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Ezra 6

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Decree of Darius   Emperor Cyrus' Order is Rediscovered King Darius Replies
6:1-5 6:1-5 6:1-5 6:1-5
    Emperor Darius Orders the Work to Continue  
6:6-12 6:6-12 6:6-12 6:6-12
The Temple Completed and Dedicated   The Temple is Dedicated The Temple is Complete
6:13-18 6:13-15 6:13-18 6:13-18
  6:16-18    
The Passover Celebrated   The Passover The Passover of 515 b.c.
6:19-22 6:19-22 6:19-22 6:19-22

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:1-5
 1Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. 2In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found and there was written in it as follows: "Memorandum—3In 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; 4with three layers of huge stones and one layer of timbers. And let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 5Also 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.'"

6:1 "King Darius I" This Persian ruler reigned from 522 to 486 b.c. He was a very strong and effective ruler.

▣ "archives" This is literally "house of texts." At this point in time, they would include cuneiforms, tablets, and papyrus and/or leather scrolls (cf v. 2). These special buildings (temples) were usually the storage places of treasures as well as official documents.

6:2 "Ecbatana in the fortress" This name means "place of gathering" (BDB 1079). Xenophon, in his Cyropaedia, 8.6.22, says that Cyrus lived in the city of Babylon (capital of Babylon) in the winter, in the city of Susa (also called Sushan, capital of Elam) in the spring, and the city of Ecbatana (capital of Media) in the summer. We learn from other historical evidence that Cyrus II stayed in Ecbatana during his first year of reign and this is where the documents concerning the Jews and other peoples' repatriations were found. This is archaeological confirmation of the historicity of these historical records.

The word "fortress" (BDB 1084) can mean (1) a castle; (2) a temple (cf. I Chr. 29:1,19; Neh. 2:8); or (3) a fort (Akkadian).

NASB, NJB"memorandum"
NKJV"written thus"
NRSV"A record"
TEV"record"

Davidson, Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. CL, says it is from a Chaldean (Babylonian) root "to record" or "to remember," therefore, a memorandum (BDB 1088, KB 1853).

6:3 "Cyrus the king issued a decree" This occurred in 538 b.c. It is recorded in Hebrew in chapter 1, in Aramaic here in chapter 6. Some scholars think that chapter 1 was the verbal decree and chapter 6 was the written decree for the Archives. This seems possible because the Jews did not have written documentation for their claims concerning the decree of Cyrus.

The historicity of this decree is confirmed by a similarly written Persian decree addressing the request for the rebuilding of an Elephantine Jewish worship center in Egypt.

"be rebuilt" This VERB (BDB 1084) is a Hithpael IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.

"its height being 60 cubits and its width 60 cubits" The size was specific to keep the cost of construction within limits. Cyrus let all the people groups exiled by Assyria and Babylon return home and rebuild their national temples, therefore, cost was a factor (cf. v. 4).

It is just possible that the 60 cubits was meant to parallel Solomon's temple ("its foundations be retained," v. 3, cf. I Kgs. 6:2). Several aspects of the rebuilding effort mimic Solomon's temple (i.e., length - 60 cubits, width - 20 cubits, and height - 30 cubits). If this is true then the "20 cubit width" found in the Peshitta may be accurate. The MT also has a variant as to the height of the temple, "60 cubits seems inappropriate (unless one assumes the 120 cubits of II Chr. 3:4 to refer to the temple itself). Also notice the MT does not record the length at all. Some textual confusion has occurred.

"cubit" The ancients used parts of the human body for measurement. The people of the ancient Near East used the following:

1. width between the outstretched arms

2. length from elbow to middle finger (cubit)

3. width from outstretched thumb to little finger (span)

4. length between all four fingers of a closed hand (handbreadth)

The cubit (BDB 52, KB 61) was not completely standardized, but there were two basic lengths:

a. normal male's elbow to middle finger (about 18 inches, cf. Deut. 3:11)

b. royal cubit was a bit longer (about 20 inches, cf. II Chr. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5; 43:13)

6:4 "huge stones" This does not refer to the huge stones of Solomon's Temple, but to stones so large that they had to be rolled. See note at 5:8.

"one layer of timbers" The Aramaic term "new" (hdt, BDB 1092) is probably a scribal variant for "one" (hd, BDB 1079, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 30). This involves the change of one Hebrew letter and seems to fit the archaeological evidence of the architecture involved in the temples of this period and this locality (e.g., 5:8; I Kgs. 6:36; 7:12). This design may have been to help prevent earthquake damage or collapse.

However, the Septuagint and many scholars believe this refers to "stories" (vertical), not sections of walls (horizontal). The term "layer" is uncertain (BDB 1102). If it does refer to "stories" then another affinity to Solomon's temple is mimicked (Solomon's temple had several stories). This would then denote three of stone and one of wood, which would make it taller and longer (cf. v. 3, i.e., 60 cubits vs. 30 cubits) than Solomon's temple! But this does not fit 3:12-13; Haggai 2:1; and Zech. 4:10. It is better to relate it to the cultural period of architectural design of earthquake resistant walls.

