The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
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.Ezra 6
1. Then Darius the king made a decree [gave an order], and search was made in the house of the rolls [writings], where the treasures were laid up [in a chamber for the storing of documents and other treasures] in Babylon.
2. And there was found at Achmetha [the Median capital of Cyrus], in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a [parchment] roll, and therein was a record thus written:
3. 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 [may offer] sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits [is this a reference to the day of small things?];
4. With three rows [some say storeys] of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expences be given out of the king's house [the Persian revenue]:
5. 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 [thus expiating the sin of Belshazzar (Daniel 5)].
6. Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shethar-Boznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence [keep aloof from any kind of interference]:
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings for the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil [see details in Exodus 29:40, and Leviticus 2:13], according to the appointment [direction] of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail:
10. That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours [incense] unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king [Jeremiah 29:7], and of his sons.
11. Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word [violate this command or decision], let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up [the beam, not the man], let him be hanged [crucified] thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this [rather, let his house be confiscated].
12. 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.
13. ¶ Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily.
14. 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 Artaxerxse king of Persia.
15. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar [March], which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king [the day of the last month of the ecclesiastical year].
16. ¶ 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,
17. 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 [a modest offering, and adapted to the day of small things], according to the number of the tribes of Israel.
18. 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.
19. And the children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month.
20. For the priests and the Levites were purified together [were all of them pure], all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all [a practice which commenced at the great passover of Hezekiah] the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.
21. 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,
22. 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 ["the king of Persia is so called as a remembrancer of their oppression by his forerunners"] unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
Prophets and Builders
THE prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah ought to be read in connection with this portion of the history. The two prophets were more definite in their conception of the apathy which had fallen among the people than Ezra appears to have been. In connection with the second verse let us notice the double action of prophecy and building. Zerubbabel and Jeshua began to build concurrently with the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. It is a common delusion that speaking is not attended with practical results; that is to say, that the mere gift of speech may be exercised for purely selfish purposes or for the expression of frivolous or useless sentiment. This, however, would be simply an abuse of speech, for speech in the estimate of God and earnest men is but an instrument by which practical results are assured, or at least their adoption is considerably facilitated. The prophet and the builder must always go hand in hand. It is noticeable that the builder seldom or never goes first, but invariably succeeds the intelligent and ardent speaker. This is only another way of saying that thought precedes action. When men think deeply they are preparing the way for laying massive foundations by persons who could not themselves have entered into such intellectual strife. The one must not despise the other. Haggai built nothing, nor did Zechariah probably lay stone upon stone; on the other hand, Zerubbabel may not have been a man of active thought, and Jeshua may not have been gifted with eloquence; but they all worked together—the first man, seeing the truth of God and feeling the burden of the zeal of heaven, excited the sentiment of the two, that they might proceed to give practical and visible effect to the noble prophecies dictated by the Spirit. It is in vain for hearers to complain of preachers when they themselves are not prepared to carry out the word of the Lord. If hearers were of the spirit of Zerubbabel and Jeshua, every sermon, however poor in its merely intellectual characteristics, would lead to build-ing—that is, to some form of edification, either personal, domestic, or social; if, on the other hand, hearers wish simply to be pleased, to enjoy intellectual animation, or to have the fancy titillated and gratified, no matter who the prophets may be the prophecies will be wholly lost upon them; even Haggai and Zechariah might have sown seed on stony ground, or thrown it amongst thorns; happily in their instance the hearers were prepared to listen, and having listened were inspired to give practical effect to the holy doctrine which had satisfied their understanding and warmed their heart.
"But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius: and then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter" (Ezra 5:5).
