3 And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto Yahweh, even burnt offerings morning and evening.
It was in the seventh month of the first year that the people were gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. Their assembly was driven by a shared desire to begin the worship of God afresh, and this month held special significance. Tishri was the most sacred of all months in the calendar, for it contained the Feast of Trumpets on the first of the month, the Day of Atonement on the tenth, and the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth. 14
The month which celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot was the climax of the year, but there would be no blowing of trumpets on the first, or afflicting of their souls on the tenth, for there was no temple and no Most Holy into which the blood of atonement might be taken. The Feast of Tabernacles would be observed, 15 but even that could only occur if the sacrificial requirements of the feast could be met.
First, then, before all else, came the setting up of the altar. The previous altar from Solomon's temple had been destroyed, so a new one was constructed. They were careful, however, to place it on its old foundations, in the exact spot where Solomon's altar had been set. Their spirit was not to choose a new way, or seek a different place, but to re-establish the principle of sacrifice on its old and tested foundation.
Everything was to be exactly where it had been in Solomon's day. Joshua would lead the work, since the charge of the altar belonged to the priests, 16 and he watched over its building. Only when the altar was ready could the offerings be resumed, and pre-eminent among these, as the indispensable basis of the entire sacrificial system, was the daily lamb of the continual burnt offering.
Offered every evening and every morning, the tamiyd combined the daily lamb, the daily incense, and the daily mincah. Upon this offering the law of sacrifice depended. When Nebuchadnezzar burned the temple and the "daily" ceased, Judah began a national day of mourning, but on this first day of the seventh month that calamity could at last be forgotten, as a daily lamb was again placed upon the altar. 17
But with the reinstatement of the daily lamb came the restoration of the daily song of praise which accompanied it, and this was the moment that the House of Asaph had been waiting for. As the smoke ascended, so also did their hymn, as this family stood again to minister continually in song as every day's work required, just as it had been of old. 18
It was the most exciting and emotional Rosh Hashanah they would know in their lifetime, 19 and the singers drank in the moment, so that they might later recount to their children and their grandchildren just how it felt on that special day. They were back in the land, and their song was heard again in the holy mountain of God.
14 Leviticus 23:23-36.
15 Ezra 3:4.
16 Numbers 18:5-7.
Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 10
8 Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of Yahweh.
Laying the temple foundation
How strange, then, the delay that seemed to occur between their arrival in Jerusalem and the laying of the temple foundation. They had recommenced the offering of the daily sacrifice in the seventh month of the first year, but it was not until the second month of the second year they came to lay the foundation of the house. 20
A full seven months had intervened, but the time had not been wasted, for there was an enormous amount of preparation needed before the foundation could be laid. First the entire temple area needed to be cleared of the rubble from Nebuchadnezzar's ravaging and burning of the house of God. Once cleared, the space needed to be levelled, and then the site surveyed to match the lines of the temple to the altar, and to set out the full dimensions of the building.
The masons and the carpenters needed to begin the massive task of shaping the giant stones and timbers that would be used, and to organise their transportation to the sacred mount. But beyond these preparations, there was another reason to wait until the second month of the following year. It was the very month in which Solomon had laid the foundation of the temple in his own time, 21 and Zerubbabel consciously sought to imitate his predecessor. That moment had now come.
As the warm winds of spring 22 blew across the place of Ornan's threshingfloor, 23 another foundation was laid on its ancient site. That moment was not to be forgotten, 24 and the House of Asaph would help to ensure that it never was. Yet what heartrending pathos there was in the scene.
The signs of desolation were everywhere, for the city still bore the ravages of the fires of Babylon. But right there, amidst those very ruins, set into the rocky outcrop of the summit's height was a row of freshly dressed stones, as there, on Moriah's hill, they laid the foundation for a new temple.
It was such a small beginning, and the row of stones so pitiful in the expanse, and yet the House of Asaph sang with all their hearts. They sang as if the temple in all its glory was there, and as if the ark of the presence was in their very midst. It was a song to bring tears to the eyes of those who heard, for in this hymn of zeal and passion the spirit of the family was seen. Few others could have sung thus on that day, but the House of Asaph could, for they had brought back with them a' secret from afar.
It was in Babylon that their breakthrough was made and its lesson consciously absorbed. Dwelling in the land of apostasy, and in the complete absence of the temple, the ark, and the Shekinah, the family learned to ascend into the presence of God in their minds, even into heaven itself. This would be the secret the family carried back with them from the captivity, and this the power which they would impart to others by their example of faithful praise.
The whole occasion was indeed a conscious echo of the day of Solomon's dedication of the house of God. Here again were priests with silver trumpets, here again the white linen of priestly apparel, and the singers of the House of Asaph with cymbals to praise Yahweh.
