Ezra 6 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Ezra 6
Pulpit Commentary
Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.
Verse 1. - Darius the king made a decree. Rather, "gave an order" (Vulg., praecepit). A "decree" would not be necessary. And search was made in the house of the rolls. Literally, "in the house of the books," i.e. in the royal library, or record chamber. Where the treasures were laid up. The same repository was, apparently, used for documents of value and for the precious metals. An underground apartment is perhaps indicated by the word translated "laid up," which means "made to descend."
And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written:
Verse 2. - There was found at Achmetha. Not "in a coffer," as our translators suggest in the margin, and as Aben Ezra and Jarchi interpret; but "at Ecbatana," which is expressed letter for letter by the word used in the original, except that the final n is dropped. Compare for this omission the passage of Harran into Carrhae, and of Shu-shan into Susa. In the palace that is in the province of the Medes. The palace of Ecbatana was very famous. Herodotus says that it was built by Deioces, the first Median king, occupied the centre of the town, and was defended by seven circles of walls, one inside the other (1:98). Polybius states that the building covered an area 1420 yards in circumference, and consisted of a number of halls and cloistered courts, supported by wooden pillars, of cypress or of cedar, both of which were coated with a plating of gold or silver, and supported roofs sloped at an angle, consisting of silver plates instead of the customary tiling (5:27, 10). This grannd building was the residence of the old Median monarchs, and also of Cyrus and Cambyses. Darius built himself still more magnificent residences at Susa and Persepolis; but both he and the later Achaemenian monarchs continued to use the Median palace as a summer residence, and it maintained its celebrity till the close of the empire (see Arrian, 'Exp. Alex.,' 3:19). A roll. According to Ctesias ('Died. Sic.,' 2:32), the Persians employed parchment or vellum for the material of their records, not baked clay, like the Assyrians and Babylonians, or paper, like the Egyptians. Parchment would be a suitable material for rolls, and no doubt was anciently used chiefly in that shape. Therein was a record thus written. The decree would no doubt be written, primarily, in the Persian language and the Persian cuneiform character; but it may have been accompanied by a Chaldaean transcript, of which Ezra may have obtained a copy. Public documents were commonly set forth by the Persians in more than one language (see 'Herod.,' 4:87; and comp. the 'Inscriptions,' passim, which are almost universally either bilingual or trilingual).
In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;
Verse 3. - Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifice. Or, "the place where they may offer sacrifice." It is the future, rather than the past, which Cyrus is contemplating. Let the foundation thereof be strongly laid. Isaiah had prophesied that Cyrus should "say to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isaiah 44:28). Cyrus adds an injunction that the foundations be laid "supportingly," or "strongly," that so the house may the longer continue. The height thereof threescore cubits. Half the height of the first temple, according to the existing text of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 3:4); but one-third more than the previous height, as estimated by the author of Kings (1 Kings 6:2). And the breadth thereof threescore cubits. This breadth is thrice that of the main building, according to both Chronicles and Kings. It is even double that of the old temple, with the side chambers, which occupied a space of five cubits, or seven and a half feet, on either wing. That such an enlargement actually took effect would seem to be most improbable; and we may perhaps conclude that Cyrus designed a building on a grander scale than Zerubbabel, with the resources at his disposal, was able to erect. It is curious that Cyrus did not in his decree specify the length of the temple.
With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expences be given out of the king's house:
Verse 4. - With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber. The Septuagint interpreter understood by this that the new temple was to be four storeys high, three storeys being built of stone, and one of timber. The two wings of the temple of Solomon were undoubtedly three storeys high (1 Kings 6:6). But it is perhaps doubtful whether the word nidbak ever means "storey." Most commentators suppose three courses of stone, and then a course of timber, repeated from foundation to summit; but there is no known example of such a mode of building. The expences were to be given out of the king's house, defrayed, i.e., out of the royal revenue; but either this intention of Cyrus was not carried out, or it was understood to apply only to the materials. Large sums were subscribed by the Jews themselves towards the building (Ezra 2:69), and large payments were made by them to the persons employed upon the work (Ezra 3:7).
And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.
Verse 5.- Also let the gold and silver vessels... be restored. The decree terminated with instructions for the restoration of the vessels. Undoubtedly it was impressed upon Cyrus, when he took Babylon, t
Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
Verse 6. - Now therefore, Tatnai. It is hardly to be supposed that Darius was as abrupt as this. Apparently the author has not thought it necessary to put on record the whole royal letter; but only the most essential parts of it - the recitation of the decree of Cyrus, and the further decree of Darius himself. The address of the letter, the opening words, and the passage by which the two main portions were linked together, are either omitted or greatly abbreviated. Be ye far from thence. Keep away from the Jews - do not go near them to trouble them.
