DISCOVERY OF THE DECREE OF CYRUS ON THE SUBJECT OF THE TEMPLE, AND RECITATION OF ITS EXACT TERMS (Ezra 6:1-5).
The application made by the satrap of Syria to Darius received his immediate attention. A search was instituted—in the first instance, at Babylon, but afterwards at the other capitals also; and in Ecbatana, the Median metropolis, where the Persian kings always resided during a portion of the year, a copy of the original decree was found, which is considerably fuller and more definite, though in some respects covering less ground, than the "proclamation'' with which Ezra opens his history. The decree not merely provided for the rebuilding of the temple, but gave directions for its dimensions and for the style of its construction, points on which the proclamation said nothing; it also provided that the whole cost (of the materials) should be defrayed out of the royal revenue; and it concluded with an express command that all the gold and silver vessels carried off by Nebuchadnezzar should be restored. We may account for the decree not being found at Babylon, or Susa, by the Pseudo-Smerdis having destroyed it when he was accomplishing his religious reforms, though accidentally he omitted to destroy the copy laid up at Ecbatana; thus, as so often happens with wicked men, by a slip of memory frustrating his own intention.
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."
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).
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. 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).
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, that the wanton desecration of the vessels by Belshazzar at his feast (Daniel 5:2, Daniel 5:3) brought in a great measure the terrible judgment of God upon him, causing his own death and the destruction of his kingdom. He was therefore most anxious to clear himself of any participation in so great a crime, and not only instructed his treasurer, Mithredath, to deliver the vessels over to Zerubbabel (Ezra 1:8), but devoted to the subject almost half of his decree.
DECREE ISSUED BY DARIUS IN FURTHERANCE OF THE DECREE OF CYRUS. OBEDIENCE OF THE PERSIAN OFFICIALS, AND RAPID COMPLETION OF THE TEMPLE (Ezra 6:6-15). The religious policy of Darius being directly opposed to that of his immediate predecessor, he would naturally reverse his decree with respect to the Jews (Ezra 4:11-22). He would also be glad to show himself in accordance with the great founder of the empire, who was universally reverenced, and regarded as a truly wise king. Hence his recital of the decree of Cyrus, which it would have been enough merely to have referred to. By recalling its terms he showed how completely his policy tallied with that of Cyrus, and how thoroughly he inherited the spirit of the first monarch. We may also give him credit for a real sympathy with the Jewish religion, and a real belief that the prayers of the Jews in their recovered sanctuary would bring God's blessing upon himself and his children (Ezra 6:10). His decree is not a mere formal and colourless document, but breathes a reverential spirit, and shows him at least as true a servant of Jehovah as Cyrus.
As the trumpet had given no uncertain note, the Persian officials, Tatnai and Shetharboznai, whatever their wishes may have been, had no choice as to their line of action. The king's word was law; and his favour, when clearly manifested, secured to the objects of it the warmest assurances of good-will, and the most active help, on the part of every official in the empire, from the highest to the lowest. The temple, therefore, made rapid progress, and within four years of the time when Zerubbabel and Jeshua resumed the building (Ezra 5:2), the entire work was completed—"the house was finished." The whole time which elapsed between the laying of the foundation (Ezra 3:10) and the completion was twenty-one years; but scarcely any progress had been made till Haggai began his preaching. The main part of the work was accomplished between the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month of the second year of Darius (Haggai 1:15) and the third day of the twelfth month of his sixth year. This was a space of four years and a half. The temple of Solomon, after a long term of preparation, occupied in its construction seven years and a half (1 Kings 6:37, 1 Kings 6:38).
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.
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
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, Exodus 29:41; Le Exodus 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. 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).
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, Daniel 6:12), 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. 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.
The letter of Tatnai and his companions to Darius, the contents of which are given us in Ezra 5:7-17, seems to have led to some disappointment at first speaking, i.e; from the point of view of the Jews. The search recommended, it is true, was duly decreed and instituted; and that, so far as appears, without any delay or reluctance. But the important document sought for was not forthcoming immediately. On the contrary, in that "house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon," and where "search was made" in the first instance, as being apparently the most likely place in which to find a copy of such an edict, no such copy was found at all. This would be trying news for those at Jerusalem; till followed up, as it afterwards was, by intelligence of a more cheering kind; viz; that further search in another place (Achmetha or Ecbatana) had discovered the decree in question, and had led afterwards, on the part of Darius, to a further imperial decree on the very same subject. What were these two decrees found to say? The rest of this passage tells us. We shall find the contents of the first, as rehearsed here by Darius, exceedingly encouraging to the Jews. We shall find those of the second more encouraging still.
I. THE FORMER DECREE. This, when at last found, was found to be in everything as before described by the Jews. King Darius expressly acknowledges this in his public reply to the Syrian governor.
1. With reference to date. The decree in question had been issued by Cyrus in his "first year" (Ezra 5:3), as reported.
2. With reference to the "house." Darius had found that decree to be beyond question "a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem." Note also, on this point,
(a) how express its purport had been. "Let the house be builded, as a place where they may offer sacrifice." Also,
(b) how precise its directions. Let this building have adequate, i.e. weight-carrying, foundations; and together with these, proper proportions, viz; of more than the former width, all included, and not less than half the old height (see Wordsworth, in loc.); and, finally, suitable style, viz; four stories in height, three of stone, and one of new wood (Ezra 5:3, Ezra 5:4). Also
(c) how complete its provisions. Whatever the necessary "expenses," they were to be "given out of the king's house" (Ezra 5:4). In a word, could Cyrus have shown greater zeal and anxiety as to the erection of this house unless he had stepped out of his proper province, and sought to build it himself? So, again, with reference (3) to the sacred vessels. The restoration of these by Cyrus had been justly made a great additional point in the defence of the Jews (Ezra 5:14, etc.). Darius next (Ezra 5:5) virtually acknowledges that here also their statements had been fully confirmed by this decree of Cyrus. These very vessels which they had spoken of were found exactly described there (Ezra 5:5). Their material, their original use, the place they had left, the man who had taken them, the place they were taken to, were all mentioned by name. Also, as to the alleged order for their restoration, things were equally plain. Let them, first, be given up or "restored;" let them "go," next (margin), to the temple at Jerusalem; let them be deposited there where they were before, each in its proper "place" in God's "house." Could Cyrus, here again, have said more? Could he have shown greater zeal and anxiety as to the restoration of these vessels unless he had carried them himself to Mount Zion? All this Darius here acknowledges in briefly reciting the contents of that decree of Cyrus as a kind of preamble to his own. "I have found the decree you have spoken of; and I have found it all you have said."
