In this chapter we have the proof that God never leaves an obedient and trusting people to themselves. Darius’ investigation and command make it clear to faith that God is working behind the scenes. We also see that He uses the power of the enemy to advance His purposes. It is an example of how for those who love God, “all things ... work together for good” (Rom 8:28; Phil 1:12).
1 - 15 Darius’ Investigation and Command
1 Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. 2 In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows: “Memorandum— 3 In the first year of King Cyrus, Cyrus the king issued a decree: ‘[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. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 5 Also let the gold and silver utensils of the house 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.’ 6 “Now [therefore], Tattenai, governor of [the province] beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai and your colleagues, the officials of [the provinces] beyond the River, keep away from there. 7 Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God: 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. 9 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, 10 that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11 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. 12 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. I, Darius, have issued [this] decree, let [it] be carried out with all diligence!” 13 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. 14 And the elders of the Jews were successful in building through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. 15 This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
When Darius has received the letter, he gives a decree to search (verse 1). Then a scroll is found which reveals the truth of the events (verse 2; cf. Est 6:1-2). Darius is a great liquidator of Cyrus, the founder of the realm. This explains his willingness to act in this way without taking any notice of what Arthahsasta has commanded. By the way, the latter has changed a law that should not be changed (Dan 6:16).
What the returned Jews have claimed has been searched and found to be correct (verse 3). Details are even given regarding the purpose of the house, the dimensions of the foundation and the materials. The purpose of the house is to offer sacrifices. The “height” of the foundation speaks of the lofty, heavenly character that is known there – far above the level of the world and the thoughts of man. The “breadth” speaks of the fact that every part of the truth must have its place there.
The materials are “huge stones” and “timbers” (verse 4). They speak of the believers who are on the one hand living stones (1Pet 2:5) and on the other hand a new creation (2Cor 5:17). Everything must be paid out of the royal treasury, which means that man cannot contribute anything to God’s building. Placing the utensils back in the house of God (verse 5) reminds us that it is not enough to know the truth of ‘the house’, but that we must also be utensils of honor ourselves. We must take our place in the house of God, the church, and make ourselves available to Him to do what He made us capable of doing.
What is written in the found scroll is clear. Darius gives a direct order to the people who wrote to him not to bother the Jews anymore and not to stand in their way (verses 6-7). Instead of preventing the building, the enemies are ordered by Darius to help the Jews with the building by providing them with what they need (verse 8). This involves reimbursement of expenses and providing sacrifices (verse 9). Here we see that “out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet” (Jdg 14:14a).
Everything that is necessary for our sacrificial service is made fully available to us by God “daily”, i.e. every day. He has it ready for us in His Word. In His Word, the treasure of Christ for God is unfolded to us on every page, so that we may examine it and rejoice in it. For those who are interested in it, immeasurable facilities for worship are available.
Darius appreciates the intercession of this despised company (verse 10). He knows that these people are praying and that God hears the prayer of His people. When someone prays or intercedes, it means that such a person knows the value of prayer (cf. Col 4:2-4). The first task of the house of God is that it is a house of prayer “on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (1Tim 2:1-2a; Isa 56:7b).
Darius concludes his letter with some penalty provisions for those who violate his decree regarding the building of God’s house. He himself sets a measure of punishment. He determines that whoever turns against God’s house “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” (verse 11). He desires that God let His judgement come to anyone who damages the house in which He has made His Name dwell (verse 12). This shows that Darius has known that Jerusalem is the city of the “God Who made His Name dwell there” (cf. Deu 12:5,10-11).
When the adversaries have received the message from Darius, they act in “with all diligence, just as King Darius had sent” (verse 13). Thus the opposition ends. Under the influence of the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, the house is completed (verse 14). Only Haggai is called prophet, although Zechariah may just as rightly be called so. However, in this case it is mainly a word for the conscience of the people. That is what the people need and that comes from Haggai.
The work has been stopped until the second year of Darius (Ezra 4:24). In the sixth year they are finished with it (verse 15). When the foundations have been laid cannot be said with certainty, because we do not know the elapsed time between Cyrus and Darius, but it is estimated to be more than fifteen years earlier.
16 - 18 Dedication of the House of God
16 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. 17 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. 18 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.
After there had been no more temple service for ninety years, the temple was again consecrated (verse 16). At this dedication there is no fire of heaven as in the days of Solomon (2Chr 7:1). Also the number of sacrifices contrasts sharply with the amount that Solomon brought (verse 17). The house does not have the first glory, the sacrifices are less and they themselves are a miserable remnant, under the dominion of the nations. But God is for them the Same, and He is for faith the source of joy. He desires His people to come to Him with the sacrifices they have.
A “sin offering for all Israel” is brought. Not that all Israel is present, but in faith the whole is seen. So it is with making the church visible as the one body. If we don’t do it this way, then we are a sect. The sacrifice does not have the size of Solomon’s, but it does speak of the same Christ.
In connection with the sacrifices the priests and Levites are given their place for the service of God in Jerusalem (verse 18). Today all believers are priests and Levites. Every believer has the privilege to sacrifice to God, that is, to worship God. This is what God longs for.
Anything the remnant does, it does in obedience to “as it is written in the book of Moses”, that is, in obedience to the Scriptures. This is the only way of blessing. They act entirely in the spirit of Scripture. A prescription, for example, to bring twelve male goats as a sin offering for all Israel on this special occasion is nowhere in Scripture. Yet it is entirely in accordance with God’s thoughts. The Spirit brings the returned remnant to the realization that a sin offering is for the whole people and that the sin offering is the basis on which God can forgive the whole people. The sin offering speaks of Christ and His atoning work on the cross.
19 - 22 Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread
19 The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month. 20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure. Then they slaughtered the Passover [lamb] for all the exiles, both for their brothers the priests and for themselves. 21 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]. 22 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.
After the dedication of the house the Passover is celebrated (verse 19). The people celebrate the remembrance of their redemption from Egypt. They realize that the foundation on which they stand is the blood of the lamb. The blood of the Lamb is also the foundation for us. They celebrate the Passover, despite their small number. They celebrate it in the realization that they have been in exile.
Their whole history of deviation and restoration by grace give this Passover something they have never known. The priests and Levites have “purified themselves together” (verse 20). It is emphasized again: “All of them were pure.” Under the grace of God we find more faithfulness here than in the best days of kings (cf. 2Chr 29:34). There is no selfishness. The Passover lamb is slaughtered “for all the exiles” and further for their brethren, the priests. Finally we read that they also slaughter it for themselves. This is the true spirit of unity, with an eye for the whole and the other.
This spirit of unity is also expressed by the eating of the Passover lamb by all those who have joined them and separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land. They are people who “seek the LORD God of Israel”. They understand that the LORD is a holy God, a God who cannot have any connection with impurity and cannot allow it with His people. They have, to say it for the present time, withdrawn from iniquity and want to call upon the Lord with others who are pure in heart (2Tim 2:19-22).
For us, celebrating the Passover can be compared to celebrating the Lord’s Supper. This should always be done in self-judgment (1Cor 11:28). No one who is unclean is allowed to eat it.
After the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated (Exo 12:17-20; 13:6-7). Our salvation is followed by a life of separation from evil, sanctified to God (1Cor 5:7-8). The feast lasts for seven days. This means for us that our whole life should be in the sign of the slaughtered Christ.