Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezra 6

Verses 1-5

The King Initiates A Search And Discovers The Decree Of Cyrus, The Contents Of Which Is Revealed (Ezra 6:1-5).

Ezra 6:1

‘Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the archives, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.’

In response to Tattenai’s suggestion Darius initiated a search for the decree concerning the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, and gave orders that it be discovered. But a search of the house of archives in the treasure house of Babylon seemingly produced no result. As so often in Scripture the consequence is assumed from what follows and not stated,

Ezra 6:2

‘And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media, a roll, and in it was thus written for a record,’

So attention was turned to the palace at Achmetha (Ecbatana). Ecbatana was a magnificent city (see Judith 1:1-4) and the former capital city of the Median Empire. It had become the summer residence of the Persian kings, and was in the province of Media In its archives was found a scroll in which was recorded the decree which was being sought. What follows was presumably recorded in Darius’ reply to Tattenai.

Ezra 6:3

‘In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king made a decree:’

These words were probably taken from the preamble to the decree. It made clear that the decree in question was made in the first year of Cyrus, and thus within a short time of his conquest of Babylon.

Large numbers of scholars now agree that this decree was genuine. It was written in Aramaic and bears all the hallmarks of a Persian document of the time. It was a different decree from the one mentioned in Ezra 1:2-4. That was for public consumption. This one was to be filed away as a record, and recorded the details of what Cyrus required with respect to the building of the Temple.

Ezra 6:3-4

‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be built on the place where they offer sacrifices, and let its foundations be fixed; the height of it to be threescore cubits, and the breadth of it threescore cubits, with three courses of massive stones, and a course of new timber, and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house.’

In it Cyrus declared that ‘concerning the house of God at Jerusalem’, the house was to be rebuilt on its holy site, the place where sacrifices had been offered, and its foundations were to be fixed, that is, in the same place as the previous foundations. His concern was to make use of the ancient sacredness of the site for the benefit of his realm. He wanted sacrifices to be offered there as a sweet savour to the God of Heaven while the priests and people prayed for the life of the king and for his sons (Ezra 6:10). The sacredness of the site would ensure God’s response. He made a similar request to Marduk, the god of Babylon, and to other gods throughout his realm. He was seeking to get the gods on his side, and keep the people happy at the same time.

The building of the Temple was not, however, just a vague command. He wanted to have some say in how large it would be. So some details of how it was to be built were recorded, although the main detail was left to the builders who could call on the knowledge of people who had seen Solomon’s Temple (Ezra 3:12). It was to have a height of sixty cubits, and a breadth of sixty cubits. In other words it was to be twice as large as Solomon’s Temple, as befitted a Persian king. (Solomon’s Temple was thirty cubits high and twenty cubits broad (1 Kings 6:2) but with side rooms at each side of five cubits (1 Kings 6:6), making thirty cubits in all). It was to be built with three courses of stones followed by one of timber, the same pattern presumably being repeated again and again. It would thus be massive, whilst protected against earthquakes. The courses of timber would enable it to respond to earth movement. The details of the whole were left for the builders to decide.

This was not intended to be a detailed building plan and we need not therefore ask why its length is not given. That was already determined by the length of Solomon’s Temple (sixty cubits in length (1 Kings 6:2) plus additional for the porch and the back rooms (1 Kings 6:3; 1 Kings 6:16). This might be seen as having the intention of making a perfect cube, 60 x 60 x 60. It may simply be symbolic with no intention of carrying it out. The cost of the whole was to be borne by the Persian treasury. Cyrus undoubtedly expected that the benefits that would accrue to him and his house for honouring the God of Heaven would far outweigh the cost of building. This generosity towards the restoration of Temples is paralleled elsewhere. The kings of Persia were prepared to pay generously for the support of the gods.

Ezra 6:5

‘And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought to Babylon, be restored, and brought again to the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to its place, and you shall put them in the house of God.’

