Ezra 3

The Forgotten Temple

The Tabernacle of Moses, the Temple of Solomon, the Temple of Herod—these are the names of the ancient temples. We are familiar with all of them. Yet, there was one more temple in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple was completely destroyed. The forgotten temple is the one built by the Jews after they returned from their Babylonian captivity. It is called the Temple of Zerubbabel, or the Second Temple.

“The Temple of Zerubbabel was completed and dedicated in the sixth year of the reign of Darius, in March of 515 B.C. The dedicatory services were held with much rejoicing and many sacrifices and were followed by celebration of the Feast of Passover (see Ezra 6:15—19). This Temple, called the Second Temple, stood for five hundred years. Half a millennium after its initial construction, the Temple was not merely renovated but completely reconstructed by Herod. Yet Herod’s temple was still known as the Second Temple.

“In structure and appurtenances this new temple was not as grand and impressive as the First Temple, though it was basically the same size and architectural style. Those who remembered the previous Temple wept and lamented the inferiority of the restored Sanctuary, which no longer contained the ark of the Covenant or the Urim and Thummim. Nevertheless, even without the protection of walls and fortifications, and with only a small population, Jerusalem once again became a Temple City.” (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 123)

Ezra 3:1-2 when the seventh month was come… Zerubbabel… and his brethren… builded the altar of the God of Israel

Since the days of Moses’ tabernacle, and even more so after Solomon’s temple, sacrifice was performed primarily in the temple.  To build an altar and offer sacrifice without a temple was to make an exception because of austere circumstances.  Like Brigham Young and the Latter-day Saints performing temple ordinances on Ensign Peak or in the Endowment House prior to the completion of the St. George and Salt Lake Temples (1847-1877), the Jews felt sacrifice had to be performed, temple or not. 

So they kept the Law of Moses the best they could under the circumstances.   They could offer morning and evening sacrifice; they could keep the feasts; they could practice obedience to the Law and rejoice in the Lord.  This they tried to do while the temple was under construction.  As always, temple construction would be resisted by the adversary, and the execution of the plans would require hurdling many roadblocks.

“Several places were temporarily but reverently used by the Saints for holy purposes after their trek to the valley. Elder Addison Pratt, called to return to his labors in the Society Islands (now Tahitian) Mission, received his endowments on Ensign Peak. Endowments for the living were given from 1851 to 1855 in the Council House on the southwest corner of South Temple and Main streets. In April 1854 the northwest portion of the Temple Square was selected as the site for the Endowment rooms. This building was being plastered in February 1855, and was completed that April. President Heber C. Kimball of the First Presidency offered the dedicatory prayer for this building May 5, 1855, and it was he who used his time for years in conducting the services here.

“Sometime after an addition was built in 1856 the building became known as the Endowment House. Here many of the convert-emigrants of the Church came to receive their blessings and lay the foundation for their establishing homes in Zion—homes which produced families who are still adding strength to the Church by their testimonies and by their works.

“Baptisms for the dead were administered here until 1876, endowments until 1884, and sealings of couples were performed here until 1889. Although it was never intended to be a permanent temple, for thirty-four years this house of the Lord had served its purpose well. In 1889 President Wilford Woodruff had the building razed; the Saints then had temples functioning at St. George, Logan, and Manti, Utah, and it would not be long before the Salt Lake Temple would be dedicated.” (Improvement Era, Vol. LVI., April, 1953. No. 4)

Ezra 3:4-5 They kept also the feast of tabernacles… and… all the set feasts

To assume that the Jews had kept the feasts and requirements of the Law of Moses up until the Babylonian Captivity is to assume too much.  When Hezekiah was king, he read the Law and realized that the people had neglected to celebrate the Passover, the premiere Jewish celebration of independence from Egypt!  Horrified, he reinstituted the Passover among the people.  What was their excuse?  “For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem… they had not done it [for] a long time.” (2 Chron. 30:3-5). 

The return from exile in Babylon allowed the Lord to hit the reset button.  The leaders, prophets, priests, and Levites were responsible to reconstitute their religion—to reestablish temple worship, holiday celebrations, conflict resolution, etc.  The Feast of Tabernacles was a great Thanksgiving-like celebration of the harvest.  In Jesus time, the Jews were required by custom to travel (if they had the means) to Jerusalem to celebrate three great feasts:  the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Pentecostal Feast.  The seeds of that righteous tradition were re-sown by Zerubbabel and the priests.

Ezra 3:11 they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever…

What is different today?  We sing praises to God because he is good and because he is merciful to us.  We love hymns.  We love temples. We love hymns about temples. We honor the significance of temple ordinances and rejoice when more temple building is announced. 