"let the cost be paid from the royal treasury" The VERB (BDB 1095) is a Hithpael IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.

6:5 There is another series of commands.

1. "be returned" (BDB 1117) Haphel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.

2. "brought" (BDB 1090, "go") Peal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.

3. "put" (BDB 1102, "deposit") Aphel IMPERFECT possibly also used in a JUSSIVE sense.

 

These utensils are described in Exod. 25:29 (cf. I Kgs. 7:50); Num. 7; and II Kgs. 25:13-16. They are discussed in Ezra 1 as being returned by the Persian government to Sheshbazzar to take back to the temple in Jerusalem.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:6-12
 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. 7Leave 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. 8Moreover, 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. 9Whatever 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, 10that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11And 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. 12May 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!"

6:6 For information on these people and their governmental offices see 5:3.

NASB, NJB"keep away from there"
NKJV"keep yourselves far from there"
NRSV"keep away"
TEV"stay away from the Temple"

This phrase is literally "far be from there." It is an Aramaic legal idiom also found in Egyptian papyri of this period (cf. The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 643). The VERB (BB 1089, KB 1858) is a Peal IMPERATIVE PLURAL. The command is both physical and mental (BDB 113, "keep aloof"). It may be an Aramaic legal idiom (Anchor Bible, vol. 14, p. 50).

Notice that the Persian leaders who officially initiated the inquiry are now commanded to

1. stop hindering the work and stay away (v. 7)

2. pay for the work (without delay, v. 8)

3. provide the necessary sacrificial animals and other items the priests needed for annual as well as daily offerings (cf. v 9).

 

6:7 "Leave this work. . .alone" This is another Peal IMPERATIVE (BDB 1114).

"rebuild" This VERB (BDB 1084) is a Peal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense.

"on its site" See note at 5:15. Apparently the use of ancient foundations was a Near Eastern way of showing continuity with previous generations.

6:8 Darius is following Cyrus' decree by funding the project from the Persian royal treasury.

6:9 "whatever is needed, both young bulls, rams, and lambs for a burnt offering" Obviously the Persian Archives received information from the Jews because they knew exactly the type of sacrifices which needed to be offered (cf. Exod. 29:38ff; Lev. 2:1; Num. 28:11ff). From other archaeological finds it is clear that the Persians made the effort to know the regulations and cultus of the religions of their empire.

"salt" Salt was to be a part of every sacrifice (cf. Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; Ezek. 43:24). Salt was a cultural sign and symbol of a covenant (cf. II Chr. 13:5). It was an idiom of fellowship and loyalty (cf. Ezra 4:14).

6:10 "may be acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons" This "acceptable sacrifices" (BDB 1102, cf. Dan. 2:46) is a Hebrew (BDB 629) idiom, "soothing aroma" (e.g., Gen. 8:21; Exod. 29:18,25,41; Lev. 1:9,13,17; 26:31), which denoted an acceptable offering that corresponded to YHWH's specifications, directions, as well as the proper motive.

This fits in perfectly with the Persian religious world-view as we understand it from Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, and later, Artaxerxes. Although they were Zoroastrians they sought the good will of the national gods of the ancient Near East by repatriating their peoples, rebuilding their temples, and by making sure the regular sacrifices were done appropriately. Their actions had more to do with self-interest and superstition than religious zeal.

6:11 This verse has three IMPERFECTS used in a JUSSIVE (command) sense (v. 12; 7:21 also have 2 IMPERFECTS used in the same way). This royal threat was serious!

"impaled" This can mean impaled (Hithpael IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB), crucified (BDB 1099, KB 1913, ASV), hanged (NKJV, cf. I Esdras 6:32), or flogged (REB). Whatever the exact meaning, it was a public display of capital punishment used as a deterrent (cf. Gen. 40:22; 41:13; Deut. 21:23; Dan. 2:5; 3:29).

Verse 11 is typical of the curse formulas used to insure compliance to royal edicts.

▣ "his house shall be made a refuse heap on account of this" The Septuagint, I Esdras 6:32, and JPSOA have "forfeit." However, the rabbinical understanding is reflected in the Aramaic Targums, which translate this as "dung-hill" (cf. II Kgs. 10:27; Dan. 2:5). Reducing criminals' homes and possessions to rubbish was a common practice in the ancient Near East to humiliate both the offender and his family. The ultimate cultural insult would be to turn the site of the home into a public latrine.

