Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1-15) The favourable decree of Darius, and its effect.
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.(1) Made a decree.—Rather, gave an order.
Were laid up.—In the original, laid down, in a chamber for the storing of documents and other treasures.
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:(2) At Achmetha.—That is, Ecbatana, the Median capital of Cyrus. It is probable that the original roll of parchment had been destroyed at Babylon by Smerdis, but a copy of it was found here, probably in a Chaldean transcript.
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;(3) Strongly laid.—“Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:28). The decree adds a word that signifies “with sufficient support.”
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.(5) And also let the golden and silver vessels . . . be restored.—The desecration of these vessels by Belshazzar (Daniel 5:2-3) was thus to be expiated. Every word, including the twice repeated “house of God,” is most emphatic.
Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:(6) Now therefore, Tatnai.—Here there is an abrupt transition to the decree of Darius itself, the terms of which were either drawn up by Jewish help, or are freely rendered into the national phraseology by the historian.
Be ye far from thence.—That is, keep aloof from any kind of interference.
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.(8) Moreover.—I also make my decree.
Of the king’s goods.—From the tribute collected to be sent to Persia sums were previously to be deducted.
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:(9) Both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs.—An accurate account of the provision required for the sacrifices and meat-offerings of the daily service of the Temple: how accurate will be seen by consulting Exodus 29 and Leviticus 2.
Appointment here is simply the word: that is, of direction.
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.(10) That they may offer sacrifices . . . and pray for the life of the king.—Two ends are to be answered: the God of heaven is to be honoured, and the dynasty of Darius interceded for by the Jews. (Comp. Jeremiah 29:7.)
Of sweet savours.—The word occurs again only in Daniel 2:46, and there is translated “sweet odours,” meaning incense. The connection of this with the prayer following justifies the same translation here, and, moreover, indicates under what good instruction the decree was drawn up.
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.(11) Alter this word seems to mean “violate this command,” since the alteration of a decree was a thing unheard of.
Hanged is literally crucified. Among the Persians crucifixion was generally the nailing of a body to a cross after decapitation; among the Assyrians it was transfixion or impalement. Here the “being set up” refers of course to the man, and not to the beam.
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.(14) Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.—This verse includes all the agents in the great work with which the book deals: from Cyrus to Artaxerxes; the elders, that is, the heads of the Jews; the prophets (see Ezra 5:1); but all is from the God of Israel, whose commandment Cyrus and all others fulfilled.
Artaxerxes king of Persia.—Evidently the Artaxerxes Longimanus of the sequel, whose contributions and help did so much toward the perfecting of the general design, though the “finishing” here mentioned took place fifty years before his reign. Observe that he alone is called “king of Persia,” which shows that Ezra is writing in his time, and adds his name to the original record. Just as the later Artaxerxes is introduced, so the earlier Cyrus is, in this comprehensive review.
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.(15) The third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year.—The event around which this part of the history revolves is dated with due care; it was on the third day of the last month of the ecclesiastical year, B.C. 516-515. Haggai (Haggai 1:15) gives the exact date of the re-commencement: the time therefore was four years five months and ten days. But, dating from the first foundation (Ezra 3:10), no less than twenty-one years had elapsed.
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,(16-22) The dedication of the second Temple.
(16) Children of the captivity.—This designation is peculiarly appropriate here, as in Ezra 6:20. “All Israel” soon follows.
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.(17) Twelve he goats.—The people are not now “Judah” or “Judah and Benjamin,” but “all Israel.” On the Day of Atonement, on the new moons, and on all the great feasts the kid was the sin-offering for the people. But only here is one offered for each tribe.
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.(18) In the book of Moses.—The general arrangements only were given in the Pentateuch. The “courses” were of David’s time; and their restoration must have been imperfect, as neither were the twenty-four courses of priests complete nor were the Levites in full force.
And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.(19) Upon the fourteenth day of the first month.—Recording the special celebration of the Passover—after the precedent of Hezekiah and Josiah—Ezra returns to the Hebrew language. The occasion was, as it were, a renewal of the redemption from Egypt, and another wilderness had been passed.
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.(20) Purified together.—This verse should be translated as follows, contrary to the present accentuation: “The priests were purified; and the Levites were purified as one man: all were pure; and killed.” In this fact the present Levitical and official purity of both orders surpassed that of Hezekiah’s celebration (2Chronicles 29:34; 2Chronicles 30:3). It had come to be the practice that the Levites slaughtered all the paschal lambs.
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,(21) Separated themselves . . .—Not proselytes from the heathen are intended, but the remnant of the Jews in the land who had consorted with the foreign populations introduced by the conquerors. Their intermarriages and other acts of conformity are constantly referred to throughout Ezra and Nehemiah.
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.(22) And kept the feast.—The Mazzoth, or week of unleavened bread, was the symbol of entire separation from evil, to the service of that God whom on the Passover they accepted as their God. The special joy of this feast was the feeling that the Lord had “turned the heart of the king of Assyria.” The king of Persia is so called as a remembrancer of their oppression by his forerunners.