Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.Ezra 6:1. Then Darius the king made a decree — To search the rolls in Babylon, where search was fairly made; but not finding the edict there, they searched in Achmetha, or Ecbatana, the royal city of the Medes and Persians, and found it there. As Darius, the better to fortify his title to the crown, had married two of the daughters of Cyrus, he thought himself concerned to do every thing which might tend to the honour of that great prince, and therefore more readily confirmed the decree which he had granted to the Jews.
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:
In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits;Ezra 6:3. The height thereof threescore cubits — These proportions differ from those of Solomon’s temple, which was but thirty cubits high, only the porch was a hundred and twenty cubits high, and but twenty cubits in breadth. Either therefore Solomon’s cubits were sacred cubits, which were larger than the other, and these but common cubits; or, the sixty cubits of height are meant only for the porch. And the word rendered breadth, should be rendered the extension or the length of it; it being improbable that the king should give orders about the breadth, and none about the length of it.
With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expences be given out of the king's house:
And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God.Ezra 6:5. And place them in the house of God — Thus far the decree of Cyrus is recited, which justified all the allegations of the Jews in the foregoing chapter. In the next verse the decree of Darius thereupon appears to begin.
Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:Ezra 6:6-7. Be ye far from thence — Come not near Jerusalem to give the Jews any hinderance or disturbance. Let the work of the house of God alone — The manner of expression intimates that he knew they had an inclination to hinder it. Thus was the wrath of the enemy made to praise God, and the remainder thereof did he restrain.
Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place.
Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expences be given unto these men, that they be not hindered.Ezra 6:8-9. That of the king’s goods, forthwith expenses be given — That the work might not be stopped for want of money to carry it on, he orders certain sums to be paid them out of his own revenue. And that which they have need of both young bullocks, &c. — He orders that they should be supplied with every thing they wanted for maintaining the sacrifices at the temple, when it should be built, both for burnt-offerings and meat- offerings. Let it be given them day by day — That the morning and evening sacrifices might not fail to be offered every day.
And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons.Ezra 6:10. And pray for the life of the king and his sons — Persuaded that he, whom he once and again reverently calls the God of heaven, was ready to hear and answer his people in all things for which they called upon him, he desires an interest in their prayers for himself and family, and in order that he might obtain it, was kind to them. For though the Jews were not allowed to desire the heathen to pray to their deities for them, because they were forbidden to acknowledge any other gods but one: yet the heathen might with reason ask the Jews to pray to Jehovah for them; because they acknowledged a plurality of gods, and allowed the God of Israel to be really a God, as well as those they themselves worshipped. And the Jews were not prohibited either by reason or revelation from addressing their prayers to God for the heathen, when they were desired by them so to do. What then are we to think of the spirit of those Christians, so called, who hold it unlawful to pray for those whom they denominate heretics, though they are not heathen, but worshippers of the same living and true God, whom they themselves profess to worship? Let them blush when they read this, to think how far the spirit of the Jewish religion excels theirs!
Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this.
And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed.Ezra 6:12. The God that hath caused his name to dwell there — Who hath willed that a temple should be built there, called the temple or house of Jehovah. Destroy all kings and people that shall put to their hand to alter, &c. — Darius was touched with such a sense of the greatness of the God of the Jews, that he prays, that He who had all power in heaven and earth, and was King of kings, would not only punish all those kings who went about to obstruct this work, but destroy both them and their people. Though this temple was at length most justly destroyed by the righteous hand of God, yet perhaps the Romans, who were the instruments of that destruction, felt the effects of this curse. For that empire sensibly declined ever after, till it was wholly destroyed.
Here let us admire, how the divine providence overruleth every thing according to its purpose, to bring about all its wise designs. The great men, we here find, stood up against the poor and shattered remnant of Judah; they took counsel together how to oppress them, and keep them down. They laid their plans, exhibited their complaints against them, and thought to overturn them: but, quite contrary to their thoughts, the steps they took for this purpose operated the contrary way, and proved the means of exalting and raising those whom they intended to ruin to a higher pitch of power and pre-eminence. The king, whose governors these men were, and to whom, undoubtedly, they represented how much it was for his interest to put a stop to the rise of Judah, instead of hearkening to their complaints, as was natural, and acting accordingly, sent back a decree, not only forbidding them to molest the Jews in any way, but also granting them the most extraordinary privileges and encouragements, as to the greatest favourites. To what can we attribute this extraordinary behaviour in the king: but to an overruling providence? which ruleth even the hearts of kings, and turneth them as it seemeth best to his sovereign wisdom.
Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.Ezra 6:13. They did it speedily — When they received this order from the king, they applied themselves with as much haste to encourage and assist the work, as their predecessors had used to put a stop to it. Thus the enemies of the Jews were suddenly made their friends.
And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.Ezra 6:14. They prospered through the prophesying of Haggai, &c. — This is a seasonable intimation that this great and unexpected success was not to be ascribed to chance, or to the kindness or good-humour of Darius, but unto God only, who, by his prophets, had required and encouraged them to proceed in the work, and by his mighty power disposed Darius’s heart to such kind and noble purposes. And Artaxerxes — That is, Artaxerxes Longimanus, who is here joined with Cyrus and Darius; because, though the temple was built before he came to the throne, in Darius’s reign, (Ezra 6:15,) yet it was afterward beautified and adorned in consequence of the commission he gave Ezra and Nehemiah for that purpose, the latter of whom was invested with full power to take measures for the building of the city, and also the ordering of all other things that concerned the Jewish nation and religion.
