By J.R. Miller
Ezra 3:10 to 4:5
The story of the rebuilding of the temple is very interesting. There was much enthusiasm in the hearts of the people as they began it. The temple was sacred in the eyes and thoughts of all devout Jews. Its ruin and desolation touched every heart with feelings of sadness, and the opportunity of doing even the smallest thing toward its rebuilding gave great joy. Every one had some share in the work. Some were cutting down trees away in the forests of Lebanon. Some were bringing the timber in rafts down the seacoast. Some were dragging great beams up from Joppa to Jerusalem. Some were working in the quarries, getting out new stones for the walls. Others were gathering out of the ruins the old stones which had belonged to Solomon's temple. Others were clearing up the rubbish, so that the building might begin. At last the foundations were laid, and the holy house began to rise.
The work which these builders did was the rebuilding of a temple, once beautiful and glorious, which had been destroyed. The fire had swept over it, and all its splendor lay in ruins. Now it was to be rebuilt, that again God might be worshiped in its holy place. There is a great deal of rebuilding to be done in this world. Human lives marred by sin--are temples of God in ruins. We all have the privilege, if we will accept it, of helping to restore ruined spiritual temples.
The work of rebuilding the temple, was one of great joy to the people. They had come back from captivity with gladness, full of patriotic enthusiasm, and rejoiced at the privilege of restoring God's house to something of its former beauty. "All the people shouted . . . because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid." That was a great day. "While the builders wrought on the walls the priests and the Levites sang." In doing so they not only praised God--but also cheered and encouraged the workmen. There is always a place in God's house for those who can sing. We should sing as we work; that is, we should work cheerfully and with praising heart.
It was said of a great artist that he carried a lyre in his hand as he wrought on his canvas. The music inspired him for his art. Those who can sing have a special mission in cheering and encouraging others as well as themselves. Music inspires us, quickens our pulses, makes us rejoice. Armies march better and fight better--when bands of music are playing. Christian song has a wondrous power in inspiring to courage and heroism. David's harp drove away Saul's insanity, and music has been driving away many ugly moods and bitter passions ever since. Songs breaking upon despairing hearts--have saved men and women from suicide.
People who can sing have a gift by which they can do great service for Christ. They can go in little companies and sing in prisons or in hospitals or asylums, and their songs will give cheer and courage, and perhaps carry a thought of God's love to sad, penitent, and weary hearts. They can sing in sick-rooms, and the sweet notes will be like angel voices. They can sing in their own homes as they work, cheering weary ones beside them. The ministry of consecrated song is a wonderful one, and leaves untold joy and blessing in the world.
There is a charm about first things--which is lacking in things that come after. There is never quite such a home to us as the home of our childhood. There is never any other Church with which we may be connected that is quite so dear to our hearts--as the Church where we first were saved. These older men did not find in the new building, the beauty of the former one. "Many of the . . . men, who had seen the first house , . . wept." They wept because they thought the new temple could not be so beautiful as the old one had been. It was natural for them to feel so, and yet we cannot praise their conduct.
There are some people who always find the discouraging side of life, not the happy, cheerful side. Their eyes seem to have a peculiar faculty for seeing defects, blemishes, flaws, and faults. This is a very unhappy peculiarity. These people miss the lovely features in every landscape, in every garden spot, in every bright scene. Where others see roses--they see only thorns. While others are filled with rapture--they go about in gloom. While others sing--they murmur and complain. The world is all wrong for them. Then not only do they spoil life for themselves by this pessimistic way of seeing things--but they spoil it for others. Instead of adding to the happiness of those about them--they mar their pleasure. Anyone who has fallen into this miserable habit--should instantly and determinedly begin to get away from it! It is worth a fortune to be able to see all life--through happy cheerful eyes--and to see habitually the bright, lovely things--instead of the gloom, shadows, and thorns.
There is a tendency also among some older people to think that nothing is quite so good now--as it used to be in their early days. Distance lends enchantment, and sometimes old people are saddened by their loneliness, possibly, too, by their infirmities, and have not the bright spirit of their earlier days. Besides, the old people's eyes are a little dim and misty, and see far-away things in a glow which does not belong to things that are near. Then what we find anywhere, in any person or place--really depends upon our own mood or attitude. Our hearts--make our world for us. It is not wise to say that the former days were better than our own. Of course, many things are different--but in the truest sense--the present is the best time the world has ever seen.
The people of the country, the Samaritans, who had been there since the Israelites were carried into captivity, were excited by what was going on--the return of the former inhabitants and their efforts to rebuild their old temple. The Samaritans were a mixed people, made up of colonists who had been brought by the Assyrians from Babylon and other places, and placed in the cities of Samaria which had been emptied by the carrying away of the people as captives. They had brought their national gods with them. One of the captive priests was sent to teach them how they should worship the Lord. They adopted the Jewish ritual--but their worship was not pure.
Perhaps the Samaritans were sincere in wishing to unite with the Jews in the work of rebuilding the temple. "Let us build with you," they said. More likely, however, they wanted to be allowed to help that they might hinder. They professed to be loyal to God--but almost surely they were not. They did not want the temple to go up again, for they knew the holy worship would be resumed with the holy teaching. This would interfere with their sinful lives. They wished, therefore, to get their hands upon the work that they might keep it back, or at least make it harmonize with their own evil desires.
That is what the world is always trying to do. It dreads and hates holiness, and tries to leaven it with worldliness, so as to make it less objectionable to itself; that is--less true and holy. Religion always has this temptation--the world wants to be taken in. The answer of the builders was: "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the LORD." Some people would call this narrow-mindedness, bigotry. "Why did they not accept the help of these well-to-do neighbors? It would have put the work forward rapidly. But it looks as if the refusal of this help and cooperation was really a noble and patriotic thing to do. These were the world's people, not true lovers of God. To accept their fellowship and aid--would have been to compromise with the world.
We need to take the lesson. We are to be in the world--but not of the world. In our religion, we must not accept the world's companionship and the world's spirit. The world may be very willing to come with us in part of our work for God--but it would corrupt, degrade, and vitiate our service!