Ezra 6 – The Second Temple Is Completed
A. Darius responds to the request of the governor, Tattenai.
1. (1-2) A diligent search for the decree of Cyrus.
Then King Darius issued a decree, and a search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. And at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found, and in it a record was written thus:
a. Then King Darius issued a decree, and a search was made: This was the response to the respectful request made by Tattenai described in the last part of Ezra 5.
b. At Achmetha…a scroll was found: This indicates that there must have been some diligence required in the search. This in itself was an evidence of God’s hand in the matter; otherwise, they might have easily given up the search.
i. “It is easy to realize how easily this might not have been found. If such a document was not in the proper libraries, what more natural than to abandon the search? But under the Divine compulsion that search was prosecuted until the decree was found.” (Morgan)
ii. This request was initiated in Judea, referred to Babylon, and the answer was found in records from the remote city of Achmetha. All this gave the builders lots of time to continue their work because they did not stop during the inquiry process (Ezra 5:5).
iii. “Diodorus (2.32.4) declared that the Persians had ‘royal parchments’ recording their history. Persian officials wrote on scrolls of papyrus and leather, as discoveries made in Egypt show.” (Yamauchi)
iv. “In ‘The Decrees of Cyrus’ (p. 89), de Vaux observes that ‘now we know that it was the custom of the Persian sovereigns to winter in Babylon and depart in the summer to Susa or Ecbatana [Achmetha],..and we also know that Cyrus left Babylon in the spring of 538 B.C…. A forger operating in Palestine without the information which we possess could hardly have been so accurate.” (Yamauchi)
2. (3-5) The text of the record found: Cyrus’ decree.
In the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem: “Let the house be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices; and let the foundations of it be firmly laid, its height sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits, with three rows of heavy stones and one row of new timber. Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury. Also let the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple which is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and taken back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; and deposit them in the house of God”—
a. King Cyrus issued a decree: This is the decree originally recorded in Ezra 1, giving the Jewish people who wanted to return to Jerusalem and Judea the right to return and to repopulate Judea and to rebuild Jerusalem.
b. Let the house be rebuilt…. Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury: Not only did Cyrus give permission for the temple to be rebuilt, he commanded the funding of the work from the royal treasury.
i. Heavy stones: “The great stones which had excited suspicion were now found to be expressly authorised – for the term is the same as for the ‘huge stones’ of Ezra 5:8 – literally, stones for rolling, too massive to be transported by other means.” (Kidner)
ii. Heavy stones and one row of new timber: This construction technique seems to have been a precaution against earthquakes. “Kenyon has identified as the only visible remains of Zerubbabel’s building a straight joint of stones with heavy bosses about 108 feet north of the southeast corner of the temple platform, which Dunand confirmed as similar to Persian masonry found in Phoenicia.” (Yamauchi)
iii. There is some question about the size of the temple as mentioned here because these dimensions are greater than even Solomon’s temple. The best answer is that Cyrus gave the limits of what they could build, instead of the actual dimensions of the new structure. “He did not command them to make it so large, for he left the ordering of the proportions of the building to their skill and choice; but he restrained them that they should make it no larger, lest they should hereafter make use of it to other purposes against himself.” (Poole)
c. Let the gold and silver articles of the house of God…be restored and taken back to the temple which is in Jerusalem: Furthermore, Cyrus ordered that the spoils taken from the house of God some two generations before now be returned to the Jerusalem temple.
i. It was a remarkable example of God’s providence that so many of these gold and silver articles of the house of God still existed intact and that King Cyrus commanded them to be returned.
3. (6-12) The reply of Darius to Tattenai.
Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and your companions the Persians who are beyond the River, keep yourselves far from there. Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God on its site.
Moreover I issue a decree as to what you shall do for the elders of these Jews, for the building of this house of God: Let the cost be paid at the king’s expense from taxes on the region beyond the River; this is to be given immediately to these men, so that they are not hindered. And whatever they need; young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail, that they may offer sacrifices of sweet aroma to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons.
