New European Commentary


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Ezra 6:1 Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the archives, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon- Apparently nothing was found and if Darius was the least bit against the Jews, he would have said so. But he continued the search until the document was found at Achmetha (:2). Darius had married two of the daughters of Cyrus, so he was likely eager to continue the wishes of Cyrus. The internal correspondences within the record (see on :2) are significant, and give the ring of truth to the claim that this is indeed the inspired word of God and not something written by secular men long after the events.

Ezra 6:2 There was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media-
It had apparently been moved from the record house in Babylon where it had previously been (Ezra 5:17).

A scroll, and therein was thus written for a record- The reference to a scroll fits with what is known from archaeology: that the Persians used parchment or vellum for their records, not baked clay, like the Assyrians and Babylonians, or paper, like the Egyptians.

Ezra 6:3 In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king made a decree: Concerning God’s house at Jerusalem, let the house be built, the place where they offer sacrifices, and let its foundations be strongly laid; its height sixty cubits, and its breadth sixty cubits-
Ezekiel's temple was 500 cubits by 500 cubits. The problem with this command is that it involved building the temple according to the dimensions of Cyrus  which were far smaller than those given in Ezekiel 40-48. Building it "in its place" (Ezra 5:15), as if restoring what once was, precluded fulfilling the Kingdom vision of Ezekiel. And so the preference of the word of man (Cyrus) over that of God through Ezekiel precluded the fulfilment of the Kingdom then.

The temple which Cyrus commanded the Jews to build in Jerusalem was of different (smaller) dimensions to that of Ezekiel (Ezra 6:3,4). Two possibilities arise here. Either Israel chose to listen to the words of man rather than those of God through Ezekiel; or (more likely) God reduced the dimensions, knowing that this was within the capability of Israel to achieve. In any case, Israel were encouraged by Divine prophesy in the work of building according to the pattern which Cyrus had given (Ezra 6:14). God is so eager to work with men that He will work with us on our lower level, even if it is a level lower than what we are capable of. And so we should treat our weaker brethren. See on :9.

We could also note that Cyrus only defined the height and breadth, but not the length. This may have been purposeful; to allow the Jews to themselves decide upon this.

Ezra 6:4 with three courses of great stones, and a course of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king’s house-
Great stones are literally rolled stones, stones of greater size than could be carried. The LXX interprets this as meaning four storeys high, three storeys being built of stone, and one of timber. Not all the expenses were in fact met from the king (Ezra 2:69; 3:7). At every moment in the whole story we find potential promises not realized, for whatever reason.

Ezra 6:5 Also let the gold and silver vessels of God’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored, and brought again to the temple which is at Jerusalem, each one to its place; and you shall put them in God’s house-
The Medo-Persians would have recalled that they captured Babylon at the very moment when the Babylonian king was blasphemously using these vessels in a drunken feast (Dan. 5:2,3). Their superstitious thinking would therefore have actually wanted to return these vessels to their appropriate deity. And again, in all these things God's hand was at work; there is an internal credibility within the entire account, as noted on :2.

Ezra 6:6 Now therefore, Tattenai, governor beyond the River, Shetharbozenai, and your companions the Apharsachites, who are beyond the River, you must not hinder this matter-
This continues the points of similarity with the attempts to stop the apostles building the spiritual house of God. For this is in essence the same advice as Gamaliel gives in Acts 5:39, warning not to hinder God's work. See on Ezra 5:3.  

Ezra 6:7 Leave the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in its place-
The LXX is pretty much quoted by Gamaliel in Acts 5:38: "Refrain from these men and let them alone; if this work be of men, it will come to nothing". As explained on Ezra 5:3, the work of building God's house is reinterpreted with reference to the people of God building His spiritual house through preaching in the Christian dispensation. And the apostles who were being persecuted by the elders of the Jews and the leader of the Jewish council in the first century- are thereby presented, in the analogy, to the true elders of the new Israel that the Lord Jesus had founded.

Ezra 6:8 Moreover I make a decree what you shall do to these elders of the Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the River, expenses be given with all diligence to these men, that they be not hindered-
Isaiah makes many allusions to Israel's leaving Egypt. The Jews in Babylon were intended to live out the type by leaving Babylon and making the wilderness journey to the land- and God helped them in it. For example, Ezra records how God moved the local authorities to pronounce that the residents around the returning exiles should give them silver, gold and goods. This was an exact re-living of how Israel left Egypt with Egypt's gold and silver (Ex. 12:35). Yet most of the Jews didn't want to return, they didn't want to live out the type.


Ezra 6:9 That which they have need of, both young bulls, and rams, and lambs, for burnt offerings to the God of heaven; also wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests who are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail-
Absolutely everything physical which was required for obedience to the law was to be provided. The lesson is that if we wish to live the kingdom life and build that kingdom, lack of resources can never ultimately be cited as a reason for disobedience. We must note however that the Jews had broken the old covenant, and had been offered a new covenant deal with God in Jer. 33 and Ez. 20. They apparently rejected that and still tried to keep the old covenant. And yet clearly God worked with them through that immaturity. He comes over as ever eager to work with His people at whatever level they are at. See on :3.

