“The Safest Place is in Obedient Worship”

Ezra 3

We are reading through Ezra-Nehemiah, the story of God’s people, the Israelites who were placed in the Promised Land, so they could fill the earth with God’s glory. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out as planned. They decided to do their own thing. As a result, they wound up in exile, for 70 years, in Babylon, as Jeremiah had prophesied. God stepped in and stirred the spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia, creating a new exodus, just as Isaiah had prophesied. At this point in our story, Ezra is narrating the first installment of this new exodus from chapters 1-6. 

Today, in chapter 3, Israel was back in Jerusalem and was preparing to celebrate the Festival of Booths, to demonstrate their understanding that God had again provided for them in the wilderness. 

As part of the celebration they began rebuilding, first the altar and then the temple. 

As we go through today’s Scripture, let’s take time and think about what was actually going on for the average Israelite at this time. They had chosen to return to the Promised Land and we now read, they chose to do what God had told them to do in Deuteronomy 16:16: 

“All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths.”

This place that was chosen, was Jerusalem. Let me remind you, Jerusalem and the surrounding area was still in ruins. 

The Israelites had only been there a few months, certainly not long enough to build fortified homes or walls. So when they decided to go to Jerusalem, that meant they were leaving whatever home they had started to recreate. As a note, they weren’t living in a place like Maine, where you can leave your keys in the car and your doors unlocked. They couldn’t set the alarm and inform the area police they would be away and could they possibly drive by once in a while and keep an eye on things? They were fully aware that whatever they left behind may not be there when they returned. Why did they choose to go? 

To be obedient to God. 

God told them to and at this point, it was better to obey God and worship Him than to do the “safe” thing. 

Obeying God and worshipping God was better than doing what made sense in the eyes of the world – like stay home and guard your stuff. 

We read in verse 3 that they do this, even though they fear the people around them. They don’t do this in spite of their fear, but rather because of their fear. These Israelites have listened to all of the stories their grandfathers have told them and they knew exactly where their safety lied. Safety for the Israelites had never been found in numbers or in might. They also knew that safety did not come from the idols of the people around them such as: money, sex, or power. Not much has changed over the years. This generation of Israelites comprehended that safety for them would be found in obeying the commands of the one true and living God. 

And those commands were: 

For them to defend their home, demand their rights, protect what was theirs!


It was to gather together and to build an altar and offer sacrifices, their form of worship. 


Because this group of Israelites had been stirred by the Spirit of the Lord. They choose to learn from their ancestor’s mistakes instead of repeating them.  In the past, all the attempts made which relied on the flesh or from help from Egypt, Assyria or Babylon, well, where did that leave them? In exile. 

Granted, the reality of these choices was real for this group, they were returning exiles, but they had learned one thing and that was who they could and could not trust. They could trust God. They could not trust humans. 

A lesson learned which applies to us all. There is only One protector and it is not the commander in chief of this nation. There is only one who can ensure our well-being and that is the one true God. We just finished reading Philippians where Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” 

Ezra offers us a great example of how to respond to intimidating neighbors, dangerous situations, and the spiritually devastating poison the culture offers. May we be one who responds by listening to and following God’s direction. By doing so we not only declare God’s power to protect, but we celebrate God’s truth. This is the best way to overcome the lies and insinuations of the enemy. 

Next we read Ezra puts the Levites in charge of rebuilding the temple and leading musical worship when they lay the foundation. 

And when they had completed the foundation, the priests put on their vestments, trumpets and cymbals were brought forth in order to praise the Lord as prescribed by David, king of Israel. The people gathered and sang with praise and thanksgiving: 

“For He is good; His faithful love to Israel endures forever.” 

Then Ezra says they gave a great shout. I wonder if they shouted the word, “AMEN.” Which is actually a Hebrew word meaning, so be it, or verily or surely.

All that we have read, sets a president for what has happened in the New Testament. All of these Old Testament patterns have been fulfilled by Jesus. Salvation in Jesus fulfills the festivals of Israel, the Levitical system of sacrifices and the ministry of the temple. 

The exodus was fulfilled by Jesus’ death and His resurrection set in motion the return from exile. Thanks to the final Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, Christians have been delivered from the bondage to sin. 

Ezra doesn’t finish chapter three with cymbals and trumpets and the praising of God. He doesn’t leave us with the sense that “all is well,” because it isn’t. Life for the Israelites, just like it is for us, isn’t that black and white. This side of heaven, we live in the gray. Verse 12 reads, 

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 suspect the older priests, remember 70 years ago. They recall what Solomon’s temple looked like and although they have been restored to their land, things aren’t what they used to be and they are also not what has been promised. The desert isn’t blooming. There is no Messiah. Jerusalem is not exalted. Maybe they realize there is hope, but it is also, “not yet.” And why were they in that situation? Because of sin. They had broken the covenant. Sin requires a payment, there are consequences. Sin steals your joy. When sin is a part of our lives, though we worship, there is weeping. Until God wipes away all of our tears and restores the years of the locust, fleeing from sin is the best way to avoid remorse. In its place, we need to be desiring to know God, to be in His presence, to walk with Him all our days, that is what will enable us to overcome sin. 

Finding our satisfaction in God gives us hope. Being in obedient worship of God is the safest place in the world. 

To be in the presence of God brings the feelings that result in the joyful shout that will be heard far away (Ezra 3:13).

Let’s pray.