Also I issue a decree that whoever alters this edict, let a timber be pulled from his house and erected, and let him be hanged on it; and let his house be made a refuse heap because of this. And may the God who causes His name to dwell there destroy any king or people who put their hand to alter it, or to destroy this house of God which is in Jerusalem. I Darius issue a decree; let it be done diligently.
a. Let the work of this house of God alone: Based on the search and recovery of the relevant document from King Cyrus, Darius made the appropriate command to Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River. Darius commanded him to allow the work on the temple and the city of Jerusalem to continue without interruption.
b. Build the house of God on its site: Darius recognized what the elders of the Jews recognized, that it was essential to build the temple upon its old foundations.
c. Let the cost be paid at the king’s expense: Based on the prior decree from Cyrus, King Darius did more than allow the work to continue. He commanded that it be funded by local taxes on the region beyond the River. Darius did what is common for politicians to do; he put the burden for funding this work on the province itself, not on his own treasury.
i. And it was funded in an impressive manner: whatever they need and let it be given to them day by day without fail means that this was a substantial grant.
ii. In this, we see the wonderful hand of God at work against the objections raised by Tattenai and Shethar-Bozenai as recorded in Ezra 5:3. The end result of these objections was to further the work of God instead of hindering it. This is an example of God working all things together for good for His people (Romans 8:28). On this point, Kidner quotes a line from a William Cowper poem: The clouds which ye so much dread, Are big with mercy.
d. And pray for the life of the king and his sons: This explains part of the motivation of King Darius. Not only did he base his decision on the precedent of King Cyrus, but he also wanted the prayers of the Jewish people for the king and his sons.
e. Let him be hanged on it…let his house be made a refuse heap…destroy any king or people who put their hand to alter it: Finally, Darius was careful to make the decree strong, with severe punishments for those who violated both the letter and the spirit of the decree.
i. According to Adam Clarke, there is some debate as to if this punishment involved flogging a man at his own house, hanging him to death at his house, or impaling him at his house as an early form of crucifixion.
ii. Darius was the type of man to see such brutal executions through to completion. “According to Herodotus (3.159) Darius I impaled three thousand Babylonians when he took Babylon, an act that Darius himself recorded in the Beshitun Inscription.” (Yamauchi)
f. Let it be done diligently: At the end of it all, the king of the mightiest empire on the earth commanded that the temple be finished by the returned exiles and funded by the empire.
i. This might seem absolutely unique, but there is good evidence that Persian monarchs had similar concern for the conquered temples in other regions of their empire. “In 1973 French archaeologists discovered at Xanthos in Lycia in southwestern Turkey a cult foundation charter – written in Greek, Lycian, and Aramaic – dated to 358 B.C., a period when the area was controlled by a Persian satrap, that provided some striking parallels with the decree of Cyrus.” (Yamauchi)
ii. “One can easily imagine with what surprise Tattenai received the answer of Darius, characterized by clearness and determination. The man who would have hindered and stayed the progress of the building, was compelled not only to not hinder, but to help with great gifts.” (Morgan)
iii. “If certain matters can only be settled by reference to great men, kings or men of affairs, make the application;’ and then betake yourself to prayer, believing that as He inclined the heart of Darius, in the instance before us, so He can do as He will among the armies of heaven, and the inhabitants of earth.” (Meyer)
iv. This is a powerful illustration of the principle from Proverbs: The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes (Proverbs 21:1).
B. The temple is finished and dedicated.
1. (13-15) The temple is completed.
Then Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions diligently did according to what King Darius had sent. So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
a. Diligently did according to what King Darius had sent: They were diligent in supporting and funding the work of rebuilding the temple and were diligent in punishing anyone who opposed it.
i. “The political motives for this forthrightness may have been many, including a desire to show respect for the policies of Cyrus and to promote stability in a part of the empire which was important for communications with Egypt, at a time when widespread unrest had only recently been quelled.” (Kidner)
b. They prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah: The words and personal ministry of these post-exilic prophets were an important component in the success of the work. The work and the workers were genuinely strengthened by the word of God through these prophets.
i. The initial ministry of these prophets is mentioned in Ezra 5:1-2. There, the prophets had to encourage the people of God to resume the work after a significant period of inactivity. Now, they had to encourage them to keep working when God had opened the doors for the work to be done. Even with the open doors, the work was still difficult and needed prophetic encouragement. God’s blessing on the work did not make the work easy to do.
ii. “Work on the temple made little progress because of opposition and the preoccupation of returnees with their own homes (Haggai 1:2-3). Because they had placed their own interests first, God sent them famine as a judgment (Haggai 1:5-6, 10-11). Spurred by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, and under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua, a new effort was begun (Haggai 1:12-15).” (Yamauchi)
c. The temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year: This means that it took four years from the resumption of construction. It was such a big job that even with everyone doing the work diligently it was not quickly completed.
i. “The mention of Artaxerxes, who belongs to the next century, takes us forward to the restoration of the city walls by Nehemiah, which this king authorised. His name, as the third royal patron of Israel’s rehabilitation, is added here to complete the picture, whether by the author or by an early scribe.” (Kidner)
2. (16-18) The dedication ceremony of the second temple.
Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.
a. Celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy: There was a previous celebration, many years before at the founding of this second temple (Ezra 3). This was the celebration for the finishing of a functioning temple.
i. “The word for dedication (hanukka) was later to become the name of a festival in memory of the Temple’s re-consecration in 165 B.C. after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes (cf. John 10:22f.).” (Kidner)
b. And they offered sacrifices: Compared to the dedication of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:62-66), this was a meager dedication celebration. Solomon sacrificed some 142,000 animals at his dedication of the temple; here at the dedication of the second temple they only sacrificed a total of 712 animals.
i. However, given the relative wealth of Israel in the days of the first temple as compared to the second temple, the smaller gift recorded in Ezra may have been more beautiful to God.
ii. As a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats: “It was a confession of failure but also faith. There was still atonement and still the covenant with the whole people – for this was the implication of the twelve sacrifices.” (Kidner)
iii. The fact that sacrifice was made for the twelve tribes shows that regathered Israel had the real sense that they were the collective product of all twelve tribes, and there were not ten or any other number of “lost” tribes.
c. They assigned the priests to their divisions…as it is written in the Book of Moses: They took care to resume the proper priestly service as commanded by the Book of Moses and the previous pattern of David.
i. Yet, all was not the same as in the previous service in the days of Solomon’s temple. “The general plan of the second temple resembled the first. But the [Most Holy Place] was left empty as the ark of the covenant had been lost through the Babylonian conquest…. [The Holy Place] was furnished with a table for showbread, the incense altar, and one menorah instead of Solomon’s ten.” (Yamauchi)
3. (19-22) The first Passover celebrated in the second temple.
And the descendants of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were ritually clean. And they slaughtered the Passover lambs for all the descendants of the captivity, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel. And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the LORD made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
a. The descendants of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month: This shows that they were careful to keep the Passover according to the command of Moses, on the proper day. In keeping Passover they remembered the central act of redemption of the Old Testament, the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt.
b. They slaughtered the Passover lambs for all the descendants of the captivity: In this, we see that the people themselves did not sacrifice the Passover lambs, rather the priests did this for them. It seems that there was no absolute custom for this; sometimes the people sacrificed the Passover lambs under the supervision of the priests and sometimes the priests did it for the people.
c. With all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land: Connected with the remembrance of the deliverance of Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which marked the purity of God’s delivered people.
i. The children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel: “This is a crucial verse for correcting the impression one might gain from Ezra 4:1-3 of a bitterly exclusive party…. in reality we find that only the self-excluded were unwelcome. The convert found an open door, as Rahab and Ruth had done.” (Kidner)
ii. “We may suspect a spirit of Jewish animosity in the ugly phrase ‘the filthiness of the heathen.’ But it was only too true that both the Canaanite and the Babylonian habits of life were disgustingly immoral. The same horrible characteristic is found among most of the heathen to-day. These degraded people are not simply benighted in theological error; they are corrupted by horrible vices. Missionary work is more than the propagation of Christian theology; it is the purging of Augean stables.” (Adeney)
d. The LORD made them joyful: In the context of obedience and purity, they did not lose their joy. The purity of God’s delivered people was joyful in its character (instead of dour). It also led them to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God.
i. “Do not be afraid of joy; when God makes you joyful, do not think it necessary to restrain your songs or smiles.” (Meyer)
ii. “So ends the first stage, a generation long, of Israel’s rehabilitation. It had opened when the LORD ‘stirred up the spirit of Cyrus’ (Ezra 1:1), and it concluded with His turning the heart of one of that king’s most powerful successors.” (Kidner)
iii. The heart of the king of Assyria: “He had ‘turned the heart of the king of Assyria’ – a title for Darius that speaks for the authenticity of the narrative, for it represents an old form of speech for the ruler of the districts that had once belonged to the king of Assyria.” (Adeney)