“[T]he people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 3:13 ESV)
We pick up the narrative about God’s people returning from captivity in Ezra 3, wherein we witness a crucial event: the laying of the foundation of the temple. This is what they came for. Recall the decree of Cyrus, King of Persia, wherein he instituted a God-given directive to return to Jerusalem “to build the house the Lord.” The temple was that glorious seal of God’s presence among his people, and though it had been destroyed, God supernaturally made a way for his people to rebuild it! In our text we see the fulfillment of Cyrus’ decree.
But something unexpected happens in response to the laying of this foundation. After the foundation was laid and the Levites led the people in celebratory singing, the older men, who had seen the original temple, were weeping. Unlike their younger brethren, they did not look at this new temple foundation with joy. The text specifically contrasts the weeping with the shouts of joy, making it clear these were not tears of joy.
The text does not specify why they were weeping. The prophet Haggai gives us a clue: “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?” (Haggai 2:3) Perhaps these older men longed for the glory days of Israel and the beautiful Solomonic temple and this foundation simply failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps they were grieved over their own sin which led to the destruction of the first temple. Whatever the case one thing is evident: God’s work conjures varying responses from his people.
Believers in any season of life should be able to relate. We experience times of great joy and times of great sorrow. Sometimes we experience the entire spectrum of emotions in just one worship service or one season of prayer. Despite the differences in their responses, young and old worked side by side to accomplish the same goals of rebuilding the temple. Likewise, we must be mindful that God’s working will be received differently by our brothers and sisters. Some will weep, others will rejoice. Some will have their pride demolished while others will be uplifted from despair. So long as we inhabit this current world, we will experience diversity in our emotions. Let us minister to one another within this diversity while also looking forward to the day when God wipes away every tear!