Explaining someone else’s emotional response is difficult enough. Trying to venture a guess at why someone in the Bible wept thousands of years ago is a fool’s errand. Even so, many have guessed at why these elders and spiritual leaders of Judah weep upon seeing the foundations of the new temple (Ezra 3:10). It could be because the new temple’s foundation seemed small in comparison to the old one, or perhaps there is sorrow for what has been lost. I tend to think it is a little of both. Either way, amid a time of reason for gladness, Judah has still fallen so far from former glories that a celebration is obviously tinged with a great measure of sadness.
I cannot overstate how much the Babylonian exile shapes Israel’s self-understanding moving forward. Similarly, we recently remembered as a nation the events of 9/11, just sixteen years ago, and we will recognize the events at Pearl Harbor in a few months; certainly, we can empathize with the way the life-altering exile could profoundly shape a people’s self-understanding. Most importantly, the exile and return will form the backdrop for Israel’s future hopes for God’s kingdom and His Messiah.