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.
This reference to the influence excited by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah marks very plainly the nature and object of the prophetic office. The word which God in time past spake by the mouth of His holy prophets was no empty sound or mystical foretelling of future events, the interpretation of which was to be found when the events were fulfilled; it was then what it is now: the voice of God to His Church, stirring up zeal, and love, and faith, and obedience to every good word and work. It was the fresh spring of moral and religious life to the nation.
The great lessons we may learn from a review of the last canonical period of Jewish history are:—
I. The place which the spiritual element must occupy in all national and social organisation for the good of the people. Secular power, Act of Parliament power, intellectual power, public opinion power, philanthropic power, have been tested and tried to the uttermost, but no one of them nor all put together have ever succeeded in regenerating a nation or converting a soul. That people is on the high-road to apostasy which teaches for doctrines the commandments of men.
II. The religious teaching must be of the right stamp. It must be revealed truth. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi preached by inspiration of God.
III. If declension and backsliding come in among a people, what appeal can be made to awaken fear and rouse the torpid conscience? "The day cometh which shall burn like an oven" is no myth. The doctrine of everlasting punishment from the presence of the Lord is as certain as the hope of being with Him and like Him for ever. "Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men; for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
W. R. Fremantle, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1869, p. 169.
Haggai has three messages to deliver. These messages are comprised within the space of four months. And these months would seem to fit into the year of the favourable response or rescript from the Persian king Darius, to which Ezra refers in the text, connecting it devoutly with the commandment of the God of Israel.
Consider the three prophetic messages of Haggai.
I, The first (chap. 1) is not prophetic at all in our modern limited sense of what is prophecy. It contains no prediction. It is simply a word of admonition. As such, it is in harmony with what was the chief function of the Jewish prophets, whose office was really not so much to foretell future events as to bring to bear authoritatively on present sin and duty, on the rebuking of present sin and the enforcement of present duty, the principles of the Divine government as laid down by the Law. The special sin here rebuked is that of remissness in the present duty of building the Lord's house, when the opportunity is given and all things are favourable.
II. Haggai's second message (Ezra 2:1-9) partakes more of the character of prophecy in our modern acceptation of the term than his first, and for a natural and obvious reason. The partially suspended labour is now resumed. It is resumed as a labour of love. But it is resumed under the cloud of sad memories of the past. In these circumstances the prophet has a word in season from the Lord for the people. And it is fitly a word prophetic of the future. The people have to mourn a vacant temple and an empty shrine. But a higher glory is in reserve for it, a glory higher in respect of that very outward, palpable, visible manifestation of Jehovah's presence which constituted the first Temple's real distinction and chiefest boast. "I will fill this house with glory." "In this place will I give peace." It is the glory of the eternal Son, the Lord of the Temple, of which Haggai speaks, as raising the Temple then in building above that of Solomon.
III. The prophet's third and last message (Ezra 2:10-23) enforces a lesson of holiness. It is ushered in by a formal consultation of the guardians of the Temple's purity (Ezra 2:11-13). The priests lay down the law of ordinances, the principle of the ceremonial institute, to the effect that uncleanness is far more easily and naturally communicated than holiness. It is the prophet's function to give to this law a moral or spiritual application. He bids the people beware. Let them rid themselves of any leaven of wickedness, any germ of iniquity, which they may have been cherishing or allowing within their borders. Let them again consider their ways.
IV. The three causes which are apt to hinder our faithful zeal in building for the Lord—selfish sloth, unbelieving despondency, and carnal security—are they not the bane also of our own spiritual life? The Lord will not, He cannot, bless us personally while we yield to these temptations to slackness in the business in which He would engage us: the business of seeking out from amid the world's ruins stones for His living temple, doing what in us lies to build up Christ's spiritual house, to win souls to Him, to feed His sheep and His lambs, helping them to abide in Him.
R. S. Candlish, Sermons, p. 284.
Reference: Ezra 6:14, Ezra 6:15.—J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 286. Ezra 7:10.—Ibid., p. 307.
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;
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.
Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
And the 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,
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.
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.
And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
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.
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,
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.