Furthermore the Temple vessels of gold and silver, which had been appropriated by Nebuchadnezzar, were to be restored to the house of God in Jerusalem, ‘every one to its place’. All was to be restored as formerly. The God of Heaven was to be fully satisfied that His house and everything in it was as before, courtesy of the kings of Persia. The minutiae of ritual was to be scrupulously followed, thus ensuring maximum benefit for the realm. Following the correct ritual would have been seen as important.

‘You shall put them in the house of God.’ It is noteworthy that all references to Cyrus’ edict stress that the Temple is ‘the house of God’. See Ezra 1:2-4; Ezra 4:3.

Verses 6-12

The King Instructs Tattenai On How To Proceed (Ezra 6:6-12).

Having established what was in the decree of Cyrus, king Darius now issued his instructions to Tattenai and his colleagues on how they are to proceed. Not only were the returnees to be allowed to complete the building of the house of God, but they were to be assisted out of state revenues. Furthermore they were to be provided with everything that was necessary in order to fully satisfy the God of Heaven, in the form of offerings and sacrifices, and all that pertained to them. Darius was clearly well informed concerning the requirements. He would have had many Jewish advisers.

Ezra 6:6

‘Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your companions the Apharsachites, who are of Beyond the River, be you far from there (‘leave them alone’ or ‘go somewhere else’).’

Note the formal nature of the address. It follows exactly the pattern of the original letter addressed to Darius (Ezra 5:6). And it informed Tattenai and his assistants that they were to leave the builders alone to get on with what they were doing. ‘Be you far from there’ signifies that they are to leave things alone, and possibly suggests that they are to move elsewhere as they are no longer required to be at the site of the new Temple. That would not, of course, mean that they were not to check up on how the work was going, but that they should not interfere in any way while it was going smoothly.

Ezra 6:7

‘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 its place.’

The enemies of the Jews now found themselves confounded. Darius expressly states that the work is to be carried out by his duly appointed governor (Zerubbabel) and by the elders of the Jews. And they were to be left alone to carry on with the work, which now had the sanction of the current monarch. It thus had double sanction.

‘In its place.’ That is on the long revered holy site of the Temple. There is a constant requirement that it be built on the very site of the original Temple. This was holy ground and would, in Persian eyes, ensure that the God of Heaven was well pleased.

Ezra 6:8

‘Moreover I make a decree what you shall do to these elders of the Jews for the building of this house of God, that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the River, expenses be given with all diligence to these men, that they be not hindered.’

What was more the elders of the Jews had to be given all financial assistance for the work out of the tribute, customs duties and rents which were gathered for the king’s treasury in the district of Beyond the River, so that nothing would hinder its completion. This went beyond what Cyrus had offered in Ezra 1:4.

The importance of this comes out when we compare the situation at the commencement of the construction of the Temple. Both Haggai and Zechariah emphasise that the work is to be carried on even in the face of financial hardship. But as God had said, ‘the silver is Mine and the gold is Mine’ (Haggai 2:8). And now He was proving it. They had commenced in poverty, but now they would complete the work with plenty. It is a reminder to us that if we are faithful to God with what we have, He will often supply a hundredfold.

Ezra 6:9-10

‘And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for burnt-offerings to the God of heaven; also wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests that are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail, that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savour to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.’

Furthermore, not only were they to be given financial assistance for the building of the house of God, but also in order that all sacrifices and offerings considered necessary by the priests might be offered. They were to be provided with young bullock, rams and lambs (the most valuable first, the least valuable last) in order to make whole burnt offerings to the God of Heaven, along with all the grain, salt, wine and oil that was necessary (see Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 2:13). The king clearly had well informed advice. There are a number of examples of the kings of Persia taking such a detailed interest in the ways of worship of their subjects. These sacrificial requisites were unfailingly to be provided day by day, so that their sweet savour might reach the God of Heaven (compare Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:23-25; Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17; Ezekiel 16:19; etc), ensuring the success of their prayers for the lives of the king and his sons. His generosity was not disinterested. Comparison may be made with the Cyrus Cylinder where Cyrus says, ‘may all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask Bel and Nebo daily for a long life for me’.

