God’s Unswerving Commitment
This chapter marks the fresh start made by the retuned exiles of their worship life as the people of God. Such worship was central to the life of God’s people. They set the altar in place and offered the morning and evening sacrifices of burnt offerings. These sacrifices began and ended the day. As burnt offerings they were wholly given to God and totally consumed by fire. Nothing remained for the offerer to consume. The focus of attention was God and the self-dedication of the worshippers in the life of the animal.
These sacrifices were offered on behalf of the whole people. As such they are a picture of the Lord Jesus offering himself as our Head to the Father. In Him as His body, and with Him as our representative, we are consecrated to God.
The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Sukkot), held in autumn, that is in September or October, is the great harvest festival. When leaving Egypt the people lived in booths or hastily made shelters. It was a festival that told the story of their deliverance by God. As one writer says, it was “Israel’s gospel story”, the story in which they were called to live. All was done in loyalty to the stipulations given by God through Moses.
The laying of the foundation stone in the work of restoring the ruined House of the Lord was undertaken according to the musical directions of David. The focus of their praise and thanksgiving was that aspect of the character of God so often acknowledged in the Psalms: “God is good, and his steadfast love (or unswerving commitment) endures for ever towards Israel”. It was this unswerving commitment to His promises to His people that had returned them to their own land. It was not their faithfulness but God’s.
The sounds of rejoicing and tears marked this expression of God’s faithfulness to them. We too rejoice, and maybe weep over our own failures, at the faithfulness of Jesus in whom and by whom we have, and retain, our place in God’s kingdom.
To God Not To Others
There is a public aspect to our life with God. It involves a wide range of activities three of which a mentioned here.
The point our Lord was making is that none of them should be undertaken for the purpose of impressing others. They are for the honouring of God and the cultivation of life before God.
Generosity is for the glory of God and the good of others not for self-promotion.
Prayer seeks the purpose of God, the provision of God, and the protection of God; again not self-aggrandisement
Fasting is to humble one’s self before God, not to make one’s self appear to be pious before others.
What we do in secret is the true measure of our sincerity.