Divine fear explains all holiest and noblest action. If Zerubbabel and Jeshua had not felt that the eye of the Lord was upon them, they could not have continued their work in the face of opposition so relentless and overwhelming. We are in relation to our work what we are in relation to God himself. If we look up to God with steadfastness of attention, and regard him as the one great taskmaster and lawgiver, our courage will be more than equal to all the demands that are made upon it, for we shall work not in our own strength, but in the strength of almightiness: if, on the other hand, we look at ourselves and then look at the enemy, contrasting the several resources, we shall infallibly suffer the extinction of our courage, and betake ourselves to the miserable humiliation of conscious insufficiency and defeat. The great thing always to be done is to keep the religious enthusiasm of the heart at full heat. Once let a man feel that God is near him, ever within him and round about him, and that whatsoever he does expresses the wisdom and power of God, and he cannot quail before any disadvantages, how threatening or overwhelming soever;—even if these disadvantages lead to momentary defeat, the consolation will be that the defeat is but momentary, being of a nature, indeed, such as to rekindle the courage which has been temporarily thrown into dismay. The Church has unhappily been too prone to consider that all her progress depended upon her scholarship, her genius, her eloquence; she has been disposed to number her people and to add up her resources, and to take encouragement simply from the schedules which she has been able to set before her own imagination, as representing her available strength; she has forgotten to put God as her refuge, and to regard him as involving in his omnipotence all other resources. The Church should live and move and have her being in God. The eye of the enemy and the eye of God are continually upon us in all the work of life. It is indeed difficult for poor human nature to exclude from its consciousness the tact that it is being watched by the adversary. After all, we are in the flesh, and are exposed to all the assaults which are associated with the kind of being which now limits us; our physical force runs down; our temperament is subjected to the influences of cold and wind; our social circumstances continually undergo modification; and in a thousand ways we are made to feel that we are set in array against infinite disadvantages. What wonder then if now and again we should feel not only cast down but almost destroyed? On the other hand, we are continually exhorted to fasten our faith upon God; to look unto the hills whence cometh our help; to remember that the battle is not ours but God's; and to say, in tones of triumph, If God be for us, who can be against us? they that be with us are more than they that are against us: we shall be more than conquerors through Christ who loved us;—and that is the spirit which is to keep up a continual war against the surrendering and seductive flesh. But who is sufficient for these things? Who can build when the sword of the enemy is suspended above his head, or is felt to be closely behind him, or pointed at his very breast? It was not easy building in the days of Ezra; the whole air seemed to be charged with opposition against the Jews who sought to re-erect the city, the temple, or the altar. We know nothing about opposition in our own day—at least, opposition of an official and persecuting character. It may be, however, that only the form of persecution and not the spirit has been done away. There is such a thing as moral opposition, internal persecution, suffering which the heart alone knows or comprehends—a mysterious opposition, as if the very prince of the power of the air followed us, waited for the return of our weakness, and sprang upon us when our heart was failing within us. It is under such circumstances that we are made to see what our own spiritual quality is. We are not in reality simply what we are on a summer morning, or in the day of prosperity, or as we stand in the midst of the golden harvest-field, every stroke of the sickle bringing riches to our feet; we are in reality what we feel ourselves to be in the dark night, in the hour of trouble, in the fury of the storm, in the peril of the sea; nothing can sustain our poor human nature under such circumstances but the certainty that God's eye is upon us, and that the eye which is light to us is a destructive fire to our enemies. Our religious consciousness is the measure of our ability and our enthusiasm in service.
"And thus they returned us answer, saying, We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and set up. But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon. But in the first year of Cyrus the king of Babylon the same king Cyrus made a decree to build this house of God. And the vessels also of gold and silver of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that was in Jerusalem, and brought them into the temple of Babylon, those did Cyrus the king take out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered unto one, whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; and said unto him, Take these vessels, go, carry them into the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be builded in his place Then came the same Sheshbazzar, and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem: and since that time even until now hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished" (Ezra 5:11-16).
The historical answer to all opposition is invariably the best. The Jews here took their stand upon history, and gave a noble answer to their assailants and opponents. It is noticeable that the Jews always seemed to have a comprehensive view of the history which lay behind them. They went back to the beginning with certainty, and traced the whole providential line most distinctly and vividly, thus always keeping memory and imagination abreast with the facts on which they relied as proofs of the divine election and rule. In recounting their history they never forgot the errors of their fathers, yea, the sins and iniquities which their fathers had committed against high heaven. "But after that our fathers had provoked the God of heaven unto wrath, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house, and carried the people away into Babylon." Yet, though the iniquities were many, though the perversity was most stubborn and ungovernable, there would seem to be in the people of God themselves a seed which could not be totally destroyed: they were handed over to oppression and cruel chastisement, yet they were never utterly forgotten; their names were not erased from the palms of the divine hands. The Jews did not regard iniquity as separating them entirely from the mercy and love of God. They committed iniquity with a high hand, and there were times when they seemed even to defy the majesty of heaven; but having run their evil course, and tested the vanity of their own imagination and the deceitfulness of their spiritual enemy, they returned to God with strong crying and tears and brokenheartedness, and he was ever heard of them, and he ever gave them reason to say, his mercy endureth for ever. The Christian ought also to fall back upon his history when he is opposed by the sceptic, and when he is defied by the evil-minded man. Christianity is more than an intellectual argument; it is a solid and provable history. The one thing above all others which Christianity can establish beyond all doubt is the personality of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Christ stands in history without any man disputing that he lived and taught substantially as we find his career traced in the four Evangelists. John Stuart Mill himself has said, "Let rational criticism take from us what it may, it still leaves us the Christ." Christians may not be able to defend Christianity in its metaphysical or argumentative aspects, but they can always fall back upon the life of the Lord; they can remind themselves of the purity of his motive, the simplicity of his character, the beneficence of his disposition, and the amazing and unparalleled self-sacrifice which makes him king amongst the sons of men. This is the perpetual and the complete defence of which the humblest Christian may avail himself. When the storm of argument has ceased, when the battle of controversial attack has quieted down, the Christian can go to the four Evangelists, and read the simple and holy story over again, and by its perusal can re-establish his faith and rekindle his hope. Let us be careful how we attempt to answer argument by argument, when we may easily overwhelm all opposition by the simple facts of history.
"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" (Ezra 6:1).