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 in his place.
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.
Verse 8. - Moreover, I make a decree. Literally, "By me too is a decree made." The decree of Cyrus is not enough. I add to it, and require you

(1) to pay the wages of the workmen employed out of the royal revenue, and

(2) to supply the temple perpetually with all that is needed for the regular sacrifices (see ver. 9). What ye shall do to the elders. Not, "Lest ye do anything to the elders" (LXX.); much less, "What must be done by the elders" (Vulg.); but, as in the A. V., "What ye shall do to them" - how ye shall act towards them. Of the tribute beyond the river forthwith expences be given to these men. The Persian satraps had to collect from their provinces a certain fixed sum as the royal tribute, and had to remit this sum annually to the court. Darius orders that the expenses of the men employed on the temple shall be paid by the satrap of Syria out of the royal tribute of his province, and only the balance remitted. Thus no additional burthen was laid upon the taxpayers.
And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
Verse 9. - Both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs. These were the chief sacrificial animals of the Jews - a lamb being required every morning and evening, two more on the sabbath, seven at each of the great feasts and at the beginning of each mouth, and fourteen on every day during the feast of tabernacles, altogether more than a thousand in the course of the year; and rams and bullocks being joined with the lambs on the more solemn occasions. The only other ordinary sacrificial animal was "a kid of the goats." Wheat, salt, wine, and oil were needed for the "meat offerings" by which every burnt offering was accompanied (Exodus 29:40, 41; Leviticus 2:13, etc.). Let it be given them day by day. Since sacrifice was offered every day.
That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.
Verse 10. - That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours. Either incense, as in Daniel 2:46, or "sacrifices that are pleasing and acceptable" (see Genesis 8:21; Numbers 28:2). And pray for the life of the king. The Jews have always maintained the practice of praying for the civil ruler of any country in which they have had their abode. Jeremiah s exhortation to "seek the peace" of Babylon (Numbers 29:7) was understood in this way, and the tradition has been handed down even to the present day. Under monarchs so favour-able to them as the Achaemenian Persians the duty would certainly not have been neglected. And of his sons. In Persia "the royal house" was the special object of regard. Individual kings must die, but the house would go on (see the speech of Artemisia to Xerxes in 'Herod.,' 8:102; and compare the references to the "gods of the royal house" in the Inscriptions). Kings took special care of their sons. Thus Cyrus sent Cambyses back to Persia when he was about to attack the Massagetae ('Herod.,' 1:208), and Xerxes gave several of his sons into the charge of Artemisia, to convey them by ship to Asia, while he himself took the long and perilous journey by land (ibid. 8:103).
Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
Verse 11. - Whoever shall alter this word. Rather, "this edict." To alter the terms of a royal decree would in any country be a heinous offence. In Persia, where the monarch was absolute, and where decrees were regarded as "altering not" (Daniel 6:8, 12), it was a crime of the deepest dye. Hence the severity of the punishment threatened. The punishment has been explained as crucifixion, impalement, and "whipping at a post;" but there seems to be no real doubt that crucifixion is intended. Great criminals were almost always crucified by the Persians (see Brisson, 'De Regno Persarum,' 2. pp. 327-329; and comp. 'Behist. Inscr.,' col. 2. par. 14; col. 3. par. 8). Let his house be made a dunghill Some render "be confiscated," but wrongly. The best Hebraists agree with our translators. The practice of concluding important documents with maledictions was common to the Persians, with the Assyrians, Babylonians, and others (see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 1. pp. 53, 105, 126; vol. 5. p. 26; vol. 7. pp. 19, 20, 56; vol. 9. pp. 35, 36, 95, 100 107, etc.).

CHAPTER 6:13-22
And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.
Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
Verse 13. - So they did speedily. Tatnai and Shethar-boznai showed no reluctance. They had no enmity against the Jews. Once clearly advertised of the king's wishes, they carried them out with zeal. The rapid completion of the temple must be in part attributed to their good-will.
And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.
