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This first half of the book of Ezra concludes with the successful rebuilding and dedication of the new temple in Jerusalem. The project faced serious obstacles and potential roadblocks, but in the end the Providence of God made possible the renewal of temple sacrifices under the leadership of the appointed priests and Levites. The level of support from the pagan kings of Cyrus and Darius is nothing short of remarkable. After 70 years of exile and frustration, the Jewish people can now joyfully celebrate their key annual feasts and reestablish their testimony of God’s glory to a watching world. But such worship can only be sustained as they continue to separate themselves from the surrounding pagan culture, maintain personal and corporate purity, and follow the divine directives of the Word of God.

Loken: These verses are the climax of the first half of the book. The nation is now resettled in the land, and proper worship of Yahweh has been restored. The hero of the story is God. The narrative of the first half of the book begins when the Lord “stirred up the spirit” of the Persian king (1:1) to allow the Jews to return to the land of Israel and ends when the Lord “turned the heart” of the Persian king (6:22) to encourage the Jews to finish the temple. The fact that God influences the hearts of human monarchs is a common theme throughout Scripture. . . The Lord moves the hearts of men, even the most powerful men on earth. As Nebuchadnezzar observes, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He [God] does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ ” (Dan 4:35).

Andrew Swango: I’m curious if God’s purpose behind this story of Tattenai is for the sake of king Darius. We learn that Darius will conduct the search. Perhaps God caused all this to happen so that God’s goodness and His fulfillment of prophecies will come to Darius’ attention. God is always working on nations, being Lord over all nations. This may be God giving Darius his opportunity to learn about the Jews and learn that the God of heaven is the true and real “great God.” Or, this was so that the Jews could receive more wealth, this time from Darius (see Ezra 6:8-9).

Wiersbe: Once again, Jewish worship would take place in the Holy City in a restored temple dedicated to the Lord. No wonder the People were rejoicing! And it was all because of the faithfulness of God. He had “turned the heart of the king” to assist the people, and new the work was completed (Prov. 21:1).


A. (:1-2) Locating the Original Decree of Cyrus

1. (:1) Command to Search for Cyrus’ Decree

“Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon.”

2. (:2) Copy Found of Cyrus’ Decree

“And in Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows:”

Whitcomb: Possibly all the ancient scrolls were stored in the library at Ecbatana because the air was not so hot and humid there as it was in Babylon.

Loken: This passage contains an account of the actions of Darius following the receipt of the letter of Tattenai recorded in 5:6–17. The Persian king searched his archives and found a copy of the original decree of Cyrus at Ecbatana. As a result, he replied to Tattenai and instructed him to allow the work on the temple to continue. He also issued his own decree providing support for the project and a request that prayers be made on his behalf. The text unit ends with a threat against those who fail to honor the king’s edict. . .

Fortunately, the search continued. As it turns out, a scroll containing the original decree of Cyrus was found at the fortress of Ecbatana, the summer capital of the Persian kings during the reign of Cyrus. Ecbatana was situated in a mountainous region with a temperate climate. Xenophon informs us that Cyrus lived in Babylon during the winter, in Susa during the spring, and in Ecbatana during the summer (Anabasis 3.5.15; cf. Cyropaedia 8.6.22). Ecbatana (modern Hamadan; Ecbatana is the Greek form of the Persian Hagmatana) was located in the province of Media and was the capital of the Medes until they fell under the control of Cyrus in 550 b.c. Cyrus had stayed in Ecbatana in the summer of his first year as king of Babylon, the same year he originally made the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.

B. (:3-5) Listing the Provisions of the Original Decree

1. (:3a) Contents Contained in a Memorandum

“Memorandum — In the first year of King Cyrus,

Cyrus the king issued a decree:”

MacArthur: A particular kind of document called a memorandum (Ezr 4:15; Mal 3:16). Administrative officials often kept these documents of administrative decisions made, or issues remaining to be settled, to retain the details of administrative action for future reference.

2. (:3b-4a) Construction Details Impressive

‘Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the temple, the place where sacrifices are offered, be rebuilt and let its foundations be retained, its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits; 4 with three layers of huge stones, and one layer of timbers.’”

Loken: The decree of this passage provides a few additional details concerning the actual building of the temple.

– First, the original foundations were to be retained. It is likely that the foundations of Solomon’s temple remained relatively intact and thus were to be used for the rebuilt temple. It is possible that the reference here is to the entire temple platform as opposed to the foundations of the actual building.

