And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
When it comes to God’s people, things are not always neat, tidy, and simple. In these verses God’s people have been brought back from the exile and have started to rebuild the temple. The altar is in place and the foundations are laid and the people have come together to praise the Lord according to the directions of the great king David. But notice the reactions…
To some it is a time of great happiness as they see all that the Lord has done for them in bringing them back and providing a place where God might dwell once again. They sing and shout with joy with their eyes fixed on the promises of God and His goodness. But for others it is a time of weeping as they fix their eyes on the small foundations that are nothing compared to the past temple. It must have been a very odd experience to stand on that building site and hearing the mixture of wailing, singing, and shouting.
Who reacted in the correct way? The text does not clearly tell us. One can sympathise with the two groups. Certainly, Haggai 2:1-5 suggests that the people should not have been so saddened by what the Lord was doing, but one can understand natural sadness as they realised what they had lost over the exile years. Human emotions and reactions are complex, and God’s people do not always react in the same way.
We live in interesting times and I cannot help but think that we are seeing something of this mixture of responses in the Church today. Many are thrilled with the new opportunities that the lockdown has provided, but others are finding things difficult as they miss face to face fellowship and the Church building. The Lord’s people are reacting in different ways, and that is only natural. It is encouraging to know that this is not something new and we can support and work with each other through this complex time.
Turning back to Ezra, although the new temple was a blessing, there was a greater narrative at work, and therefore a greater truth for us to grasp. Deeper than the foundations of the new temple and older than the first temple was the triune God’s plan to bless humanity and bring Glory to His name through the salvation offered by Christ. Tents and buildings would come and go, but as John said so clearly many years later – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” It is through Jesus that God would truly tabernacle with, and bless, humanity. If only the people in Ezra’s time would have realised this!
Today, we see many different responses to the covid-19 story, and it is important that we support and help each other. But let us not lose sight of the bigger story of what God is doing. Let us look to the gospel that unites us all, and to the Lord that one day will receive all glory and honour. Let us live for Him.
Steffan Job, Capel y Ffynnon