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Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Ezra 6

Verses 1-22

Ezra: Chapters 6-10

Chapter 6

The House Completed

That God never fails an obedient and trusting people is preciously exemplified in this stirring chapter of His ways with the separated remnant of the Jews.

As when, in the book of Esther, the search of the royal records but vindicated Mordecai and led to the confusion of Haman, so here, when “search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon, there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll,” in which was found the record of king Cyrus, containing the very decree cynically referred to in the epistle of Tatnai and Shethar-boznai. There the command that the house be builded was plainly declared, together with the specifications and plans, and the order for returning the vessels of the house of God from among the pollutions of heathen idolatry to their proper home in Jerusalem, the city where Jehovah had put His name (vers. 1-5).

King Darius accordingly wrote at once warning Tatnai and his confederates to “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” (vers. 6, 7).

This stinging rebuke was all that these enemies of the Jews and professed loyalists to the king got for their pains. Nay, there was even greater humiliation than this for them. The decree went on to command what they should do to further this work: “That of the king’s goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered; and that which they have need of, both young bullocks and rams and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests that are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savors unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons” (vers. 8-10). Moreover, it was directed, that if any one dared in any way to contravene this decree, his house was to be made a dunghill, and he himself hanged upon a scaffold made of its timbers (ver. 11).

We must remember that all this was the decree of a king, who, whatever the measure of his enlightenment (as a Persian disdaining the idols of the Babylonians), nevertheless gives no evidence of that direct inspiration of God which is declared to have been the case in regard to Cyrus and his commandment; he was definitely raised up of God, and designated before his birth by name (Isaiah 44:28), and as “the righteous man from the east” who was to fulfil Jehovah’s will as to the restoration of His people (Isaiah 41:2). With Darius it was otherwise. He writes as one who had great respect for the decrees of his predecessors, and he will therefore invoke fearful penalties on any who venture to act contrary to them.

The last part of his letter is such as we might expect from a king of his character, under the circumstances that had arisen: “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” (ver. 12). It is a solemn fact that this curse was literally fulfilled in every instance. Antiochus defiled this house and died unnaturally under the anger of God. Herod presumed to alter and enlarge it for his own aggrandizement, and died under divine displeasure. The Romans utterly destroyed it when the days of grace for Israel had expired; but in doing so, sealed their own doom, and their mighty empire is to-day but a memory.

The celerity with which the humbled and astonished Tatnai and his friends undertook to carry out the provisions of the decree must have been a great relief to the hitherto despised Jews. It reminds one of the Lord’s words to another feeble remnant, the church of Philadelphia, who had a little strength and kept Christ’s word, not denying His name. To them them He says: “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee” (Revelation 3:9).

What is really of God may be despised for the moment by the unsubject and hypocritical, but the day of manifestation ever shows where the Lord has found His pleasure. Not always does this manifestation take place on earth, but in the day of Christ all that God has owned will be made plain. Yet, even here, often He shows where He has set the seal of His approval, to the discomfiture of haughty pretenders to an authority and spirituality they do not possess.

Happily, we see no evidence of carnal exultation or of haughtiness of spirit on the part of Zerubbabel and his fellow-laborers over the exposure and humbling of their opponents. Rather do we see a sincere cleaving to the Lord and rejoicing in Him who has made their mountain to stand strong. It was His work they were concerned in, not their own vindication. So, in holy serenity, “the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo” (ver. 14).

I would call the reader’s attention to the designations given these servants of God, now for the second time. Haggai is called “the prophet” as though pre-eminently that, while his companion-servant is simply declared to be “the son of Iddo.” Yet, as men generally speak, the latter it is who possesses the fullest claim to the prophetic office; for he unfolds in a wonderful manner the future in store for Israel and Judah. And this opening up of the unseen future is what is generally called prophecy. But it is otherwise in the word of God. The true prophet is the one whose words come from heaven to men on earth, searching the heart, reaching the conscience and exposing the evil that may have come in. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation (or stirring up) and comfort (or encouragement)” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Now this was exactly what Haggai did. His pungent, conscience-arousing messages were distinctly of this character, and so he is pre-eminently “the prophet.” Zechariah’s needed ministry of future things was equally of God, but it was subservient to the rousing words of his brother prophet, whose ministry was in view of the state of soul in God’s people.

A ministry like Zechariah’s will more probably be enjoyed than one of the character of Haggai’s. Carnal believers often find great pleasure in listening to dispensational and eschatological discourses, in attending what are often mis-called “prophetic” conferences; but what such really need is the trumpet-like call to consider their ways, rather than eloquent and beautiful discourses about things to come. The Haggais may not be so popular with the mass as the Zechariahs, but their ministry is ever a much needed one. He who goes on with God will welcome truth, and will thus hold the truth in its right proportions.

At last the house was finished, in the sixth year of Darius the king-a long time indeed since the work had been begun. But persistent effort had eventually prevailed, and the temple, whose foundations had been laid with praise and weeping, and whose walls had been erected with faith and prophecy, was now ready to be dedicated to the service and worship of the Lord God of Israel.