– Second, the decree provided the exact dimensions of the new temple, i.e., sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide. A normal cubit was about 17.5 inches. A “royal” or “great” cubit was 20.4 inches. These dimensions called for the rebuilt temple to be twice as high and three times as wide as Solomon’s temple (cf. 1 Kgs 6:2). This would make the new temple six times larger that Solomon’s! Perhaps Cyrus wanted the glory of this temple to surpass that of Solomon’s. Evidently, the Jews did not take advantage of this opportunity (cf. 3:12–13; Hag 2:3).

– Third, the decree authorized the use of three layers of “huge stones.” The sheer size of these stones likely concerned Tattenai when he first inspected the building project since he specifically mentioned the “huge stones” being used in the construction (5:8).

– Fourth, the edict called for a new layer of timber. It is unlikely that new (unseasoned) timber is the intended idea. The reference here is probably to a new course of paneling on the wall (cf. Fensham, 88).

– Fifth, the decree allowed for the expenses incurred in the construction to be taken from the royal treasury. This note provides an additional reason why the dimensions are recorded in the decree. In other words, the funds provided for the project are limited to those needed to create a building of the specified size. The offer to cover the expenses of this project fits well with what is known of Cyrus’ policies regarding foreign religions.

– Sixth, the decree called for the return of the gold and silver temple utensils that had been taken by King Nebuchadnezzar. While the fulfillment of this portion of the decree was recorded in 1:7–11, it was not recorded in the decree itself (cf. 1:2–4).

3. (:4b) Cost Funded from Royal Treasury

“And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury.”

4. (:5) Captured Gold and Silver Utensils Ordered Returned to New Temple

“And also let the gold and silver utensils of the temple of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be returned and brought to their places in the temple in Jerusalem; and you shall put them in the house of God.”


A. (:6-7) Protecting the Project from Governmental Interference

1. (:6a) Addressing the Governmental Officials

“Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your colleagues, the officials of the provinces beyond the River,”

2. (:6b-7a) Advocating for Independence – No Interference

“keep away from there.

Leave this work on the house of God alone;”

3. (:7b) Approving of:

– Jewish leadership of the project

– Design of the project = temple construction

– Site of the project

“let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews

rebuild this house of God on its site.”

B. (:8-10) Providing Resources for the Project

1. (:8a) Royal Authorization of Support for the Project

“Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do

for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God:”

2. (:8b) Royal Treasury Support from Tax Revenues

“the full cost is to be paid to these people from the royal treasury out of the taxes of the provinces beyond the River, and that without delay.”

3. (:9a-10) Recurring Provisions to Support Ongoing Sacrifices

a. Blank Check to Support Sacrificial System

“And whatever is needed, both young bulls, rams, and lambs for a burnt offering to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine, and anointing oil, as the priests in Jerusalem request, it is to be given to them daily without fail,”

b. Basis for the Support

1) Religious Integrity

“that they may offer acceptable sacrifices

to the God of heaven”

2) Royal Intercession

“and pray for the life of the king and his sons.”

Loken: Darius added a decree of his own to that of Cyrus. It is at once obvious that Darius has the help of a Jewish religious authority as he writes this edict. The decree of Darius called for five things. First, Darius ordered the funds for the temple to be drawn from the royal treasury and paid to the Jews. The treasury alluded to here was that of the province of Trans-Euphrates. This treasury was probably located in Babylon.

Second, Darius provided for the sacrificial system of the Jews to be restored. This system involved the offering of livestock on an altar, including bulls, rams, and lambs. These animals were the most valuable and important sacrifices in the cultic worship of the Jews (cf. Num 7:87–88; 1 Chr 29:21). The decree also provided for a supply of wheat, salt, wine, and anointing oil. The reason these specific items are identified is so that the Jews could offer נִיחוֹחַ “acceptable” sacrifices to the Lord. This term is certainly of Jewish origin; it corresponds to the “soothing” aroma offerings (cf. Lev 1:9, 13, 17, etc.). The Persians placed a high degree of importance in following exact procedures so as not to offend specific gods.

Third, Darius instructed the remnant to pray for him and his family. Once again, this is in keeping with Persian policy. The Cyrus Cylinder records a similar decree by Cyrus: “May all the gods whom I have placed within their sanctuaries address a daily prayer in my favor before Bel and Nabu, that my days may be long.” According to Herodotus, it was customary among the Persians to utter a prayer for the king whenever a sacrifice was offered (Hist. 1.132). The practice of praying for the king is also attested in the Elephantine papyri.

