The second temple, which is often credited to Nehemiah (‘God has comforted’), but in reality was built under the leadership and supervision of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel ( “born at Babylon” or “scattered to Babylon”) . Zerubbabel received the commission according to Ezra 6:3-5, where King Cyrus issued a decree: “Let the house be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices; and let the foundations of it be firmly laid, its height sixty cubits (90 feet) and its width sixty cubits, with three rows of heavy stones (Jerusalem Limestone) and one row of new timber. Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury. Also let the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple which is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and taken back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; and deposit them in the house of God”. The rebuild started in 536 BC and was halted temporarily in 534 BC by neighbouring tribes, and being distracted by the building of their own houses, but resumed in 520 BC. The temple was completed in 516 BC and dedicated in 515 BC.
The building started unconventionally, not with the foundation, walls and roof etc, but with the erecting of the Altar and the reinstatement of the sacrifices as prescribed by God through Moses. Zerubbabel started with the heart of the temple and worked his way outward. The Altar was first and next he reinstated the feasts and festivals or Holy convocations, which are foretelling of the coming Messiah. First, there is the need for the change of heart and attitude towards God, and then the actual place for worship! How can you worship a God that you do not honour? There needed to be a right attitude for rebuilding the Temple. After those two main priorities, Zerubbabel starts with the foundations of the temple itself. The second temple was slightly bigger in dimensions than Solomon’s, but was definitely not as impressive, as described in Haggai 2:3 .
The dedication of the Temple leads to some interesting questions. The Altar was not set on fire by God, there was no cloud filling the temple, and the Ark of the Covenant was no longer present. All of these used to be a symbol of God’s presence. Was God no longer present? How did the High Priest present the yearly sacrifice on Yom Kippour (Day of Atonement), for though it was stated that all of the artefacts were to be returned, the Ark and the Mercy Seat were never seen again. This was the beginning of a 400 year silence where God did not speak, not even through prophets. Were the Jews still ‘exiled’ from God’s presence, and are they at present still in exile, seeing that there is no temple now.
When we have a look at the Israelites who were building the Temple while experiencing opposition, there is in today’s terms through the eyes of christianity, a clear warning for us all today! The warning that opposition can lead to distraction and discouragement. Discouragement can lead to fear. Fear can lead to pessimism. Pessimism can lead to complacency, and complacency can stop all forward progress. We too, are to look from the once and perfect sacrifice of Christ (altar) outward and not just at the foundations, walls and roof (our limitations). There is the need for a right attitude and perspective. Christ came to bring to remembrance and to set the record straight that we are created in God’s image and likeness. We are created like God, there is no need for us to any longer believe in the lie that we are not in His likeness (Gen. 3:5). We are created in His image and likeness and set free from this lie at the cross. Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for All people”, and as a final encouragement verse 14-15, “He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works. Say these things, and encourage and rebuke with all authority, let no one disregard you.” Being intimately interconnected with God (our oneness), we are In Him and He is in us. There should be no space for discouragement, pessimism, complacency, and the lack of forward progress.