Ezra 6:11

‘Also I have made a decree, that whoever shall alter this word, let a beam be pulled out from his house, and let him be lifted up and fastened on it, and let his house be made a dunghill for this,’

Darius then enforces his decree by calling for severe penalties on any who seek to prevent it being carried out or who seek to water it down. The idea may be of impalement, a recognised form of Persian punishment, but the idea is more probably that the person be strung up on a beam and beaten. The taking of the beam out of his house would ensure the collapse of the house, and this is confirmed by the fact that it is to become a dunghill (compare Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29). Thus would he be punished for hindering the work on God’s house. Such penalty clauses were common in the Ancient Near East.

Ezra 6:12

‘And the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow all kings and peoples who will put forth their hand to alter the same, to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem.’

We have here a further indication of self-interest. The only kings and peoples who would put forth their hands to destroy Jerusalem, in view of his decrees, would be those who were enemies of Persia, and he is seeking God’s help in their overthrow. At the same time he is demonstrating to God his own deep concern for His house. Surely in the light of this God will look kindly on the house of Darius.

‘The God who has caused His Name to dwell there.’ This is a clear indication of Jewish advisers behind the decree. It is a typical phrase from Deuteronomy. Compare Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 16:2; Deuteronomy 26:2; 1 Kings 8:29.

Ezra 6:12

‘I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with all diligence.’

Darius ends his decree by emphasising that it is one that he has made (contrast Ezra 4:21) and that it should therefore be carried out with due diligence. The instruction is clear. There is to be no delay in carrying it out.

Verses 13-18

The Decree Is Carried Out And The Work On The Temple Is Completed Accompanied By Due Ceremony (Ezra 6:13-18).

Ezra 6:13

‘Then Tattenai, the governor of Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their companions, because Darius the king had sent, did accordingly with all diligence.’

The carrying out of the decree is summarised in one verse. Because Darius had sent his decree, Tattenai and his associates, responded with due diligence and fulfilled all that was required.

Ezra 6:14

‘And the elders of the Jews built and 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 decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.’

And the consequence was that the elders of the Jews both built and prospered (succeeded admirably) as a result of the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. The writer concludes where he began (Ezra 5:1). In the end the construction of the Temple was the result of the activities of God’s prophets, and the commandment of God, whatever assistance might have been given by the Persians. However, that was not to be overlooked, and so he concludes with the fact that it was ‘in accordance with the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.’ All three therefore worked in harmony, the prophets of God, the God of Israel Himself, and the kings of Persia. God was in control.

At first sight the mention of Artaxerxes might appear unusual. It was Cyrus and Darius who had made the decrees that were carried out. But it was Artaxerxes who made the decree (Ezra 7:13) which resulted in Ezra himself arriving in Jerusalem, with further provision for the Temple (Ezra 7:15-23; Ezra 8:24-30), establishing the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:25; compare Ezra 7:1; Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:10). The writer rightly saw that as the seal on the building of the Temple. Indeed, if it was Ezra who collected together the information in 1-6 and wrote it down, we can perfectly understand why he would want to include mention of his patron and his generosity to the Temple. The order in which the names of the kings are written makes quite clear that the writer knew that Artaxerxes came subsequent to Cyrus and Darius.

Ezra 6:15

‘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.’

And the building of the house was finally completed on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius. Adar was the twelfth month (roughly February/March). The date was presumably on record (it was from the point of view of the Jews a world shaking event), and may well have been engraved on the stones of the Temple. The sixth year of Darius was 516 BC. So the Temple had taken four and a half years in building, commencing from the first preaching of Haggai (Haggai 1:1), a remarkable achievement.

Some have sought to see in this event the end of the ‘seventy years’ of Jeremiah 25:12 (destruction of the Temple 587 BC to restoration of the Temple 516 BC) but that was not what Jeremiah said. He was speaking of the destruction of the Babylonian empire. The seventy years was a divinely perfect round number. But if it is to be applied ‘literally’ it is far more likely that it was referring to the length of the rule of the Babylonian empire over ‘the nations’ including Judah, viz c.605 BC to 539 BC.