Fourth, Darius revealed the punishment that was to be given to anyone who violated his decree. This punishment takes the form of poetic justice. If anyone harmed the house of God, then his own house would be destroyed. The lawbreaker would also receive retribution. The form of this retribution is debated. The Aramaic literally reads “and lifted up he shall be smitten upon it.” This phrase could be a reference to flogging (cf. neb, reb; Williamson, 83). Taken this way, the punishment would involve tying the criminal to a beam and beating him. This beating would not necessarily result in the loss of the criminal’s life. The phrase could also refer to impalement (e.g., nasb, niv, nkjv, nrsv). In impalement, one end of a beam was sharpened and inserted through an individual’s chest from the bottom to the top. The other end was then planted in the ground. The person was subsequently left to hang until he died. Darius, in the so-called Behistun Inscription, claims to have impaled an enemy after cutting off his nose, ears, and tongue. Fensham (91) notes that there is a relief of Sennacherib’s attack on Lachish in the British Museum that shows how certain Israelites were impaled. Because of the reference to the ultimate destruction of the offender’s house, this latter option seems best. In other words, the offender was to be impaled on a timber from his own house. Obviously, this judgment would take the life of the lawbreaker. After his death, the offender’s house was to be made into a “refuse heap” (lit. “dunghill;” cf. 2 Kgs 10:27). If the guilty party was still alive at this point, one would expect him to attempt to rebuild his house. The type of penalty clause included here was common in Ancient Near Eastern laws and treaties.

Fifth, Darius called on the Lord to invoke divine judgment on all who attempt to destroy the rebuilt temple. This invocation is in the style of an Ancient Near Eastern curse formula. Fensham (91) elaborates, “The curse formula was used throughout Ancient Near Eastern history to protect what was regarded as precious, e.g., the sarcophagus of a king. It was also used to protect a treaty. The overturning of a king meant the overturning of his throne, as we know from the curse formula. In the Bagistan Inscription Darius invoked the hostility of Ahuramazda [his favorite god] against anyone who would destroy the inscription.”

The final line of the decree contains a sort of signature by the king: “I, Darius, have issued this decree.” Also included is a command that the king’s orders be carried out אָסְפַּרְנָא “diligently.” This word is used in the sense of “completely” or “thoroughly” as opposed to “quickly,” though this idea is certainly implied.

C. (:11-12a) Proclaiming a Curse on Obstructors of the Project

1. (:11) Curse Backed by Royal Judgment

“And I issued a decree that any man who violates this edict, a timber shall be drawn from his house and he shall be impaled on it and his house shall be made a refuse heap on account of this.”

Derek Kidner: The common ground between such punishments was the public spectacle they afforded for disgrace and warning. It is a relief to know that Israelite law put two crucial restraints on such a practice: the victim was executed before this, not by means of it (Deut. 21:22; note the sequence), and the display of his corpse must not be prolonged (Deut. 21:23).

Whitcomb: Keil cites Herodotus (III. 159) as saying that Darius impaled 3,000 Babylonians after conquering their city. Therefore this was no idle threat!

2. (:12) Curse Backed by Divine Judgment

“And may the God who has caused His name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who attempts to change it, so as to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem.”

Breneman: This verse contains an additional curse. The phrase “caused his Name to dwell there” reflects an understanding of biblical theology (cf. Deut 12:5), a strong indication that a Jewish scribe helped Darius prepare this decree. Darius was in fact speaking almost prophetically. As Daniel prophesied, God would do this very thing, destroying the king and kingdom that would oppose him and his people and then would establish an everlasting kingdom of righteousness (Dan 7:23–27).

D. (:12b) Promoting the Importance of the Decree

“I, Darius, have issued this decree, let it be carried out with all diligence!”

– Important because of who issued it

– Important because of the nature of a royal decree

– Important because of the urgency of comprehensively carrying out the commands


(:13) Prologue – Carrying out the Decree of King Darius

“Then Tattenai, the governor of the province beyond the River,

Shethar-bozenai, and their colleagues

carried out the decree with all diligence, just as King Darius had sent.”

A. (:14-15) Successful Completion of the Temple

1. (:14a) Successful Completion in Accordance with Prophetic Encouragement

“And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.”

Fensham: The command of Darius is carried out to the letter by the Persian officials. In one of his inscriptions Darius exhorted his followers to believe what he had written and not to disobey his laws.1 As we may expect, after the order of Darius the work on the temple was tackled with eagerness. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah were still there to inspire the workers with their prophecies. We know that the prophecies of Haggai written in the biblical book of Haggai were delivered not later than the beginning of 519 b.c. Those of Zechariah could not have been pronounced later than 518 b.c. For some scholars this is a problem.2 How could they have inspired the completion of the temple, if their prophecies had stopped three or four years earlier? It is probable, however, that they pronounced prophecies which were not taken up in the canonical books of the Bible. We must accept that not every pronouncement of a prophet has been transmitted to us.