II. THE PRESENT DECREE. What did this satisfactory "preamble "lead to? To a direct enactment which, if possible, was still more satisfactory.
1. As to its matter. This was all that the Jews could wish for. It was so
(a) negatively. Tatnai and his fellow officials were neither to approach the place in a hostile spirit, or interfere with the effort, or hinder the men (Ezra 5:6, Ezra 5:7). "Whatever you do, do nothing hostile. This, of all things, is the very first." It was so
(b) positively. If you want to know what "ye shall do" (begin. of Ezra 5:8), I will tell you. Ye shall help these men with money as to "building this house," at my expense and out of the "tribute" now in your hands; ye shall do so at once ("forthwith"), and so long as they need (so some the last clause of Ezra 5:8). Also ye shall help them in kind as to using this house, providing them cheerfully with all they require of every description for offering their appointed sacrifices; and doing so, be it also observed, according to their own account of their requirements, and that "day by day without fail" (Ezra 5:9). In a word, let everything be as they wish. The enactment was equally satisfactory
(a) much respect for the Jewish religion. How signal a mark of such respect such a public request as that we find in Ezra 5:10 so mighty a king thus openly asking those humble believers for an interest in their prayers!
(b) Much sympathy with the Jews themselves. Whatever we may think of the king's feelings towards his enemies, as shown in Ezra 5:11 in his reference to the barbarous punishment of crucifixion (so Ges. and Bertheau; see Wordsworth), that verse at least shows how thoroughly he felt with his Jewish subjects at Jerusalem on the project so near to their hearts. He counted any one who should oppose that as amongst the worst enemies of himself. Also
(c) much personal confidence in their God. If any enemies to this project should appear, or hereafter arise, whom the king's hand could not reach, he hereby openly invokes against them the God of the Jews (Ezra 5:12). May the God who has placed his Name in that house at Jerusalem himself protect it from all such. It is with this prayer he concludes. What was left to the Jewish builders except to add their "Amen"? In the letter thus analysed by us, we see—
1. The influence of good example. "The evil that men do lives after them." So, sometimes, does the good (Proverbs 10:7). See the effect here, on the decisions of Darius, of the previous decisions of Cyrus. £ Is not the whole appeal of Hebrews 11:1-40. an appeal, in fact, to influence of this kind? "By faith" the many illustrious "elders" there mentioned "obtained a good report;" i.e. were justified before God. To this truth they are "witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). Let us try the same plan. Every man adds to that "cloud"—to its size, to its splendour, to its influence—who seeks and finds salvation in a similar way.
2. The importance of written records. What hope would there have been for the Jews, humanly speaking, if there had been no written document in this case to appeal to, but only the recollection of certain scattered survivors as to some proclamation of former days? or only the report of what some of these survivors had said in their time? How, indeed, could the good example of Cyrus have told on Darius except by the channel of communication provided in his written decree? We can hardly be too thankful for the Scriptures of truth (see 2 Peter 1:15; also the constant "it is written" of Luke 4:4, Luke 4:8, etc.).
3. The wisdom of waiting upon God. Often, as in this case, the "vision" may seem to "tarry" at first. But "at the end it shall speak, and not lie" (Habbakuk Hebrews 2:3). Rather, as in the present instance again, the answer may only have grown riper meanwhile. This applies to difficulties connected with God's providential dealings, whether with communities or individual souls. Also to difficulties connected with Scripture itself. A first search, as in this instance, like the first or second interpositions of Moses on behalf of Israel, may only seem to make matters worse (Exodus 2:11-15; Exodus 5:20-23). But how more than satisfactory, how glorious, how triumphant the end! "God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain!"
4. The thoroughness of God's work. "The time to favour Zion, yea, the set time, is come" (see Psalms 102:13, a psalm written not improbably not far from this date). See how it pleases God to speak for her, that being the case. With what fulness of provision, with what minuteness of detail, with what tenderness of consideration—by the voice of the living, by the influence of the dead. The Persian king is made to speak as though almost an Israelite himself. At any rate, if he had been, he could scarcely have displayed greater knowledge of the Jewish worship, greater familiarity with their creed (comp; further, Hebrews 11:9 with Exodus 29:40; Le Exodus 2:13; Ezra 3:3, and the previous notes on that verse, and begin, of Ezra 3:12 with Deuteronomy 12:11; 1 Kings 8:29, etc.). Even so is it with all those who put themselves into the way of favour by coming under the ample conditions of the covenant of the gospel. They will find it, indeed, as David speaks (2 Samuel 23:5), "ordered in all things and sure." There is nothing really needed, nothing really desirable, however arduous, however insignificant, which it has not already thought of, specified, and secured (Psalms 37:23; Matthew 10:30; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 2:10).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The decree of Cyrus.
In the letter of Tatnai to Darius he advised that search should be made to ascertain whether there existed any decree of Cyrus authorising the building of the temple at Jerusalem. Search was accordingly made, and the roll recovered. The decree may be viewed as consisting of three parts:—
I. THE AUTHENTICATION.
1. The author's signature. "Cyrus the king."
2. The date of the document. "In the first year of Cyrus."
(a) Let us see the hand of God in everything.
(b) Nothing is too trivial to be mentioned in prayer.
3. The place of its custody
(a) God watches over the true.
(b) The triumphing of the wicked is transient.
II. THE MATTER "CONCERNING THE HOUSE OF GOD AT JERUSALEM."
1. "Let the house be builded."
1. To serve typical purposes.
2. To keep his people from mingling with idolaters. Note—In this spiritual dispensation these reasons no longer obtain (see John 4:20-24).
2. The manner in which it was to be done.
3. How the cost was to be defrayed.
III. THE MATTER CONCERNING THE SACRED VESSELS.
1. Vessels of the metals.
2. Removed by Nebuchadnezzar.
3. Now to be restored.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
Some useful things.