Ezra 6:16

‘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.’

At the completion of the Temple, a symbol to them that YHWH’s rule was once again firmly established over them, the ‘children of Israel’ (compare Ezra 3:1; and see Ezra 2:2), who consisted of the priests, the Levites and the rest of the former exiles, observed the day of the dedication of the Temple as a holy day, a day of great joy. YHWH once again ruled in His land, over His people. It should be noted that they saw this as the restoration of the whole of Israel. This is made clear in the next verse where sin offerings are offered for the twelve tribes of Israel. For the equivalent of ‘the priests, the Levites and the rest of the people’ compare Ezra 1:5; Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:8; Ezra 7:7-13; Ezra 9:1; Ezra 10:5; Nehemiah 8:13; Nehemiah 10:28; Nehemiah 10:34.

Ezra 6:17

‘And they offered at the dedication of this house of God a 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.’

The offerings may appear large, but we must remember that they would be used to provide for the feasting of the people. It was to be a time of great celebration. Bullocks, rams and lambs were the regular sacrificial offerings in Israel (see Leviticus 1-7). It will be noted that seven hundred in all are offered, the number of divine perfection intensified. And together with these were offered as a sin offering for ‘all Israel’ (which would probably not be eaten, and would certainly not be eaten by the people) twelve he-goats representing a sin offering for the twelve tribes of Israel. ‘All Israel’ were seen as being present at the dedication.

We can compare how at the dedication of the tabernacle in the days of Moses twelve he-goats were offered as a sin offering (each for one tribe of Israel over a twelve day period), along with twelve he-goats for the dedication of the altar (Numbers 7:87). The same would be offered by Ezra on behalf of those who returned with him to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:35).

Ezra 6:18

‘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.’

Servicing of ‘the service of God’ which is in Jerusalem in readiness for the coming Passover now being required the priests were separated into their divisions and the Levites into their courses for this very purpose. The idea is that the priests and Levites were set apart for the service of God in the same way as they had been by Moses.

The Hebrew equivalent of ‘divisions’ only occurs once in 2 Chronicles 35:5 where it refers to the ‘the divisions of the fathers’ houses’ to which groups of Levites would be allocated in preparation for the Passover under king Josiah. Its application to the priests is therefore unique in Scripture. The Levites were ‘set in their courses’, that is, in their families, by David in 1 Chronicles 23:6 ff. Moses had done the same thing with the Levites in Numbers 3:6-9; Numbers 3:15-39; Numbers 4:1-49.

‘As it is written in the book of Moses’. This mainly has in mind the ‘setting -- for the service of God’ (and explains the unusual phrase). The new service of God being required the priests and Levites were ‘set for’ it as they had been in the book of Moses. The Levites were set apart ‘to do their service in the Tent of Meeting’ in Numbers 8:19; Numbers 8:22. They were separated into their courses for their specific tasks in Numbers 3:6-9; Numbers 3:15-39; Numbers 4:1-49. Moses separated the priests to ‘minister in the priests office’ in Exodus 28:1; Exodus 29:1. He spoke to the priests of ‘your service in the Tent of Meeting’ in Numbers 18:31. The tasks of the priests were also allocated in Numbers 4:16; Numbers 4:28; Numbers 4:33. Thus in a more refined way they were now doing the same thing.

Some suggest that ‘house’ should be ‘restored’ here reading ‘for the service of the house of God in Jerusalem’, but it is not only unnecessary but also takes away somewhat from the pregnant meaning of the phrase. They were appointed to the service of God, not to the service of the Temple, something which in the spiritual thrill of the moment they were fully aware of. And they were so set apart in readiness for the Passover which was to follow.

Verses 19-22

The Writer Now Commences Again In Hebrew.