Ezra 6:10 that they may offer sacrifices of pleasant aroma to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and of his sons-
Let’s remember that the exiles were symbols of us. We in this life are passing through “the time of our exile” (1 Pet. 1:17 RSV). Paul exhorts us to pray for kings and governors, in the very language of the LXX in Ezra 6:10 about the returnees praying in the new temple for the kings of Babylon. Again, as noted on Ezra 5:3, the whole narrative of the rebuilding of the temple and Kingdom is applied to the work of the Christian church in this age.

Ezra 6:11 Also I have made a decree, that whoever shall alter this word, let a beam be pulled out from his house, and let him be lifted up and fastened thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this-
The condemnation upon those who tried to change the decree was severe, and clearly had in view the local Samaritan opposition to the Jews. However the idea of cursing those who changed the word of a king was still alluding to the paganic idea that kings were divine, and therefore to try to change their word was an act of blasphemy. This paganic concept reveals how far the Persian kings were from Yahweh; and yet He worked their arrogance in order to enable His people to get on with His work- if they wished to.

Ezra 6:12 and the God who has caused His name to dwell there overthrow all kings and peoples who shall put forth their hand to alter the same, to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with all diligence-
The kings and peoples likely to want to overthrow Jerusalem at that point were those who were going to be opposed to Persia; and so this decree was in its own way a restatement of Persian dominance in the area. To alter the word of Persian command (:11) is seen here (in the AV) as seeking to alter the house of God. They wished to perceive the rebuilding of Yahweh's temple as a function of their word of command concerning it. The rebuilding of the temple was to be the result of Yahweh's prophetic word; but He allowed others to perceive that it was their word which was causing the fulfilment.

Ezra 6:13 Then Tattenai, the governor beyond the River, Shetharbozenai, and their companions, because Darius the king had sent a decree, did accordingly with all diligence-
See on :3. Their diligent ('speedy') obedience to the decree of Darius was meant to be an example to the Jews to respond speedily and diligently to the Divine decree to rebuild Jerusalem. For that was what was behind the decrees of Cyrus and Darius. The two decrees, of God and man, are paralleled in :14.

Ezra 6:14 The elders of the Jews built and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia-
As noted on :13, the two decrees, of God and man, are paralleled. As Gentile men like Tattenai diligently responded to the human decree, so God's people should have done moreso to the Divine decree. The real reason for prospering in fulfilling the decree was through the Divine word through Haggai and Zechariah- which was in fact highly critical of the Jews, with Haggai accusing them of not continuing to rebuild the temple because of their desire to build their own homes, with elegant ceilings, whilst God's house remained waste. They were only using the command to stop the work as an excuse for their own laziness and lack of commitment. That hard hitting message apparently was responded to. For here we read that the work prospered because of it.

Ezra 6:15 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-
Hag. 1:15 says that the work began on the 24th of Elul in the second year of Darius. From Zerubbabel’s laying of the foundation (Ezra 3:10), 21 years had passed. Since the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had challenged the people to repent and get to work, it took exactly four years, five months and ten days to complete it. This shows a commendable speed of response.

Ezra 6:16 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-
Clearly seeking to emulate Solomon's grandiose dedication of his temple; but they were missing the point that Isaiah had made, that God doesn't delight in huge numbers of sacrifices as Solomon made, but rather seeks humble hearts. The reference to "Israel" rather than Judah connects with the offering of 12 goats for the 12 tribes in :17. The prophetic vision was that both Israel and Judah would be reunited in this restored Kingdom. But the majority of the ten tribes didn't return, and relatively few of the 1 million of Judah in Babylon. This feast of dedication is that of Jn. 10:22, and the LXX calls Psalms 145-148 the Psalm of Haggai and Zechariah- so they may have been used at this time.

Ezra 6:17 They offered at the dedication of this house of God one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs; and for a sin offering for all Israel, twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel-
As when the tabernacle was dedicated (Num. 7:87; 8:17). Again they were missing the point- the old covenant was over. And any attempt at emulating Solomon's ridiculously grandiose offering of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep to dedicate his temple was also being made in the wrong spirit; see on :16.

“The Jews” is used synonymously with “Israelite” (Nehemiah 2:10; 4:1; 5:1,8; 7:73; 12:47). 12 he-goats and 12 bulls were offered for “all Israel” in Ezra 6:17; 8:35. But still Judah and Israel remained divided; and no “prince” arose to fulfill the prophecies. Israel and Judah were to become one nation in the land, “and my servant David shall be a prince in the midst of them” (Ez. 37:16-24). This is clearly the same “prince” as referred to in Ezekiel 45-48. The restoration prophecy of Jer. 30:9 speaks of a returned Judah serving “David their king, whom I shall raise up unto them”- implying that David would have been resurrected at the restoration, if all had gone according to what was possible. Some of the ten tribes did return with Judah but the scale of prophesied reunion was simply not achieved, and the offering of the 12 goats was therefore but external symbolism.