I. THE UTILITY OF HISTORY. "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" (Ezra 6:2).
1. Its permanence. The "roll" contained the records of past ages. The memory of man could not retain these events. History preserves them. It would be a pity for the nation and Church to let die the events that have made them what they are; history gives permanence and solemnity to life. Cyrus and his edict lived before those who made search into the old records; history causes dead men to live.
2. Its continuity. The roll linked the times of Cyrus with the times of Darius; showed the continuity of human life. There is no interruption in the plan of the world's life; it runs on from one reign to another. There is no interruption in the making of history; it is made by .great edicts, as also by common deeds. It show-s the succession of labour: one man issues an edict to commence a temple, another issues an edict to complete it.
3. Its publicity. In the days of Darius the historical records were written and hidden away in the royal treasure-house; now they are printed and widely circulated; hence history is more influential than ever.
4. Its interest.
5. Its admonition. Darius will soon be as Cyrus, only a figure in history; men soon pass from the actual to the historical. Life continues but for a little (Psalms 39:4).
II. THE FORCE OF EXAMPLE (Ezra 6:8). Darius is inspired by the example of Cyrus to issue a decree for the aid of the Jews in their great enterprise.
1. The force of example surviving the flight of time. Cyrus has long been dead; but his edict has power to animate the heart of Darius. The influence of example never dies.
2. The force of example morally beneficial in its influence. The edict of the dead king inspires a new edict of help for Israel. Let us try to leave the influence of good deeds behind us; thus we may help to build temples our hands can never touch.
III. THE WORTH OF SUPERIOR STATION (Ezra 6:6). Darius commanded Tatnai to let the Jews build in peace. It is the work and worth of superior official power to restrain and to keep inferior men in their right place and to their right duty; to see that they hinder not the great moral enterprises of society.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL USE OF MONEY (Ezra 6:8, Ezra 6:9). The king decreed that his tribute should be given to Israel to aid in completing the temple. Money realises its highest meaning in the service of God.—E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The decree of Darius.
The full document containing the decree or decrees of Darius occupies the first thirteen verses of this chapter. The former portion of it is principally taken up with a recital of the decree of Cyrus, published seventeen years earlier. This has been considered under a distinct heading. The remaining portion of the document may be viewed as in three parts:—
I. THE INSTRUCTION FOUNDED UPON THE DECREE OF CYRUS (Ezra 6:6, Ezra 6:7).
1. The instruction is intrinsically good.
Good men would receive it gladly. The work of God is their work. Those engaged in it their fellows.
2. But to the wicked it is mortifying.
II. THE REQUISITION MADE BY DARIUS (Ezra 6:8-10).
1. That from the king's revenue from beyond the river expenses be given to the builders of God's house.
2. That all they required for sacrifice and offering should be supplied.
3. Their patriotism and loyalty concerned in carrying out this.
(2) Loyalty. To ensure his blessing upon the king and his sons (see 1 Kings 11:11-13; 1 Kings 13:33, 1 Kings 13:34).
III. THE MALEDICTION DENOUNCED UPON THOSE WHO MAY FAIL TO FULFIL THE REQUISITION (Ezra 6:11, Ezra 6:12).
1. Civil penalties.
2. The vengeance of heaven imprecated.
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. See above, Ezra 5:5, Ezra 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, Haggai 1:9), 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, Ezra 6:7); 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, Ezra 7:27). 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.
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).
The children of Israel. Again the writer is careful to present the returned exiles to us as "Israel," and not merely "Judah" (comp. Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:1, Ezra 3:10, Ezra 3:11; Ezra 4:3; Ezra 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 … 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 (2 Chronicles 35:7). Hundreds now take the place of the thousands offered under the old monarchy. A sin offering for all Israel. See comment on Ezra 6:16. 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, Ezra 4:6, Ezra 4:23; Ezra 5:1, Ezra 5:5; Ezra 6:7, Ezra 6:14; 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).
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 30:1-27; and that celebrated by Josiah in b.c. 624, recorded in 2 Chronicles 35:1-27. 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 Ezra 4:8, and returns to the Hebrew, the established language of the Jewish religion.
Upon the fourteenth day of the first month. The day fixed by the law of Moses (see Exodus 12:6).
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).
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 Ezra 9:11). It is always to be borne in mind that heathen idolatry was full of such impurities.
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.
The work completed.
These words form the conclusion of the first and longest portion of this scriptural Book of Ezra. All the remaining portion of the book is divided off from this in three separate ways. It is so, partly, on the question of time, a gap of something like sixty years intervening between the events mentioned at the close of this sixth chapter and those referred to at the beginning of the seventh. It is also divided off in regard to its method, being not so much, like the former portion, a piece of history, strictly so called, as an interesting extract from the life-story of one particular man. And it is, finally, divided off to some extent on the question of subject, inasmuch as it only touches in a subsidiary and altogether supplemental manner on that which the former portion related at length. The proper record of the work of restoring the temple finishes here. Corresponding to all this is the character of the passage itself. It bears the impress, in every way, of being a winding-up of that record. How the material building was finished: how it was solemnly set apart for its proper service: and how it was first employed in that service; these are the only particulars now requiring to be described. These, we shall find, are accordingly described to us here.
I. THE BUILDING FINISHED. This was done, as we gather—
1. Without delay. There was no delay on the part of Tatnai, etc. in making known the edict of Darius, or in complying with its injunctions. The language was very plain; its tone very urgent; its results, therefore, very prompt. As "the king had sent, so they did speedily" (verse 13). On the other hand, there was just as little delay on the part of the Jews. The king's decree and the prophet's message (verse 14) together were like wings to their work. They "built," and "prospered," and "finished" (verses 14, 15), so we are told. It would almost seem, indeed, as though from the time of the arrival of this decree of Darius (probably in the fourth year of his reign; see Wordsworth on verse 14, and compare dates in Ezra 4:24; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1, etc; in connection with time required for sending to Darius, for search, for sending reply, and so on), the Jews looked upon the completion of the temple as a mere question of time, and so at last regarded their condition of captivity as being practically at an end (see Zechariah 7:1-3). The very "headstone" (Zechariah 4:7) of the building was now within sight.
