The Jews’ return from captivity following the decree of Cyrus the Great provoked numerous emotions among the people, but none greater than those who experienced the return and gave their sweat and tears to the rebuilding effort in their homeland. Having first returned to dwell in their cities, they assembled in Jerusalem in the seventh month to keep the Feast of Tabernacles, offering the appropriate sacrifices according to the law—an act of obedience significant due to its previous omission (Ezra 3:1-6). More than that, they gave of their means to purchase supplies for the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3:7). After a little more than a year, their plans and preparations had made it possible for them to begin the rebuilding process (Ezra 3:8-9). Then, when they finally laid the foundation of the temple, they responded in the only way possible: worship (Ezra 3:10). They sang songs of praise and thanksgiving to Jehovah reminiscent of when David brought the ark to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 16:34) and when Solomon dedicated the first temple (2 Chr. 5:13), “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel” (Ezra 3:11a). This brief statement and its origins reveal what must have been on the minds of these workers throughout. They identified with those early efforts in Israel though removed from them by several centuries. However, the expanse of elapsed time did not matter because the heart and desire to be true to God was the same.
When the people completed this great task, they “shouted with a great shout” (Ezra 3:11b), but the older generation wept loudly when they saw it (Ezra 3:12), “so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off” (Ezra 3:13). It is impossible to tell precisely all the emotions felt by this older generation. Did they cry tears of joy because they were seeing the rebirth of something they held dear from their youth? Did they cry tears of disappointment because this latter effort born out of poverty paled in comparison to the splendor produced by Solomon’s wealth? Did they cry from the overwhelming emotion stirred from seeing something they thought they would never see again? Could it have been a combination of all of these? Regardless, the depth of their emotion was mixed in with the shouts of those too young to remember. This event well captures how the exuberance of one generation and the experience of another can still come together to do great things—despite feeling them very differently. We need this in the church today—a shared love for God and respect for His truth that motivates us to work together to fulfill His will. But what the younger generation may see as a wonderful accomplishment, the older generation may view differently through the lens of experience. If we can learn to appreciate both perspectives, then we can stop concentrating on the mixed emotions often present in our interactions and focus instead on God’s will and God’s work.