June 26, 2011

Monday after the First Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, Num 22:2-14, Luke 2:21-40
Evening - Ps. 31, Ezra 5:1-2, 6-17, Acts 9:1-19

Commentary

As noted in the commentary for Monday after Trinity Sunday, the first seven chapters of the book of Ezra give a brief history of the Jews who returned from Babylon in 536 B.C. Forced by military action to stop work on the new Temple, the work languished, as did the zeal of the Jewish people (4:23-24). The Lord raised up prophets to call them back to their work. It is important to note here that their work was not to simply build a new Temple or re-instate the sacrificial system. Their work was to be the Covenant People of God, and to love Him above all else. The Temple was a symbol of this. It was the symbol of His presence with them. The sacrifices offered there were symbols of their devotion to Him. They also symbolised the coming of the Messiah, whose sacrifice would actually take away their sins. It was the place where God met His people, where He made them whole and clean, where He forgave their sins, and where they came to be in the presence of God. So the Temple was an important place and it served an important function in Jerusalem. It was the focal point of the Covenant, and to be forced to stop rebuilding it was a serious blow to the Jewish people.

Chapter 5 records the ministries of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, which we have been reading for the past few days. The result of their ministry was the renewed determination of the governor and the High Priest to build the Temple (5:2). Chapter 5:6-17 is a copy of the letter sent by the Jews in Jerusalem to the king of Persia explaining their loyalty to him and asking him to search his records for the decree of Cyrus allowing them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.

If the Temple was the focal point and primary symbol of the Covenant of God, the zeal to rebuild it was the zeal to be God's Covenant People. The objective was not simply to rebuild an object of national pride, or to build a religious building where they could do religious things. The intention, on their part was to return to their calling to be the people of God. It was this intention that God wanted to keep alive in their collective hearts. It was their departure from the Covenant that brought the wrath of God upon them in 586. It was their dilution of the faith, along with their lack of sincerity that led them into other sins and caused God to allow the Babylonians to conquer them. The Babylonian Captivity was punishment for breaking the Covenant and rebelling against God. Now that they were back in Jerusalem, God wanted them to return to the Covenant again. Thus, the Temple, as the focal point of their Covenant keeping, must be rebuilt.

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