2. Without defect. As God himself wished it to be, "according to the commandment of the God of Israel" (verse 14), so the building was "finished." That was the main point, of course. But it was not the only point to be marked. We are also to observe that it was "finished" as Cyrus and Darius had given "commandment.'' Artaxerxes, it is true, long afterwards, did not a little, in a supplementary manner, for the beauty of this house; and, therefore, it is proper that he should be mentioned here in this "commemoration of benefactors." But all that was essentially necessary had not only been fully specified in the decrees of his two predecessors, but had also been fully carried out during the reign of the second. Soon after the beginning of the last month in the sixth year of Darius "this house was finished;" finished as God had intended; finished as he had caused his servants, the kings of Persia, to decree; finished as his own people had been taught to expect. The last stone had been placed; the last test had been applied; all was ready for use (see prophecies in Zechariah 4:7-10).
II. THE BUILDING SET APART. All was ready for use as to construction. To make it equally ready for use as to condition, it must be solemnly handed over, as it were, to God's keeping and service. We are next told, therefore, how this was done. Namely—
1. With proper "joy." This to be noted first because required first. God can only accept and bless that which is offered with joy (Exodus 25:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Comp. also the joy of David and Israel in offering for the erection of the first temple (1 Chronicles 29:9), and that of Solomon and all Israel at its dedication. Equally universal, and possibly, on the principle of Luke 15:6, Luke 15:9, Luke 15:24, Luke 15:32, even deeper, was the joy of these "children of the captivity" at this dedication of the second house.
2. With proper humility. That which they were now offering to God had been first given to them by himself (1 Chronicles 29:14, 1 Chronicles 29:15); and could not, in reality, in any way make any addition to his glory (Psalms 16:2; Psalms 50:9-12; Luke 17:10); and was utterly inadequate, in fact, for his use (1 Kings 8:27; Acts 7:48, Acts 7:49). Not only so, as coming from such as they were (see Isaiah 6:5), it was altogether unfit (as it was)for his service, and required, in consequence, in order to make it so, like themselves, to be "purged." In open acknowledgment of these various truths, by way of thank-offering for his many bounties, by way of adoration of his infinite majesty, by way of appointed propitiation for their own unworthiness, they accompany their offering of this building by the other bleeding offerings here enumerated (Luke 15:17). Observe especially the number of victims—two lambs for every ram, two rams for every bullock; the less the value, the greater the number, as is natural in true thank offerings. Also, in regard to the sin offering, one victim to every tribe; partly, it would seem, in believing reference to that covenant promise of God which was given to the twelve tribes as a whole (1 Kings 18:31; Acts 26:6, Acts 26:7), and partly in order that the humiliation for sin therein involved might be of a truly national kind. All Israel were understood to confess their sins on the heads of those goats.
3. With proper care. It was not much they could offer, but it should be the best in their power. Because God was indulgent, and willing to accept, for his covenant's sake, what was in itself imperfect and unworthy, they would not therefore be negligent. Rather, they would seek to order everything exactly as he had prescribed, so far as lay in their power. Not merely the house, but the household (Matthew Henry), the "priests" and the "Levites," who should attend to the building and its services, were solemnly then set apart. And all in the way in which God himself had directed his servant Moses to specify and record. All were dedicated, in short, to God's service according to God' s way.
III. THE BUILDING IN USE. Why did it please God, notwithstanding Acts 7:48-50, to have such a house among men? Partly to help in separating and consolidating his Israel (see Exodus 23:17; Psalms 122:4, etc.). In the new circumstances of Israel (see earlier outline) this more needful than ever. Would this restored house, now at last completed and consecrated, answer this end? This first recorded use of it answers this question; and seems, in short, to be recorded with this object in view. What a strong spirit of separation is found in these verses (19-22)throughout.
1. Separation from other nations—the very feast observed, that of the passover, being a commemoration of the most conspicuous separation ever made between Israel and the nations (Exodus 12:26, Exodus 12:27, also 45, 47).
2. Separation from ceremonial uncleanness—even the priests being superseded on this occasion by the Levites, in the matter of killing the passover lambs for all, as not being so universally "pure" (see Rawlinson on Acts 7:20, who translates, "And the priests were purified, and the Levites as one man were all of them pure").
3. Separation from false brethren—no other persons being allowed to join with the returned children of the captivity in celebrating this feast, except those, whether "proselytes from the heathen" or "Israelites" never captive at all, who "had separated themselves unto" these others "from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel." The description is almost scientific in its accuracy and precision. Separated from the heathen; from their "filthiness" too. Separated unto Israel; to seek Israel's God.
4. Separated with joy. To find themselves once again with a house of their own; to think of all that God had done for them in providing them with such a house, even bringing them help from that very Assyrian land which had formerly been their destruction (Isaiah 3:2, etc.); and so now at last, once again, to feel themselves openly and fully a "peculiar people" to the Lord their God, was a very great joy. Nor was this joy at all lessened, but rather increased, by the nature of the feast they were keeping, involving, as it did, not only separation from the heathen (see above), but also as the "feast of unleavened bread" (Acts 7:22), separation from inward sin (Exodus 12:8, Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:18-20; 1 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Corinthians 5:8). So great a delight, as well as clear a duty, did they feel their present separation to Jehovah. And so thoroughly did this their first use of their just-restored house suit the character of that house (Psalms 93:5). How forcibly all this instructs us—
1. As to the real nature of God's purposes. Looking back on all these six chapters of Ezra, we see one object in view, viz; the restoration of God's house. Looking on the house now at length completed, we see, however, that even its erection was only a means to an end, viz; the sanctification of God's people. So even of that spiritual temple, the body of Christ (John 17:19; Hebrews 10:10). So of the Sabbath as "made for man" (Mark 2:27). So of all trials and affliction (Hebrews 12:10). So of the whole Christian calling (1 Peter 2:9), and the whole work of redemption (Titus 2:11-14). Does not the very expression indeed, "the means of grace," teach us as much? Unless these means do really minister grace to believers, they fail of their end.
