Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Nov 11 2019 - Ezra 6 – Completion of the temple

In our last reading from Ezra, Tattenai, governor of the whole area south of the river Euphrates, had written a letter to Darius, King of Persia, asking for a search to be made in the imperial archives to see whether King Cyrus had said that the Jews who were returning from exile in Babylon had permission to rebuild their temple. In these days of email we may be used to getting speedy replies to our letters, but it must have taken a while for the letter to arrive in Babylon, the archives to be searched and a responding letter to find its way back to Jerusalem. It must have proved an anxious wait for all those eager to see the temple finished.

The search ordered by Darius soon turned up the record of the decree made by Cyrus, and it was clear that Cyrus had not only permitted the temple to be rebuilt but had ordered that the costs should be met from his royal treasury. As Zerubbabel had told Tattenai, Cyrus had also ordered the return of all the articles of gold and silver taken from the temple in Jerusalem and carried off to Babylon. This order was then repeated by Darius who told Tattenai not to interfere with the rebuilding but rather to pay every expense from the royal revenues and from the revenues collected from his region. Moreover, he was to provide them with all that they needed to offer the sacrifices to the Lord demanded by their law. Lastly, Darius commands that anyone who hinders their work should be put to a rather unpleasant death. So we read:

The elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. (v. 14)

The temple was then dedicated to the worship of the Lord, with the accompaniment of lavish sacrifices (though by no means as many as when Solomon dedicated the first temple).

Now that the temple had been restored, the cycle of annual feasts could be resumed. On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. It must have been quite a feast for, as they remembered and celebrated how the Lord had rescued them from slavery in Egypt many years ago, they would have been dramatically aware of the way in which he had now brought them back from exile and restored them to the land he had promised their ancestors.

Nor was it the returning exiles alone who joyfully celebrated this Passover. We read in verse 21, "The Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel." Those rebuilding the temple had earlier refused help from their non-Jewish neighbours, being suspicious of their motives. Some of those neighbours have now been so impressed by the zeal of the Jews and their confidence in the Lord their God that they abandoned the idolatrous practices that were common among them to seek the Lord. Their conversion might even have been encouraged by the favour the Jews had been shown by their imperial rulers. Whatever their motives, these seekers were now gladly incorporated into the fellowship of God's people and joined in celebrations of the saving God of Israel acknowledging that, even if their ancestors had not been brought out of slavery in Egypt, they at least had been brought out of slavery to idols to acknowledge and serve the living God.

Father God, we thank you that you are the sovereign God who moves the hearts of unbelieving (or scarce-believing) rulers to do your will. Enable us to know that you are the same God today who will allow no plot or device to defeat your purpose of building your kingdom and bringing glory to your name. May our lives bear joyful witness to your saving goodness and be used to draw others to join the fellowship of your people and own that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Peter Misselbrook