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.Ezra 6:15. This house was finished in the third day of the month Adar — The tenth of March, in the year of the world 3489, in little more than four years after the Jews had returned to the work, and engaged heartily in it, in consequence of the reproofs and exhortations of Haggai and Zechariah; in something more than two years after the forementioned decree of Darius had been given forth; in about twenty years after the return from captivity; and five hundred and fifteen before the coming of the Messiah.
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,Ezra 6:16. The children of Israel — Probably some out of each of the twelve tribes; the priests and Levites, &c., kept the dedication of the house of God with joy — When it was built, being designed only for sacred uses, “they now showed by an example how it should be used,” which, says Bishop Patrick, is the proper and simple sense of dedicating. They entered upon it with solemnity, and probably with a public declaration of the separating it from common uses, and the surrendering it to the honour of God, to be employed in his service.
And offered at the dedication of this house of God an hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.Ezra 6:17. And offered a hundred bullocks, &c. — Few in number in comparison of those which Solomon had offered at the dedication of his temple. But, being according to their present ability, their offering was accepted, for it was made after a great trial of affliction, and in the midst of deep poverty, as the apostle speaks in another case, 2 Corinthians 8:2. Indeed, these hundreds were more to them than Solomon’s thousands to him. And they offered them willingly and cheerfully, for this service was performed with joy, all being glad to see the temple built, and the concerns of it in so good a posture. For a sin-offering for all Israel, twelve he-goats — One for every tribe, to make atonement for their sins, which they looked upon as necessary in order to the acceptance of their services. It appears from many passages of Scripture, that though Shalmaneser had carried captive the ten tribes, yet many of them had remained in their country, and were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar, together with Judah and Benjamin, with whom they returned out of Babylon, as many others of the ten tribes did, who were carried away at the taking of Samaria.
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.Ezra 6:18. They set the priests in their divisions, &c. — When they had dedicated the house, they settled the household: they would have had small comfort in the temple, however solemnly dedicated, without the temple- service: and therefore having set up the worship of God in it, in this dedication of it, they took measures for keeping it up, and in doing so made the book of Moses their rule, to which they had a regard in this establishment. Though the temple-service could not be performed with so much pomp, and such a multitude of sacrifices, and other oblations, as formerly, because of their poverty; yet perhaps it was performed with as much purity, and close adherence to the divine institution, as ever, which was the true glory of it.
And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.Ezra 6:19. And the children, of the captivity kept the passover — Now they were newly delivered out of their bondage in Babylon, it was seasonable to commemorate their deliverance out of their bondage in Egypt. Fresh mercies should put us in mind of former mercies. We may suppose that they had kept the passover, after a sort, every year since their return; for they had an altar and a tabernacle. But they were liable to frequent disturbances from their enemies, were straitened for room, and had not conveniences about them, so that they could not do it with due solemnity, till the temple was built; and now they made a joyful festival of it, it falling out in the next month after the temple was finished and dedicated.
For the priests and the Levites were purified together, all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.Ezra 6:20. The priests and Levites were purified together — Hebrew, כאחד, cheechad, as one man, so the word signifies. They were unanimous, both in their resolutions, and in their endeavours, to make and keep themselves ceremonially clean for this solemnity: and they joined together in their preparations, that they might help one another; so that all of them were legally pure, and, in this respect, excelled the priests and Levites in Hezekiah’s time, who were many of them under blame for not purifying themselves according to the law. The purity of ministers adds much to the beauty and honour of their ministrations, as doth their unity also.
And the children of Israel, which were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat,Ezra 6:21. All such as had separated themselves unto them, &c. — Had left their country, and the superstitions and vices of it; had become proselytes to the Jewish religion, and cast in their lot with the Israel of God, professing an entire subjection to the law of Moses. Such, and only such, might eat of the passover, Exodus 12:48-49. From the manner in which the sacred writer expresses himself here, it would seem as if there were many proselytes, who forsook their heathenish customs, and were brought to the knowledge and worship of the true God, influenced, probably, by the encouragement which Cyrus and Darius had given to the Jewish religion. People of all nations, it must be observed, till proselyted, were accounted by the Jews polluted both in body and mind, because of their worshipping false gods, and not abstaining from the things which were accounted unclean by the law of Moses. The description here given of proselytes to Judaism may serve to characterize converts to the true religion in every age: they separate themselves from the filthiness of sin, and fellowship with sinners; join themselves to the Israel of God in conformity and communion, and set themselves to seek the God of Israel: and those that do so in sincerity, though strangers and foreigners, are welcome to eat of the gospel-feast, as fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.
And kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for the LORD had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.Ezra 6:22. And kept the feast with joy: for the Lord had made them joyful — Had given them both cause to rejoice, and hearts to rejoice. “It was now near twenty years,” says Henry, “since the foundation of this temple was laid, and it is probable that most of the old men, who then wept at the remembrance of the first temple, were dead by this time, so that now there were no tears mingled with their joys.” Those that are upon good grounds joyful, have therefore reason to be thankful, because it is God that makes them to rejoice. He is the fountain from whence all the streams of our joy flow. And turned the heart of the king of Assyria — Of the king of Persia, called the king of Assyria, as now reigning over all the kingdoms which were formerly under the power of the Assyrians; and to signify the great power and goodness of God in turning the hearts of these great monarchs, whose predecessors in empire and dominion, in these parts of the world, had formerly been the chief persecutors and oppressors of the people of God. Darius, as we have seen, was now on the throne, of whom Dr. Prideaux gives this character: “He was a prince of great wisdom, clemency, and justice; and has the honour to be recorded in holy writ for a favourer of God’s people, a restorer of his temple at Jerusalem, and a promoter of his worship therein. For all this God was pleased to make him his instrument; and with respect to this, I doubt not, it was, that he blessed him with a numerous issue, a long reign, and great prosperity.”