6:12 "the God who has caused His name to dwell there" This follows the covenant phrasing of Deuteronomy (cf. Deut. 12:5,11,13-14,18; 26:2; and Exod. 20:24). This became a reference to Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (cf. Gen. 22:2; I Chr. 21:18-27; II Chr. 3:1) where, later, Solomon's Temple was built.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:13-15
 13Then 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. 14And 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. 15This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

6:13 As Darius commanded "with all diligence" (BDB 1082, cf. v. 12), these officials responded "with all diligence" (v. 13).

6:14 "Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia" The decrees of Cyrus and Darius dealt with the rebuilding of the temple, while Artaxerxes' decree dealt with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. There is a 57 year gap between chapter 6 (temple) and chapter 7 (walls).

▣ "the Jews were successful in building" This same VERB (BDB 1109) was used to describe their work in 5:8 before these Persian leaders started their accusations and litigation.

▣ "according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes" This is the mystery of divine sovereignty (i.e., Prophets' message and God's command) and human free will (decrees of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, as well as the actions of the Jewish leaders). Both God's will and human will combined to accomplish the task. This is true in every area of life. See Special Topic on Covenant below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Covenant

6:15 "this temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of Darius" This date is mentioned in I Esdras 7:5 and Josephus' Antiq. 11.4.7. It would be 516 b.c., exactly seventy years from the destruction of the temple under Nebuchadnezzar II (cf. Jer. 25:9-13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:16-18
 16And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17They 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. 18Then 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.

6:16 "and the rest of the exiles" Who could this refer to? Possibly (1) converts to Judaism who were converted while they were also in exile (cf. v. 21). Or (2) it could refer to those Jews who remained in Palestine, but did not participate in pagan or synergistic worship (cf. v. 21).

6:17 "as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats" Although a detailed description of the sacrifices for the dedication is listed (much smaller than Solomon's dedication, cf. I Kgs. 8:63), the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16) is never mentioned in Ezra or Nehemiah.

▣ "for all Israel 12 male goats, corresponding to the number of tribes of Israel" It was important for the returning Jews (mostly from the southern tribes called Judah) to affirm they represented all the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Most of the northern ten tribes taken into captivity by Assyria (722 b.c., fall of Samaria) never returned to Palestine. Nevertheless these were the covenant people of God. The promises and covenants of YHWH also belonged to them!

SPECIAL TOPIC: The Number Twelve

6:18 "the priests of their divisions" The law of Moses stipulated the special tribe of temple servants (i.e., Levi, cf. Num. 3:6; 8:6-22; 18:1-7; I Chr. 6), but it was David who organized them into 24 orders who took turns serving in the temple (cf. I Chr. 23-24; II Chr. 35:4-5). Only four orders returned under Zerubbabel (cf. chapter 2).

"the book of Moses" This would have been a way to show the validity of the returning exiles as the people of God! See Special Topic following.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Moses' Authorship of the Pentateuch

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 6:19-22
 19The exiles observed the Passover on the fourteenth of the first month. 20For 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. 21The 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. 22And 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.

6:19 The Aramaic section concludes at 6:18 and the Hebrew resumes until 7:12-26, which again is Aramaic.

6:20 "all of them were pure" This phrase is similar in purpose to 3:1 (i.e., "gathered as one man"), which denotes the unity of the Jews during this difficult but victorious period.

6:21 "all those who had separated themselves" God demanded that His people be different from "the nations" (cf. Deut. 7). They were to love and obey the covenant God of Israel. This "separation" involved those who never compromised with pagan cultures and those who repented and turned from their involvement with pagan culture. Either of these could eat the Passover. God is the compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in covenant loyalty (cf. Neh. 9:17) One!

Israel was meant to disclose YHWH to the world, but she failed (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38). Covenant obedience is crucial!

▣ "to seek the Lord God of Israel" The opposite of "separate from" (6:21) is "to seek" (BDB 205, KB233, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT). Good parallels of the necessity of seeking and the promise of finding are I Chr. 28:9 and II Chr. 7:14. Humans seek and YHWH reveals Himself. He satisfies the human longing and searching for fellowship and intimacy with the God in whose image we were created (cf. Deut. 4:29). However, there are covenant conditions (cf. I Chr. 15:2).

6:22 "the king of Assyria" If literal, this seems to be out of place and unexplainable! This may refer to Cyrus or Darius (cf. Josephus', Antiq. 11.4.8). The Persian king used several titles (i.e., 5:13, Cyrus is called "King of Babylon"). Nehemiah uses this title as a collective term for all the kings of the eighth through fifth centuries in Neh. 9:32.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is there such a delay between the starting of the temple in 538 B.C. and its finishing in 516 B.C.?

2. Why did the Jews object to the Samaritan's help?

3. Why did the Persian king need to have the Aramaic translated?

4. Why is 4:6-23 thought to be a parenthesis?

5. Why is the Day of Atonement never mentioned in the Books of Ezra or Nehemiah?