Praying Through the Bible project

Patience in Prayer and the Joy of God’s Answers
(Ezra 3.11)

…they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

This prayer is an oft-cited prayer, found many times throughout the Bible, especially in the Psalms. Here, the context teaches us about patience in prayer and the joy of God’s answers.

Background

After King Cyrus of Persia proclaimed that the Jewish exiles could return to their land and rebuild their temple, preparations were made, and the people left. Ezra describes the number and tribes of people who went back: twelve leaders, lay families, priests, Levites, and other temple officials—almost 50,000 people!1

After they had made the trek, and settled into towns around Jerusalem, the High Priest Jeshua, other priests, and the governor Zerubbabel built a new altar upon the foundation of the old one and began offering sacrifices morning and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). They began to practice all the daily, weekly, seasonal, and yearly worship, celebrations, and sacrifices.

During the second year, they began to work on rebuilding the Temple. Once the foundation was finished, the priest the priests and Levites celebrated with trumpets and cymbals, singing responsive songs and praising God with the prayer above.

Meaning

The description of the people who returned and the place and work of the sacrifices show that the people are returning to the same place and same practices as before—a sign of faithfulness. The description of the rebuilding of the Temple is worded to remind the readers of the original building of the first Temple, emphasizing the continuity with the past.2

The prayer that they sang, found so often in the Psalms, is a praise and thanksgiving to God’s enduring faithfulness.3 It celebrates the fact that God is the definition of faithfulness, because his promises last forever, and he loves forever. These people, eighty years later, see that God kept his promise to return them to the land.

Many of the people who were taken into exile to Babylon knew of God’s promise to restore them, but died before it came to fruition. We can suppose that some of them gave up on Him, and perhaps turned to the Babylonian gods, who seems more powerful at the time. But those who did not would remember two things to help them: the constant phrase found in the Bible “wait on the Lord” and the prayer above “for his steadfast love endures forever.” God’s timing is not our timing—we are an impatient people!

Application

This prayer and its circumstances give us an opportunity to consider own patience in waiting for God, faithfulness during long, difficult stretches of time, and the joy that comes in restoration.

Think of a time (perhaps now) when you are waiting for something, and God seems to be offering no direction or answer. Can you still pray the prayer above? Even if it seems insincere because of your impatience (and perhaps even irritation) with God, you could pray for patience: “God, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

Finally, can you think of a time or an event where restoration, or healing, or reconciliation came to you? Even if it was long ago, you are now living the fruits of God’s restoration, and you can offer the same praise that the Jews offered above.

Take some time today to consider these issues: waiting for God, faithfulness in difficult times, and joy of restoration. What prayers can you offer today in light of them?


  1. The list may be the total amount who returned over a period of time, not all who went in the first trip.
  2. Compare verse 7 to 1 Chron 22:2-4; 2 Chron 2:15-16; the date verse 8 to 2 Chron 3:2; the time of rebuilding (two plus five years) in 6:15) with 1 Kings 6:38; the role of the Levites in supervision (8-9) with 1 Chron 23:4.
  3. See Pslms 100:4–5; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1; 136:1.


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