2. (:14b) Successful Completion in Accordance with Divine and Royal Decrees

“And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.”

Fensham: It is of importance that in v. 14 only the Jewish leaders are mentioned and Zerubbabel is not. This might point to the fact that he died during the building activities. In v. 14b we have a piece of pure Jewish theology. According to this verse, the work was finished by the order or command of God and the Persian kings. God commanded it through his prophets and the Persian kings were instruments of God in commanding the completion of the work. This verse thus shows that God works through history and historical processes. It is therefore of importance to note that the name of God had been given priority in the list of names.

Derek Kidner: We paused at 5:1, 2 to notice the seminal role of the two prophets, whose words brought a dead situation to life and two quiescent leaders into faith and action. Now the scene gains depth and momentum as we are shown the elders, the lesser leaders, taking up the work and pressing on to finish it, while in the background are the successive kings with their decrees, and at the apex the command (or decree63) of the God of Israel. It is a model of the way God works and of the means he uses.

Whitcomb: Ezra is careful to add the name of his own king, Artaxerxes, because he helped in the maintenance of the Temple (7:15, 16, 21).

3. (:15) Successful Completion in Accordance with Historical Timetable

“And this temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar;

it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.”

Rata: The sovereignty and providence of God are clearly displayed as His plan is fulfilled with the help of pagan, syncretistic people. Man’s efforts are successful because of God’s divine intervention and communication of His message through His prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The absence of any mention of Zerubbabel leads some to believe that he died before the completion of the temple. Even though Artaxerxes reigned much later (465–424/3 bc), he is mentioned to reinforce the argument that the reconstruction was accomplished due to divine providence which goes beyond one king’s reign. Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes each played a role in the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem. Cyrus gave the edict which began the reconstruction, the temple was completed during Darius’ reign, and the city walls were completed during the reign of Artaxerxes.

Loken: At this point, the importance of the temple must be discussed. The Jews were quite unique in the Ancient Near East because they were monotheistic. All of the nations surrounding Judah were polytheistic. Since the Jews worshipped a single God, namely, Yahweh, and believed that He was intimately involved in their daily personal and national existence, they viewed their successes and failures, both personally and nationally, as a direct consequence of their faithfulness or disobedience to their God. As a result, the place where they worshipped Yahweh, the temple, became the most significant symbol of the restored community.

Along with its importance as a religious institution, the temple played an important role in the political, economic, and social spheres of Jewish culture. Blenkinsopp asserts that “the decisive political event in the establishment of a viable Jewish community in the homeland was the rebuilding of the temple and organization of its cult[].” The cost of maintaining the temple was obtained by means of the tithes of the people as well as an annual levy of one-third of a shekel (Neh 10:32). The sacrificial system itself took a considerable toll of livestock, grain, and other commodities, including wood (Blenkinsopp, 68). This system would soon become an overwhelming burden for the population, with the result that many either stopped offering sacrifices or offered sacrifices of low quality (cf. Neh 13:10–11; Mal 1:8, 13; 3:8–10).

The social rifts present in the Jewish community were exacerbated with the rebuilding of the temple. Those who controlled the temple in Jerusalem exercised political control over the entire Trans-Euphrates region. The successful rebuilding of the walls of the city would serve to further intensify the rift between the Jewish community and the foreigners, including Samaritans, living in the region.

Wiersbe: On the twelfth day of the last month of 515, the temple was completed, about seventy years from the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians in 586, and about five and a half years after Haggai and Zechariah called the people back to work (5:1). God had been faithful to care for His people. He provided encouragement through the preaching of the prophets and even used the authority and wealth of a pagan king to further the work.

B. (:16-17) Celebratory Dedication of the Temple

1. (:16) Outpouring of Abundant Joy

“And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.”

Fensham: We have reached the point in the description where the final consummation of the expectations of the exiles was experienced. Handicapped by the hostility of the Samaritans, they waited for a long time to reach this ideal, namely, the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of temple worship. Twenty-one years after the laying of the foundations, the temple was completed. Since the temple of Solomon had been destroyed in 586 b.c., the Jewish religious community could not have functioned satisfactorily, because during the almost four hundred years of its existence, the temple of Solomon had such a firm hold on the cultic and liturgical practices that religion without it seemed unthinkable. Now all these religious practices could be exercised again. No wonder that the dedication of the temple was received with joy.