It mattered not that their circumstances were so reduced. When this family sang before Zerubbabel, God was still enthroned upon the praises of Israel, and in the fervency of their spirit that day of worship could be as glorious as it had been in Solomon's day. 25
20 Ezra 3:8.
21 Note even the echo of the word "began" (1 Kings 6:1,37; Ezra 3:8).
22 The second month, Zif (Ezra 3:8), was the time of wheat harvest and its winnowing in late spring.
23 2 Chronicles 3:1.
24 The episode is recorded in three writings of the time (Ezra 3:10,11; Haggai 2:18; Zechariah 8:9).
25 2 Chronicles 5:12-14.
Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 10
11 And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto Yahweh; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid.
So concerned was Zerubbabel that all be done correctly, that he had instructed the House of Asaph to offer their song after the ordinance of David. 26 He need not have been concerned, for they would never deviate from their ancient landmark. What a wonder it was, rather, that they could still sing their family hymn after many centuries, and still know its meaning!
They sang it in every single generation of their family because they understood its principles and sought to guard it from change. The only reason they could stand before Zerubbabel and sing it now was because they had never stopped practising it. Their family had always prepared for the day when their song would be needed again, and they were ready when called upon to lead the nation in worship.
Their hymn had not been chosen by themselves based on personal preference or opinion. It was given to their father at the time of his appointment, but they had learned to love it, and in singing their song every day they preserved it as the heritage of true spiritual worship. Standing atop the mount, their words rang out vibrant and true:
"0 give thanks unto Yahweh, for he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel."
How long had this ancient psalm been on the lips of this family? And yet it never lost its power to enthral them. As century after century unfolded, each generation of the family sought to find the meaning of these words in their own times, and to learn from them.
Those who sang on this occasion were no different. And assuredly, the goodness of Yahweh and His enduring mercy had been seen in His rescuing of them from their enemies, and in guiding their safe return to the place of His presence. 27 Their part in response was to offer the sacrifice of praise, choir alternating with choir, as the singers echoed the words over against each other in the joyful repetition of their song. 28
Those of the House of Asaph who sang on this day would treasure this moment. They felt joy, certainly, because here they were, back in Jerusalem. But there was also a solemn realisation that they stood connected to the past of this place, and to a heritage which stretched behind them for many generations.
There was a strong sense of being connected to those of their family who in earlier times had faced other crises, and fought other battles, but who had always brought the nation back to its centre through their song. It had ever been their privilege to do so. There was no feeling of importance or rank, but rather of humility that their family had been blessed above others in being permitted to guard the songs of the house of their God.
26 The phrase should be read as referring to the original psalm, given by David into the hands of Asaph and his family at the beginning (1 Chronicles 16:4-7).
27 The original psalm cried "Save us, 0 God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks" (1 Chronicles 16:35). The experience of the exile, however, had led to a changed form of the words:
"Save us, 0 LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name" (Psalm 106:47).
That plea, so relevant to the captives in Babylon, was felt by the generation that stood up to sing at the bidding of Zerubbabel.
28 The word "by course" (anah, 'to answer or respond') refers to the antiphonal singing of alternate choir groups (Ezra 3:11). The same method would be used in Nehemiah's time (Nehemiah 12:24).
Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 10
13 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 noise was heard afar off.
Despise not the day of small things
Some wept in sorrow for the past, but others shouted with joy for the future. The House of Asaph were among the latter, for such was their spirit. Was not this return under Zerubbabel a new beginning, a spiritual revival? Then this family would be there to sing on that day, for this was their work, and this was their place.
In a time when others despaired, and many despised the day of small things, 29 only the House of Asaph saw ahead to possibilities, and how they might advance that cause. If a good foundation was to be laid, it needed more than the stones on the temple mount. The foundations of true worship must be reestablished, and this family would see to it that they were.
It was almost eighty-five years since their family had sung at the great Passover which Josiah had kept. Those who had sung on that day were all dead, and so also were most of their children. The singers who had returned with Zerubbabel were the grandchildren of the singers who had sung before Josiah. But many of these might well have been exhorted by their elders, who could not return with them, to seize the moment and to inspire the nation.
Every singer who stood now upon the sacred mount was aware of a family heritage of faithful worship, and that it lay in their hands to preserve it in this new beginning. The choir who stood before this new foundation had never seen Solomon's temple, but already they could picture its replacement, and they sang for sheer joy at the prospect.
Long before, Isaiah had spoken of such a moment:
"And the ransomed of Yahweh shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away". 30
Whatever future meaning might have remained unfulfilled in the prophets' words, they were true for the House of Asaph in the season of their coming to Zion. Everlasting joy was upon their heads as they took up again their age-old song, and felt the responsibility of previous generations of the household in singing before Yahweh.
How could one feel sorrow when filled with the praises of their God? Instead there was an air of optimism and hope, of promise and possibility, and their family was there to witness it all. The House of Asaph had returned!
29 Haggai 2:3; Zechariah 4:10.
30 Isaiah 35:10.
Bro Roger Lewis - The House of Asaph Ch 10