Ezra 3:12 ancient men, that had seen the first house… wept with a loud voice

Many probably wept for joy, but not the ancient men.  They wept, and they wept with a loud voice.  Why?  Haggai tells us they were disappointed, “Speak now to Zerubabbel… and to the residue of the people, saying, Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? (i.e. Solomon’s Temple) and how do ye see it now? Is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?  Yet now be strong… fear ye not. For… I will fill this house with glory saith the Lord of Hosts… and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Hag. 2:2-9)

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“And when the temple was finished, the priests, adorned with their accustomed garments, stood with their trumpets, while the Levites, and the sons of Asaph, stood and sung hymns to God, according as David first of all appointed them to bless God. Now the priests and Levites, and the elder part of the families, recollecting with themselves how much greater and more sumptuous the old temple had been, seeing that now made how much inferior it was, on account of their poverty, to that which had been built of old, considered with themselves how much their happy state was sunk below what it had been of old, as well as their temple. Hereupon they were disconsolate, and not able to contain their grief, and proceeded so far as to lament and shed tears on those accounts; but the people in general were contented with their present condition; and because they were allowed to build them a temple, they desired no more, and neither regarded nor remembered, nor indeed at all tormented themselves with the comparison of that and the former temple, as if this were below their expectations.” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XI, 4:2)

James E. Talmage

In many respects the Temple of Zerubbabel appeared poor in comparison with its splendid predecessor and in certain particulars, indeed, it ranked lower than the ancient Tabernacle of the Congregation—the sanctuary of the nomadic tribes. Critical scholars specify the following features characteristic of the Temple of Solomon and lacking in the Temple of Zerubbabel: (1) the Ark of the Covenant; (2) the sacred fire; (3) the Shekinah, or glory of the Lord, manifested of old as the Divine Presence; (4) the Urim and Thummim, by which Jehovah made plain His will to the priests of the Aaronic order; (5) the genius or spirit of prophecy, indicative of the closest communion between mortals and their God. Notwithstanding these differences the Temple of Zerubbabel was recognized of God and was undoubtedly the site or seat of Divine revelation to duly constituted prophets. (The House of the Lord [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1968], 42 - 43)  (editor’s note:  as to deficiency number 5, the spirit of prophecy was not absent at this time but was present with the prophets Haggai and Zechariah at least.  Worship in the Second Temple was acceptable to God whereas the priests had defiled the Temple of Solomon. Better to have a simple house that is accepted by the Lord than a grandiose one that has been polluted. As to deficiency 2 in the list above, the Lord told Haggai that his glory would fill the house.  The visible sign of His glory (Shekinah) may have been absent but his Presence and Glory were there (Hag. 2:7).  You can’t always trust scholars. As to deficiency 1, the author has visited Jerusalem and found that many of the Jews anticipating the Third Temple believe that the ark of the covenant was buried under the Temple Mount by king Josiah a few decades before the captivity.  If so, it would have been absent in the Temple of Zerubabbel presumably because this group of Jews didn’t know where to dig to find it.  Neither did they know that their sacrifices were being offered directly over where Josiah buried it. Cool to contemplate!)

Ezra 3:12 many shouted aloud for joy… and the noise was heard afar off

There are two groups of Abraham’s children that love temples:  The Jews and the Mormons.  Not to be rude, but the Catholics don’t get it, the Methodists and Baptists don’t get it.  While they believe in a God that is the same yesterday, today, and forever, they don’t understand the need for temples.  God has never stopped requiring sacrifice; it’s just that the nature of the sacrifice has changed.  Christ’s blood has paid the price, but the purpose of a temple is to give the people a place where they can go to approach the very throne of God.  Their existence and purpose is to bring the people into the presence of God.   What a glorious purpose!  What a glorious celebration!  The Jews understood it then; they understand it now.  The Mormons understand it now, and appreciate why it was so important then.

Who knows the Hallelujah shout?  The Mormons who have rejoiced in “Hallelujah” know, but they probably weren’t as loud and excited as were these Jews.  We aren’t known for “raising the roof” at our temple dedications.

“The principal concern of the exiles returning in the sixth century before Christ was the Temple. Upon arriving in Jerusalem they immediately rebuilt the Temple altar and resumed morning and evening sacrifices (see Ezra 3:1-5). They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles.  They employed Phoenicians to import cedar from Lebanon and engaged masons and carpenters to begin rebuilding the Temple. The workers laid the stone foundation, and the congregation of Israel sang and shouted for joy, though many of the older generation also wept aloud as they stood among the ruins and recalled the glorious structure that had previously graced the Temple Hill of Jerusalem. We reflect again on the statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith that the main object of gathering the people of God in any age of the world was ‘to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation.’”  (David B. Galbraith, D. Kelly Ogden, and Andrew C. Skinner, Jerusalem: The Eternal City [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 121)

George Q. Cannon

Let me ask, what was the object of building a temple in the days of Solomon? What was the object of rebuilding it after its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar? Why was it that Ezra and the Jews who were with him in Babylonish captivity were strengthened to go forth to rebuild the temple of God at Jerusalem? Ezra 3:1-13 Ezra 6:1-22 We read in the Scriptures that God's blessing rested upon them. Their enemies, it is true, harassed them and did all in their power to check their labors, but nevertheless they were exceedingly blessed, and God accepted their work and bestowed choice and peculiar blessings upon them. (Journal of Discourses, 14:126)

David E. Sorenson

The Old Testament describes some of the joy that comes from people building these holy places: “And they sang together … in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; … 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” (Ezra 3:11; see also Ezra 3:10, 12, 13).

Watching these new temples being built, I believe that we too will have occasion to praise the Lord and weep for joy.

As we see the increased commitment President Hinckley and others have made to building new temples, we might pause and ask ourselves why temples are of such importance. Indeed, nonmembers of the Church may not even understand the distinction between our regular meetinghouses, of which there are many thousands, and these very special buildings we call temples.

President Hinckley explained the distinction this way: “These unique and wonderful buildings, and the ordinances administered therein, represent the ultimate in our worship. These ordinances become the most profound expressions of our theology” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1995, 72; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 53). In other words, temples are of great value to us because they help us express our core theology, that of coming to Christ. (“Small Temples—Large Blessings,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 64–65)