The nine first chapters of Chronicles make a bit more sense in the light of Ezra 2 – it matters who your ancestors are, because only those who can prove their descent have a clear place among the returning exiles. We’re not told much here about the long years of exile, only its end. There are still some alive who remember the first Temple, but perhaps along the way the boundaries of Israel and the gentiles have become blurred, so that it’s important to know who is a true descendant of the original exiles. This is going to be a big issue in this book and Nehemiah, and that might help to explain it.
I do remember that my first essay on the Old Testament at theology college was to untangle the order of events in Ezra & Nehemiah. I’m glad that for the purposes of this blog I’m taking each on its own terms so I can leave that on one side. As far as Ezra is concerned, at least, the priority is the Temple, and it is rebuilt as quickly as it can be done without the taint of uncleanness.
To those born in exile, this is a moment for great celebration and joy. It’s the sign that the exile is over, even though so far only a few thousand have actually come back. The vital thing is that God is once again present in Jerusalem. Life can begin to get back on track.
There are some, though, whose joy is mixed with sorrow. There is a Temple again, but it’s not like the Temple we used to have, covered in gold and precious woods, the best of the world’s craftsmanship and art, to which nations brought tribute.
How often do we miss out on the joy of what God is doing now, because we’re troubled by what we’ve lost from the past? We may never build another York Minster, but God still has new things for us. We may never again have a privileged position in setting the framework for society and its laws, but we still have the opportunity to love and to bless, to speak up and to speak out.
Let’s rejoice in what we have, not mourn for what we miss. The new Temple is not the old Temple, but God is still present in it.