a healthy place to worship God? What are the weekly, monthly and yearly rhythms like – do they rival the rich spiritual and tangible corporate life of our Old Testament forebears? Without bashing, how do you feel about the corporate worship and witness of your church? What impact of salt and light does your church or fellowship make on others? How is your church handling our culture’s current crisis of reconciliation and justice? What fears or attitudes might be holding you back? Are you freely lending your gifts and resources to the body of Christ?

So that was RE-start 01 and 02. The exiles show us the way forward from painful devastation. Their powerful starting point focused on the very heart of their worship life with Yahweh. Remake the altar first – that’s the place where sinners bring their lives and their gifts to a God of grace who delights to meet them there.

We’ll post another RE- moment next week. Blessings and Peace.


Things break. Things wear out. They get old and stop working. They get damaged and have to be fixed or replaced.

Over the weekend a ferocious wind storm molested our city. 90 mile per hour winds. Three days later parts of our city are still without electricity. Cheryl and I walked through our park last night. Entire trees were toppled or snapped off at the base like a #2 pencil. On my way to church I passed at least three homes with huge trees puncturing their roofs – even a brick home with a crushed exterior wall!

Where do you begin to remake things? Do you fix it? Do you throw it out and start all over? Can you do anything with it all? Depending on the scope of damage, you just stand staring with your mouth open till you can wrap your mind around it all.

Welcome to RE-
It’s a new thing here on PBR. In the weeks ahead RE- will become an entire series of blog-post bible studies exploring what happens when things break down and have to be RE-made. If there’s one thing I hope RE- shows us it’s this: God is a relentless creator. He cringes when his stuff gets trashed and can bring as much power and ingenuity to re-making as he did to creating in the first place. And we’re the ones who benefit the most. We can’t forget that we are one of the biggest reasons RE- has to happen at all! Humanity is a sort of natural disaster, let’s be honest. At 90 miles per hour we can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time without even knowing it!

In each of these studies, we’ll look at God doing a work of RE-. God remakes, restarts, renews, replaces, revives, regroups, redirects. He never gets his thing out-trashed by us or Satan. He is stubbornly resourceful. Hopefully we’ll see why God is this way and appreciate anew his patience and wisdom. Maybe we’ll see something of ourselves in these studies. Humanity has it seems an endless proclivity to wreck things. We damage things a lot, but God renews his grace, invites us into his remaking and refuses to abandon us.

Ezra 3

So where do you begin remaking something that’s been totally trashed? In scripture there are countless RE- moments. RE-01 is a classic – but maybe not the one you’d think of first. I’ll try to keep RE- fresh for readers. It would be easy peasy to lunge for something like The Flood – everything gets flushed and God starts over with Noah. Let’s start somewhere else.

Israel: a broken nation.
Almost everyone instantly knows who it was that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem once God called his people out of exile. Nehemiah, humanly speaking, was the project manager for revitalizing the city in the midst of haters and trashers who scorned Israel’s rebirth.

Restart before Rebuild.
Sixty-ish years before Nehemiah arrived on the scene a much more humble (and more foundational) initiative was started by Joshua and Zerubbabel. Not the famous Joshua, BTW. Almost no one gives these two the seat they deserve at the table of salvation history. Their passion was the soil Nehemiah’s vision would grow out of. But they weren’t rebuilders. They didn’t care about walls, water or waste! Local trashers didn’t distract them. Their idea of remaking Israel was to restart the entire worship-calendar of God’s people. “If we restart our worship life, everything else can follow from that.”

The Altar first.
At this point, I’d like to pass you off to the narrative itself. Ezra-Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament we usually think of as two books. It’s one. Ezra records when and how the exiles first make their way back to their homeland and their capital city. Below you can get a clean copy of the Ezra 3 Manuscript. You inductive bible study fans will know exactly what to do with this. Download. Print. Grab your highlighters and colored pencils. Tear into it and see what you find.

Here are a few pointers to guide your eyeballs:

Look for interesting words. Words or ideas that repeat. Look for contrasts, opposites, strong differences. Use a highlighter, pens, colored pencils. Scribble everywhere! If something is a road-block, identify the barrier – what questions does the passage leave you with? Write those in the huge margin on the right.

As you get started, put yourself into the story:

1) What would your life be like if due to some disaster or cultural displacement, you weren’t allowed to go to church each week, or celebrate Christmas, or Easter, or gather with other Christians for prayer or worship? No Christian radio. No on-line church. What would that do to your faith year after year, after year?

2) Suddenly you were given complete religious freedom again, but all the churches in your city were left in piles of rubble. You are free to assemble, but you have no place to go. What would you need in order to restart your life as a community of worshiping believers?

Find a friend or small group – print them a manuscript and get together around Ezra 3. In the next post, RE-02 we’ll pick up with the process and learn more about RE-starting from God’s formerly exiled people. Meanwhile email me if you need help getting started. I’ll post RE-02 in about a week.