Ezra 3:8 to 6:22
also Haggai 1:1 to 2:23

  AFTER the Jews came back to their own land they first built the altar upon Mount Moriah, as we read in the last Story. Then they built some houses for themselves, for the winter was coming on. And early in the next year they began to build again the Temple of the Lord. Zerubbabel, the prince, and Joshua, the priest, led in the work, and the priests and Levites helped in it. They gave money to masons, and carpenters, and they paid men of Tyre and Sidon, on the shore of the Great Sea, to float down cedar-trees from Mount Lebanon to Joppa; and from Joppa they carried them up the mountains to Jerusalem for the building of the house.

When they laid the first stones in the new building the priests in their robes stood ready with trumpets, and the Levites with cymbals, to praise the Lord for his goodness in bringing them once again to their own land. The singers sang:

"Praise the Lord, for he is good;

His mercy endureth forever toward Israel his people."

And all the people shouted with a great shout as the first stones were laid. But some of the priests, and Levites, and Jews, were old men who had seen the first Temple, while it was still standing, more than fifty years before. These old men wept as they thought of the house that had been burned, and of their friends who had been slain in the destruction of the city. Some wept, and some shouted, but the sound was heard together, and those who heard at a distance could not tell the weeping from the shouting.

But these builders soon found enemies, and were hindered in their work. In the middle of the land, near the cities of Shechem and Samaria, were living the Samaritan people, some of whom from the old Ten Tribes, and others from the people that had been brought into the land by the Assyrians many years before. These worshipped the Lord, but with the Lord they worshipped other gods. These people came to Prince Zerubbabel, and said, "Let us join with you in building this house, for we seek the Lord as you do, and we offer sacrifices to him."

But Zerubbabel and the rulers said to them, "You are not with us, and you do not worship as we worship. You have nothing to do with us in building the Lord's house. We will build up ourselves to our God, the God of Israel, as Cyrus, the king of Persia, has told us to build."

This made the people of Samaria very angry. They tried to stop the Jews from building, and frightened them, and wrote letters to the king, urging him to stop the work. Cyrus, the king, was a friend to the Jews, but he was in a land far away in the east, carrying on war, so that he could not help them; and soon after this he died. His son, who took his great kingdom, did not care for the Jews, and he, too, died in a few years. Then a nobleman of another family seized the throne, and held it nearly a year before he was slain. His name was Smerdis, but he is called in the Bible by another name, Artaxerxes. While this king was reigning, the Samaritan rulers wrote to him a letter, saying:

"Let it be known to the king that the Jews have come back to Jerusalem. They are building again the city which was always bad, and would not obey the kings when it was standing before. If that city be built, and its walls finished, then the Jews will not serve the king, nor pay to him their taxes. We are true to the king, and we do not wish to see harm come to his rule. Of old time this city was rebellious, and for that cause it was laid waste. If it is built again, soon the king will have no power anywhere on this side of the river Euphrates."

The King Smerdis, or Artaxerxes, wrote an answer to the chief men of Samaria, thus:

"The letter which you sent has been read to me. I have caused search to be made in the records; and I find that the city of Jerusalem has been in old time a strong city, with great kings ruling in it, and ruling also the lands around it. I find, too, that this city did rise up and make war against the kings of empires in the past. Command the men who are building the city of Jerusalem to stop the work; and let it not go on until an order is given from the king."

The Samaritans and other enemies of the Jews were glad to have this letter come from the great king of Persia. They went to Jerusalem and made the work of building the Temple and the city stop. So the foundations of the Temple lay unfinished through several years.

But after a time two prophets arose in the land of Judea. They were Haggai and Zechariah; and they spoke the word of the Lord to the people, telling them to go forward with the building. Haggai said, "Is it a time for you to dwell in richly furnished houses of your own while the Lord's house lies waste? Go up to the mountains, and bring wood, and build; and I will be pleased with you, and will bless you, saith the Lord. The glory of this house shall be greater than the glory of the other house, and in this place I will give peace, saith the Lord of hosts."

And Zechariah, the other prophet, said, "It shall not be by might nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord. The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands shall finish it. He shall lay the head-stone with shoutings of 'Grace, grace unto it!' "

Then Zerubbabel, and Joshua, and the rest of the Jews, began again, and went on with the work. Soon after this a new king began to reign in Persia. He was a wise man and a great ruler, whose name was Darius.

King Darius looked in the records of Persia, and found it written that Cyrus, the king, had commanded the Temple to be built. He wrote a letter to the rulers in all the lands around Judea no longer to hinder the work, but to help it, and to give what was needed for it. Then the Jews went on with the building in great joy; and it was finished at last, twenty-one years after it had been begun, while Zerubbabel, the prince, and Joshua, the priest, were still ruling over the people.

The Temple, which was thus built for the second time, was like the one built by Solomon nearly five hundred years before; but though larger, it was not so beautiful nor costly. In front of it was an open court, with a wall around it, where the people could go to worship. Next to the people's court, on higher ground, was the priests' court, where stood the altar, and the laver for washing. Within this court rose the house of God, with the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies, separated by a great vail. In the Holy Place, as before, stood the table for bread, the golden lampstand, and the golden altar for incense. But in the Holy of Holies there was no ark of the covenant, for this had been lost, and was never brought back to Jerusalem. In place of the ark stood a marble block, upon which the high-priest sprinkled the blood, when he went into the Holy of Holies, on the great day of atonement, once in each year.