When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the Lord, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the Lord. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
The seventh month came, so the people gathered together. Their purpose? To build the altar. This Altar was dedicated to the God of Israel.
This altar became the spot for burnt offering, the feast of tabernacles, regular offerings, the offerings of the new moon and all the different feasts of the Lord. This altar, the altar of the Lord, the central focus of the people.
This they built even before the foundation of the temple was laid.
Why did they build it? “For fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands“.
You know I read those words… and I can totally see the mix of emotions in the people. The fear mixed with awe. The fear of their neighbours because they had no wall to defend them, but oh… to have that central part of who they are back… to be able to worship God and give sacrifices to him again… that joy and wonder and awe and fear all mixed together. Just set back and think of how it would have been.
That sense to, of a first accomplishment, to know they were truly back, and the work was underway.
They didn’t forget their primary purpose though, because we read this: But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia. The king of Persia (Cyrus) had given them money or goods to use in trade, and so they used it for the purpose intended. The city of the Lord would be rebuilt, the temple would stand again!
God was in their midst again, sacrifices and offerings could be made. The fear was real, but so was their faith in God. So their joy must have been great! (don’t you think? or do you think I am reading something into the passage that doesn’t belong?) I just have a hard time seeing the continued sacrifices as only a result of fear, there would have been joy in that too right? The feast of tabernacles is a time of remembering all that the Lord had done for them in the past… a remarkable remembering… there HAD to be joy in that. I look at my own life and see what God has done and there is joy in that remembering. God did so much more for the people of Israel than in my short life…so much more to remember and celebrate. Don’t you think?
So yes, fear was a motivator…but the celebrations were great.
I sit here and think you know…how easy it is to let fear be a motivator, how easy it is to just sit and mope within that. But the Israelites didn’t do that.. and neither should we. Remember what God has done. Celebrate that. Have your own feast of Tabernacles bringing to mind all he has done. See the goodness of the Lord.