Verse 14. - And the elders of the Jews builded. See above, Ezra 5:5, 9. Probably the same as "the chief of the fathers" of Ezra 2:68, and Ezra 3:12. While the younger men were those who actually laboured, the elders superintended the work. Zerubbabel and Jeshua are no doubt included among them. And they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai... and Zechariah. It can well be understood that Haggai's earnest exhortations, his warnings, his threats, his sarcastic reproaches (Haggai 1:4, 9), his prophecies of a coming glory to the house greater than any known previously (Haggai 2:9), would rouse the spirit of the people, and make them labour diligently and perseveringly; but the visions of Zechariah seem less calculated to stir popular feeling. Still the knowledge that the angels of God were interesting themselves in the restoration of the temple (Zechariah 1:9-21; Zechariah 2:3, etc.), and the many promises that God would "comfort Zion," and "choose Jerusalem" (Zechariah 1:17; Zechariah 2:12; Zechariah 3:2), and that the temple should assuredly be brought to completion (Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 4:9), helped no doubt to strengthen the hands of Zerubbabel, and to keep up the zeal of the people. According to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. The commandments of Cyrus and of Darius have been set forth by the writer (see Ezra 1:3; Ezra 6:3-5, 7); but nothing has been said as yet of any commandment given by any Artaxerxes to "build" or "finish" the house. On the contrary, the only Arta-xerxes mentioned has been declared to have expressly forbidden the work to proceed (Ezra 4:7-22). The Artaxerxes of that place, moreover, reigned between Cyrus and Darius, whereas this Artaxerxes should, by the position of his name, be one of the successors of Darius. It has been suggested that Xerxes is intended, and that he may have been associated with his father during the building of the temple. But as Xerxes was the son of Atossa, whom Darius did not marry until he had ascended the throne (Herod., 3:88), he cannot have been more than five years old when the temple was finished. Nor was he ever associated on the throne by his father. Xerxes, therefore, cannot be meant. The next king to Xerxes, however, who really bore the name of Artaxerxes was a favourer of the Jews, and did give commandment to "beautify," and in that sense "finish," the house of the Lord (see Ezra 7:20, 27). We must suppose, therefore, that he is the person intended. The objection that the name is not spelt the same, but has a samech in one place instead of a schin, is too minute to require consideration. The Persians themselves spelt the name of Artaxerxes in more ways than one (Rawlinson, 'Cuneiform Inscriptions of Persia,' vol. 1. p. 348).
And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
Verse 15. - The house was finished on the third day of the month Adar. Haggai (Haggai 1:15) gives the exact day of the recommencement of the work as the twenty-fourth of Elul in Darius's second year. Ezra here gives the exact day of the completion. From Zerubbabel's laying of the foundation (Ezra 3:10), the time that had elapsed was twenty-one years. From the recommencement under the inspiriting influence of the two prophets, the time was only four years, five months, and ten days. DEDICATION OF THE SECOND TEMPLE (Ezra 6:16-18). Following the example of Solomon, who had solemnly "dedicated" the first temple (1 Kings 8:63), and had offered on the occasion a sacrifice unexampled for its magnitude in the whole of Jewish history (ibid.), Zerubbabel now, under the advice of two prophets, inaugurated the new building with a similar ceremony. In "the day of small things" it was not possible for him to emulate Solomon's magnificence in respect of the number of victims. Solomon had sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. Zerubbabel's means only enabled him to make an offering of 712 animals, more than half of them lambs. He did, however, according to his ability; and God, who accepts all our endeavours according to that we have, and not according to that we have not, was content to receive graciously the humble offering made to him, and to bless the building thus inaugurated with a glory unknown to the first temple. The Lord himself, the Messenger of the covenant, so long sought by his people, suddenly came to this temple (Malachi 3:1) - came to it, and frequented it, and taught in it, and gave it a dignity and a majesty far beyond the first temple, which possessed indeed the Shechinah, but was once, and once only, vouchsafed a brief manifestation of the actual Divine presence (2 Chronicles 7:1).
And the children of Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the rest of the children of the captivity, kept the dedication of this house of God with joy,
Verse 16. - The children of Israel. Again the writer is careful to present the returned exiles to us as "Israel," and not merely "Judah" (comp. 2:70; 3:1, 10, 11; 4:3; 5:1). This is especially fitting when he is about to explain why the number of the he-goats offered was twelve (see the next verse). Kept the dedication of this house of God. The primary dedication seems to be glanced at in the words, "the dedication of this house," an expression repeated in the next verse. It is one of the great objects of Ezra to link the present with the past, the new temple with the old, the restored religion with that of former times.
And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.