Ezra 6:18 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-
But as noted on Ezra 2, only four of the 24 courses returned. And hardly any Levites. Their attempts to keep the old covenant were compromised; and yet they had been told in Ezekiel and Jeremiah that they had hopelessly broken that covenant, and needed to accept the new covenant, which they stubbornly refused to do.

Ezra 6:19 The children of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month-
It seems they were proud of their technical obedience to the old covenant; see on :18. At this point, the book of Esther reverts to Hebrew from Chaldee (which began to be used in Ezra 4:18).

Ezra 6:20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure-
Ez. 36:24-29 had prophesied: “For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh”. The captives were taken from among the many nations that comprised Babylon / Persia; they were brought, as many as could be bothered to go, to their own land. They were cleansed there (s.w. Ezra 6:20; Neh. 12:30). But they became un-cleansed through allowing Tobiah into the temple chambers, by trading on the Sabbath, and by marrying Gentiles (Neh. 13:9,22,30). The priesthood needed to be “cleansed” again (Mal. 3:3 s.w.). The promise of Ezekiel 36 sounds unconditional- as if, whoosh, God would make His sinful people righteous regardless of their own will. And so some have misunderstood the operation of God’s Spirit in our own days. But although not directly stated, the promise of entry into the new covenant, whereby God would encourage obedience through the work of His Spirit, was conditional. Judah could have entered the new covenant there and then, with all its requirements for a Messiah figure to abrogate the Mosaic law. But they turned back to their uncleannesses, they would not keep God’s statutes, and their potential Messiah figures failed to appear. Yet again, the promise of entry into a new covenant was deferred, to be fulfilled in a new Israel who are sprinkled through the waters of baptism. The promise was fulfilled, but in a far different context to that intended.

And they killed the Passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brothers the priests, and for themselves- The Mosaic legislation was that each head of house should kill the Passover. But they now considered that only the clean could kill the Passover, and the Levites were supposed to be super clean- even though we are soon to read that some of them were so uncommitted to Yahweh that they had married Gentiles. So their zeal for technical, casuistic purity meant they ended up breaking the law, as has so often been seen amongst God's people.

Ezra 6:21 The children of Israel who had come again out of the captivity-
Time and again, Jeremiah had prophesied how Yahweh would bring again His people and the vessels of the temple back to the land (Jer. 28:3,4,6; 30:3,18; 31:23); and this all had a fulfilment in the return from captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah. It was then that in some sense Yahweh ‘brought again Zion’ (Is. 52:8). The very same word used by Joel [translated “bring again”] is to be found in the references to Judah’s return at the restoration (Ezra 2:1; 6:21; Neh. 7:6; 8:17). The same word is to be found in Ezekiel 38:8 and 39:27, where again, the invasion is to happen once Judah had been ‘brought again’ from captivity. Judah returned, and yet they didn’t rebuild the temple as they were commanded. Therefore the invasion didn’t come, and therefore the Kingdom wasn’t then established. As if knowing this, Hos. 6:11 had prophesied [otherwise strangely] that Judah would reap their punishment, when they returned from captivity. They returned [s.w. ‘bring again’], but not to the Most High (Hos. 7:16). Joel 3, however, speaks from the perspective that Judah would be ‘brought again’ from Babylon under Ezra; and then Joel 3:2 “I will also gather all nations...and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land”.

And all such as had separated themselves to them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek Yahweh, the God of Israel, ate- They separated / purged, and then, within a few years, we read of them doing so again. Initially, the exiles separated from the peoples of the land (Ezra 6:21); by Ezra 9:1 they are in need of separating again; and by Ezra 10:11 likewise; then they separate (Ezra 10:16), only to need another call to separation by the time of Neh. 9:2; 13:3. They obviously found it extremely difficult to be separated from the surrounding world unto God’s law (Neh. 10:28).

But the reference is probably to Gentiles keeping the Passover along with Israel. We notice that there is no mention of their being circumcised to do so. I have suggested elsewhere that the command for only the circumcised to partake of it was relevant only to the first Passover, as later in the Mosaic law and Jewish practice, all of one mind with Israel were welcome to partake of it. And this has relevance to the openness of the breaking of bread service.

However it is the Jews who are described as needing to separate themselves from the filthiness of the nations of the land (Ezra 9:1; 10:11). Perhaps the category here referred to those Jews who had remained in the land throughout the exile, and now separated themselves from the idolatry of the land.

Ezra 6:22 and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy: for Yahweh had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, to strengthen their hands in the work of God’s house, the God of Israel-
This verse emphasizes the direct work of God on human hearts (as in 1 Kings 18:37; Mal. 4:6): making them joyful, turning the heart of the king, and strengthening their work for Him. Despite their many weaknesses as discussed in the previous commentary, God was eager to work with them. Although they had not accepted the new covenant, with its promise of the Spirit in their hearts, He still worked directly upon their hearts in confirming them in the way they had apparently chosen.