Our reading today begins with the construction of the altar. We see a desire to return to obedience to the Law of Moses (3:2). We also see that the returning exiles were afraid of the inhabitants of the lands (v. 3). This would include Israel’s traditional enemies, like Ammon and Edom, but would also include the Samaritans to the north. Note that the return is not like the conquest. God is not driving any nations out from before the returning exiles. His promise of supernatural preservation before their enemies is no more. In verse 4, we see again this newfound desire to obey the Law. They people keep the Feast of Booths “as it is written.” They also observe the various offerings (v. 5). There are also offerings of personal possessions to begin the construction of the Temple (v. 6).
In verse 8, the Levites are consecrated for their sacred duties, including the rebuilding of the Temple. When the foundation is laid, the musicians play music of praise “acceding to the directions of David king of Israel” (v. 10 – see 1 Chr 25:1-2). And they sing the famous refrain, this time adding that God’s hesed love is toward Israel (v. 11 – see 1 Chr 16:34). And as the foundation of the Temple is laid, those who had seen the glory of Solomon’s Temple weep, while those who had not shout with joy (v. 13). For some, this is a reminder of what they have lost. For others, it is a promise of what’s to come.
Psalm 66 is a song of thanksgiving. This may have been written upon the return to the land, perhaps even when the second Temple was built. It begins with a call for the whole earth to shout for joy to God (66:1), because He has performed awesome deeds (v. 3). All the earth worships and praises God for this (v. 4). In verse 5, the Psalmist calls attention to these awesome deeds, which God has directed not towards Israel, but towards all the children of man (adam). The Psalmist recalls the Exodus in verse 6, perhaps likening the return from captivity to it (v. 6). In verse 7, we see the universal reign of God over all nations (v 7).
In verse 8, the “peoples” are call to bless “our” God. This is still speaking of God as the God of the whole earth – all the nations. The Psalmist appears to be including all who praise YHWH in with the returning remnant. Verses 10-12 mingles the Exodus with the return from captivity. The burnt offerings and keeping of vows, commanded by God, are here made as a promise to surrender to God what is due to Him (vv. 13-15). And this is for all who fear God (v. 16). The Psalmist then praises God for hearing His prayer (v. 17), which God does for those who repent of their sin (v. 18). For those who turn to God in repentance, His hesed love will never be removed (v. 20).
Psalm 84 (one of my favorites!) is about being in the presence of God. The dwelling place of YHWH (84:1) may refer to the Temple, but His dwelling place is ultimately among all who believe in Him. It is His presence that the Psalmist desires most (v. 2). And God’s presence can be found anywhere for those who believe. The Psalmist pictures nature as the “altars” of YHWH (v. 3). Blessing is for those who praise God and dwell in His presence – wherever they are (v. 4).
In verse 5, we see the way to God is in a person’s heart. The Hebrew word baca means “weeping.” Even when we are in the valley of our walk with God and we weep, because we are in His presence, even the valley is a place of abundance (v. 6), and strength can be found where God is (v. 7). After praying that God would hear his prayer (vv. 8-9), the Psalmist declares that even one day spent in God’s presence is better than thousands anywhere else (v. 10). Even serving as doorkeeper in God’s presence is preferable to living comfortably away from Him. Because even in the valley, even in service, God bestows good on the righteous (v. 11). That’s why those who trust in Him are blessed.