The writer of Ezra doesn’t furnish us with any details about the returnees settling into their communities because it’s not relevant to his purposes. We know from 2:64-69 they were prosperous. Haggai 1:3 tells us that they built nice houses for themselves. But we also know that what you have to live with pales in comparison to what you are living for. The opening verses of Ezra have made it clear that the rebuilding of the temple occupies a central part of Israel’s story. Therefore, the narrative moves forward with this in view.
On the first day of the seventh month we’re told that the people go to Jerusalem and “assemble as one” (Ezra 3:1). This stresses their unity of purpose in gathering together. Perhaps it also has reference to their solidarity in the face of the threatening circumstances (v. 3).
Attention immediately turns to the altar. It is built upon the foundation of the previous altar in Solomon’s temple (v. 3). Myers suggests that there was probably some kind of altar already in existence that the Samarians were using to offer their sacrifices (4:2). But it was a compromised altar built by compromised people and not “in accordance with what was written in the Law of Moses” (2 Kings 17:29ff—especially v. 41; Ezra 3:2).
They begin to offer the morning and evening sacrifices (v. 3). They offer other sacrifices in accordance with their religious calendar (v. 5). They celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles. All of this is what their ancestors had done when Solomon dedicated the temple (1 Kings 8) so there’s historical precedent for what they’re doing. But they are more than a historical society—the writer is identifying the returnees as a worshiping community (Allen & Laniak). That is why Joshua the high priest is mentioned before Zerubbabel here when everywhere else Zerubbabel is mentioned first. He wants us to see that worship is a priority for them and why we are constantly reminded of the connection between their return and the building of the temple (the word “temple” occurs 29 times in the first six chapters).
Worshiping people have a worshiping spirit—they’re not just going through the motions. They follow rituals prescribed by God because it is through them they express their love for Him. It is no different that when a loved one asks us to do something for them and we are glad to do it because we know it pleases them. Of course, there is much more to our worship than following rituals but it is the same spirit that is present in all worship–the spirit that recognizes that God is worthy of our devotion.
The psalmist speaks of how “fitting” it is to praise God (147:1). What does he mean by that? He means that worship corresponds with how we are made, it syncs up with everything about us, it fits us like a hand in a glove.
But worship is more that self-fulfillment, it imprints upon our hearts the attributes of God. Our corporate worship is structured to stress (among other things) the character and heart of our Father. The prayers we pray, the songs we sing, the word we hear all do that when they are done well, but the Supper is really the centerpiece. If we are participating in spirit and understanding, we are brought face-to-face with God’s holiness and judgment in response to sin, His mercy and grace in response to sinners, and His hope-bringing-faithfulness in regard to His promises.
In light of that, worship should be a priority in our lives not in a legal sense but in the sense that a plant grows toward the light. God is not our Facebook buddy—He is our Holy Friend who is like no other and should be treated that way. All of this is important for the simple reason that worship inevitably shapes us. We become what we worship. Worship yourself (as some do), and you will inevitably make God over into your image. Worship Him and you will be made over into His likeness.
That is why worshiping God is an critical element of what it means to be alive.