2. As to the true wisdom of God's people, viz; to seek for the full realisation of these gracious purposes in themselves. Even in being definitely in the way of their realisation there is much joy, but some sorrow as well (see above, Ezra 3:12, Ezra 3:13). But we read of no such sorrow mingled with joy now that the completion and dedication of the house has been consummated by a similar dedication of the people themselves. Even "unleavened bread" and "bitter herbs" in that case are eaten with "joy." What, indeed, is more natural if we come to consider? "Without holiness no man shall see God" (Hebrews 12:14). Nor can any man see true happiness without seeing God (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4). Even as our Lord himself has summed up the argument in Matthew 5:8. The nearer to God's image, through the help of his Spirit and for the sake of his Son, the nearer to his bliss. We may almost describe the whole Christian creed as practically summed up in these words.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Overthrow and upbuilding.
The end of this mission brings to our view—
I. THE OVERTHROW OF EVIL. "Then Tatnai,… Shethar-boznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius had sent, so did they speedily ' (Ezra 6:13). With deepest mortification and chagrin must they have received these tidings from the Babylonian court. Their failure was complete and conspicuous. Not only had they not done what they wanted to do, but they bad been compelled to aid and prosper that to which they were implacably opposed. "According to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily;" they paid the expenses (Ezra 6:8) and presented the offerings (Ezra 6:9, Ezra 6:10), and thus contributed to the cause they set out to demolish. In the end we shall see evil overthrown by the power of God, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. By faith we may say what our Master said by Divine prevision, "I saw Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). And sometimes God gives us to see evil overthrown before our eyes, its designs upset, its fabric brought down to the ground. It is a pleasing and cheering sight when we see it simply defeated, as when, after long and hard struggle, a good cause succeeds in establishing itself despite the utmost efforts of iniquity to hinder it. Still more gratifying is it to see it suffer such an utter rout as on this occasion, when its forces are not only arrested, but made to serve the cause it bad assailed. Then God not only restrains man's wrath, but makes it to praise him and to serve us (Psalms 76:10). Let us be encouraged under oppression and persecution. Our Divine Leader can not only deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, but he may even, as here, and as often since in the history of the Church, compel those who are hating us, and maligning and misrepresenting us, and seriously injuring us, to bring us their tribute and aid us in offering our sacrifice of prayer and praise unto the Lord our Saviour.
II. SPIRITUAL BUILDING. "And the elders of the Jews builded" (Ezra 6:14), "and they builded and finished" (Ezra 6:15). Then the Jews, under their elders (in order, giving rank and direction to those who were men of experience and capacity), builded the house—
1. For God: for his worship and praise; that offerings might be presented unto him which should be acceptable to him; and—
2. With God: they gladly availed themselves of the help accorded them by the prophets of the Lord. These men (Ezra 6:14) "prophesied," i.e. they spake in the name of the Lord, urging all to do their work diligently and faithfully, and therefore speedily and Soundly; also obediently, "according to commandment" (Ezra 6:14); and thus they brought their work—
3. To its completion: "they finished it;" it stood strong and fair and well furnished, from foundation to top-stone. We, too, are building for God; not, perhaps, a material fabric, but that which is more precious in his sight—a Christian character or a Christian cause. We are engaged in "building up ourselves in our most holy faith" (Jud 1:20), adding to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, etc. (2 Peter 1:5, 2 Peter 1:6, 2 Peter 1:7). And we are (or ought to be) engaged in building up the temple of some good cause. Some work of God is occupying our time, is engaging our strength and skill. We are laying the foundation in some small beginnings, or, on the foundation another has laid, we are building up the imperishable "gold, silver, precious stones," rejecting (as far as possible) the "wood, hay, and stubble," which the fires of God would consume (1 Corinthians 3:12). Let us see to it that, in building up both our own character and the cause of God, we build—
1. For God; doing all things mainly and chiefly unto him; as "unto the Lord," and not as unto ourselves. Let the glory of Christ be the mainspring of our action. Whatever toil, patience, forbearance, charity may be required, let us gladly yield all because "Jesus is worthy to receive," etc.
2. With God; accepting all the help God offers us through the varied means of grace he has supplied—notably the preaching (or "prophesying") of his servants; consulting his word to know his will, that all our building may be "according to commandment." We must do what we do in the way, i.e. in the spirit and after the method, in which he would have us work.
3. Unto completion. Learning, growing, ripening until death; sympathising, giving, striving, co-operating till the work is done and the fabric is finished.—C.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The successful issue.
The vicissitudes through which the building of the temple was carried to its completion figure forth those of the spiritual temple of the Church. This eventful history teaches—
I. THAT GOD'S PURPOSES WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED.
1. This truth is exemplified in. the creation.
2. This truth is also exemplified in prophecy.
II. THAT GOD HONOURS HIS WILLING SERVANTS.
1. He gives them an interest in his work. "They prospered," viz; in the success of God's work.
2. He encourages them by his approving voice. "They prospered through the prophesying of Haggai," etc.
3. He crowns their labours with success.
III. GOD MAKES UNLIKELY PERSONS HIS WILLING SERVANTS.
1. Several Medo-Persian kings were such.
2. Perhaps Tatnai was another example.
IV. THAT GOD MAKES UNWILLING PERSONS SERVE HIS PURPOSES. The "people of the land" were in this category.
HOMILIES BY A. MACKENNAL
The temple finished.
The building of the temple was finished in about four years after the work was resumed. This was a short time for a work so vast, when compared with the resources of the Jews. It was carried through without intermission; the zeal of the people was not suffered to become languid through delay. The fact illustrates both the propitious character of external circumstances and the wisdom of the Jewish leaders. When the building was completed it was dedicated, and the worship of the LORD was re-established with solemnity and with joy. Here arc two themes, distinct and yet united—first, the rebuilding of the temple; and secondly, its dedication.
