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4. The completion of construction ch. 6
Darius not only approved his predecessor Cyrus’ decree, he issued one himself that gave even greater support to the Jews in their building project.
Darius’ search 6:1-2
Darius looked for Cyrus’ edict in Babylon first. That was where Cyrus stayed for a while following his overthrow of that city in 539 B.C. He found nothing there. However, someone did discover a memorandum in one of Cyrus’ files when they searched his summer capital, Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). According to the Greek historian Xenophon, Cyrus lived in Babylon during the winter, in Susa during the spring, and in Ecbatana in the summer. [Note: Xenophon, 8:6:22.] This memorandum was not the same as the edict (cf. Ezra 1:2-4). Nonetheless, it confirmed the edict and provided instructions for the royal treasurer, making a way for him to implement the edict.
Cyrus’ memorandum 6:3-5
The memorandum provided details that the edict did not contain. Among these details were the dimensions of the proposed temple. It was to be twice as high and three times as wide as Solomon’s temple (Ezra 6:3; cf. 1 Kings 6:2). Obviously, Cyrus intended to sponsor a temple that would excel Solomon’s and thereby bring greater glory to himself. The fact that the foundations, when completed, appeared less impressive than Solomon’s (Ezra 3:12-13), suggests that the Jews did not take full advantage of their opportunity and resources. The Persian government had committed to pay for the building (Ezra 6:4). We too often fail to take full advantage of our opportunities and resources to glorify God.
Darius’ decree 6:6-12
Evidently Darius also saw the Jerusalem temple as a monument to his own success. He instructed Tattenai to allow the Jewish governor, Zerubbabel, and his people to proceed unobstructed. Darius seems to have viewed Zerubbabel as the ruler of the Jews living in the jurisdiction of Tattenai, who governed the whole province that included Palestine and Jerusalem. Darius further specified that the provincial treasury should pay all costs (Ezra 6:8), and that the provincial governor should provide the items required for sacrifices in the temple. The king also wanted the Jews to pray for him and his family (Ezra 6:10).
"Although Darius revered Ahuramazda especially, it is understandable that in a world of polytheism he would want to make sure that he was in the favor of every god in his empire." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 90.]
One wonders if stories about Daniel (ca. 605-536 B.C.), who served under Cyrus (Daniel 6:28), might have had some influence on Darius. The Darius that the book of Daniel mentions, however, was Darius the Mede, not this Darius, who was a Persian.
". . . Darius [the Persian] himself was a monotheist and an adherent of the new faith of Zoroastrianism, but it is not known whether this religious orientation had any effect on his policies this early in his reign." [Note: Vos, p. 49.]
Impaling (Ezra 6:11) was a common method of execution in the Persian Empire (cf. Esther 7:9-10), and Darius practiced it. After he subdued a rebellion in Babylon, Darius impaled 3,000 rebels there. [Note: Herodotus, 2:3:159.]
"Impalement was a well-known kind of punishment in the ancient Near East for grave offenses. One side [end?] of a beam was sharpened and the other side planted in the ground. The sharp point was inserted under the chest of a person and pushed through his esophagus and lungs. He was then left to hang until he died." [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 91.]
The king closed his decree by calling down Yahweh’s curse on anyone who might attempt to change it (Ezra 6:12).
"Darius’ curse on anyone who would destroy the temple was fulfilled in: (a) Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrated it in 167 B.C., and died insane three years later; (b) Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.), who added extensively to the temple to glorify himself, and who had domestic trouble and died of disease; and (c) the Romans, who destroyed the temple in A.D. 70, and later had their empire destroyed." [Note: Martin, pp. 663-64.]
Tattenai’s compliance 6:13-15
Several factors resulted in the completion of the temple, which the writer brought together in Ezra 6:14. The reference to Artaxerxes (Ezra 6:14; cf. Ezra 4:7-23) does not mean that he had a part in completing the temple. As noted previously, he was the king who later supported the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. That action served to make the temple secure. He also contributed to the temple treasury (Ezra 7:15-16; Ezra 7:21). Consequently, mention of him was appropriate at this point.
"The most powerful word on earth at that time was the decree of a Persian king, but silently and mysteriously the king was being directed by an even more powerful divine word." [Note: Breneman, p. 118.]
The builders finished the temple on Adar 3 (in late February), 515 B.C. This was about four and one-half years after Haggai and Zechariah had gotten the builders moving again (in 520 B.C.). It was about 21 years after the Jews had laid the foundation (in 536 B.C.), and about 23 years after Cyrus had issued his decree allowing the Jews to return to Palestine (in 538 B.C.). It was 70 years after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple (586 B.C.). Thus, God fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy that the captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11; Jeremiah 29:10). Nebuchadnezzar burned the temple down in the fifth month of 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9), and the restoration Jews reopened it in the twelfth month of 515 B.C. Solomon’s temple had stood for almost 400 years, but the second temple lasted longer, about 585 years, until Titus destroyed it in A.D. 70.
The Jews’ celebration 6:16-22
Compared with the dedication of the first temple, this one was very modest. Solomon had offered more than 200 times as many animals. The Jews offered one sin offering, which involved slaying a goat, for each of the 12 tribes (Ezra 6:17). The reference to the number of Israel’s tribes being 12 shows that none of the tribes were "lost" during the captivity, as some modern cults claim. The people still considered the nation to be a confederation of 12 tribes, and they called it "Israel" (Ezra 2:2; Ezra 2:59).
"The remnant who had returned make solemn confession of sin in the name of the whole scattered and dispersed race. They acknowledge the essential unity of Israel’s tribes alike in the consequences of sin, in the possibilities of restoration, and in the renewed consecration to God’s service." [Note: H. E. Ryle, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, p. 83.]
The Passover celebration took place five weeks after the temple dedication. The Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the day after Passover and lasted seven days (Leviticus 23:6-8). Note that some Gentile converts had evidently accompanied the remnant from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 6:21).
The reference to Darius (cf. Ezra 6:6-12) as the "king of Assyria" (Ezra 6:22) is unusual but not unique. In some ancient Near Eastern king lists, the rulers of territories that were previously independent are referred to as kings of those countries. [Note: Fensham, The Books . . ., p. 96.]
"Perhaps, however, it is meant to awaken memories of the traditional oppressor (cf. Nehemiah 9:32), whose empire first Babylon and then Persia had inherited, but whose policies were now dramatically reversed." [Note: Kidner, p. 60. See also Dumbrell, p. 68.]
Naturally the restoration Jews rejoiced greatly that their national worship of Yahweh could continue again as the Mosaic Covenant specified. Since life in Israel rested on the worship of Yahweh, the re-establishment of life under the Mosaic Law depended on the re-establishment of Mosaic worship. Thus the record of the completion of the temple and the resumption of worship is the climax of this first part of Ezra (chs. 1-6).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezra 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13