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In Ezra 3 verses 12-13, old men who had seen the first temple are described as having

“wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many [others] shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away. (NASB)

What is the reason the old men were weeping? Some commentaries say it is because they saw the beauty of the first temple and were distressed by the fact that this second one was far inferior in quality. Others say they wept because there was finally a second temple (I’m sure there are additional interpretations as well). Why were the old men weeping, and how does the original language imply that reason?

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    There is no indication that all the crying is for one reason, It could be mixed reasons.
    – Perry Webb
    Oct 22 '20 at 22:43
  • “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy,” ‭‭Ezra‬ ‭3:12‬ for both reasons you mention. 1) they knew it would not have the same splendor as the first once completed and 2) they wept that they finally got a temple again. Oct 23 '20 at 3:57
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    It is ambiguous and the narrative does not resolve the ambiguity. Were they weeping because the first was so much better than the second ? Or were they weeping with gratitude to see the second, expressing deep feelings rather then the lesser elation of the joyful ? I don't think the narrative indicates a resolution to this ambiguity, myself. But up-voted as a good question (+1) and maybe someone with sufficient understanding of the Hebrew can throw more light upon this question.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 23 '20 at 10:09
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Ezra's contemporary Haggai provided additional insight.

Haggai 2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: 2“Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, a the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, 3‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
6“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Ezra described the mixed feelings that people were experiencing concerning the glory of the past, present, and future of the temple.

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  • Great answer, thanks for bringing in the Haggai reference!
    – Gremosa
    Oct 23 '20 at 22:38
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The account of weeping and joy is ambiguous and the narrative does not resolve the ambiguity.

Were they weeping because the first temple was so much better than the second ?

Or were they weeping with gratitude to see the second, expressing the deeper feelings of experienced and aged elders, rather then the lesser elation of the joyfulness of enthusiastic, younger, men ?

I don't think the narrative indicates a resolution to this ambiguity, myself.

As indicated in the answer of @Tony Chan , the reality of the situation is further evidenced by the prophet Haggai.

Despite the joy of those who were elated at the inauguration of the second temple, they having seen no other in their own lifetime, yet the shouts of joy were mingled with the tears of those who, with crushing disappointment, remembered a better physical glory than what was before their aged eyes.

Yet the prophet Haggai encourages all in the knowledge that far greater glory is yet envisaged for the Lord himself with fill the place with his own glory.

And surely the glory of the Lord is far better than the physical place in which that glory is shone forth.

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