I. THE REBUILDING. The accession of Darius appeared to Haggai and Zechariah the sign that the Lord had again visited his people. The last monarch had been a Magian, "opposed to belief in a personal God," and "not approving of temples." Darius was in sympathy with the work of Cyrus, having faith in the God of heaven, and regarding the Jewish nation with special favour (verses 10, 12). Darius was the great organiser of the Persian kingdom. He made each province feel itself under the protection of the central authority, and by his system of "posts" brought each province into immediate communication with himself. A strong central authority is the best protection against the tyranny of provincial governments, with their petty jealousies and miserable intrigues. Modern as well as ancient Oriental history illustrates how heavily anarchy may press on a people like the Jews, too steadfast in religious convictions to join in prevailing heathenism and immorality, too feeble to enforce their claims. The change in the method of administration of which general history informs us is indicated in the sacred history (cf. the title "governor" given to Tatnai, Ezra 5:3, with the titles "chancellor" and "scribe" given to Rehum and Shimshai, Ezra 4:9). Tatnai's personal character, moreover, appears in favourable contrast with the characters of the "adversaries of Judah and Benjamin" whose letter is recorded Ezra 4:7-16. He writes no "accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem;" he simply reports the case for the decision of Darius (Ezra 5:6-17). Nor is his a one-sided report; fairly enough he states the pleading of the elders, referring definitely to the decree of Cyrus under which they acted, and asks that search may be made for it. And when the answer of Darius comes to him, he loyally endeavours to fulfil it. Tatnai's doing, and doing speedily, "according to that which Darius the king had sent," is mentioned in connection with the "prospering" of the elders of the Jews. The wisdom of the leaders of the Jews is seen in their hurrying forward the work. The zeal of the people might flag; changes might occur in the monarchy; they must take advantage of the favouring circumstances. The work was a great one; not all was accomplished when the temple walls were built; the mention of Artaxerxes in conjunction with Cyrus and Darius shows that they were in the middle, not at the end, of their labours. But this at least they could do—make sure their steps as they proceeded; the temple once erected was not destroyed;it stood a point of vantage for the carrying out of further projects. Their wisdom appears again in their refusal to relax their efforts while the appeal to Darius was being made (Ezra 5:5). They knew the character of Tatnai; they acted in confidence either that he would not desire or would not venture on his own authority to disallow their appeal to the decree of Cyrus. Their boldness was the truest prudence; it would keep up the hearts of their own people; it would overawe the "adversaries." The basis of their wisdom was piety; they knew that "the eye of their God was upon them." They not only confided in the general providence of God; the prophets Haggai and Zechariah urged the Jews to remember his special commission to them: he had brought them back. from captivity to do this work; his blessing would crown their fidelity with success; his curse would fall on their negligence. Haggai spoke to the people, pledging the fidelity of the Lord to them (Haggai 2:10-19). Zechariah appealed to the sense of Divine inspiration in Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6-10), and strengthened Jeshua the high priest by lofty assertions that he and his purpose and his trials were near the heart of God (Zechariah 3:1-10.). Special tokens of the Divine favour encouraged the people in their labour. The closing Psalms of the Psalter are assigned to this period of Jewish history; Psalm 146-148, are entitled in the Septuagint version "of Haggai and Zechariah;" and they speak of deliverance out of trouble, and prosperity after distress. Haggai's pledge on behalf of God was fulfilled: for drought they had flowing waters; instead of fruitless labour they had "food for the hungry," and "the finest of the wheat" (cf. Psalms 146:5-10; Psalms 147:3, Psalms 147:8, Psalms 147:13-20, with Haggai, passim). In almost all great histories of deliverance and progress these two elements are found united—favouring circumstance and human character. One-sidedness must be avoided in our interpretation of history. It is not wise to overlook the force of propitious events; we break human hearts if we teach that everything depends on our own fidelity, our own skill; not only so, we thus obscure men's faith in the providence of God. On the other hand, no times are propitious to those who are not ready to serve God. God's providence does not supersede our service, nor render needless his choicest gift of men. Inability to read "the signs of the times" is declared by Christ to be a mark of insincerity (Luke 12:54-57); the highest service man can render man is to be an "interpreter" of God's purpose, a prophet calling for the fulfilment of God's will.
II. THE DEDICATION. The festival of the dedication contrasts strikingly with Solomon's festival. "The holy of holies was empty. The ark, the cherubim, the tables of stone, the pot of manna, the rod of Aaron were gone. The golden shields had vanished. Even the high priest, though he had recovered his official dress, had not been able to resume the breastplate with the oracular stones." It is the contrast of youth, flushed with prosperity and of an exultant tone of piety, with experienced and saddened manhood. The barbaric munificence of Solomon's offering, 22,000 bullocks and 120,000 sheep, contrasts also with the 100 bullocks, 200 rams, and 400 lambs of the second sacrifice. But one touch of pathos appears here wanting in the first—the offering of twelve he-goats, a sin offering for each of the tribes. The sin offering, for sins of ignorance and negligence, was a confession that all had been heedless; they knew not, with all they had learnt, the full extent of their remissness, they felt "the sin that mingled with their holy things." We are touched by the record; the appeal went to the heart of God. "Thou desirest not sacrifice." "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit." With the dedication was associated the first passover, about a month after. The true consecration of a house of prayer is not the august ceremonial which attends its opening, but the habitual service offered in it. Note the carefulness to follow the law which is characteristic of this period (verses 18-20). Negligence had been their undoing; the sin offering confessed that; but the true repentance is amendment of the evil habit. There was a forward look in this arrangement of the priests and Levites; it was provision for a long future of Divine service. And with this was combined hope for the ingathering of all the nation. All the tribes, the children of the captivity, the children of the dispersion, and the undistinguished remnant left behind by the king of Assyria were regarded as one. Their hearts—like that of Paul (Romans 9:1-33 - 11.)—could not endure the thought of losing any. The family is not complete until all are gathered; humbler members, its very prodigals, as well as the virtuous and the prosperous. A nation, a Church, includes the weakly and the "less comely" members as well as those which are honourable. Among those who "had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land to seek the Lord God of Israel" may have been heathen proselytes. The "court of the Gentiles" appears for the first time in the temple of Zerubbabel. The true separation, it was recognised with increasing clearness, was separation from the sins of heathenism, not national exclusiveness. The joyousness of the festival is twice noticed (verses 16, 22). It is remarkable how much is said of joy in the Divine service in these books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Perhaps we are never fully conscious of joy till we have been sobered by sorrow. And it is a religious duty to encourage hope and gladness in the depressed. We must learn how to treat the various experiences with which we have to deal; not only weeping with them that weep, but doing all we can to win them to smiles. Elevating influences are most needed by the depressed. It was to slaves Paul told Titus to speak of "adorning, making beautiful, the doctrine of God our Saviour." To the prosperous we may speak of sobriety; we may remind him who lives many years, and rejoices in them all, of the "days of darkness," which shall be many. But those who have seen affliction, and who have arduous labour and adverse times before them, require that their religious services should be made as joyous and as bright as possible.—M.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
I. THERE WAS A CHANGE OF MOOD IN THOSE WHO HAD SOUGHT TO HINDER THE WORK. Tatnai, who had sought to hinder the building of the temple, now by the royal command does all he can to promote it. The world sometimes changes its mood toward the Church; often from motives of policy or fear; seldom from good will. Civil governors can greatly aid religious builders. When enemies help the Church prospers.