The writer now changes back from using Aramaic to using Hebrew. This is in order that the whole passage from Ezra 4:1 to Ezra 6:22, although written mainly in Aramaic, might be enveloped in Hebrew. In the opening and closing passages, which are in Hebrew (Ezra 4:1-7 and Ezra 6:19-22) the emphasis is on what God’s people were doing. In the Aramaic section the emphasis is on the activities of the Persians, even though in relation to the people of God. It was partly necessary, and more convenient, because the primary documents cited were in Aramaic.

The Celebration Of The Passover (Ezra 6:19-22).

This would not have been the first Passover celebrated since the return, it would have been observed every year. But this was an unusually joyous one, for it was the first Passover that they had celebrated in connection with their new Temple. Now they really felt that Israel was established in the land. We can compare how Israel had first observed the Passover on entering the land after the Exodus (Joshua 5:10-11). They now met as a pure people free from the taints of foreign surroundings, and with their worship established. It was now over a month since the Temple had been dedicated.

Ezra 6:19

‘And the children of the captivity kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.’

As was required in the book of Moses they who had returned from exile observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of Nisan, the first month of their religious calendar, along with all in the land who had maintained their pure worship of YHWH (Ezra 6:21).

Ezra 6:20

‘For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together. All of them were pure. And they killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves.’

It had become the custom at this time for the Levites to have a part to play in the celebration of the Passover. This comes out in 2 Chronicles 35 where Josiah called on them to sanctify themselves in readiness for their service at the Passover (see 2 Chronicles 35:6). In readiness for this service the priests and Levites here purified themselves together. This would partly be through avoiding all that was unclean, and partly by washing their clothes and abstaining from sex. The result was that all of them were pure. Thus they were in a position to kill the passover lambs for all those who had returned from exile, and for any of their brothers the priests who were not in a state to be able to kill the lambs, for example the ones who had not been able to prove their ancestry, and those who were disabled. They were also able to kill then for themselves.

Ezra 6:21

‘And the children of Israel who were come again out of the captivity, and all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek YHWH, the God of Israel, did eat,’

Thus all the returned exiles partook of the Passover, along with all in the land who had either remained faithful to YHWH, and all, either Jew or Gentile, who had forsaken their unclean ways and their idolatry in order to seek YHWH, the God of Israel. All such ate of the Passover.

Ezra 6:22

‘And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy. For YHWH had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.’

And following the Passover they observed the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread as was the usual practise (Leviticus 23:4-8). And they did it with especial joy because they had been enabled to complete the building of the Temple, and were now able to use it for worship. And this was because YHWH had ‘turned the heart of the king of Assyria’, namely Darius.

But why should he be called the King of Assyria here? We have seen Cyrus called, in this book, the King of Persia (Ezra 1:1-2). And he is also called King of Babylon (Ezra 5:13) because he righted what the former king of Babylon had done. And this did, of course, mean that he was the King of Assyria, for he ruled over the former Babylonian empire which had conquered Assyria. He was also in non-Biblical records called King of Egypt, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of Anshan to name but three. However, we still have to ask the question, why the writer should use this title of Darius here? One probable reason is that it was the kings of Assyria who had initially defiled the Temple. It was they who had ‘persuaded’ Ahaz to introduce a false altar into it, certainly connected with false gods (2 Kings 16:10-15; 2 Chronicles 28:23; 2 Chronicles 28:25). Equally certainly it was the Assyrians who had caused Manasseh to install the worship of the host of heaven in the Temple (2 Kings 21:3-5; 2 Chronicles 33:3). Furthermore the kings of Assyria are mentioned in Nehemiah as ones who had initially ‘brought trouble on Israel’ (Nehemiah 9:32). Thus, comparing the situation with that of Babylon in Ezra 5:13, it would have been seen as only poetic justice that a king who was ‘King of Assyria’, should be the one who assisted in the building of a new pure Temple. It revealed the hand of God.

There are also grounds for thinking that at this time Assyria had become the symbol of great and proud empire (as Babylon would later), and certainly the Persian kings saw themselves as successors to both the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires. This would tie in with what is said above.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezra 6". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/ezra-6.html. 2013.