Loken: The Jews celebrate the completion of the temple by having a ceremony of “dedication.” The word used here is חֲנֻכָּה hanukkah. This word will eventually lend its name to an annual festival commemorating the reconsecration of the temple after its defamation at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes (25 Chislev 167 b.c.). The celebration was held “with joy,” a theme repeated at the end of this text unit when the remnant celebrates the Feast of Unleavened Bread “with joy, for Yahweh had caused them to rejoice” (6:22). In this verse, the sons of Israel are once again divided into three categories: the priests, the Levites, and the laity (cf. 1:5; 2:70; 3:8). This ceremony of dedication continues the theme of celebrations in the books of Ezra (3:4–13; 8:35) and Nehemiah (8; 9; 12:27–47).

2. (:17) Offering of Initial Animal Sacrifices

“And they offered for the dedication of this temple of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel.”

Andrew Swango: Compare the amount of animals sacrificed to what Solomon sacrificed for the first temple (1King 8:63, 2Chr 7:5). Solomon sacrificed about 73 times the amount of cattle and 300 times the amount of sheep. How far have the Jews come from being the wealthiest nation around to being a distant province in the Persian Empire. Sometimes, even after repenting, the consequences of past actions can still linger.

C. (:18) Appointment of Priests and Levites for Temple Service

“Then they appointed the priests to their divisions and the Levites in their orders for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses.”

Derek Kidner: The book of Moses laid down the basic duties of priests and Levites, and the distinctions between them (cf. e.g. Num. 18); but the divisions and courses were the work of David.

Andrew Swango: The Jews do not want to make the same mistake they did before. This time, they are going back to the books of Moses for their guide on everything they do with the temple. Many, many things have changed for the Jews over the course of their history, but their Scriptures remain the same. The words of God have been and should still be their standard in all things.


A. (:19-21) Renewing Observance of Passover — Purity

1. (:19) Proper Day of Observance

“And the exiles observed the Passover

on the fourteenth of the first month.”

Rata: It is only fitting that they celebrate the Passover since that celebration reminds them of their greatest deliverance, the one from under the Egyptian yoke. Moses instructed the people who would enter the Promised Land to keep the Passover (Num. 9:4). After entering the Promised Land, the Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, celebrated the Passover at Gilgal (Josh. 5:10). During the monarchy period, the Passover seems to have been neglected, because the people celebrated it after Josiah’s reform around the year 627 bc (2 Kings 23:21). The community of the Jews who returned from the exile keeps the Passover, as God commanded through Moses, on the fourteenth day of the first month, the month of Nissan (Lev. 23:5). The Israelites’ commitment to obeying the Law of Moses is evident in their inviting non-Jews to their celebration and worship. These outsiders followed the purification rites as instructed in the Law (Num. 9:14). Some rabbis affirm that these “are proselytes, who were separated from the defilement of the nations to cleave to Israel.” The Feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated in conjunction with the Passover (Exod. 12:15–17) as in the time of Moses and Hezekiah (2 Chron. 30:21).

2. (:20a) Purity in Observance

“For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together;

all of them were pure.”

3. (:20b) Passover Lamb Slain

“Then they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the exiles,

both for their brothers the priests and for themselves.”

4. (:21) Passover Lamb Eaten

“And the sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek the LORD God of Israel, ate the Passover.”

Breneman: This decision involved two basic determinations, one negative and the other positive—similar to those a Christian must make today. First, they “separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors.” In order to follow Christ, we must reject an immoral lifestyle. The biblical faith is an ethical faith. God is holy and demands that his children be holy. The other decision is a positive one: “To seek the Lord.” This means turning to him, seeking communion with him, seeking to do his will. Time after time the prophets condemned the people and announced God’s judgment because the people did not seek the Lord (Isa 9:13; 31:1; Hos 7:10; Zeph 1:6; Jer 10:21).

MacArthur: These were proselytes to Judaism, who had confessed their spiritual uncleanness before the Lord, been circumcised, and renounced idolatry to keep the Passover (v. 22).

B. (:22) Renewing Observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread — Joy

“And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.”

Whitcomb: Since the Persians now ruled the former Assyrian territories, it could be said that Darius was king of Assyria, even as Cyrus was king of Babylon.

Gary Smith: The joy of the people was full and exuberant, not only because of what they had finally done, but also because of what they could now do. Once they cleansed the site and dedicated the priests to their appropriate duties, the regular operation of the Temple could begin again. As long as the priestly leaders and the worshiping Israelites followed the instructions “prescribed in the Book of Moses” (6:18), God’s name would be glorified through their worship. The great dangers for every past or present place of worship are that the leaders may not be fully dedicated to the spiritual work God has given them, the worship may not follow the instructions in the word of God, and the people may have no joy or awe as they enter the Lord’s presence.

John Martin: Since the temple worship was restored, it was important for people who wanted to be in fellowship with God and live according to the covenantal obligations to be in the place where the sacrificial system was being practiced.