II. THERE WAS A FAITHFUL MINISTRY EXERCISED IN THE MIDST OF THE PEOPLE. "They prospered through the prophesying of Haggai" (verse 14). The ministry has much to do with the prosperity of a Church; men like Haggai and Zechariah cannot fail to inspire their comrades with their own earnest spirit. A faithful pastor will often make a Church prosperous.
III. THERE WAS THE COMPLETION OF AN ARDUOUS UNDERTAKING. "And this house was finished" (verse 15). A great enterprise, which had passed through so many vicissitudes, was now successfully ended. By the completion of its toils the Church indicates its energy, provides for its own welfare, and glorifies God.—E.
I. THAT GOD REQUIRES a HOUSE ESPECIALLY ERECTED FOR HIS WORSHIP. "This house."
1. As a dwelling on the earth. God's presence pervades the universe; there is no place where it is not. The heaven of heavens cannot contain him, much less the house which we have built; yet in great condescension he manifests a richer presence in his holy sanctuary than in all the world outside. The Shechinah dwells in the temple. God's dwelling-place is in Zion. Christ is in the midst of his gathered people (Matthew 18:20).
2. As a testimony for the truth. The temple was a testimony to the heathen nations and to all people of the worship and sacrifice due from the Israelites to Jehovah. Our Christian churches testify to our belief in the great God, and to all those sacred truths which he has revealed in his book.
3. As the evidence of a religious feeling. While others are only building houses for themselves; we build also for God; we sacrifice the comfort of our ceiled houses and of our gains so to do. Our churches are evidence of the unselfish and devout sentiments of the human heart.
4. As the means of social philanthropy. We love the nation, and seek its moral welfare, hence we build it a sanctuary.
II. THAT THERE ARE A GREAT MANY IMPEDIMENTS IN THE WAY OF BUILDING CHURCHES. The Israelites had many hindrances in their work.
1. The lack of a good heart for the work.
2. The lack of generous gifts for the work.
3. The lack of suitable men to lead the work.
4. The lack of sympathy in men for the moral welfare of God's cause.
5. The lack of mutual concession to opposing ideas.
6. The lack of right help from the outside circles of society.
Christian enthusiasm, generosity, sympathy, good feeling, are the requisites of successful church building.
III. THAT THE COMPLETION OF A NEW CHURCH IS WORTHY OF SPECIAL GRATITUDE. The Israelites would indeed be grateful to see their finished temple.
1. Grateful for the kind providence that had aided them.
2. Grateful for the valiant leaders that had inspired them.
3. Grateful for the persistent spirit of work which had been given them.
4. Grateful that their arduous toils were at an end.
5. Grateful that the glorious worship of God could now be fully celebrated.
6. Grateful that they had a new impulse given to their national life.—E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The dedication of the temple.
As the temple was a type of the Church of God, and the stones of which it was composed represented individual believers, so the completing of the building foreshadowed that grand consummation in which the number of the elect shall be complete. The consequent dedication of the finished edifice will therefore represent the future devotion to the service of God of his glorified Church. By anticipation it also describes the service which believers should now render to God, since each part should be a true sample of the whole. In this view how fittingly was the dedication of the temple an occasion of joy (Ezra 6:16)!
I. THE REJOICING WAS OVER THE FINISHED WORK.
1. It was the end of all their toil.
2. It was the triumph of their faith and hope.
II. THEY REJOICED OVER IMMENSE SACRIFICES.
1. There were peace offerings for the dedication.
2. There were sin offerings for all Israel.
III. THEY REJOICED OVER THE ORDERING OF THE SERVICE OF GOD.
1. The priests were distributed into their divisions.
2. The Levites also were distributed into courses.
(a) those connected with sacrifice (2 Chronicles 31:2).
(b) Supervising matters pertaining to the temple.
(c) Keeping the doors of the house of the Lord.
(d) Leading the praise in the worship of God.
3. Believers in Christ are the priests and Levites of the spiritual sanctuary.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Timely and wise enthusiasm.
It was natural and right that, when the temple was finished, the Israelites, who had spent on their work so much anxiety and toil, and who looked on the sacred building as the one great possession and glory of the land, should find their hearts elated with a strong and glowing enthusiasm. It was timely, and, moreover, it was wise; let us see its characteristics.
I. JOYOUS. "And the children of Israel … kept the dedication … with joy" (Ezra 6:16). It was "the Lord had made them joyful" (Ezra 6:22). Their souls were all alight and aglow with that best kind of happiness, the joy of gratitude. There is nothing so miserable as unthankfulness; nothing so happy as gratitude. They were mindful of his mercies who had brought them out of bondage, away from the "strange land" where they could not "sing the songs of Zion" (Psalms 137:1-9.), to their own home, the land of their fathers. They remembered him who had "turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them," and made him even lend them his aid; they blessed the Divine hand which had arrested and diverted the blow of their enemies. "Not unto us," they said, "but to thy name," etc. (Psalms 116:1-19.), and their souls thrilled with enthusiastic joy as they took possession of the new house they had built (Ezra 6:16), and again as they kept the feast of unleavened bread (Ezra 6:22). Happy they who "drink of the river of his pleasures," whom God makes joyful, whose gladness of heart is not the mere excitement of the flesh, but the pure and healthy satisfaction of the spirit.