When we read that Darius "made a decree," we are simply to understand that he gave an order. Truth has everything to hope from wise and rigorous search. Darius was anxious to make himself acquainted with the facts of the case, and therefore he insisted that all the papers should be produced, that he might peruse them for himself or have them perused by a reliable authority. The result of the search was the discovery of a record—
"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" (Ezra 6:3-5).
Darius having discovered the record his policy lay plainly revealed before him,—
"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" (Ezra 6:7-8).
And so the king wrote clearly and distinctly, and opened a way for the further progress and final consummation of the idea which the Jews had set themselves to realise—"I, Darius, have made a decree; let it be done with speed." This came of searching into the records of the case. Christians also must conduct a process of searching; they, too, have papers which they must duly and critically peruse. Christianity, however, does not make its appeal wholly to papers. Christ says, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." Christ himself began at Moses, and continuing his search throughout the whole of the scriptures, found himself everywhere as the object of prophecy and the hope of the world. Jesus Christ always insisted that if men believed the writings of Moses they would also credit his own words, on the ground that Moses wrote of him. Searching amongst papers, therefore, is the duty of all Christian students; but there is a deeper search still which must be exacted. We have to search into human instincts to find out from the mysterious action of human nature what it is that man most wants. We have indeed to interpret instincts to reason, to give them their fit expression, and to show all they mean by their dumb yearnings and prophesyings. We have also to search into the whole scheme of moral mysteries,—the mysteries of providence, the mysteries of thought, the mysteries of hope, and the mysteries of suffering: we must pray that our eyes may be anointed with eye-salve that we may see the real meaning of these mysteries, and be able to read them in all their definiteness to those who inquire concerning the building of the universe and the purpose of its institution. We may also read the bolder and clearer history of the triumphs which Christianity has achieved in the world. Our missionary records must be brought to the front: they will tell what countries were before the introduction of Christianity, and they will prove to us what the countries have been after Christianity has been received, understood, and put into practice. Such practical arguments are always available to the Christian. There can be no dispute about such facts as these: the countries are accessible, the missionaries are living witnesses, the facts are strewn upon every hand, and it will be for those who oppose Christianity to account for its moral successes. If Christianity were a mere argument—that is to say, were it only an intellectual appeal—then all that it has reported itself as having done might be quite disputable; but when it appeals to life, to actual and provable circumstances, it is but decent, not to say just, that the effect should be traced to the proper cause, and that Christ should have credit given to him for making all things new. What we say to every man who opposes the Christian cause is, Peruse the papers: consider the instincts of human nature; deeply ponder the mysteries which characterise human experience, and look without prejudice at the facts which Christian missions have established, and then come to your own conclusion as to the Divine origin of the Christian religion.
"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" (Ezra 6:22).
Then came joy. The children of Israel had come out of captivity, and those who had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land sought the Lord God of Israel, and did eat their bread with religious thankfulness. The joy was very great during the feast of unleavened bread; for seven days the song of joy never ceased: for the Lord himself 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. The one joy of the true saint is to build God's house. The building of that house is not limited to stone and wood: in human hearts we build God's house, so that the life is renewed, and the whole outlook and purpose of existence are brought under the influence of regeneration. God's house is also builded in public policies, so that politics can no longer be regarded as the game of adventurers, but as the science of social existence. The house of God, too, may be built in families, so that the father and the mother and all the children and every member of the household may be as living stones built up into a holy edifice, reared for the habitation of God. The house of the Lord may also be built in commerce, so that business shall no longer be a strife of the strong against the weak, a foolish competition, an ambition for that which is vain, ostentatious, and spiritually useless; commerce itself should become the means of honestly obtaining bread, and living a useful life, even within the limits of so-called earthly circumstances. Woe betide us when we imagine that politics and commerce cannot be sanctified, or when we regard them as mere instruments for the attainment of selfish purposes or the gratification of selfish wishes. Too long have we supposed that religion must be confined to buildings which we denominate by sacred terms, and to days which are set apart for the observance of certain ceremonies. Christianity has done nothing for us until it has cleansed the family circle, rekindled the family fire, set up a family altar, passed into the marketplaces, cleansing and renewing all commercial relations and standards; and passing into politics, there subduing the spirit of selfishness by the spirit of love, the spirit of party by the spirit of patriotism. We shall lose much of holy meaning and holy stimulus if we suppose that building the house of the Lord relates to the putting-up of the four-cornered building, the roofing-in of a mere locality,—it means the setting-up of great principles, the erection of standards of righteousness, the proclamation of words of incorruptible purity, and the elevation of the whole level of human thinking and human sentiment. Who will take part in this holy edification? Each man can bring a stone to the building, but he can do this only in proportion as he himself is a living stone in the living temple. Long persecution we may have, great discouragement may fall upon us; at times we may be inclined to abandon the work, for we cannot see in the darkness, and we are no match for the resources that are arrayed against us. Under such depressing influences we must grope for the altar, and there with tender heart plead with God that our hope may be brought back again, and that we may be able with steadfastness and loyalty to himself to do what we can to put up the temple which he himself will accept as his dwelling-place.