The Temple Completed; Passover Celebrated (Ezra 6:14-22; Psalm 126) July 30-31
With the ongoing preaching and encouragement of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, the elders of the Jews built and at last finished the second temple (Ezra 6:14). Whether or not these elders included the governor Zerubbabel is not made clear (though they are differentiated in verse 7). That Zerubbabel's name is not mentioned in conjunction with the temple's completion could be an indication that he was no longer in office (see the Bible Reading Program comments on Zechariah 4). Yet again, the matter remains unresolved.
The timing is of course significant. Solomon's temple had been destroyed in 586 B.C. Seventy years later, as foretold in Jeremiah 25, brings us to the sixth year of the Persian emperor Darius the Great (516-515 B.C.). The particular date, the third day of the 12th month Adar (Ezra 6:15), corresponds to March 12, 515 B.C.
Verse 14 says the temple was built in obedience to God and "according to the command of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia." Artaxerxes (who reigned 465-425 B.C.) seems out of place here. He "did assist the rebuilding of the temple, although it was completed years before Artaxerxes came to power. Artaxerxes contributed to the welfare of the temple by issuing a decree regarding its maintenance (7:15, 21)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 6:14). The king's purpose was "to beautify the house of the Lord" according to 7:27. Note that this was part of an Aramaic section of the book, which ends in verse 18 of chapter 6. So it may be that this was intended to be part of the Persian state records and that chronological consistency with the rest of Ezra's book was not the main consideration here. Since Ezra's mission came during the reign of Artaxerxes, it could be that Ezra placed the king's contribution in this spot to give him honorary mention in this particular state document.
At the dedication of the temple there is a great sacrifice, albeit not remotely approaching Solomon's dedicatory sacrifice. Yet, "although there were more than 200 times as many sheep and oxen offered in Solomon's dedication (see 1 King. 8:63), it should be noted that there were more people—and more wealthy people—participating in Solomon's dedication" (note on Ezra 6:17). Still it was an occasion of great joy (verse 6). By this time there is no mention of any sorrow over the smaller size and inferior quality of the second temple as compared to Solomon's, such as that described in 3:12, Haggai 2:3, and Zechariah 4:10.
Though the returned exiles are referred to the "children of Israel" in verse 16, we understand from other passages that the returned exiles were predominantly of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi (see Ezra 1:5)—with only a very few from the other tribes whose ancestors had become part of the kingdom of Judah. Nearly the whole of the other tribes remained scattered. Note that in verse 16, "children of Israel" is meant to designate the common people as opposed to the Levites and priests mentioned in the same verse. And all the Jews of Judea, as the remnant of Israel, were children of Israel. That being said, it is interesting to note that 12 male goats were offered as a sin offering for all 12 tribes of Israel (verse 17)—showing that God still viewed His people in terms of the 12 tribes.
In a matter of weeks after the temple dedication came the observance of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. Verse 21 again refers to the children of Israel—but of course only those "who had returned from the captivity," who were almost all Jews. (For more on what happened to the other tribes of Israel, request, download or read online our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
Those who had "separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land [that is, from the corrupt religious practices of the Samaritans]" (verse 21) were the few poor of the land whom the Babylonians had left in Judah as vinedressers and farmers (see 2 Kings 25:12).
"King of Assyria" (Ezra 6:22) is a somewhat surprising title for Darius. Yet it is a legitimate distinction as he was ruler of the former realm of Assyria. Persian rulers took the title "king of Babylon" for the same reason (see 5:13; Nehemiah 13:6).
It remains a time of great joy (6:22), as at long last, once again, the Jews celebrate before their own temple in their own land. And let us realize that this was only a tiny precursor to the awesome restoration of Israel and Judah that will come at the return of Jesus Christ.
"The Lord Has Done Great Things for Us" (Ezra 6:14-22; Psalm 126)
Psalm 126 is the seventh of a group of psalms known as "the Songs of Ascent (Ps. 120-134). This group of hymns was likely used by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem to worship the Lord during the three annual national feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Lev. 23)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Psalm 120).
The 126th Psalm is distinctive in that it was composed following the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. And given the great joy expressed within the song, it certainly fits with all that we've recently read regarding the restoration of God's worship in Jerusalem and the newly rebuilt temple.
The return from captivity in Babylon had been anticipated for so long that when it came, it seemed like a dream (verse 1). Was this really happening? It was! And when the reality set in, joy was overflowing in laughter and song. The events that Judah experienced through the decrees of Cyrus and Darius and the temple reconstruction all stood as a great testimony among other nations (verse 2). And it was a great witness to themselves of the reality and power of their God. "The Lord has done great things for us," they cried, "and we are filled with joy" (verse 3, NIV).
Still, all was not yet accomplished. God had "brought back the captivity of Zion" (verse 1). And yet the people pray in verse 4, "Bring back our captivity, O Lord..." Only a small percentage of the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon had returned. And the rest of the tribes of Israel remained scattered. Ultimately, this prayer was for the end-time work of Jesus Christ in bringing Israel and Judah back from around the globe. "...As the streams in the South [the Negev]" (same verse) is a request that this happen quickly and with great force. "The wadis in the steppe south of Hebron, around Beersheba, were generally dry; but on the rare occasions when during the winter months it rained even as little as one inch, the water ran down its 'streams' with great rapidity and often with destructive force.... Roads and bridges [have been] destroyed by the force of these torrential streams. The 'streams in the Negev' are not ordinary phenomena, as much as they represent proverbially the sudden unleash of God's blessing" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 4).
Finally, The Nelson Study Bible notes on verses 5-6: "The people of Judah had gone to Babylon in tears. Yet their sorrow reaped tremendous rewards; the Lord came to the rescue of His humbled people (34:18; Is. 66:2; Matt. 5:4). Upon their return to Jerusalem and Judah, they were reaping a harvest of rejoicing."
As we assemble annually to observe God's feasts, let us all go with such a mindset—as if leaving the captivity of this world to rejoice before the Almighty King who has done great things for us, knowing that all our toil and sorrow in this age will ultimately reap a reward in His presence for all eternity.