And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord (Ezra 3:11).

It had been seventy years since King Nebuchadnezzar had taken the children of Judah captive and carried them north to Babylon. Few of the exiles could even remember their old home in Jerusalem and its beautiful temple.

When Cyrus became king of Persia, his heart was softened and he decided to let the captives return to their home. Before they left, he gave them the treasures that had been taken from their temple and told them to rebuild it. They were led on their return journey by Zerubbabel, the grandson of their former king, and by Jeshua the priest.

After their return, they began work on the temple. When the foundations were laid, they gave thanks to the Lord and praised him in music and song. The temple was not completed right away, however. The Israelites had problems with the Samaritans, and no work was done for sixteen years. Eventually the people had to appeal to King Darius, who had become the king after Cyrus. They asked him to search the records and find the decree Cyrus had made concerning the building of the temple. Darius found it, issued his own decree, and the temple was finished and dedicated “with joy.”

Then the people had to rebuild the city walls. The prophet Nehemiah encouraged them. He told them God would help them. They believed him, and though they had to post guards to protect themselves from their enemies while they worked, they sang praises to their God.

It was to this temple and this city that, many years later, Ezra the priest, returned. Artaxerxes, the current king in Babylon, granted him an edict that allowed him to take back to Jerusalem any remaining exiles who wished to return. He was also given offerings for the temple, and he was told to appoint magistrates and judges. Ezra praised God for putting into the heart of the king the desire to beautify the temple of the Lord. When they had prepared for their journey, Ezra asked his people to fast and ask God for protection on it.

After they had arrived in Jerusalem and had given to the temple all the gifts that had been sent, Ezra taught the law of Moses to the people. He read to them from the scrolls and taught them for many days. They came to realize that they had done many things that were against the laws of their God. They covenanted anew with the Lord to obey the commandments, to marry as He asked them to, to honor the Sabbath, and to pay their tithes.

When the day came for the dedication of the rebuilt walls of the city, the people gathered “to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.” They had gone before their God sorrowing for the many things they had done wrong and had promised to live better lives. Their joy was great when the Lord accepted their offerings, and the air was filled with the music of their happiness.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Eagle