After 70 years of captivity in Babylon/Persia and 20 years of struggle and opposition in Jerusalem, the Jews finally rebuilt the Temple. Nearly a century had passed since they had worshiped God in the place and with the procedure that He intended. The dedication celebration at the Temple was a time of great joy as a new generation of worshipers rediscovered the thrill of God’s presence in their corporate worship (v.16). The first Passover back in Jerusalem must have been particularly meaningful (v.19). It was a reminder that the God who had saved their ancestors was still at work, still saving, still rescuing. And that same God is able to set you free from whatever holds you captive. He is able to deliver you from a place of sadness and separation and bring you to a place of joy and nearness in His presence.
I am glad that Scripture records the way God silenced the opposition to the rebuilding of the Temple (v.1-12). The discovery of King Cyrus’s original decree, which was still in force as royal law, silenced the enemies of the Jews. Not only did it stop them from opposing God’s people, it required that they help and bless God’s people! Commenting on this passage, Hugh G. M. Williamson of Oxford University wrote, “How ironic and wonderful that God’s work was carried on by the discovery of a lost paragraph in a pagan library. All the opposition of powerful forces was stopped by a clause in a legal document. God’s will is supreme…He can deliver us in ways we can’t imagine.” Amen! Trust in the Lord, surrender to His will and His Word, and He will move heaven and earth to help you.
Note: As I read about the 712 animals that were sacrificed as part of Temple worship in verse 17, I try to imagine the scene. Each bull and sheep would be brought before a priest to have its throat slit and its blood drained. It would be carefully, but swiftly, disemboweled, butchered, and laid on an altar to burn. That process was repeated over and over — 712 bloody deaths in all. The sheer volume of blood and smoke is difficult to comprehend. To be honest, it turns my stomach to envision it. But the bloodshed and the sacrifices were required to symbolically cover the sins of the people who wanted to approach God in worship. Thankfully, that is no longer required, for Jesus Christ went to the cross and offered Himself as the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of humanity. So as you join God’s people for worship tomorrow, celebrate His sacrifice, sing at the top of your lungs, and praise Him with abandon! He is our Rescuer, Redeemer, and Restorer!