II. SACRED (Ezra 6:17, Ezra 6:20, Ezra 6:21). Proceeding from a pure and sacred source, it flowed in a sacred channel, and took a devout and holy form; for
(a) they purified themselves, "separated themselves from the filthiness of the heathen" (Ezra 6:21); they made themselves clean of heart and hand, preparatory to worship, and "all of them were pure" (Ezra 6:20). And
(b) they brought sacrifices in abundance to the altar of the Lord (Ezra 6:17). Not the "thousands" of Solomon's time of wealth, but the "hundreds" of their own time of poverty; gladly, spontaneously, liberally they presented their offerings unto God.
Here are two of the requisites of acceptable service.
(a) Purity. If we regard iniquity in our heart the Lord will not hear us (Psalms 66:18). We must be clean who bear the vessels of the Lord (Isaiah 52:11). Only the pure in heart can hope to see God, either here by faith, or hereafter by sight (Matthew 5:8).
(b) Spontaneity. The willing, cheerful surrender both of ourselves (our will, our affections, our intelligence) and of our possessions (our time, our strength, our money) unto our Lord. "In the strength of grace, with a glad heart and free," we must dedicate ourselves unto him.
III. HUMBLE-HEARTED. They "offered for sin offering," etc. (Ezra 6:17). Twelve he-goats were offered as a sin offering (Ezra 6:17). It was not forgotten that, beside God's mercies to be celebrated, there were their own sins to be atoned. In the midst of our overflowing joy, joy before God and in him, it is well to remember that there are "sins of our holy things," and many shortcomings in our service, beside trespasses in our daily life, which Should lead to the prayer, "Let thy mercy, O Lord, lighten upon us," blending, not inharmoniously, with the voice of our supplication, and the song of our thanksgiving.
IV. SOCIAL. "And the children of Israel … did eat, and kept the feast," etc. (Ezra 6:21, Ezra 6:22). All the children of Israel, from the highest to the lowest, from the governor to the humblest menial of the state, from the high priest to the lowliest Levite, all sat down together to eat, to keep the feast. Their holy joy was multiplied and was beautified in the sight of God by being shared, and by being made as social as their circumstances and customs would allow. So should ours be; and though we have no longer Christian institutions answering to the early "agapae," we should seek for and discover some ways by which our "common joy in the common salvation" should be expressed together, in social as well as sacred service.
V. SYSTEMATIC. "They set the priests in their divisions, and the Levites in their courses" (Ezra 6:18). They kept the passover according to law (Ezra 6:19), and instead of letting enthusiasm simply blaze up and die down, they made provision for future devotion (Ezra 6:18). Here is enthusiasm in its wisdom; in the hour of its strength providing for the hour when its excitements will be over, when reliance must rest on calm conviction, and when piety must be maintained by devout habits and wise methods of worship and of work.—C.
HOMILIES BY J.S. EXELL
I. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD IN A SPIRIT OF SOLEMN REJOICING. "With joy" (Ezra 6:16).
1. The work itself a joy. As a material structure, embodying the skill and handiwork of man, it is a joy.
2. The purpose of the work a joy. It is built for the glory of God and for the good of man.
3. The spirit of the work a joy.
4. The completion of the work a joy.
5. The prospect of the work a joy.
6. The interest of the work a joy. Heaven rejoices m the finished sanctuary, in which its holy worship shall be conducted, and its redemptive purposes be promoted. Religious worship is a joyful thing; let us enter the house of God with thanksgiving.
II. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD IN A SPIRIT OF DEEP SELF-ABASEMENT. "For a sin offering" (Ezra 6:17).
1. We must not be proud of our mechanical skill. Israel might be tempted to think that as a band of captives they had displayed great skill in building the house; they rather felt that God had built it.
2. When we have completed any great work for God we must not think that we have done anything worthy of praise; we must not commend our energy, devotion, or self-sacrifice; but we must remember our delay, our weakness, and how we needed the ministers of God to stir us to duty.
3. We must humble our souls before God in deep confession of sin.
4. We must come offering by faith the only sacrifice that can avail to make us and our imperfect work acceptable to God. The best house we can build for God is unworthy his acceptance; he can only accept it through the sacrifice of Christ.
5. We must come united in the sacred fellowship of the Church. Israel united in the feast.
III. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD BY INAUGURATING USEFUL MORAL AGENCIES. "They set the priests in their divisions" (Ezra 6:18). The house will be comparatively worthless unless it becomes the scene of busy Christian toil and enterprise; it is to be a house of moral industry. The agencies are—
2. Varied. Priests and Levites; all kinds of workers.
3. Orderly—"in their course."
4. Useful—"for the service."
One course will relieve another. It is impossible to indicate the manifold agencies which ought to be set in operation by a new church, or to estimate the mighty impulse which should be given to the work of Christ on the earth.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD DEDICATE A NEW CHURCH TO GOD REGARDING IT AS THE REPOSITORY OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH AND THE SCENE OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP. "As it is written in the book of Moses" (Ezra 6:18). "And killed the passover" (Ezra 6:20).
1. The repository of the truth. The temple was the repository of the law of Moses; in it the law of Moses was recognised as of supreme authority. In the new church God's book must rule our thought, speech, and action; a law more complete than the law of Moses; for in these last days God hath spoken unto us by his Son.
2. The scene of worship. The new church is not merely for literary, scientific, philanthropic purposes; but for the passover, for Christian worship. See that it is used for its rightful purpose.—E.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
Six memorable passovers are mentioned in Old Testament Scripture. The first was in Egypt (Exodus 12:1-51.). The second in the wilderness (Numbers 11:1-35.). The third at Gilgal (Joshua 5:1-15.). The fourth in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:1-27.). The fifth in the eighteenth year of Josiah (2 Kings 23:1-37.). The sixth is that here mentioned. The subject is distributed into two parts:—
I. THE FEAST. This also is distributed into two parts.
1. The passover proper.
2. The feast of unleavened bread,
3. The feast was kept with joy.
II. THE PREPARATION.
1. The priests were purified, and the Levites were all of them pure. The state of things was now as it had been in the days of Hezekiah, when the passover had to be held in the second month because the priests had not sufficiently sanctified themselves to hold it at the more proper time (2 Chronicles 30:3). Note—When the spiritual temple is complete the priests and Levites—the saints of God—will be all morally pure.
2. All the children of the captivity were pure.
3. Believing Gentiles were joined with their Jewish brethren (Ezra 6:21). They were qualified for this holy fellowship—
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezra 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent