Many years ago – before the time of Christ – the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken into exile in Babylon.
Years later, with a change in the Persian monarchy to a sympathetic king, the people were instructed to go back home and rebuild their way of life from the ruins.
They got back to Jerusalem and lay the foundation of their temple once more:
“And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”
Then Ezra noted this reaction that I find interesting:
“But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”
I think the contrast in perspectives is interesting. People of the same community working towards the same goals – but the generation gap and the passage of time mean that their reactions to current events are very different.
The older people could remember how things were before. By starting from scratch they were perhaps reminded of how much more work would have to be done to get things back to their former glory. Maybe they were distressed by memories of the destruction of the temple and their removal to Babylon. Perhaps they were simply weary. Alternatively their grief from years before may have been reawakened when faced with this fresh start.
The younger people are shouting for joy and the progress that has been made. From their perspective, things are on the up. From living in exile, they have been set free. They have been given the right to set up the temple according to their beliefs. They are being encouraged to express themselves as they wish. They have been given a chance to start over, in the place they call home – and at this moment they have reached another milestone – the foundations are laid. It all seems positive to them.
This is the verse I like; this is my favourite verse from the book of Ezra:
“No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.”
It makes me think of a concert with the crowd being whipped up by some DJ or lead singer saying “Come on people, let’s make some noise!”
For those nearby with no emotional or political connection to the events going on, it is simply noise when the people are shouting for joy or weeping aloud – it is neither here nor there to them.
For those involved, the stage they are at as a community is hugely significant for them, but there is a clash of optimism and pessimism with excitement at new beginnings in contrast to grief and hindsight.
When faced with a fresh start, or a return to square 1, how should one react? Do we think back and grieve past injustices and look wearily into the near future, or do we look at the fresh foundations and get excited about what happens next?
I am not sure that the two groups in the story could have reacted any differently – they either had the experience of the destruction and exile or they didn’t.
But they both shared the experience of starting from scratch and beginning again.
I just liked the verse:
“No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.”
Maybe this is my ‘new year’ post. (a little late)
Whether we are feeling jaded and weary or excited and optimistic about whatever’s coming next…
Come on people, let’s make some NOISE!…