Verse 17. - And offered... an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs. A poor offering, if it be compared, not alone with Solomon's (1 Kings 8:63), but even with Hezekiah's (2 Chronicles 30:24), or Josiah's (ibid. 35:7). Hundreds now take the place of the thousands offered under the old monarchy. A sin offering for all Israel. See comment on ver. 16. We may assume that some of every tribe had returned with Zerubbabel, and that consequently it was possible to regard the re-established people as "Israel" (comp. Nehemiah 11:20; Zechariah 8:13; Malachi 1:1); though, since the great majority were Jews, they were more commonly spoken of as "Judah" (Ezra 4:1, 6, 23; Ezra 5:1, 5; Ezra 6:7, 14; Zechariah 8:15, etc.). Zerubbabel, desirous of emphasising the nobler and grander view, made this solemn sin offering of twelve he-goats, one for each of the tribes. Ezra acted similarly when he brought the second colony (infra, Ezra 8:35).
And they set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses, for the service of God, which is at Jerusalem; as it is written in the book of Moses.
Verse 18. - They set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses. The completion of the new temple was naturally followed by an arrangement of the ministers corresponding to that which had been originally made by David, and afterwards adopted by Solomon, for the service of the old temple (see 1 Chronicles 23:6-23; 1 Chronicles 24:1-19). This arrangement was based upon the ordinances of the law with respect to the respective offices of the two orders, as given in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 3:6-10; Numbers 8:6-26), and, so far, was according to the writing of the book of Moses. But the "courses" themselves were not established till David's time. CELEBRATION OF THE PASSOVER IN THE ENSUING MONTH, AND OBSERVANCE OF THE FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD (Ezra 6:19-22). Specially solemn passovers were celebrated on specially solemn occasions; and these received special record at the hands of the sacred writers. Of this kind are the passover celebrated By Hezekiah in the year B.C. 726, recorded in 2 Chronicles 30, and that celebrated by Josiah in B.C. 624, recorded in 2 Chronicles 35. Both of these followed upon a cleansing of the temple, and restoration of the temple worship after a period of suspension. Ezra seems to place the passover of B.C. 516 in the same category. It marked the period of the full re-establishment of the regular ordinances of religion, more or less interrupted from the time of the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. It terminated the abnormal and commenced the normal condition of things. Perhaps it is to mark this, that Ezra at this point disuses the Chaldee dialect, which he had introduced in ch. 4:8, and returns to the Hebrew, the established language of the Jewish religion.
And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
Verse 19. - Upon the fourteenth day of the first month. The day fixed by the law of Moses (see Exodus 12:6).
For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.
Verse 20. - The opening section of this verse is mistranslated. Ezra really makes a distinction between the priests and the Levites, the former of whom, he says, "purified themselves," while the latter "were all pure, as one man;" wherefore the latter killed the paschal lambs, not only for themselves and for the people, but also for their brethren the priests. It would seem that, as in Hezekiah's time, "the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests" (2 Chronicles 29:34).
And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,
Verse 21. - Such as had separated themselves unto them. i.e. such proselytes as had been made since the return from the captivity. We have perhaps a mention of some of these proselytes in the "Sherezer" and "Regem-melech" sent by the men of Bethel a short time before this to make inquiries of the priests at Jerusalem in respect of fasting (Zechariah 7:2). These names are Assyrian, and not likely to have been given to persons born Jews. From the filthiness of the heathen means "from their moral defilements" (see ch. 9:11). It is always to be borne in mind that heathen idolatry was full of such impurities.
And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
Verse 22. - Kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days. As required by the law (Exodus 12:15; Exodus 13:7; Leviticus 23:6, etc.). On the spiritual meaning of the feast, see 1 Corinthians 5:8. The Lord had... turned the heart of the king of Assyria. It has been generally supposed that Darius is personally meant here, and surprise has been expressed at his being called "king of Assyria." That title is never elsewhere given in Scripture to a king of Persia. Perhaps the writer's real intention in this place is to express in a general way the thankfulness of the Jews that God had turned, the hearts of their civil rulers, whether Assyrians, Babylonians, or Persians, from hostility to friendship, having replaced the bitter enmity of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar by the hearty good-will of Cyrus and Darius. On this view, Assyria would represent merely the great power of Western Asia, and "the king" would not be Darius personally, but the lord of Western Asia in a more general way, who by God's goodness had become the permanent friend of Israel instead of her oppressor and enemy.

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