If one goes back and compares, or contrasts, the account of the dedication of the temple of Solomon with that of this house of the captivity, he cannot but feel how meagre was the service of the latter; but, on the other hand, one cannot but recognize it as of the same character. It was, in very deed, a going back to that which was from the beginning. The hundred bullocks, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs for a peace offering, were few indeed as compared with the twenty-two thousand oxen, and the one hundred and twenty thousand sheep offered by Solomon; but all spoke of the same Christ who, “having made peace by the blood of His cross,” is now the ground of the soul’s communion with God.

In solemn contrast with the sweet savor offerings, alone mentioned in connection with Solomon’s dedication, we here read of twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all Israel, according to the number of the tribes of Israel (ver. 17). This was eminently fitting, for all Israel had sinned; and on behalf of all Israel, the remnant confessed and judged the sin in which all had participated. Only an active conscience, truly in the light, could have led to this blessed result. The dedication was kept, we are told, with joy, 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” (ver. 18).

And so, once again, we are reminded of the only way to learn the mind of God, even to consult His holy Word, in dependence on the Spirit who inspired it. “As it is written” would settle many a needless controversy among Christians if there were only grace to “search the Scriptures” and to obey what is found therein. With “It is written,” Jesus met every assault of Satan; and when he, for his own ends, misquoted, or partially quoted, from the same Word, concealing an important phrase, he was met with “It is written again,” to silence his impious suggestions. This is the path of safety for each saint; only let none suppose that a mere slavish adherence to “book, chapter and verse,” is what is here indicated. This there cannot always be; but the tenor of Scripture, the broad principles enunciated and exemplified therein, are what one needs to be familiar with. There was no specific scripture that instructed Zerubbabel to offer on this particular occasion twelve goats as a sin offering for all Israel. But it was fully in accord with the word of God so to do; it was in the spirit of the law He had given through Moses, and therefore well-pleasing to Him.

And, in the next place, in obedience to the same Word, “The children of the captivity kept the passover upon the fourteenth day of the first month” (ver. 19). Great was the care exercised that all should be as God had directed. “The priests and the Levites were purified together; all of them were pure, and killed the passover for all the children of the captivity, and for their brethren the priests, and for themselves. And the children of Israel who were come again out of captivity, and all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the nations of the land, to seek the Lord God of Israel, did eat” (vers. 20, 21).

All this is most instructive and enlightening, furnishing a helpful principle for those to act upon in any age, who would please the Lord in their public feasts of love, and their fellowship one with another. The passover was the great central feast of Israel. It was to them what the Lord’s supper is to Christians. In fact, our Lord links the two most intimately, in that it was during the celebration of the one that He instituted the other. The loaf in His hand was the unleavened Passover bread, while the cup was the Passover cup, for which Scripture gives no direct authority, but which was a natural accompaniment of a Jewish meal. Both spoke of the same blessed event-the death of Christ. The one set forth that death in prospect, the other declares that death as already having taken place. “For as oft as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show (or announce-it might even be rendered, preach) the Lord’s death till He come” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

In the beginning all confessing Christ’s name had their place at that holy table. Then divine instruction was given not to eat with any one, called a brother, whose life was wicked. Teachers of false doctrine were likewise debarred from all Christian fellowship, which could not but include participation in the communion supper. With this, God has also warned lest any be partakers of other men’s sins, by going on with those unfitted for fellowship, thereby unfitting themselves. And so, with these broad principles to guide, it maybe confidently asserted that God has not left believers to decide for themselves the grave question of who is to be received and who refused at the table of the Lord. The unholy have no place there. Being the Lord’s table, it implies subjection to Him as such. Hence, we see the priests all purified together. To-day all believers are priests. This then is the scriptural ideal of a Christian gathering-“all of them were pure.”

To this company were received “all such as had separated themselves from the filthiness of the nations of the land to seek the Lord.” What an enlightening word is this! There are those who object to an expression long current among certain believers: “Separation from evil is God’s principle of unity.” But is not that exactly what we have here? Were not these dear Israelites one as a separated company from the abominations of the people of the land? Only as so separated could they cleave together. And in any dispensation, I apprehend, the same principle abides for faith. There can be no true practical unity save as evil is refused, and Christ becomes the object of each soul. And separation from evil involves turning to the Lord alone, for He is the one only centre, apart from all the evil. Given His rightful place, the incongruity of endeavoring to cling to what is unholy while seeking to please God, is at once made manifest. But argument avails little here. This truth, like all others, has to be learned through the conscience. Men may reason and contend about what to faith is most simple, if there be activity of conscience, enlightened by the word of God. The feeble few of Zerubbabel’s day were far beyond some now, who, despite greatly increased light are quite unable to discern the mind of God because persons are before them instead of the glory of Christ. Much grace is needed if any truth be apprehended that it may be held in the Spirit’s power; and this is especially true as to what Scripture reveals in regard to gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus.

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Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Ezra 6". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/ezra-6.html. 1914.